The Great Pacificator

September 9, 1850

The Mexican-American War (1846-1848) ended with an American victory and some new land for the United States. Alta, California and New Mexico were purchased for $15 million. Additionally, Mexico now officially recognized Texas as a part of the US, having not viewed it as such after the Texas Revolution back in 1836.

US President James Polk had achieved his goal to expand American Territory all the way to the Pacific coast. The political implications pointed directly down the road toward civil war, however, as the Southern slave states and Northern free states could not agree on the status of the territories.

President Zachary Taylor had taken over in 1849, but died unexpectedly in mid-1950, just as the debates over Senator Henry Clay’s Compromise of 1850 were heating up dramatically. Upon President Taylor’s death, Millard Fillmore took over the presidency and Taylor’s entire Cabinet resigned. Daniel Webster was appointed Secretary of State and Henry Clay left Washington, ailing from tuberculosis (which would eventually cause his death). From this point forward, Senator Stephen Douglas was in charge of Compromise negotiations.

Shortly after “The Great Pacificator” left the capital, Millard Fillmore notified Congress that he was in support of the five separate bills Clay had created to make up the entire Compromise of 1850, the first of which was signed on September 9 of that year.

The Compromise parameters included California being admitted to the Union as a free state, abolishment of the slave trade in Washington DC, Utah and New Mexico being organized as territories under the rule of popular sovereignty, a more stringent version of the Fugitive Slave Act, and Texas giving up its western portion of land and receiving $10 million to pay off it’s national debt.

Though not in Washington for the latter portion of the Compromise, Henry Clay is credited with the documents that brought temporary peace to the volatile relationship between North and South. Fellow politician Henry S. Foote was convinced that had a man of Henry Clay’s caliber been in Congress during 1860-61, civil war would have been avoided.

Although Henry Clay is also famous for bringing his mint julep recipe to the Willard Hotel in Washington DC, New Mexico is also famous for some cuisine of their own. Without the Compromise of 1850, we might not have this soup in our cookbook:

Chile Sparked Sweet Potato Soup


2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and diced into ½ inch cubes
4 scallions, thinly sliced (reserve some for a garnish)
1 cup evaporated skim milk
1 T ground pure hot red chile
½ tsp grated nutmeg
baked tortilla shoestrings (for a garnish)


Place the potatoes, scallions, and 1 cup water in a 2-quarter glass or microwavable plastic bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and microwave on full power for 10 minutes. Transfer the potato mixture to a food processor. Add the milk and 2 teaspoons of the chile and process until puréed. Stir in the nutmeg. Return to the 2-quart container and microwave for about 2 minutes, or until hot. Serve each bowl garnished with the reserved chile, scallion, and corn tortilla.

Note: to cook conventionally, place the sweet potatoes, 1 cup water, and scallions in a heavy, medium saucepan, cover, and simmer for about 15 minutes, or until fork-tender. Purée as above and heat to serving temperature.

Makes 4 servings.
Recipe courtesy of Jane Butel’s Southwestern Kitchen,

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