The Wilmot Proviso
"Provided, That, as an express and fundamental condition to the acquisition of any territory from the Republic of Mexico by the United States, by virtue of any treaty which may be negotiated between them, and to the use by the Executive of the moneys herein appropriated, neither slavery nor involuntary servitude shall ever exist in any part of said territory, except for crime, whereof the party shall first be duly convicted."

David Wilmot of Pennsylvania, Author of the Wilmot Proviso

David Wilmot was born in Wayne County, Pennsylvania on January 20, 1814. He left school at the age of 18 to study law, and accumulated a following and gained a reputation as a great orator. He was a great supporter of Andrew Jackson in local politics. Wilmot was elected to Congress on October 8, 1844. He supported Polk in the Mexican War though he opposed the spread of slavery into western territories. It was then that he came up with the Wilmot Proviso. He eventually became a leading member of the Free Soil Party and later was a founder of the Republican Party in Pennsylvania. He was essential in obtaining the nomination for Abraham Lincoln. Wilmot was nicknamed the "Lion of the North" and Lincoln elected him to serve as a judge on the newly created Court of Claims where he served until his death in 1868.

David Wilmot's Signature
David Wilmot's Signature

In 1846, David Wilmot, a Democratic Congressman from Pennsylvania, added an amendment to a $2 million appropriations bill proposed by President Polk. The amendment simply stated that slavery would be prohibited in any territory acquired from Mexico. Southerners in the House attempted to table the entire bill, but this was voted down. The bill was then approved in the House, but the votes were mostly sectional instead of along party lines. It was sent to the Senate, but the Senate adjourned before discussing the bill. Polk later proposed his bill again, raising the amount to $3 million, and the Wilmot Proviso was again added as an amendment. Once again, the entire bill passed in the House. In the Senate, however, the bill was passed without the proviso. The proviso was added as an amendment to many bills over the next several years, but it never passed. However, it prevented the issue of slavery from being ignored and it led to the Compromise of 1850.


This political cartoon portrays the Wilmot Proviso as a stumbling block, visually represented here as a stone with the words Wilmot Proviso printed on it, to the presidential candidate, Zachary Taylor. It uses irony to describe the split in the Whig Party.

Southern Perspective:

The south immediately took offense to the Wilmot Proviso and saw it as an unfair attempt to stifle slavery. The Wilmot Proviso was beaten down by southerners in the Senate, and the scare caused southerners to ardently fight for the protection of slavery. Southerners saw the Wilmot Proviso as an abolitionist attempt to prevent the spread of slavery into western territories. Though the Wilmot Proviso did not pass it opened up the door for continued distrust and sectionialist feelings between the north and the south. With the Wilmot Proviso the balance between free states and slave states would be thrown off kilter and any territories accquired from the Mexican War would be used as an advantage against the south. Southerners were, in short, outraged by the Wilmot Proviso, because it attempted to cut off the main purpose of spreading slavery to the west.

A pamphlet speaking out against the Wilmot Proviso

Northern Perspective:

The North supported the Wilmot Proviso and attempted to pass it. Northeners feared that more slave states would affect the free state/slave state balance in the senate. With the Wilmot Proviso the Northern free states would have an advantage, because if slaves weren't allowed in the territories accquired fromt the Mexican war thennew states would automatically be free states. This worked out well for northern states and abolitionists alike, and served beneficial to northerners who feared the expansion of slavery and southern power.

Rating: 3/5

The Wilmot Proviso made the states more aware of slavery. Although it inflamed sectionalist feelings, it was never passed and it didn't actually do anything to prevent the expansion of slavery.

Works Cited

"Wilmot Proviso." The Blue and Gray Trail - America's Civil War. 2007. 18 May 2009 <>.

"Wilmot Proviso." Law Library - American Law and Legal Information. 2009. Net Industries. 18 May 2009 <>.

"David Wilmot Helped End Slavery in America." Greater Wyalusing Chamber of Commerce. 2006. 18 May 2009 <>

"Wilmot Proviso." The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia. 2007. 18 May 2009 <>