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How We Sold Our Soul–The Missouri Compromise

The Articles in the Category cover a vast range of history not only in our country but in the world as well. The category is entitled “How We Sold Our Soul”. In many cases our history has hinged on compromises being made by the powers at be. They say hind-sight is 20/20, which is why I am discussing these land mark decisions in this manner. The people that made these decisions in many cases thought they were doing the right thing. However in some instances they were made for expediency and little thought was given to the moral ramifications and the fallout that would result from them. I hope you enjoy these articles. The initial plan is to discuss 10 compromises, but as time progresses I am sure that number will increase.

After reaffirming their independence from Great Britain with the War of 1812, Americans looked westward to new horizons. Yet, as the United States moved west, new challenges arose regarding slavery’s expansion to new territories, including the Northwest Territories and territories created through the Louisiana Purchase. The Northwest Ordinance prohibited slavery in the Northwest Territories (Ohio, Indiana, Michigan Illinois, Wisconsin and parts of Minnesota); however, the debates over the organization Louisiana Purchase came to a head when Missouri applied for statehood in 1819. Although not the first American political compromise over slavery, the Missouri Compromise marked the beginning of an era where debates over slavery dominated the American political landscape.

In 1819, the Democratic-Republican Party had a monopoly over American politics as the Federalist Party ceased to exist following the War of 1812. However, factions existed within the Democratic-Republican Party which proved troublesome during Missouri’s bid for statehood. Representative James Tallmadge proposed as a condition of Missouri’s statehood that no further slaves could be imported into the state and all children born after Missouri’s admission to the Union shall be born free. This condition, known as the Tallmadge amendment, set out a plan for gradual emancipation in Missouri. Many northerners supported this amendment. However, one cannot equate northern support for this amendment with their support for emancipation and abolition. Many northerners were not abolitionists and in fact, by our modern standards, many held racist views on African Americans. Northerners mainly supported this amendment because they wanted to limit the political influence of southerners which was disproportionately large because of the three-fifths clause. Limiting slavery in the territories limited the representative boost gained from the three-fifths clause and denied southerners two extra Senate seats thereby limiting southern political influence.

While the Tallmadge amendment may seem reasonable to us today, in the antebellum era Americans (especially southerners) considered any political discussion of emancipation or abolition to be radical. In fact, southerners remained firmly opposed to any action that would limit the expansion of slavery in the territories. One reason was the commonly held belief that slavery needed to spread for it to survive. Tied into this belief was the fear of servile insurrection. Since many believed that if slavery could not expand westward, it would continue to grow on the east coast for a period, leaving a large concentration of slaves against a dwindling proportion of whites. Slaves would capitalize on their large population and engage in a large-scale revolt against their white masters inciting a horrifying race war. While this may seem farfetched, this scenario occurred during Haitian Rebellion in 1791, which remained on the forefront of southerners’ minds. Another reason why southerners supported slavery’s extension was for economic reasons. By 1820, human bodies served as the “cash crop” for Upper South states, specifically Virginia. Many Upper South slave owners would essentially breed slaves on their plantations and then sell them to Lower South states, which was incredibly lucrative. One Virginia slaveowner wrote in 1820 “a woman who brings a child every two years [is] more valuable than the best man on the farm.” For these reasons, southerners remained committed to allowing slavery in the new territories.

 On the floor of the House, Representative Thomas W. Cobb of Georgia looked Tallmadge dead in the eye and told him: “you have kindled a fire which all the waters in the ocean cannot put out, which seas of blood can only extinguish.”  While Cobb overly dramatized the situation, southern outrage over the Tallmadge amendment unified southerners against their northern counterparts and these whispers of sectional tensions grew as the antebellum period progressed. The House vote on the Tallmadge amendment was divided along sectional lines with northern representatives voting 80 to 14 in favor and southern representatives voting 64 to 2, against the amendment. The amendment narrowly passed the House. However, in the Senate southerners maintained greater influence and were able to block the passage of the amendment. The Tallmadge amendment failed which led to a deadlock in Congress. When Congress took their annual recess, the statehood bill lapsed.

Map of the United States published in 1850 which shows the Missouri Compromise Line Wikimedia Commons

When the 16th Congress convened in December 1819 Congressmen reignited debates over Missouri statehood. However, President James Monroe, Speaker of the House Henry Clay and key Senate Democratic-Republicans worked behind the scenes on a compromise to solve this crisis.  Senate Democratic-Republicans linked the admission of Maine to the Union to Missouri’s admission, essentially holding Maine statehood hostage. Senate Democratic-Republicans would only let Maine’s statehood bill go through if Congress admitted Missouri into the Union without the Tallmadge amendment. However, most northern Congressmen held out until Senator Jesse Thomas of Illinois (who owned “indentured” workers) proposed that slavery be allowed in Missouri but prohibited in the remainder of the Louisiana Purchase north of the 36°30’ parallel, Missouri’s southern boundary. Enough northern Congressmen came around in support of this Thomas amendment to pass the Missouri Compromise in March 1820. Passed as a package, the Missouri Compromise included the Thomas Amendment and stipulated that Maine (a free state) and Missouri (a slave state) would be admitted into the Union at the same time. This set a precedent that states would be admitted in pairs to maintain sectional balance in the Senate and the Electoral College.

The Missouri Compromise prevented the break-up of the Democratic-Republican party along sectional lines. Although the party eventually split following the presidential election of John Quincy Adams with the Clay and Adams’ faction forming the National Republican Party and Andrew Jackson’s faction forming the Democrat Party. Unfortunately, Monroe’s role in this compromise is largely forgotten even though he was instrumental in its passage. The bill launched Clay’s reputation as “the Great Compromiser,” a reputation which continued until his death in 1852. This spirit of compromise prevailed throughout the antebellum period until the 1850s when sectional tensions reached its peak, in part because Clay helped orchestrate a variety of congressional compromises. In 1854 the Kansas-Nebraska Act repealed the Missouri Compromise by replacing the Thomas amendment with popular sovereignty, which led to Bleeding Kansas. Maintaining sectional balance was tantamount, and the Missouri Compromise essentially settled debates of the expansion of slavery in territories; only to be reopened thirty years later with the Mexican Cession.

The Missouri Compromise (March 6, 1820) was a United States federal legislation that stopped northern attempts to forever prohibit slavery’s expansion by admitting Missouri as a slave state and Maine as a free state in exchange for legislation which prohibited slavery in the remaining Louisiana Purchase lands north of the 36°30′ parallel except for Missouri. The 16th United States Congress passed the legislation on March 3, 1820, and President James Monroe signed it on March 6, 1820.

Earlier, in February 1819, Representative James Tallmadge Jr.,a Democratic-Republican (Jeffersonian Republican) from New York, had submitted two amendments to Missouri’s request for statehood that included restrictions on slavery. Southerners objected to any bill that imposed federal restrictions on slavery and believed that it was a state issue, as settled by the Constitution. However, with the Senate evenly split at the opening of the debates, both sections possessing 11 states, the admission of Missouri as a slave state would give the South an advantage. Northern critics including Federalists and Democratic-Republicans objected to the expansion of slavery into the Louisiana Purchase territory on the Constitutional inequalities of the three-fifths rule, which conferred Southern representation in the federal government derived from a state’s slave population.

Jeffersonian Republicans in the North ardently maintained that a strict interpretation of the Constitution required that Congress act to limit the spread of slavery on egalitarian grounds. “Northern Republicans rooted their antislavery arguments, not on expediency, but in egalitarian morality.” “The Constitution, strictly interpreted, gave the sons of the founding generation the legal tools to hasten the removal of slavery, including the refusal to admit additional slave states.”

When free-soil Maine offered its petition for statehood, the Senate quickly linked the Maine and Missouri bills, making Maine admission a condition for Missouri entering the Union as a slave state. Senator Jesse B. Thomas of Illinois added a compromise proviso that excluded slavery from all remaining lands of the Louisiana Purchase north of the 36° 30′ parallel. The combined measures passed the Senate, only to be voted down in the House by Northern representatives who held out for a free Missouri. Speaker of the House Henry Clay of Kentucky, in a desperate bid to break the deadlock, divided the Senate bills. Clay and his pro-compromise allies succeeded in pressuring half of the anti-restrictionist House Southerners to submit to the passage of the Thomas proviso and maneuvered a number of restrictionist House northerners to acquiesce in supporting Missouri as a slave state. The Missouri question in the 15th Congress ended in stalemate on March 4, 1819, the House sustaining its northern antislavery position and the Senate blocking a slavery restricted statehood.

The Missouri Compromise was very controversial, and many worried that the country had become lawfully divided along sectional lines. The Kansas–Nebraska Act effectively repealed the bill in 1854, and the Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional in Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857), both of which increased tensions over slavery and contributed to the American Civil War. The compromise both delayed the Civil War and sowed its seeds; Thomas Jefferson writing contemporaneously predicted the line it had drawn would someday tear the Union apart. 40 years later, the North and South would split closely along the 36°30′ parallel and fight for four bloody years.

Era of Good Feelings and party “amalgamation”

The Era of Good Feelings, closely associated with the administration of President James Monroe (1817–1825), was characterized by the dissolution of national political identities. With the Federalists discredited by the Hartford Convention against the War of 1812, they were in decline nationally, and the “amalgamated” or hybridized Republicans adopted key Federalist economic programs and institutions, further erasing party identities and consolidating their victory.

The economic nationalism of the Era of Good Feelings authorized the Tariff of 1816 and incorporated the Second Bank of the United States, which portended an abandonment of the Jeffersonian political formula for strict construction of the Constitution, a limited central government, and commitments to the primacy of Southern agrarian interests. The end of opposition parties also meant the end of party discipline and the means to suppress internecine factional animosities. Rather than produce political harmony, as President James Monroe had hoped, amalgamation had led to intense rivalries among Democratic-Republicans.

It was amid that period’s “good feelings” during which Democratic-Republican Party discipline was in abeyance that the Tallmadge Amendment surfaced.

Louisiana Purchase and Missouri Territory

The immense Louisiana Purchase territories had been acquired through federal executive action, followed by Republican legislative authorization in 1803 under President Thomas Jefferson.

Prior to its purchase in 1803, the governments of Spain and France had sanctioned slavery in the region. Enslaved African Americans accounted for twenty to thirty percent of the non-Native American population in and around the main settlements of St. Louis and Ste. Genevieve. In 1804, Congress limited the further introduction of enslaved men and women to those introduced by actual settlers.

In addition, in appointing the officials from the Indiana Territory to Upper Louisiana (as Missouri was known until 1812), Congress heightened concerns that it intended to extend some sort of prohibition on slavery’s growth across the river. White Missourians objected to these restrictions, and in 1805, Congress withdrew them. The final version of the 1805 territorial ordinance omitted all references to slavery. Under the 1805 ordinance, slavery existed legally in Missouri (which included all of the Louisiana Purchase outside of Louisiana) by force of local law and territorial statute, rather than by territorial ordinance, as was the case in other territories where slavery was permitted.

It is unknown if Congress purposely omitted any reference to slavery or Article VI in the 1805 territorial ordinance. Nonetheless, over the next fifteen years, some restrictionists – including Amos Stoddard – claimed that this omission was deliberate, intended to allow the United States government to prohibit slavery in Missouri if circumstances proved more favorable in the future.

In 1812, Louisiana, a major cotton producer and the first to be carved from the Louisiana Purchase, had entered the Union as a slave state. Predictably, Missourians were adamant that slave labor should not be molested by the federal government.[18] In the years after the War of 1812, the region, now known as Missouri Territory, experienced rapid settlement, led by slaveholding planters.

Agriculturally, the land in the lower reaches of the Missouri River, from which that new state would be formed, had no prospects as a major cotton producer. Suited for diversified farming, the only crop regarded as promising for slave labor was hemp culture. On that basis, southern planters immigrated with their chattel to Missouri, and the slave population rose from 3,101 in 1810 to 10,000 in 1820. Out of the total population of 67,000, slaves represented about 15%.

By 1819, the population of Missouri Territory was approaching the threshold that would qualify it for statehood. An enabling act was provided to Congress empowering territorial residents to select convention delegates and draft a state constitution. The admission of Missouri Territory as a slave state was expected to be more-or-less routine.

Congress debates in 1819

When the Missouri statehood bill was opened for debate in the House of Representatives on February 13, 1819, early exchanges on the floor proceeded without serious incident. In the course of the proceedings, however, Representative James Tallmadge Jr. of New York “tossed a bombshell into the Era of Good Feelings” with the following amendments:

Provided, that the further introduction of slavery or involuntary servitude be prohibited, except for the punishment of crimes, whereof the party shall have been fully convicted; and that all children born within the said State after the admission thereof into the Union, shall be free at the age of twenty-five years.

A political outsider, the 41-year-old Tallmadge conceived his amendment based on a personal aversion to slavery. He had played a leading role in accelerating the emancipation of the remaining slaves in New York in 1817 and had campaigned against Illinois’s Black Codes. Though ostensibly free-soil, the new state had a constitution that permitted indentured servitude and a limited form of slavery. As a New York Republican, Tallmadge maintained an uneasy association with Governor DeWitt Clinton, a former Republican who depended on support from ex-Federalists. Clinton’s faction was hostile to Tallmadge for his spirited defense of General Andrew Jackson‘s contentious invasion of Florida.

After proposing the amendment, Tallmadge fell ill, and Representative John W. Taylor, a fellow New York Republican, stepped in to fill the void. Taylor also had antislavery credentials since in February 1819, he had proposed a similar slave restriction for Arkansas Territory in the House, which was defeated 89–87. In a speech before the House during the debate on the Tallmadge Amendment, Taylor was highly critical of southern lawmakers, who frequently voiced their dismay that slavery was entrenched and necessary to their existence, and he warned that Missouri’s fate would “decide the destiny of millions” in future states in the American West.

The controversy on the amendment and the future of slavery in the nation created much dissension among Jeffersonian Republicans and polarized the party. Northern Jeffersonian Republicans formed a coalition across factional lines with remnants of the Federalists. Southern Jeffersonians united in almost unanimous opposition. The ensuing debates pitted the northern “restrictionists”, antislavery legislators who wished to bar slavery from the Louisiana Territory and all future states and territories, and southern “anti-restrictionists”, proslavery legislators who rejected any interference by Congress that inhibited slavery expansion. The sectional “rupture” over slavery among Jeffersonian Republicans, first exposed in the Missouri Crisis, had its roots in the Revolutionary generation.

Five Representatives in Maine were opposed to spreading slavery into new territories. Dr. Brian Purnell, a professor of Africana Studies and US history at Bowdoin College, writes in Portland Magazine, “Martin Kinsley, Joshua Cushman, Ezekiel Whitman, Enoch Lincoln, and James Parker—wanted to prohibit slavery’s spread into new territories. In 1820, they voted against the Missouri Compromise and against Maine’s independence. In their defense, they wrote that, if the North, and the nation, embarked upon this Compromise—and ignored what experiences proved, namely that southern slaveholders were determined to dominate the nation through ironclad unity and perpetual pressure to demand more land, and more slaves—then these five Mainers declared Americans “shall deserve to be considered a besotted and stupid race, fit, only, to be led blindfold; and worthy, only, to be treated with sovereign contempt”.

Jeffersonian Republicanism and slavery

The Missouri crisis marked a rupture in the Republican Ascendency, the national association of Jeffersonian Democratic-Republicans that had dominated federal politics since the War of 1812.

The Founding Fathers had inserted both principled and expedient elements in the establishing documents. The Declaration of Independence in 1776 had been grounded on the claim that liberty established a moral ideal that made universal equality a common right. The Revolutionary generation had formed a government of limited powers in 1787 to embody the principles in the Declaration but “burdened with the one legacy that defied the principles of 1776”, human bondage. In a pragmatic commitment to form the Union, the federal apparatus would forego any authority to interfere directly with the institution of slavery if it existed under local control by the states. The acknowledgment of state sovereignty provided for the participation of the states that were the most committed to slave labor. With that understanding, slaveholders had co-operated in authorizing the Northwest Ordinance in 1787 and outlawing the trans-Atlantic slave trade in 1808. The Founders sanctioned slavery but did so with the implicit understanding that the slave states would take steps to relinquish the institution as opportunities arose.

Southern states, after the American Revolutionary War, had regarded slavery as an institution in decline except for Georgia and South Carolina. That was manifest in the shift towards diversified farming in the Upper South; the gradual emancipation of slaves in New England and more significantly in Mid-Atlantic States. In the 1790s, with the introduction of the cotton gin, to 1815, with the vast increase in demand for cotton internationally, slave-based agriculture underwent an immense revival that spread the institution westward to the Mississippi River. Antislavery elements in the South vacillated, as did their hopes for the imminent demise of human bondage.

However rancorous the disputes were by southerners themselves over the virtues of a slave-based society, they united against external challenges to their institution. They believed that free states were not to meddle in the affairs of slave states. Southern leaders, virtually all of whom identified as Jeffersonian Republicans, denied that northerners had any business encroaching on matters related to slavery. Northern attacks on the institution were condemned as incitements to riot by slave populations, which was deemed to be a dire threat to white southerners’ security.

Northern Jeffersonian Republicans embraced the Jeffersonian antislavery legacy during the Missouri debates and explicitly cited the Declaration of Independence as an argument against expanding the institution. Southern leaders, seeking to defend slavery, renounced the document’s universal egalitarian applications and its declaration that “all men are created equal.”

Struggle for political power

“Federal ratio” in House

Article 1, Section 2, of the US Constitution supplemented legislative representation in states whose residents owned slaves. Known as the Three-Fifths Clause, or the “federal ratio”, three-fifths of the slave population was numerically added to the free population. That sum was used for each state to calculate congressional districts and the number of delegates to the Electoral College. The federal ratio produced a significant number of legislative victories for the South in the years before the Missouri Crisis and raised the South’s influence in party caucuses, the appointment of judges, and the distribution of patronage. It is unlikely that the ratio before 1820 was decisive in affecting legislation on slavery. Indeed, with the rising northern representation in the House, the southern share of the membership had declined since the 1790s.

Hostility to the federal ratio had historically been the object of the Federalists, which were now nationally ineffectual, who attributed their collective decline on the “Virginia Dynasty“. They expressed their dissatisfaction in partisan terms, rather than in moral condemnation of slavery, and the pro-De Witt Clinton-Federalist faction carried on the tradition by posing as antirestrictionists to advance their fortunes in New York politics.

Senator Rufus King of New York, a Clinton associate, was the last Federalist icon still active on the national stage, a fact that was irksome to southern Republicans. A signatory to the US Constitution, he had strongly opposed the federal ratio in 1787. In the 15th Congress debates in 1819, he revived his critique as a complaint that New England and the Mid-Atlantic States suffered unduly from the federal ratio and declared himself ‘degraded’ (politically inferior) to the slaveholders. Federalists both in the North and the South preferred to mute antislavery rhetoric, but during the 1820 debates in the 16th Congress, King and other Federalists would expand their old critique to include moral considerations of slavery.

Republican James Tallmadge Jr. and the Missouri restrictionists deplored the federal ratio because it had translated into political supremacy for the South. They had no agenda to remove it from the Constitution but only to prevent its further application west of the Mississippi River.

As determined as southern Republicans were to secure Missouri statehood with slavery, the federal clause ratio to provide the margin of victory in the 15th Congress. Blocked by northern Republicans, largely on egalitarian grounds, with sectional support from Federalists, the statehood bill died in the Senate, where the federal ratio had no relevance. The balance of power between the sections and the maintenance of Southern pre-eminence on matters related to slavery resided in the Senate.

“Balance of power” in Senate

Northern majorities in the House did not translate into political dominance. The fulcrum for proslavery forces resided in the Senate, where constitutional compromise in 1787 had provided for two senators per state, regardless of its population. The South, with its smaller free population than the North, benefited from that arrangement. Since 1815, sectional parity in the Senate had been achieved through paired admissions, which left the North and the South, during the application of Missouri Territory, at 11 states each.

The South, voting as a bloc on measures that challenged slaveholding interests and augmented by defections from free states with southern sympathies, was able to tally majorities. The Senate stood as the bulwark and source of the Slave Power, which required admission of slave states to the Union to preserve its national primacy.

Missouri statehood, with the Tallmadge Amendment approved, would have set a trajectory towards a free state west of the Mississippi and a decline in southern political authority. The question as to whether the Congress was allowed to restrain the growth of slavery in Missouri took on great importance in slave states. The moral dimensions of the expansion of human bondage would be raised by northern Republicans on constitutional grounds.

Constitutional arguments

The Tallmadge Amendment was “the first serious challenge to the extension of slavery” and raised questions concerning the interpretation of the republic’s founding documents.

Jeffersonian Republicans justified Tallmadge’s restrictions on the grounds that Congress possessed the authority to impose territorial statutes that would remain in force after statehood was established. Representative John W. Taylor pointed to Indiana and Illinois, where their free state status conformed to antislavery provisions of the Northwest Ordinance.

Further, antislavery legislators invoked Article IV, Section 4 of the Constitution, which requires states to provide a republican form of government. As the Louisiana Territory was not part of the United States in 1787, they argued that introducing slavery into Missouri would thwart the egalitarian intent of the Founders.

Proslavery Republicans countered that the Constitution had long been interpreted as having relinquished any claim to restricting slavery in the states. The free inhabitants of Missouri in the territorial phase or during statehood had the right to establish or disestablish slavery without interference from the federal government. As to the Northwest Ordinance, southerners denied that it could serve as a lawful antecedent for the territories of the Louisiana Purchase, as the ordinance had been issued under the Articles of Confederation, rather than the US Constitution.

As a legal precedent, they offered the treaty acquiring the Louisiana lands in 1803, a document that included a provision, Article 3, which extended the rights of US citizens to all inhabitants of the new territory, including the protection of property in slaves. When slaveholders embraced Jeffersonian constitutional strictures on a limited central government, they were reminded that Jefferson, as president in 1803, had deviated from those precepts by wielding federal executive power to double the size of the United States, including the lands under consideration for Missouri statehood. In doing so, he set a constitutional precedent that would serve to rationalize Tallmadge’s federally-imposed slavery restrictions.

The 15th Congress had debates that focused on constitutional questions but largely avoided the moral dimensions raised by the topic of slavery. That the unmentionable subject had been raised publicly was deeply offensive to southern representatives and violated the long-time sectional understanding between legislators from free states and slave states.

Missouri statehood confronted southern Jeffersonians with the prospect of applying the egalitarian principles espoused by the Revolutionary generation. That would require halting the spread of slavery westward and confine the institution to where it already existed. Faced with a population of 1.5 million slaves and the lucrative production of cotton, the South would abandon hopes for containment. Slaveholders in the 16th Congress, in an effort to come to grips with that paradox, resorted to a theory that called for extending slavery geographically so as to encourage its decline, which they called “diffusion”.


On February 16, 1819, the House Committee of the Whole voted to link Tallmadge’s provisions with the Missouri statehood legislation by 79–67. After the committee vote, debates resumed over the merits of each of Tallmadge’s provisions in the enabling act. The debates in the House’s 2nd session in 1819 lasted only three days. They have been characterized as “rancorous”, “fiery”, “bitter”, “blistering”, “furious” and “bloodthirsty”.

You have kindled a fire which all the waters of the ocean cannot put out, which seas of blood can only extinguish.— Representative Thomas W. Cobb of Georgia

If a dissolution of the Union must take place, let it be so! If civil war, which gentlemen so much threaten, must come, I can only say, let it come!— Representative James Tallmadge Jr. of New York:

Representatives from the North outnumbered those from the South in House membership 105 to 81. When each of the restrictionist provisions was put to the vote, they passed along sectional lines: 87 to 76 for prohibition on further slave migration into Missouri and 82 to 78 for emancipating the offspring of slaves at 25.

Northern Federalists223328
Northern Republicans647677
North total86109105
South total1661380
House total877622185
House vote on restricting slavery in Missouri

The enabling bill was passed to the Senate, and both parts of it were rejected: 22–16 against the restriction of new slaves in Missouri (supported by five northerners, two of whom were the proslavery legislators from the free state of Illinois) and 31–7 against the gradual emancipation for slave children born after statehood. House antislavery restrictionists refused to concur with the Senate proslavery anti-restrictionists, and Missouri statehood would devolve upon the 16th Congress in December 1819.

Federalist “plots” and “consolidation”

The Missouri Compromise debates stirred suspicions by slavery interests that the underlying purpose of the Tallmadge Amendments had little to do with opposition to the expansion of slavery. The accusation was first leveled in the House by the Republican anti-restrictionist John Holmes from the District of Maine. He suggested that Senator Rufus King’s “warm” support for the Tallmadge Amendment concealed a conspiracy to organize a new antislavery party in the North, which would be composed of old Federalists in combination with disaffected antislavery Republicans. The fact that King in the Senate and Tallmadge and Tyler in the House, all New Yorkers, were among the vanguard for restriction on slavery in Missouri lent credibility to those charges. When King was re-elected to the US Senate in January 1820, during the 16th Congress debates and with bipartisan support, suspicions deepened and persisted throughout the crisis. Southern Jeffersonian Republican leadership, including President Monroe and ex-President Thomas Jefferson, considered it as an article of faith that Federalists, given the chance, would destabilize the Union as to restore monarchical rule in North America and “consolidate” political control over the people by expanding the functions of the federal government. Jefferson, at first unperturbed by the Missouri question, soon became convinced that a northern conspiracy was afoot, with Federalists and crypto-Federalists posing as Republicans and using Missouri statehood as a pretext.

The disarray of the Republican ascendancy brought about by amalgamation made fears abound in Southerners that a Free State Party might take shape if Congress failed to reach an understanding over Missouri and slavery and possibly threaten southern pre-eminence. Secretary of State John Quincy Adams of Massachusetts surmised that the political configuration for just such a sectional party already existed. That the Federalists were anxious to regain a measure of political participation in national politics was indisputable. There was no basis, however, for the charge that Federalists had directed Tallmadge in his antislavery measures, and there was nothing to indicate that a New York-based King-Clinton alliance sought to erect an antislavery party on the ruins of the Republican Party. The allegations by Southern interests for slavery of a “plot” or that of “consolidation” as a threat to the Union misapprehended the forces at work in the Missouri crisis. The core of the opposition to slavery in the Louisiana Purchase was informed by Jeffersonian egalitarian principles, not a Federalist resurgence.

Development in Congress

Extension of the Missouri Compromise Line westward was discussed by Congress during the Texas Annexation in 1845, during the Compromise of 1850, and as part of the proposed Crittenden Compromise in 1860, but the line never reached the Pacific.

Because it no longer wanted to be part of non-contiguous Massachusetts after the War of 1812, the northern region of Massachusetts, the District of Maine, sought and ultimately gained admission into the United States as a free state to become the separate state of Maine. That occurred only as a result of a compromise involving slavery in Missouri and in the federal territories of the American West.

The admission of another slave state would increase southern power when northern politicians had already begun to regret the Constitution’s Three-Fifths Compromise. Although more than 60 percent of white Americans lived in the North, northern representatives held only a slim majority of congressional seats by 1818. The additional political representation allotted to the South as a result of the Three-Fifths Compromise gave southerners more seats in the House of Representatives than they would have had if the number was based on the free population alone. Moreover, since each state had two Senate seats, Missouri’s admission as a slave state would result in more southern than northern senators.[89] A bill to enable the people of the Missouri Territory to draft a constitution and form a government preliminary to admission into the Union came before the House of Representatives in Committee of the Whole, on February 13, 1819. James Tallmadge of New York offered the Tallmadge Amendment, which forbade further introduction of slaves into Missouri and mandated that all children of slave parents born in the state after its admission to be free at the age of 25. The committee adopted the measure and incorporated it into the bill as finally passed on February 17, 1819, by the House. The Senate refused to concur with the amendment, and the whole measure was lost.

During the following session (1819–1820), the House passed a similar bill with an amendment, introduced on January 26, 1820, by John W. Taylor of New York, allowing Missouri into the union as a slave state. The question had been complicated by the admission in December of Alabama, a slave state, which made the number of slave and free states equal. In addition, there was a bill in passage through the House (January 3, 1820) to admit Maine as a free state.

The Senate decided to connect the two measures. It passed a bill for the admission of Maine with an amendment enabling the people of Missouri to form a state constitution. Before the bill was returned to the House, a second amendment was adopted, on the motion of Jesse B. Thomas of Illinois, to exclude slavery from the Louisiana Territory north of 36°30 north, the southern boundary of Missouri, except within the limits of the proposed state of Missouri.

The vote in the Senate was 24-20 for the compromise. The amendment and the bill passed in the Senate on February 17 and February 18, 1820. The House then approved the Senate compromise amendment, 90–87, with all of the opposition coming from representatives from the free states. The House then approved the whole bill 134–42 with opposition from the southern states.

Second Missouri Compromise

The two houses were at odds on the issue of the legality of slavery but also on the parliamentary question of the inclusion of Maine and Missouri in the same bill. The committee recommended the enactment of two laws, one for the admission of Maine and the other an enabling act for Missouri. It also recommended having no restrictions on slavery but keeping the Thomas Amendment. Both houses agreed, and the measures were passed on March 5, 1820, and signed by President James Monroe on March 6.

The question of the final admission of Missouri came up during the session of 1820–1821. The struggle was revived over a clause in Missouri’s new constitution, written in 1820, which required the exclusion of “free negroes and mulattoes” from the state. The influence of Kentucky Senator Henry Clay, known as “The Great Compromiser”, an act of admission was finally passed if the exclusionary clause of the Missouri constitution should “never be construed to authorize the passage of any law” impairing the privileges and immunities of any U.S. citizen. That deliberately ambiguous provision is sometimes known as the Second Missouri Compromise.

Impact on political discourse

For decades afterward, Americans hailed the 1820 agreement as an essential compromise, almost on the sacred level of the Constitution itself. Although the Civil War broke out in 1861, historians often say that the Compromise helped postpone the war.

Animation showing the free/slave status of U.S. states and territories, 1789–1861, including the Missouri Compromise

The disputes involved the competition between the southern and northern states for power in Congress and control over future territories. There were also the same factions emerging, as the Democratic-Republican Party began to lose its coherence. In an April 22 letter to John HolmesThomas Jefferson wrote that the division of the country created by the Compromise Line would eventually lead to the destruction of the Union:

…but this momentous question, like a fire bell in the night, awakened and filled me with terror. I considered it at once as the knell of the Union. It is hushed indeed for the moment. but this is a reprieve only, not a final sentence. A geographical line, coinciding with a marked principle, moral and political, once conceived and held up to the angry passions of men, will never be obliterated; and every new irritation will mark it deeper and deeper.

The debate over the admission of Missouri also raised the issue of sectional balance, as the country was equally divided between slave states and free states, with eleven each. To admit Missouri as a slave state would tip the balance in the Senate, which is made up of two senators per state, in favor of the slave states. That made northern states want Maine admitted as a free state. Maine was admitted in 1820, and Missouri in 1821, The trend of admitting a new free or slave state to balance the status of previous ones would continue up until 1850. The next state to be admitted would be Arkansas (slave state) in 1836, quickly followed by Michigan (free state) in 1837. In 1845, two slave states (Texas and Florida) were admitted, which was countered by the free states of Iowa and Wisconsin in 1846 and 1848.

From the constitutional standpoint, the Missouri Compromise was important as the example of congressional exclusion of slavery from US territory acquired since the Northwest Ordinance. Nevertheless, the Compromise was deeply disappointing to blacks in both the North and the South, as it stopped the Southern progression of gradual emancipation at Missouri’s southern border, and it legitimized slavery as a southern institution.


The provisions of the Missouri Compromise forbidding slavery in the former Louisiana Territory north of the parallel 36°30′ north were effectively repealed by Stephen A. Douglas‘s Kansas–Nebraska Act of 1854. The repeal of the Compromise caused outrage in the North and sparked the return to politics of Abraham Lincoln, who criticized slavery and excoriated Douglas’s act in his “Peoria Speech” (October 16, 1854).

Effects of the Compromise

The Missouri Compromise of 1820, while repealed just 30 years later, is a benchmark moment in United States history. A bill created with the idea of finding peace and a solution to an ever-growing debate, the Missouri Compromise of 1820 would perpetuate the tensions and debates revolving around the hot-button issue of slavery for years to come. 

The exchange of Missouri as a slave state in favor of the ban of slavery north of the 36-30 line and a free Maine was just a temporary solution to the problem. Southerners believed federal regulation of slavery was unconstitutional and to impose a restriction on the instituion of slavery was out of their jurisdiction. Northerners saw the deal as a way to keep the score even and keep the current state of the nation at bay. It was clear that both regions saw the compromise as unjust or unfair to their own side.

Just 30 years later, the debates repeated itself in the form of Kansas and Nebraska. The Missouri Compromise was struck down as unconstitutional, and slavery and anti-slavery proponents rushed into the territory to vote in favor or against the practice. The rush, effectively led to massacre known as Bleeding Kansas and propelled itself into the very real beginnings of the American Civil War. 

The Missouri Compromise: What Was it and How Did it Contribute to the Civil War?

The Missouri Compromise was an important factor in the events that lead up to the Civil War. This is what the Missouri Compromise was, and how it contributed to the Civil War that was to come.

The Missouri Compromise was passed into law in 1820 and regulated slavery in the western states. Though it was passed forty-one years before the Civil War, it still played a large role in laying the groundwork for the war that was to come. It contributed to the division and disagreement between north and south regarding the issue of slavery and made the issue more contentious between the two sides of the country.

The Missouri Compromise was written by Henry Clay, and both pro and anti-slavery proponents in Congress agreed to it. The Compromise forbade slavery in Louisiana and any territory that was once part of it in the Louisiana Purchase. Slavery was also forbidden anywhere north of the 36/30 parallel, except within the territory of Missouri (which was being proposed as a state), where it was to be allowed.

This compromise remained the law of the land until it was repealed by the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, and shortly thereafter was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in the Dredd Scott case. The Kansas-Nebraska Act allowed slavery in Kansas Territory and Nebraska Territory, which were higher than the 36/30 parallel. It also allowed future states that were admitted to the union to allow the population of that territory to decide themselves through voting whether they would allow slavery or not. The Kansas-Nebraska Act did away with the prohibition on slavery in the areas established by the Missouri Compromise.

By repealing the Missouri Compromise, people in the anti-slavery north viewed Congress as allowing the south to exert more control in Congress, and they resented it. It also made the south seem more aggressive in their pro-slavery sentiments. The repeal of the Missouri Compromise lead to the formation of the anti-slavery Republican party.

During the thirty-four years the Missouri Compromise was active, most Americans were happy with it. They viewed it as an important compromise between north and south and as sacred as the Constitution itself. Many people view the compromise as postponing the inevitable Civil War, which would probably have occurred sooner than it did without the relative peace the Compromise brought. Others felt that it made the north seem more aggressive in its anti-slavery views and contributed to southern resentment, which may have led to the Civil War occurring sooner.

The Missouri Compromise was meant to create balance between slave and non-slave states. With it, the country was equally divided between slave and free states. Admitting Missouri as a slave state gave the south one more state than the north. Adding Maine as a free state balanced things out again. Thomas Jefferson predicted dividing the country this way would eventually lead the country into Civil War. Others felt it was the perfect solution to the slave and anti-slave problem the country was facing at the time.

Whether the Missouri Compromise directly lead to the Civil War or postponed it depended on which side of the country you lived in at the time, and how you looked at it politically. Either way, it was an important early milestone in the road to the war that lead to freedom for millions of people and a new way of life in the United States.

Missouri Compromise exposed the raw nerve of slavery

Missouri Compromise

When President Thomas Jefferson purchased 828,000 acres of heartland from Napoleon of France for a little more than $11 million in 1803, he was overjoyed with the prospect of securing the vital Mississippi River and the port of New Orleans for America’s interests. But with all the good that the Louisiana Purchase brought to the United States, it also presented the growing country with a difficult and painful question: Should the states created out of that land be slave or free?

Louisiana had been carved out and accepted as a slave state in 1812, but no other territory had petitioned Congress for statehood out of the purchase lands until Missouri did so in 1818, also wanting to enter the Union as a slave state. That request threatened to unsettle a delicate balance of 11 slave and 11 free states, a balance both sides found necessary for maintaining equal representation in the Senate.

The fledgling abolitionist movement saw a chance to bring its cause to the foreground, and the issue of slavery in Missouri was thrown before the House of Representatives in February 1819 when James Tallmadge of New York proposed an amendment to ban slavery within the boundaries of the new state. Tallmadge also advocated gradual emancipation for the thousands of chattels already living there.

That amendment set off contentious debates within the House and brought the issue of slavery into the national spotlight once again, after the topic had been comparatively quiet since the late 18th century.Southerners adamantly fought the Tallmadge Amendment, protesting the imbalance of representation that having one more free than slave state would cause, as well as the unveiled threat on the institution so critical to the plantation economy.
On the other side of the aisle, most Northern representatives were not abolitionists and cared little for slaves as people, but supported Tallmadge because they believed slavery posed a threat to the farm-and-industry economic model just beginning to take hold above the Mason-Dixon line. In short, they didn’t want large plantations taking all the land from free husbandmen and their families.

In mid-February 1819, the Tallmadge Amendment passed the House by a vote of 82 to 78, but both the slavery ban and the emancipation proposals were defeated in the Senate.
The issue remained at an impasse until December when Maine and Henry Clay, the Speaker of the House from Kentucky who owned slaves but had famously proclaimed that he was an American first and a Southerner second, entered the debate. Maine, up to that time a part of Massachusetts, wanted to enter as a free state, and Clay decreed that could not occur unless Missouri came in with slavery.

In February 1820, Illinois Senator Jesse B.Thomas suggested a proposal that would eventually be called the Missouri Compromise: Maine would enter as a free state, Missouri would come in with slaves, but no slavery would be permitted in other states developed out of the Louisiana Purchase north of 36 degrees 30 minutes latitude, Missouri’s southern boundary. The Thomas proposal was accepted in the Senate but defeated in the House, and ardent debate along sectional lines resumed in Congress.

Clay stepped into the fray again and used his considerable influence and power as House speaker to work with both his Northern and Southern colleagues and have them accept Thomas’ compromise as a resolution to the situation. In early March, Congress finally agreed on what they called the Missouri Compromise.

Many congressmen remained shaken by the controversy. Slavery had once again proved to be an issue that divided the nation along sectional lines. Southerners had been thrown on the defensive to justify their “peculiar institution,” Northerners had fumed that “slave power” was trying to take up all the land, and abolitionists such as Congressman Arthur Livermore of New Hamp­shire wondered “how long will the desire for wealth render us blind to the sin of holding…our fellow men in chains?”

The Missouri Compromise would prove to be only a temporary solution to the growing slavery crisis. For 25 years the situation regarding territorial settlement remained relatively calm. But when the Mexican War in 1846-48 brought more land under the United States’ control, the nettlesome issue flared up again. Once more, Henry Clay had to step in to hammer out a compromise—and once more it would be only temporary, as more and more crises over slavery erupted.

As the early debates over Missouri’s admission raged, perhaps no one was more unsettled than the man who had purchased all that cheap land west of the Mississippi River. In 1820 Thomas Jefferson wrote to a friend that the fight over slavery in Missouri “like a fire bell in the night, awakened me and filled me with terror.” Jefferson would die in 1826, but the fire bells over slavery had just begun to toll.

The Missouri Compromise consisted of three large parts:  Missouri entered the Union as a slave state, Maine entered as a free state, and the 36’30” line was established as the dividing line regarding slavery for the remainder of the Louisiana Territory. Any states carved out of land north of this line would be free and any states south of the 36’30”could either choose slavery or no slavery.

This monumental political compromise, crafted by Henry Clay, kept the union together by maintaining the political balance of 12 free states and 12 slave states in the U.S. Senate and settled the question of slavery’s expansion into new territories for the next 30 years. The Missouri Compromise was accepted because it: 1) maintained congressional balance in the Senate, 2) allowed for certain new territories to be slave states, and 3) allowed certain new territories to be non-slavery states. Thus, the Compromise appealed in some measure to both the Southerners and Northerners.

Eventually, with the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, the Missouri Compromise was overturned and slavery was decided by popular vote (popular sovereignty);, no matter where a new state was, the people of the state could decide if they wanted to allow slavery or not.

With the purchase of the Louisiana Territory from France in 1803, a vast new area of landholdings in excess of 800,000 square miles fell into the lap of the United States. This enormous land acquisition, which came with the principle port of New Orleans, might ensure the success of the American democratic experiment. America would prevent European powers from controlling the Mississippi River and expand America’s economic resource base tremendously. The larger question concerned the spread of slavery: Would this land be open to the spread of slavery throughout as southerners hoped or would Congress exert its authority and deny slavery’s existence there as many northerners desired?

The question of whether or not Congress would outlaw slavery in new states entering from the Louisiana Purchase would hinge on sectional power; sectional power would be decided by who had more seats in Congress, the North or the South. Though there was a much larger presence of northern Congressmen in the House of Representatives by 1820, the balance between slave and free Senators was tied at 11. Ever since the introduction of Kentucky and Vermont in 1791-1792, the political balance between the sections had been maintained. Both sides understood that if an imbalance towards one section or the other was enacted, then their own economic, cultural and political sentiments would be outvoted by the other. This is why Missouri’s request to enter as a slave state in 1820 was so significant.

Questions of Compromise

Missouri’s request to join the Union raised a number of questions:

These are the questions that created such vehement division in America in 1819 and 1820. The issue as Jefferson so aptly described was like a “firebell in the night”.

The North believed that since Congress had control over the territories and the admittance of new states that it could determine the slavery solution in the territories. Northern Senators presented the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 as their precedent. This ordinance outlawed the further introduction of slavery into the lands north of the Ohio River. With this precedent in mind, numerous northerners backed a resolution by the Pennsylvanian Congressman, James Tallmadge, which required Missouri to add an amendment to their state constitution that would forbid the further introduction of slavery into the state and that slaves presently in Missouri would be freed upon the age of twenty-five. (Synthesis: This amendment was a continuation of gradual emancipation. Gradual emancipation was the practice of northern states gradually emancipating their slaves either through state laws or state amendments to their constitutions. Gradual emancipation began in the northern states near the end of the 18th century.)

The South was adamant in its rejection of the northern position that Congress could dictate to a state that it could not have slavery. The southern legislators believed that denial of slavery into a state would violate a citizen’s 5th amendment right to property (slaves at this time were considered property). Additionally, the Northwest Ordinance was not a valid precedence because it was enacted before the Constitution was ratified.

For the first two decades of the 19th century, there was great tension over the proper direction of America’s economy. The Hamiltonian vision preached industrialization, while the Jeffersonian vision espoused an agrarian (farming) America. The northern states had slowly industrialized with the beginnings of textile manufacturing during the American embargo before the War of 1812. The southern states were built upon an agrarian economy because of their reliance on tobacco as a cash crop. Then, due to the introduction of the revolutionary new cotton gin in the 1790’s, cotton was now profitable within the southern domain. The upland, interior areas of the South were now opened to cotton production and, as a result, cotton boomed to prominence over the next several decades. Accompanying this crop’s growth however came soil butchery, the stripping of the soil of valuable minerals to the point that agricultural production was impossible. This butchery occurred on an unimaginable scale although this was not an immediate problem. Anyone looking into the future would quickly understand that the available lands would most certainly run out within a few short decades. Thus, the southern region looked towards the new virgin lands of the West. However, there were major obstacles in the way. The bulk of the people flooding westward were emigrating from the northern free states and their free labor was in direct opposition to the institution of slavery.

The sectional political balance in the U.S. Senate would be maintained over the next three decades until the Compromise of 1850.   Also, the Missouri Compromise allowed the United States to continue its balance between the Hamiltonian vision of industrialization and the Jeffersonian vision of agriculture. However,  change was inevitable regarding whether or not Congress could determine the question of slavery’s expansion. As John Quincy Adams stated, the Missouri Compromise was “a mere preamble, a title page to a great tragic volume.” His quote foreshadowed the complete polarization of the nation over the question of slavery’s expansion into the territory as the 19th century progressed. This division began to reveal itself with the reversal of the Missouri Compromise in 1854. Under the Kansas-Nebraska Act, Congress delegated authority for each state, by popular vote, to determine the question of slavery in the territories. Slavery could now effectively move into formerly free territories. The result was violent civil conflict in the Kansas territory (otherwise known as Bleeding Kansas), the destruction of the Whig party, and the fraying of the national union in 1861 with the onset of the Civil War.

The Missouri Compromise and the dangerous precedent of appeasement

“This momentous question, like a fire bell in the night, awakened and filled me with terror. I considered it at once as the knell of the Union.”—Thomas Jefferson on the westward expansion of slavery, 1820

Compromise or appeasement?

Thomas Jefferson, third president of the United States and aged leader of his party, wrote during the Missouri Controversy of 1820 that the westward expansion of slavery would lead to the “[death] knell of the Union.” Jefferson was right, if a little premature; Congress held the union together for another forty years through compromises before slave states finally seceded and brought on the Civil War in 1861. The Missouri Compromise was one of many such attempts to prevent the union from fracturing over slavery, and it established the model for maintaining a balance of power between free and slave states that lasted until the 1850s.For many years, historians celebrated these compromises as valiant efforts to save the union, but more recently, historians have begun to question whether they should instead be characterized as appeasements of slaveholders, who often got the better end of the bargain.

People and terms

Democratic-RepublicansDemocratic-Republicans were members of an early American political party that championed state and local government, westward expansion, and the interests of farmers.
Northwest OrdinanceThe Northwest Ordinance (1787) organized the region surrounding the Great Lakes into a territory where slavery was prohibited.
James MonroeJames Monroe served as president from 1817–1825. He was a member of the Democratic-Republican party and today is most famous for the “Monroe Doctrine,” which opposed further European colonization of Latin America.
Three-Fifths ClauseThe Three-Fifths Clause is part of Article I, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution, which determines how seats in the House of Representatives are apportioned according to state population. The Framers of the Constitution agreed to count three-fifths (60%) of the enslaved people living in a state as part of its population (even though enslaved people had no citizenship rights and could not vote). This gave southern states more power than they would have wielded otherwise.
Louisiana PurchaseThe Louisiana Purchase was a land deal between France and the United States, which purchased the right to acquire territory belonging to Indigenous peoples between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains.
Gradual emancipationGradual emancipation was a method of phasing out the institution of slavery over time favored by many northern state legislatures in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.
Henry ClayHenry Clay was a Kentucky statesman who served as Speaker of the House and Secretary of State. He was called the “Great Compromiser” for his role in brokering compromises between northerners and southerners.
Privileges and immunities clauseThe privileges and immunities clause in the Constitution prevents states from treating citizens of other states in a discriminatory manner.

Bad feelings in the Era of Good Feelings

The U.S. political sphere after the conclusion of the War of 1812 has often been called the “Era of Good Feelings,” a rare period when there was only one active political party in the United States (the Democratic-Republicans) and President James Monroe promoted national pride and unity. But the lack of party divisions soon revealed deeper fissures in American politics: between northerners, who opposed the expansion of slavery, and southerners, who balked at any attempt to restrict human bondage. These divisions—and their potential to break apart the United States—came into sharp focus during the controversy over the admission of the state of Missouri.

In 1819, more than forty years after the Founders signed the Declaration of Independence, a new generation of statesmen emerged onto the American political stage. Some, like John Quincy Adams, were the actual children of the Founders; others, like Monroe, were merely their spiritual heirs. In either case, they were beginning to chafe at some of their forebears’ choices. Northerners resented the amount of influence that southerners exercised in the government: the “Three-Fifths Clause” in the Constitution gave slave states undeserved power in the House of Representatives, and Virginians had controlled the presidency for twenty-six out of the thirty years the office had existed.For their part, southerners regretted the precedent set by the Northwest Ordinance and the ban on the international slave trade, which suggested that the federal government had the power to regulate slavery outside of southern states. When Congress passed those acts in the late eighteenth century, slavery seemed like a dying institution, but the introduction of the cotton gin revived its profitability. By 1820, white southerners were more committed to enslaving and selling Black men, women, and children than ever before.

The balance of power, the Missouri controversy, and “gradual emancipation”

Both sides knew that their fortunes ultimately depended on the west, where new states would determine the balance of congressional power. The U.S. government had gained over 800,000 acres of land through the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, and white settlers had begun carving future states out of these Indigenous lands. The state of Louisiana was the first to enter the union from the territory; Missouri was not far behind.

In February 1819, the House of Representatives began to consider the Missouri Territory’s request to organize a state government. That Missouri would soon enter the union as a slave state seemed likely, until New York Representative James Tallmadge Jr. proposed an amendment to the bill. The Tallmadge amendment provided for the gradual emancipation of enslaved people in Missouri: although no enslaved person currently residing in Missouri would be freed, no more enslaved people could be brought into the state and any children born to enslaved people there would be free at the age of 25. This plan was quite similar to one recently adopted by the state of New York, which had the largest enslaved population among northern states. The amendment stirred up such a controversy in Congress that its members threatened civil war. Tallmadge himself professed that “If a dissolution of the Union must take place, let it be so! If civil war, which gentlemen so much threaten, must come, I can only say, let it come!” Supporters of the amendment argued that the Northwest Ordinance showed that the Founders had intended to prevent slavery’s expansion into new territories. Thomas Jefferson, who had been one of those Founders, now promoted the disingenuous “diffusion” argument that expanding slavery into new territories would actually help to bring about its eventual demise. Opponents of the amendment countered that slavery had continued unabated in Louisiana following its organization as a territory and state. Why should Missouri be any different? The vote on the amendment’s provisions brought sectional divisions into sharp relief: in the House, where northerners had the population advantage, the bill passed; in the Senate, where states had equal representation, it failed. Congress could not resolve the issue in its February session, and the question of Missouri’s statehood had to wait until December.

Maine, Missouri, and another compromise

While Congress was adjourned, the Massachusetts legislature voted to permit what was then the District of Maine to organize as a separate state. When Congress reconvened in December, pro-slavery Senate leaders put the Maine and Missouri questions into a single bill, in an attempt to make approving slavery in Missouri a condition of admitting Maine as a state. This measure passed the Senate but not the House, whose majority still hoped to keep slavery out of Missouri.

Finally, the Speaker of the House, Henry Clay, engineered the “Missouri Compromise”: Missouri would get its enabling act (which would allow it to become a state), without conditions restricting slavery; Maine would enter the union as a free state, while slavery would be banned in the rest of the Louisiana Purchase territory above the southern border of Missouri (at latitude 36°30’N). In March 1820, Congress consented to these terms, and Maine entered the union as a free state shortly thereafter.But the controversy was not yet at an end. When Missouri submitted its new state constitution for Congressional approval later that year, northern restrictionists balked when they saw that—in addition to legalizing slavery “in perpetuity”—it included a statute banning any free people of color from entering or settling in the state. As free people of color had citizenship in several northern states, this statute violated the privileges and immunities clause of the Constitution. Henry Clay once again brokered a compromise, extracting an empty promise from the Missouri state legislature not to pass any laws that violated the privileges and immunities clause in exchange for ratification of its constitution. Missouri officially entered the union as a slave state in 1821.

The consequences of compromise

The Missouri Compromise avoided a national crisis, but it did nothing to resolve the problems that had caused it in the first place, which would resurface with a vengeance in the years leading up to the Civil War. The question of whether Congress should permit slavery not only to exist but to expand westward, further entrenching an institution bringing misery to millions of enslaved people, would continue to create sectional strife for another forty years.

Despite its name, the Missouri Compromise (which ensured that Missouri could become a slave state—while slavery would be banned in the rest of the Louisiana Purchase territory above the southern border of Missouri) was a victory for slaveholders. For them, it confirmed the principle that slavery could expand into new states. The Missouri Compromise was overturned (by the 1854 Kansas-Nebraska Act) before any free states could be formed out of the Louisiana Purchase territory earmarked for them. Then, in an effort to prevent any future efforts to limit slavery’s expansion, the slaveholder-dominated Supreme Court ruled the Missouri Compromise unconstitutional in 1857.Appeasing slaveholders was a doomed enterprise, however. Slaveholding states seceded from the union in 1861, starting the Civil War, and ultimately brought about the end to slavery they had feared for so long.


Now that you know more about the Missouri Compromise than you ever thought you wanted to, lets just cut to the chase. This is another compromise that came about because of the thorny subject of slavery. Deep down I know that both sides realized that slavery was wrong. It was morally and ethically wrong as spiritually wrong. Unfortunately farming technology was fairly primitive at this time and it was extremely labor intensive. Cotton was probably the most difficult as well as most profitable product to harvest. Without slaves there simply was not enough labor to bring these crops to harvest. So instead of freeing the slaves and hiring them on as laborers, they kept up the old ways. Economically I don’t believe slavery was more economical than hiring individuals. So we find ourselves in another situation where we are trying to defend a morally indefensible practice. Our country was growing, with seemingly new states being added every couple of years to the Union.

What caused such a problem was the paranoia of the south, they felt that if there was not a stalemate in congress, slavery would be abolished. I am sure they were right. So instead of working together on coming up with a plan to eliminate slavery and make the southern farming culture more efficient, they came up with this stop gap compromise. What it in essence only served to do was to postpone the Civil War by 30 to 40 years. It is amazing how our country which arose due to religious persecution had now become a country that was now enslaving individuals for expediency. When you stop and think about it, you have to be amazed on the irony of the situation. What could have been resolved if cooler heads had prevailed was only partially resolved by the death of 100’s of thousands of young men, most of whom had no real vested interest in the matter. Even the mass casualties caused by the civil war did not solve the problem, it would take another 100 years of strife to begin to heal the wounds that slavery caused.

Resources, ” Missouri Compromise.” By Wikipedia Editors;, “The Missouri Compromise”;, “Effects of the Compromise”;, “The Missouri Compromise: What Was it and How Did it Contribute to the Civil War?” By Will;, “Quick Answer: Why was the Missouri Compromise significant?”;, “Transcript of Missouri Compromise (1820)”;, “Missouri Compromise exposed the raw nerve of slavery.” By Parke Pierson;, “The Missouri Compromise of 1820.” By Christopher Averill;, “The Missouri Compromise and the dangerous precedent of appeasement.” By Dr. Kimberly Kuntz Elliott;


What is the significance of the Missouri Compromise?

Missouri Compromise, (1820), in U.S. history, measure worked out between the North and the South and passed by the U.S. Congress that allowed for admission of Missouri as the 24th state (1821). It marked the beginning of the prolonged sectional conflict over the extension of slavery that led to the American Civil War.

What was the significance of the Missouri Compromise quizlet?

The purpose of the Missouri Compromise was to keep a balance between the number of slave states and the number of free states in the Union. It allowed Missouri to enter as a slave state at the same time Maine entered as a free state, thus maintaining a balance in numbers of free and slave states.

What was significant about Missouri Compromise and the Compromise of 1850?

The Compromise of 1850, which admitted California to the Union as a free state, required California to send one pro-slavery senator to maintain the balance of power in the Senate. The controversial law effectively repealed the Missouri Compromise by allowing slavery in the region north of the 36º 30′ parallel.

What were the three decisions in the Missouri Compromise and what was the significance of the compromise?

What were the three decisions in in the Missouri compromise? One was to make Missouri part of the union as a slave state. The second was to add Maine to the union as a free state. The third was to mark an imaginary line across the Louisiana purchase and declared any state north of it a free state. 

How did the Missouri Compromise affect the spread of slavery?

The main issue of the Missouri Compromise of 1820 was how to deal with the spread of slavery into western territories. The compromise divided the lands of the Louisiana Purchase into two parts. But north of that line, slavery would be forbidden, except in the new state of Missouri.

What were the long term effects of the Missouri Compromise?

Also, slavery was banned in territories north of parallel 36°30′, except for Missouri. The longterm effect was the division of the country into North and South sections, which defined the subsequent battles over slavery and the Civil War.

How was the Missouri Compromise a turning point?

The Missouri Compromise was a turning point in the Civil War because it dealt with separating the North and South by using slavery. Tensions finally rose to a great enough extent and the war broke out. The Louisiana Purchase land went passed the border line and was partial free and slave state.

What were the most important elements of the Missouri Compromise?

First, Missouri would be admitted to the union as a slave state, but would be balanced by the admission of Maine, a free state, that had long wanted to be separated from Massachusetts. Second, slavery was to be excluded from all new states in the Louisiana Purchase north of the southern boundary of Missouri.

Which is the best summary of the Missouri Compromise?

The Missouri Compromise was United States federal legislation that stopped northern attempts to forever prohibit slavery’s expansion by admitting Missouri as a slave state in exchange for legislation which prohibited slavery north of the 36°30′ parallel except for Missouri.You might be interested:  Often asked: Why do most bills fail to become law?

What was the Missouri Compromise in simple terms?

A settlement of a dispute between slave and free states, contained in several laws passed during 1820 and 1821. The Missouri Compromise admitted Missouri as a slave state and Maine as a free state, and prohibited slavery in territory that later became Kansas and Nebraska.

What was the purpose of the Compromise of 1850?

The Compromise of 1850 was a package of five separate bills passed by the United States Congress in September 1850 that defused a political confrontation between slave and free states on the status of territories acquired in the Mexican–American War.

What were the main points of the Compromise of 1850?

The Compromise of 1850 contained the following provisions: (1) California was admitted to the Union as a free state; (2) the remainder of the Mexican cession was divided into the two territories of New Mexico and Utah and organized without mention of slavery; (3) the claim of Texas to a portion of New Mexico was

What was a major result of the Missouri Compromise group of answer choices?

What was one major result of the Missouri Compromise? It temporarily relieved sectional differences. Missouri became a slave state, and Maine became a free state.

What were three parts of the Missouri Compromise?

The Missouri Compromise consisted of three large partsMissouri entered the Union as a slave state, Maine entered as a free state, and the 36’30” line was established as the dividing line regarding slavery for the remainder of the Louisiana Territory.

Who benefited the most from the Missouri Compromise?

Who benefited most from the agreement? The Missouri compromise consisted of several different decisions. It admitted Maine as a free state, admitted Missouri as a slave state, and prohibited slavery north of the 36 th parallel. These compromises mostly benefited the northern states.

Transcript of Missouri Compromise (1820)

An Act to authorize the people of the Missouri territory to form a constitution and state government, and for the admission of such state into the Union on an equal footing with the original states, and to prohibit slavery in certain territories.

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America, in Congress assembled, That the inhabitants of that portion of the Missouri territory included within the boundaries herein after designated, be, and they are hereby, authorized to form for themselves a constitution and state government, and to assume such name as they shall deem proper; and the said state, when formed, shall be admitted into the Union, upon an equal footing with the original states, in all respects whatsoever.

SEC.2. And be it further enacted, That the said state shall consist of all the territory included within the following boundaries, to wit: Beginning in the middle of the Mississippi river, on the parallel of thirty-six degrees of north latitude; thence west, along that parallel of latitude, to the St. Francois river; thence up, and following the course of that river, in the middle of the main channel thereof, to the parallel of latitude of thirty-six degrees and thirty minutes; thence west, along the same, to a point where the said parallel is intersected by a meridian line passing through the middle of the mouth of the Kansas river, where the same empties into the Missouri river, thence, from the point aforesaid north, along the said meridian line, to the intersection of the parallel of latitude which passes through the rapids of the river Des Moines, making the said line to correspond with the Indian boundary line; thence east, from the point of intersection last aforesaid, along the said parallel of latitude, to the middle of the channel of the main fork of the said river Des Moines ; thence down arid along the middle of the main channel of the said river Des Moines, to the mouth of the same, where it empties into the Mississippi river; thence, due east, to the middle of the main channel of the Mississippi river; thence down, and following the course of the Mississippi river, in the middle of the main channel thereof, to the place of beginning : Provided, The said state shall ratify the boundaries aforesaid . And provided also, That the said state shall have concurrent jurisdiction on the river Mississippi, and every other river bordering on the said state so far as the said rivers shall form a common boundary to the said state; and any other state or states, now or hereafter to be formed and bounded by the same, such rivers to be common to both; and that the river Mississippi, and the navigable rivers and waters leading into the same, shall be common highways, and for ever free, as well to the inhabitants of the said state as to other citizens of the United States, without any tax, duty impost, or toll, therefor, imposed by the said state.

SEC. 3. And be it further enacted, That all free white male citizens of the United States, who shall have arrived at the age of twenty-one years, and have resided in said territory: three months previous to the day of election, and all other persons qualified to vote for representatives to the general assembly of the said territory, shall be qualified to be elected and they are hereby qualified and authorized to vote, and choose representatives to form a convention, who shall be apportioned amongst the several counties as follows :
From the county of Howard, five representatives. From the county of Cooper, three representatives. From the county of Montgomery, two representatives. From the county of Pike, one representative. From the county of Lincoln, one representative. From the county of St. Charles, three representatives. From the county of Franklin, one representative. From the county of St. Louis, eight representatives. From the county of Jefferson, one representative. From the county of Washington, three representatives. From the county of St. Genevieve, four representatives. From the county of Madison, one representative. From the county of Cape Girardeau, five representatives. From the county of New Madrid, two representatives. From the county of Wayne, and that portion of the county of Lawrence which falls within the boundaries herein designated, one representative.

And the election for the representatives aforesaid shall be holden on the first Monday, and two succeeding days of May next, throughout the several counties aforesaid in the said territory, and shall be, in every respect, held and conducted in the same manner, and under the same regulations as is prescribed by the laws of the said territory regulating elections therein for members of the general assembly, except that the returns of the election in that portion of Lawrence county included in the boundaries aforesaid, shall be made to the county of Wayne, as is provided in other cases under the laws of said territory.

SEC. 4. And be it further enacted, That the members of the conven tion thus duly elected, shall be, and they are hereby authorized to meet at the seat of government of said territory on the second Monday of the month of June next; and the said convention, when so assembled, shall have power and authority to adjourn to any other place in the said territory, which to them shall seem best for the convenient transaction of their business; and which convention, when so met, shall first determine by a majority of the whole number elected, whether it be, or be not, expedient at that time to form a constitution and state government for the people within the said territory, as included within the boundaries above designated; and if it be deemed expedient, the convention shall be, and hereby is, authorized to form a constitution and state government; or, if it be deemed more expedient, the said convention shall provide by ordinance for electing representatives to form a constitution or frame of government; which said representatives shall be chosen in such manner, and in such proportion as they shall designate; and shall meet at such time and place as shall be prescribed by the said ordinance; and shall then form for the people of said territory, within the boundaries aforesaid, a constitution and state government: Provided, That the same, whenever formed, shall be republican, and not repugnant to the constitution of the United States; and that the legislature of said state shall never interfere with the primary disposal of the soil by the United States, nor with any regulations Congress may find necessary for securing the title in such soil to the bona fide purchasers ; and that no tax shall be imposed on lands the property of the United States ; and in no case shall non-resident proprietors be taxed higher than residents.

SEC. 5. And be it further enacted, That until the next general census shall be taken, the said state shall be entitled to one representative in the House of Representatives of the United States.

SEC. 6. And be it further enacted, That the following propositions be, and the same are hereby, offered to the convention of the said territory of Missouri, when formed, for their free acceptance or rejection, which, if accepted by the convention, shall be obligatory upon the United States:
First. That section numbered sixteen in every township, and when such section has been sold, or otherwise disposed of, other lands equivalent thereto, and as contiguous as may be, shall be granted to the state for the use of the inhabitants of such township, for the use of schools.
Second. That all salt springs, not exceeding twelve in number, with six sections of land adjoining to each, shall be granted to the said state for the use of said state, the same to be selected by the legislature of the said state, on or before the first day of January, in the year one thousand eight hundred and twenty-five ; and the same, when so selected, to be used under such terms, conditions, and regulations, as the legislature of said state shall direct: Provided, That no salt spring, the right whereof now is, or hereafter shall be, confirmed or adjudged to any individual or individuals, shall, by this section, be granted to the said state: And provided also, That the legislature shall never sell or lease the same, at anyone time, for a longer period than ten years, without the consent of Congress.
Third. That five per cent. of the net proceeds of the sale of lands lying within the said territory or state, and which shall be sold by Congress, from and after the first day of January next, after deducting all expenses incident to the same, shall be reserved for making public roads and canals, of which three fifths shall be applied to those objects within the state, under the direction of the legislature thereof; and the other two fifths in defraying, under the direction of Congress, the expenses to be incurred in making of a road or roads, canal or canals, leading to the said state.
Fourth. That four entire sections of land be, and the same are hereby, granted to the said state, for the purpose of fixing their seat of government thereon; which said sections shall, under the direction of the legislature of said state, be located, as near as may be, in one body, at any time, in such townships and ranges as the legislature aforesaid may select, on any of the public lands of the United States: Provided, That such locations shall be made prior to the public sale of the lands of the United States surrounding such location.
Fifth. That thirty-six sections, or one entire township, which shall be designated by the President of the United States, together with the other lands heretofore reserved for that purpose, shall be reserved for the use of a seminary of learning, and vested in the legislature of said state, to be appropriated solely to the use of such seminary by the said legislature: Provided, That the five foregoing propositions herein offered, are on the condition that the convention of the said state shall provide, by an ordinance, irrevocable without the consent or the United States, that every and each tract of land sold by the United States, from and after the firsl day of January next, shall remain exempt from any tax laid by order or under the authority of the state, whether for state, county, or township, or any other purpose whatever, for the term of five years from and after the day of sale; And further, That the bounty lands granted, or hereafter to be granted, for military services during the late war, shall, while they continue to be held by the patentees, or their heirs remain exempt as aforesaid from taxation for the term of three year; from and after the date of the patents respectively.

SEC. 7. And be it further enacted, That in case a constitution and state government shall be formed for the people of the said territory of Missouri, the said convention or representatives, as soon thereafter as may be, shall cause a true and attested copy of such constitution or frame of state government, as shall be formed or provided, to be transmitted to Congress.

SEC. 8. And be it further enacted. That in all that territory ceded by France to the United States, under the name of Louisiana, which lies north of thirty-six degrees and thirty minutes north latitude, not included within the limits of the state, contemplated by this act, slavery and involuntary servitude, otherwise than in the punishment of crimes, whereof the parties shall have been duly convicted, shall be, and is hereby, forever prohibited: Provided always, That any person escaping into the same, from whom labour or service is lawfully claimed, in any state or territory of the United States, such fugitive may be lawfully reclaimed and conveyed to the person claiming his or her labour or service as aforesaid.

APPROVED, March 6, 1820.

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