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Newly elected president Zachary Taylor had a political crisis waiting for him when he took office in 1849 A Swiss immigrant named John A Sutter discovered flakes of gold in the Sierra Nevada foothills of northern California in the winter of 1848 and by January of 1849 Americans were pouring into the territory looking to cash in on the Gold Rush The rapid influx of settlers brought the free soil debate back to life The forty-niners had all settled at once leaving the makeshift mining camps severely overcrowded and the settlers demanding a formal government To avoid debate over slavery Taylor advised California to apply for statehood quickly and in November 1849 California ratified a state constitution- one that prohibited slavery This more than alarmed the Southern politicians Not only had they lost a large and valuable state to free soil but this threatened the balance of power between the slave states and free states in both houses of Congress potentially hurting their interests Thus the south was prepared to block the admission of California as a free state unless the federal government passed legislation to protect the future of slavery Many northern politicians were vehemently opposed to any legislation to expand slavery however and would not accept any of the southern doctrine for radical or moderate resolution The stage was set for secession in the South Enter Henry Clay and Daniel Webster with a compromise that was nothing short of a brilliant congressional Band-Aid They knew they had to give each side a few political perks in order to keep the country from splitting wide open Their compromise gave the South a new Fugitive Slave Act with teeth because it gave federal assistance to slaveholders looking for runaway slaves and punished slave harboring It also gave them popular sovereignty in the new territories acquired from Mexico The North got California as a free state and the slave trade abolished in the District of Columbia
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