The concept of federalism ultimately places the political power of the government in the hands of the people; doing so often reveals many gray areas open to interpretation by the people. The early years of the nineteenth century saw a rise in sectional crises as northern and southern citizens first recognized their differences and then used the gray areas of federalism to pursue their interests. Compromise and threats were the main tools of diplomacy. By 1850, this process of government was virtually an art-form. It was not productive, however. At issue was states having the absolute right to control their destiny verses the right of the federal government to carry out policies in the interests of all citizens.

So as Americans began the decade of the 1850s, they expected to continue doing what they had been doing all along. Politicians planned to continue the constant strategy of hiding one's head in the sand, hoping the problem would simply go away or be solved by the next generation of Americans. The next generation did solve many issues including slavery, but had to engage in a costly civil war to settle what diplomacy could not. The 1850s were essentially nothing more than a time to collect excuses for going to war.

In 1850, Congress was still comprised of the older generation politicians. Among them were the members of the so-called Great Triumvirate from the election of 1836. Although older, they were not necessarily wiser. Daniel Webster, the most eloquent of the three, still called for preservation of the Union above all else. J.C. Calhoun had become even more pro-states' rights than ever, suggesting the need for a dual executive, or States' President who would serve as a check against potential abuses of power by the President of the United States. Henry Clay, the final member of the triumvirate, remained constant. He still believed in compromise and took it upon himself to not only try and delay the inevitable conclusion to the issue of slavery in the southern states, he also had to try and defend his own political reputation. By 1850, he was largely seen by hard-core southerners as a traitor whose American Plan had helped build an oppressive north which considered the southern states nothing more than their own colonial inferiors.