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Wilmot Proviso

David Wilmot, whose name is associated with the Wilmot Proviso, was born Bethany, Pennsylvania, in 1814 and took up the practice of law in Towanda. He served as as a Democratic member of Congress from 1845 to 1851. In 1846, during the Mexican War, the House of Representatives considered an appropriations bill designed to provide $2,000,000 for negotiating with the Mexican government. Wilmot introduced a rider to that measure, which was derived from the Northwest Ordinance, barring slavery from any territory acquired from Mexico. The bill containing the Wilmot Proviso passed the House in 1846 but the Senate failed to take any action on it. Passed again by the House in 1847, the proviso was defeated largely by the opposition of Senator John C. Calhoun of South Carolina. The position espoused in the Wilmot Proviso was the basic plank of the Free-Soil Party platform and would later become a fundamental position of the new Republican Party. Measures prohibiting the spread of slavery would be introduced repeatedly by Northern lawmakers in the coming years, thus sharpening tensions between the regions. The debate over the Wilmot Proviso brought sectional disagreements into sharper focus. It was supported by an array of interests, including Northerners who felt a moral duty to oppose the extension of slavery into newly formed states and others who primarily wanted to oppose President Polk. Calhoun's opposition gave him the chance to propose further resolutions to the effect that that the federal government had no role regarding restrictions on slavery in territories. For a measure that never passed both houses of Congress, the Wilmot Proviso was remarkably important in the history of the time.