On June 3, 1850, delegates from nine southern states met at McKendree Methodist Church in Nashville to discuss common grievances in the great sectional crisis that had developed with the territorial acquisitions following the Mexican War. The South demanded equality in the territories in an alarming atmosphere of increased northern resistance to proslavery measures. Senator John C. Calhoun of South Carolina played a major role in the convention call to promote southern unity, but he did not originate the idea of such an assemblage.
Because of South Carolina's radical stance on slavery, it seemed desirable that the movement for a cooperative endeavor should come from another state. A bipartisan convention at Jackson, Mississippi, in October 1849 issued the call for the Nashville Convention. The proposal defined the purpose of the convention "to devise and adopt some mode of resistance to northern aggression."
The call for a southern convention initially produced a favorable response, especially among the Lower South states. Democrats took the lead, while the Whigs remained less inclined to approve the convention. No standard method of selecting candidates prevailed; when the Tennessee General Assembly failed to appoint delegates, the counties selected delegates in county meetings. The southern movement for unity reached a peak around February 1850; thereafter the introduction of compromise resolutions in the Senate and the prospect of a satisfactory adjustment somewhat lessened support for a southern convention in most states, except South Carolina.
One hundred 76 delegates attended the first session of the nine-day convention. The Tennessee delegation of 101 was the largest group from any state. The delegates adopted twenty-eight resolutions asserting the South's constitutional rights in the territories and the rights and interests of Texas in the boundary dispute. The convention recommended, as an extreme concession, an alternative division of the territories by an extension of the 36°30' line to the Pacific–an ironic position antithetical to the platform of noninterference. In addition, it adopted a more radical "Address to the People" of the southern states, written by the South Carolina fire-eater, Robert Barnwell Rhett. However, the moderates gained control of the convention and adopted a wait-and-see attitude. The convention also resolved that it would reassemble in Nashville on the sixth Monday after congressional adjournment.
After President Millard Fillmore signed the five bills that constituted the Compromise of 1850, interest in the second session of the convention declined considerably. Nevertheless, more than 50 delegates from seven southern states met at Nashville in November. Although they rejected united secession, delegates approved measures affirming the right of secession, denouncing the Compromise, and recommending a southern congress. Secession had been averted, and the Union was saved.
Though the Nashville Convention recorded little concrete accomplishment, it was by no means insignificant. It failed to unite the South, but it brought national attention to the South's grievances and undoubtedly influenced the passage of the Compromise of 1850. The convention revealed the loyalty of the South in 1850 to the concept of national unity and the willingness of southerners to compromise in order to save the Union.
Thelma Jennings, The Nashville Convention: Southern Movement for Unity, 1848-1850 (1980)