United States and American History: 1850

About the history of the United States in 1850, the population, the Scarlet Letter is published, the Compromise of 1850, California gets statehood, biography of Jenny Lind.


--U.S. population--23,191,876. Two million people lived west of the Mississippi River. In the next 50 years, the population of the U.S. more than tripled.

--Nathaniel Hawthorne completed The Scarlet Letter. The book later was condemned by the Rev. A. C. Coxe, a popular clergyman of the time, as "a brokerage of lust."

--Utah was established as a territory with the option to decide for itself whether to be slave or free upon its admission as a State. Brigham Young was named the 1st governor of the Utah Territory.

--The U.S. Navy and the Merchant Marine outlawed flogging.

--By the end of 1850 an estimated 20,000 blacks had escaped to the North via the Underground Railroad.

Jan. Henry Clay, former senator and presidential candidate, returned to the Senate with resolutions for a compromise between the North and South. These resolutions later became the foundation for the Compromise of 1850, adopted in August of that year.

Feb. 12 Messrs. Henry Clay, Sam Houston, Daniel Webster, and others sent a letter to Dr. Dods, author and lecturer on electrical psychology, asking him to speak in Washington on spiritual manifestations.

Mar. 4 John C. Calhoun, frail and near death, mustered the strength to attend a Senate session where his colleague from Virginia, James Mason, read Calhoun's final formal speech. Calhoun called for decisive action to stop the agitation against slavery so that the South would not be forced to secede. Calhoun said the goal of democracy was equity and that 51% of the people do not have a moral right to coerce the other 49%.

Aug. Compromise of 1850 adopted which provided for California's admittance as a free State, but did not forbid slavery in other territory. The Compromise further forbade selling slaves brought into the District of Columbia, and called for stricter laws to ensure return of runaway slaves to their masters.

Sept. 9 California was admitted as a free State.

Sept. 11 Jenny Lind--the illegitimate Swedish Nightingale whose voice had been praised by Chopin, Wagner, Mendelssohn but criticized by Carlyle, Hawthorne, Walt Whitman--made her long-awaited U.S. debut at Castle Garden in New York City, under the auspices of showman Phineas T. Barnum.

Barnum had signed the 29-year-old soprano to appear in 150 concerts for $150,000, plus salaries for her maid, valet, secretary, and a friend. Barnum gave her debut the biggest promotional buildup in American history to date. Four days before Jenny Lind's opening night, Barnum auctioned off 3,000 tickets, the 1st going to the proprietor of a hat store for $225.

At curtain time, 5,000 people--7/8 of them male--filled the Garden having paid $17,864 for the privilege. Backed by a 60-piece orchestra, Jenny Lind began with "Casta Diva" from Bellini's Norma. As number succeeded number, the Garden became a growing madhouse of enthusiasm. The next morning, the New York Tribune spoke for the majority of critics: "Jenny Lind's 1st concert is over, and all doubts are at an end. She is the greatest singer we have ever heard. . . ."

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