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The Failed 1846 Amendment That Tried to Contain Slavery

As the United States grew and expanded into new territories throughout the early to mid-19th century, divisions also deepened. At the heart of those divisions lay the issue of slavery. In 1846, a Pennsylvania representative named David Wilmot proposed legislation intended to bar slavery’s expansion into the lands acquired after the Mexican-American War.

The Wilmot Proviso failed to pass—and debate over the proposal exacerbated North-South tensions. “It is part of a larger, broader discussion about the future of slavery,” says Dr. Miller W. Boyd III, a historian, teacher and lecturer in St. Louis, Missouri. “It is one small link in a long chain going towards the Civil War.”

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