Missouri Compromise (1820)

views updated May 23 2018

Missouri Compromise (1820)

James L. Huston

Excerpt from the Missouri Compromise

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, where of the parties shall have been duly convicted, shall be, and is hereby, forever prohibited...

In 1819 Congress first confronted the frictions produced by a division of the country into free and slave states. In that year the territory of Missouri sought statehood, and Northern (free) states resisted its admission as a slave state. Northerners, believing the South had too much power already, opposed any expansion of slavery that might strengthen that power. In response to this Northern opposition, legislators came up with the Missouri Compromise of 1820 (10 Stat. 548), as a means to avoid the conflicts raised by territorial expansion.

The compromise set a precedent for states to enter the Union in pairs (one free, one slave). This was not a written part of the law but rather a general understanding among senators to ensure that the number of slave-state senators would equal the number of free-state senators. The compromise also divided the land acquired from France in the Louisiana Purchase into two areas: in the land above 36 degrees 30 minutes north latitude, slavery would be prohibited; in the land below the line, slavery would be permitted. The Missouri Compromise turned out to be a successful one, and after a few years many even viewed it as a part of the Constitution (though it never was). Until the Civil War broke out in April 1861, all attempted solutions to the question of slavery's expansion rested on the Missouri Compromise line of 36 degrees 30 minutes.


By 1819 several Northern congressmen felt aggrieved by the power of the South in national affairs. Southerners dominated national politics through the operation of the Three-Fifths Compromise. Slaves, legally considered a form of property, were allowed to count as three-fifths of a person for the calculation of population to determine the number of congressional representatives a state would have. The Three-Fifths Compromise gave Southerners an edge in electing presidents and constructing majorities in Congress, and through it they managed to dominate the Democratic-Republican party, the party of Thomas Jefferson.

Northerners were also angry at the policies of the two presidents from Virginia, Jefferson (18011809) and James Madison (18091817). Restrictions on trade with Great Britain and France, including an embargo on American shipping in 1808, and the War of 1812 had all hurt the economy of Northern states. To make matters worse, the Federalist Party, which often pushed for policies that benefited the North, bungled its opposition to the war and managed to commit suicide by appearing traitorous.

Meanwhile, Southern slavery was spreading to the Great Lakes area (the present states of Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, and Wisconsin), where it had been prohibited by the Northwest Ordinance of 1787. By 1818 it looked as if Southern migrants to Illinois and Indiana were trying to smuggle the "peculiar institution" into those states by calling the practice "indentured servitude" This too provoked the outrage of Northerners.


On February 13, 1819 Representative James Tallmadge, Jr., a Democratic-Republican from New York, offered two amendments to the legislation admitting Missouri to the Union. One called for the prohibition of further importations of slaves into Missouri, and the other demanded gradual emancipation of slaves already there. The House of Representatives passed his two amendments by a sectional vote. In the Senate, where the numbers of slave states and free states were evenly balanced, the amendments were defeated. For the entire year, debate over slavery raged in Congress. This debate amazed the American people, because there was no agitation over the question in any other quarter.

A breakthrough came when the District of Maine, formerly an area controlled by the state of Massachusetts, sought statehood. Speaker of the House Henry Clay (from Kentucky) insisted that if Maine was to be admitted, then Missouri should be admitted as well. Thus the idea of letting states enter the Union in pairs, one free, the other slave, was formally presented. Then Illinois senator Jesse B. Thomas offered an amendment that would establish the line of 36 degrees 30 minutes in the Louisiana Purchase territory, below which slavery was allowed and above which it was not. (The line would approximately form the southern border of the new state of Missouri.) After much dispute between the Senate and the House on final versions of the bill, Congress passed the Missouri Compromise on March 2, 1820.

But the drama was not quite finished. Missourians, angry over Congress's intervention in the question of slavery, rewrote parts of their state constitution denying any free black person the ability to settle in the state. This provision clashed with the guarantee of the U.S. Constitution that citizens in one state would not be discriminated against in another state. So another major collision between Northerners and Southerners followed. The matter was solved by asking Missouri legislators to rewrite the offending section. (Although this was not done, few pursued the matter afterward.) On February 26, 1821, the House of Representatives passed the resolution to admit Missouri to the Union.


Much ill will was generated by the Missouri debates. Southerners did not believe that Northerners harbored any humanitarian concern for slaves. Rather, they believed Northerners merely used the slaves' existence as a way to resurrect the Federalist Party and to create a stronger central government. For Northerners, the debates showed that Southerners did not foresee a future end of slaveryto the contrary, the institution was becoming stronger. And Northerners realized that along with the growth of slavery came Southerners' desires to use national legislation to protect and extend the institution. It was not long after the Missouri debates that the proslavery argument began in earnest. Those in favor of slavery argued that Africans were meant by nature and by God to be slaves and never independent citizens.


Despite the ongoing tension between North and South, the Missouri Compromise handled the national issue of slavery smoothly for several decades. The first part of the compromise was roughly observed until 1850the admission of states in pairs, one free and one slave, balancing the number of senators from each type of state. The admission of slave states ended with the Compromise of 1850, when California was admitted to the Union without an offsetting slave state.

But in many ways, the core of the Missouri Compromise was the line of 36 degrees 30 minutes. Before long, Northerners looked upon this section of the compromise, which "forever prohibited" slavery above it, as holy writ, not to be disturbed. However, it only operated in the Louisiana Purchase area. When the United States gained the territories of California and New Mexico in a war with Mexico, the compromise line again became a source of North-South wrangling. Southerners wanted to extend the line to the Pacific Ocean, but Northerners adamantly refused. When the Compromise of 1850 was written, there was no mention of the 36 degree 30 minute line. Then in 1854 the Kansas Nebraska Act repealed the 36 degree 30 minute line of the Missouri Compromise. This action led to a political explosion in the North, killing the Whig Party and giving birth to the Republican Party. The Republicans insisted that Congress could prohibit slavery in the territories, whereas Southern radicals (called "fireaters") insisted slavery had to be permitted and even protected in all U.S. territorial possessions.

In Dred Scott v. Sanford (1857), the chief justice of the Supreme Court, Roger B. Taney, declared the compromise line unconstitutional and in substance approved the radical Southern position. That case only infuriated the North, and by 1860 the Republicans successfully captured the presidency. In 18601861, in an effort to avoid the division of the nation, Kentucky senator John J. Crittenden used the Compromise Line as part of a general proposal, called the Crittenden resolutions, to reconcile North and South and reunify the country. It was the last public appearance of the compromise line.

The Civil War erupted following the attack on Fort Sumter on April 15, 1861. Congress passed a prohibition of slavery in the territories in June 1862, and with Union victory in 1865, slavery ceased in the United States.

See also: Compromise of 1850; Fugitive Slave Acts; Kansas Nebraska Act of 1854.


Dangerfield, George. The Awakening of American Nationalism, 18151828. New York: Harper and Row, 1965.

Fehrenbacher, Don E. Sectional Crisis and Southern Constitutionalism. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1995.

Knupfer, Peter B. The Union as It Is: Constitutional Unionism and Sectional Compromise, 17871861. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1991.

Miller, John Chester. The Wolf by the Ears: Thomas Jefferson and Slavery. New York: Free Press, 1977.

Moore, Glover. The Missouri Controversy, 18191821. Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 1966.

Wiecek, William M. The Sources of Antislavery Constitutionalism in America, 17601848. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1977.

Louisiana Purchase

Sold to the United States by France in 1803, the Louisiana Purchase was a huge territory stretching from the Mississippi River to the Rocky Mountains and from the Gulf of Mexico to Canada. The property had gone from French rule to Spanish rule and then back again to the French under Napoleon. President Thomas Jefferson believed that control of the West hinged upon possession of New Orleans, at the mouth of the Mississippi. He wrote, "There is on the globe one single spot, the possessor of which is our natural and habitual enemy. It is New Orleans." He secured its control by purchasing the entire territory for $15 million, doubling the size of the United States, in what is now considered one of his greatest achievements.

The Dred Scott Case

Dred Scott was a slave who sued for his freedom in Missouri courts on the basis of having spent nine years in the free state of Illinois and the free territory of Wisconsin. Missouri courts had traditionally upheld the doctrine of "once free, always free," and the case was initially settled in Scott's favor. However, the Missouri Supreme Court stepped in to overturn the decision. The case eventually made its way to the Supreme Court, where each judge rendered a separate opinion. The only aspect of the case the justices agreed upon was that a slave was not a citizen, and therefore was not allowed to sue in federal court. The Court also ruled the Missouri Compromise unconstitutional, finding that the federal government did not have the right to outlaw slavery in the new western territories. Northerners were outraged at the decision, which intensified antagonism between the North and the South, contributed to the election of President Abraham Lincoln, and pushed the country toward civil war. The sons of Scott's first owner, Peter Blow, had helped pay Scott's legal fees during his decade-long legal battle. After the Supreme Court ruled against him, they purchased Scott and his wife and set them free. Scott died nine months later.

Antebellum Period

Alfred L. Brophy

During the antebellum periodthe years before the Civil WarCongress's legislation aimed at continuing to promote economic development, expansion of the Union, and dealing with the conflict over slavery.

In the aftermath of the War of 1812, Congress passed extensive tariff legislation. When South Carolina opposed the tariff act of 1832, Congress passed the Force Bill that authorized Andrew Jackson to use federal troops to enforce the tariff; the nation was on the brink of civil war. War was avoided by a compromise tariff in 1833, yet the nation was well on the road to war. At the same time, Congress was spending money on internal improvements, known as the American System, which provided funding for roads, canals, and railroads. It also passed a bank ruptcy act.

Slavery and settlement of the West were central issues of antebellum politics. In 1820 the Missouri Compromise attempted to settle the conflict by prohibiting slavery in the territories north of Missouri's southern border. Later, the Compromise of 1850, which included the Fugitive Slave Act, again tried to calm the conflict, as did the Kansas Nebraska Act.

Missouri Compromise

views updated May 23 2018

Missouri Compromise

The Missouri Compromise of 1820 was a congressional agreement that regulated the extension of slavery in the United States for thirty years. Under the agreement, the territory of Missouri was admitted as a slave state, the territory of Maine was admitted as a free state, and the boundaries of slavery were limited to the same latitude as the southern boundary of Missouri, 36°30′ north latitude.

By 1818 the rapid growth in population in the North had left the Southern states, for the first time, with less than 45 percent of the seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. The U.S. Senate was evenly balanced between eleven slave and eleven free states. Therefore, Missouri's 1818 application for statehood, if approved, would give the slave states a majority in the Senate and reduce the Northern majority in the House.

In 1819 the free territory of Maine applied for statehood. Speaker of the House henry clay of Kentucky saw this event as an opportunity to maintain the balance of free and slave states. He made it clear to Northern representatives that Maine would not be admitted without an agreement to admit Missouri. Clay persuaded opponents of slavery to drop efforts to ban it in the territories. In return, the Southern states agreed to limit slavery to the territory below 36°30′ north latitude. Under this provision the unsettled portions of the louisiana purchase north and west of Missouri would be free from slavery. The only area remaining for further expansion of slavery would be the territory that would become Arkansas and Oklahoma. To preserve the sectional equality in the Senate, Missouri and Maine were to be admitted to the Union simultaneously. Clay managed to pass the compromise in the House by a three-vote margin.

In 1821 Missouri complicated matters, however, by inserting a provision into its state constitution that prohibited free blacks and mulattoes from entering the state. Northern representatives objected to this language and refused to give final approval for statehood until it was removed. Clay then negotiated a second compromise that removed the offensive language from the Missouri constitution and substituted a provision that prohibited Missouri from discriminating against citizens from other states. Left unsettled was the question of who was a citizen. With this change Missouri and Maine were admitted to the Union.

Source: Statutes at Large, vol. 6 (1822), pp. 545–548, 645; Ben Perley Poore, ed., The Federal and State Constitutions, Colonial Charters, and Other Organic Laws of the United States, vol. 2 (1878), pp. 1107–1108.

Missouri Compromise

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 hereinafter 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.


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. Francis 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 and 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 forever 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, therefore, imposed by the said state.


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.


And be it further enacted, that the members of the convention 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 nonresident proprietors be taxed higher than residents.


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.


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:

1. 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.

2. 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 any one time, for a longer period than ten years, without the consent of Congress.

3. That 5 percent 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.

4. 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.

5. 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 of the United States, that every and each tract of land sold by the United States, from and after the first 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 years from and after the date of the patents, respectively.


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.


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 labor 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 labor or service as aforesaid.

Approved, March 6, 1820.



The general assembly shall not have power to pass laws—

1. For the emancipation of slaves without the consent of their owners; or without paying them, before such emancipation, a full equivalent for such slaves so emancipated; and,

2. To prevent bona fide immigrants to this state, or actual settlers therein, from bringing from any of the United States, or from any of their territories, such persons as may there be deemed to be slaves, so long as any persons of the same description are allowed to be held as slaves by the laws of this state.

They shall have power to pass laws—

1. To prohibit the introduction into this state of any slaves who may have committed any high crime in any other state or territory;

2. To prohibit the introduction of any slave for the purpose of speculation, or as an article of trade or merchandise;

3. To prohibit the introduction of any slave, or the offspring of any slave, who heretofore may have been, or who hereafter may be, imported from any foreign country into the United States, or any territory thereof, in contravention of any existing statute of the United States; and,

4. To permit the owners of slaves to emancipate them, saving the right of creditors, where the person so emancipating will give security that the slave so emancipated shall not become a public charge.

It shall be their duty, as soon as may be, to pass such laws as may be necessary—

1. To prevent free Negroes and mulattoes from coming to and settling in this state, under any pretext whatsoever; and,

2. To oblige the owners of slaves to treat them with humanity and to abstain from all injuries to them extending to life or limb.


In prosecutions for crimes, slaves shall not be deprived of an impartial trial by jury, and a slave convicted of a capital offense shall suffer the same degree of punishment, and no other, that would be inflicted on a white person for a like offense; and courts of justice, before whom slaves shall be tried, shall assign them counsel for their defense.


Any person who shall maliciously deprive of life or dismember a slave shall suffer such punishment as would be inflicted for the like offense if it were committed on a free white person.



Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America, in Congress assembled, that Missouri shall be admitted into this Union on an equal footing with the original states in all respects whatever upon the fundamental condition that the fourth clause of the twenty-sixth section of the third article of the constitution submitted on the part of said state to Congress shall never be construed to authorize the passage of any law, and that no law shall be passed in conformity thereto, by which any citizen, of either of the states in this Union, shall be excluded from the enjoyment of any of the privileges and immunities to which such citizen is entitled under the Constitution of the United States. Provided, that the legislature of the said state, by a solemn public act, shall declare the assent of the said state to the said fundamental condition and shall transmit to the president of the United States, on or before the fourth Monday in November next, an authentic copy of the said act; upon the receipt whereof, the president, by proclamation, shall announce the fact; whereupon, and without any further proceeding on the part of Congress, the admission of the said state into this Union shall be considered as complete.

Approved, March 2, 1821.

Missouri Compromise

views updated Jun 11 2018


MISSOURI COMPROMISE, legislation enacted by the U.S. Congress in 1820 settling the first serious American sectional crisis over slavery's expansion: the Maine statehood act of 3 March ("An Act for the admission of the state of Maine into the Union") and the Missouri enabling act of 6 March ("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"). The crisis, in conjunction with economic disputes deriving from the panic of 1819, helped to undermine American national unity in the so-called "Era of Good Feelings" following the War of 1812.


The Missouri controversy erupted unexpectedly in 1819, when northern congressmen objected to the Missouri Territory, part of the 1803 Louisiana Purchase from France, being admitted to the Union as a new slave state. Previously, northern congressmen had not obstructed the

admission of new slave states. Later that year, Congress would grant statehood to Alabama by a joint resolution that left its slave labor system intact. However, some northern congressmen took exception to Missouri becoming a slave state, apparently less because slavery was already entrenched in the territory (bonds people were approximately 16 percent of its population) than because Missouri was located directly west of a free state (Illinois) as well as west of the Mississippi River. Their unwillingness to countenance slavery's encroachment northward and westward initiated a struggle that endangered the Union.

The Congressional Impasse

New York Representative James Tallmadge Jr. ignited the dispute on 13 February 1819, when during the Fifteenth Congress's second session he moved an amendment to a House bill permitting the Missouri Territory to take preparatory steps for statehood. Tallmadge's amendment proposed gradually ending slavery in Missouri by prohibiting the "further introduction" of slaves there and by freeing the children of slaves already in Missouri at statehood when those children reached the age of twenty-five. The House, dominated 105 to 80 by representatives from nonslave states (because population growth in the free states had outstripped the growth rate in slave states), twice that session passed the Missouri bill with Tall-madge's amendment. However, in both instances the more southern-oriented Senate demurred. The Senate was far more evenly divided than the House, reflecting the Union's composition at that time of eleven free states and ten slave states, with free Illinois having a system of black apprentice labor that amounted to quasi-slavery. During the same session, southerners also narrowly defeated a northern effort to prohibit slavery in the Arkansas Territory, that part of the Louisiana Purchase territory below Missouri.

Congress again took up the Missouri question in December 1819, when the Sixteenth Congress convened. With Alabama now a state, southerners had even more power in the Senate. Earlier that year, however, the government of Massachusetts had authorized the district of Maine to separate from it and seek statehood (provided that Congress authorize it by 4 March 1820). Maine's admission promised to augment the number of free states in the country and free-state influence in the Senate. Maine's petition for statehood also came before Congress in December 1819. The Missouri and Maine issues ignited the angriest exchanges among national leaders over slavery's morality and its appropriateness in a democratic republic since the U.S. Constitutional Convention. On 26 January 1820, in the midst of predictions of disunion and war, Representative John W. Taylor of New York offered an even more radically antislavery amendment than Tallmadge's to the House enabling bill for Missouri. This proposal, which would have made all children of slaves in the new state free at birth, received the House's endorsement on 25 February. Meanwhile, the Senate considered its own measures respecting Maine and Missouri.

The Compromise

The breakthrough occurred on 2 March, when, following the recommendation of a House-Senate conference committee, the House voted 90 to 87 to delete the Taylor amendment from its Missouri bill and 134 to 42 to substitute for it an amendment to a competing Senate bill that had been offered by Senator Jesse B. Thomas of Illinois. Thomas's amendment, which had passed the Senate by a 34 to 10 vote on 17 February, prohibited slavery throughout the Louisiana Purchase territory, excepting Missouri, north of 36 degrees 30 minutes. On 3 March, the House and Senate concurred in a conference committee report on statehood for Maine. According to the act approved that day, Maine's statehood would occur on 15 March. The Missouri enabling act, with the Thomas amendment embedded within it as section 8, received President James Monroe's signature and became law on 6 March.

The Missouri question was not completely settled, however, until the Sixteenth Congress's second session (which began on 14 November 1820), after Missouri's proposed state constitution came under consideration. Although most of the document was virtually copied from the constitution of Kentucky and thus was unexceptional, the proposed constitution's twenty-sixth section included wording that called upon the new state's assembly to adopt legislation to prevent "free negroes and mulattoes" from entering and residing in Missouri "under any pretext whatsoever." A select Senate committee endorsed Missouri's admission under this constitution, but the controversial provision sparked heated debate in the full Senate not only on race in America but also, again, on slavery. Missouri's stipulation especially raised the issue of whether blacks were or could be U.S. citizens.

The Senate ultimately evaded the issue by passing on 12 December, without a recorded vote, a resolution endorsing Missouri's statehood, with a proviso previously introduced by Senator John Eaton of Tennessee, stipulating that congressional consent should not be construed as endorsing any clause in Missouri's constitution contravening the "privileges and immunities"—or equal citizenship—clause of the federal constitution. Missouri's constitution encountered more resistance in the House of Representatives, which refused to accept the Senate's resolution, not only delaying Missouri's admission but also throwing into question whether Missouri's three electoral votes should be counted on 14 February 1821, when the electoral votes for the 1820 presidential election were totaled by Congress. In a chaotic scene, the president of the Senate announced the results both with and without Missouri's inclusion. That same month, Representative and former speaker Henry Clay played a key role in resolving the imbroglio over Missouri's constitution, by using his influence to get the matter referred to a joint House-Senate committee. The committee then recommended a resolution (subsequently approved) incorporating the substance of Eaton's proviso, with the added stipulation, sometimes designated the Second Missouri Compromise, that Missouri's state legislature confirm in "a solemn public act" that its constitution abided by Eaton's requirement. Although Missouri's subsequent 26 June declaration denied Congress's right to require such a statement, President Monroe proclaimed Missouri's statehood on 10 August 1821.

Significance of the Compromise

Some historians suggest that the Missouri Compromise is a misnomer because majorities of northerners and southerners did not alike endorse all its key elements. In the House vote deleting Taylor's antislavery provision from the Missouri bill, for example, free-state congressmen voted overwhelmingly, 87 to 14, in favor of retaining the constraint. It was only because four free-staters abstained that compromise forces carried the day. Some historians, moreover, have echoed southern charges at the time and interpreted Tallmadge's initiative as an attempt to revive the fortunes of the fading Federalist Party, since some of the most vehement antislavery diatribes in Tall-madge's support came from Federalist congressmen, most notably Senator Rufus King of New York. If the majority Republican Party split along sectional lines, it might pave the way for a Federalist resurgence. But both Tallmadge and King had earlier demonstrated antislavery tendencies, and historians have yet to uncover documents proving that the amendment originated as a partisan cabal.

Historians further disagree over how to interpret the ringing defenses of slavery issued by southern congressmen in the heat of the debates. One can see such rhetoric as evidence that the northern assault on slavery influenced a gradual shift in southern public opinion from conceding that slavery was evil to proclaiming it a positive good, and that it thus backfired by provoking southerners to relinquish an earlier receptivity to slavery's ultimate abolition. However, the breakdown of voting on the Missouri measures also shows that some southerners remained uncertain about slavery's future. For instance, border slave state representatives voted 16 to 2 for Thomas's barrier against slavery's expansion. Further, as William W. Freehling argues in The Road to Disunion, some southerners who endorsed slavery's continued access to the West argued that this would help diffuse the institution into extinction. What historians do agree on is that northern attacks were prompted, in no small measure, by resentment of the political advantage given the slave states by the three-fifths clause in the U.S. Constitution (which allowed slaves to be counted as population for the purposes of political representation but did not allow them to vote), that northerners and southerners alike felt that the sectional balance of power hinged on the outcome of the dispute, and that significant numbers of southern congressmen had reservations about the precedent set by Thomas's limitation on slavery's future expansion. House Virginians voted 18 to 4 against the 36 degrees 30 minutes provision. Some southerners who endorsed Thomas's constraint apparently did so to get a slave state (Missouri) west of the Mississippi River at a time when only Florida remained for slavery's expansion in the East, and because of a belief that much of the remaining land in the West was desert.

The compromise's 36 degrees 30 minutes line helped to preserve sectional peace for more than thirty years, and might have done so longer had not Texan annexation and the Mexican War greatly enlarged the national domain and caused new sectional divisions over slavery's expansion. Without Congress's repeal of Thomas's provision in the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, it is conceivable that the Civil War would have been considerably delayed, or even prevented. In a postmortem commentary on the Missouri Compromise, U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger B. Taney's opinion in the Dred Scott case (1857) contended that the already repealed 36 degrees 30 minutes line had been unconstitutional because it violated the property rights of southerners guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Taney's ruling outraged many northerners, contributing to pre–Civil War sectional tensions.


Cooper, William J. Liberty and Slavery: Southern Politics to 1860. New York: Knopf, 1983.

Dangerfield, George. The Era of Good Feelings. New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1952.

Freehling, William W. The Road to Disunion. Vol. 1, Secessionists at Bay, 1776–1854. New York: Oxford University Press, 1990.

Moore, Glover. The Missouri Controversy, 1819–1821. Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 1953.

Morrison, Michael A. Slavery and the American West: The Eclipse of Manifest Destiny and the Coming of the Civil War. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1997.

Remini, Robert V. Henry Clay: Statesman for the Union. New York: Norton, 1991.

Zeitz, Joshua Michael. "The Missouri Compromise Reconsidered: Rhetoric and the Emergence of the Free Labor Synthesis." Journal of the Early Republic 20, no. 3 (Fall 2000): 447–485.

Robert E.May

See alsoCivil War ; Dred Scott Case ; Kansas-Nebraska Act ; Mason-Dixon Line ; Sectionalism ; Slavery ; Tallmadge Amendment .

Missouri Compromise

views updated May 29 2018


The Missouri Compromise (actually a set of congressional acts passed in 1820 and 1821) settled the sectional crisis triggered by Missouri's application to join the Union as a slave state. It permitted this while prohibiting slavery in the rest of the Louisiana Purchase north of 36° 30′. This legislation established the policy for the admission of future states for the next thirty years.

The crisis began when, on 13 February 1819, about three weeks before the adjournment of the Fifteenth Congress, New York Representative James Tallmadge introduced an amendment to the Missouri statehood bill to bar the importation of new slaves and emancipated at adulthood those already in the territory. Tallmadge's amendment sparked an explosive reaction from southern congressmen, particularly from border states, such as Virginia, which looked to the new territories as a market for their dangerous surplus of slaves. This outburst surprised many Northerners, who had accepted at face value Southern, and especially Virginian, avowals of anti-slavery sentiment. After an intense debate employing nearly all the arguments that would be made for and against slavery until the Civil War, the House, by a narrow margin, passed the Missouri bill with the slavery restrictions on 16 February 1819. New York Congressman John W. Taylor's proposal to restrict slavery in the adjacent territory of Arkansas was defeated three days later, and his subsequent proposal to bar slavery in the territory north of 36° 30′ never received a vote. The Senate struck out the antislavery provisions of the Missouri bill, but the House stuck by them, leaving the question unresolved when Congress adjourned on 4 March.

Despite the fury of the congressional debates, the Missouri dispute initially attracted little attention in the nation at large, being overshadowed by the Supreme Court's decision in McCulloch v. Maryland and a sharp economic recession. Spurred by Federalist activists, including New York editor Theodore Dwight and venerable New Jersey philanthropist Elias Boudinot, Northern antislavery (and anti-Southern) sentiment strengthened over the subsequent months. Incited by anti-Missouri meetings throughout the free states, virtually all Northern state legislatures voted—usually unanimously—to instruct their congressional delegations to oppose the expansion of slavery. Public opinion in the South, on the other hand, was much more muted.

When Maine (then part of Massachusetts) applied for statehood, Virginia Senator James Barbour sought to use it for leverage in brokering a compromise. On New Year's Day 1820, President Monroe and Barbour explained the plan to Maine congressman John Holmes, who reported to Maine's top political leaders that administration leaders felt that "the Mother should have twins this time." However, the proposed linkage detonated explosive responses in both North and South. Maine's citizens were outraged by their representatives' apparent acquiescence to a move to tie the admission of their state to the extension of slavery, while Virginia leaders angrily reacted to the suggestion floated by President Monroe that he might endorse the proposal by Indiana senator Jesse Thomas to bar slavery in the Louisiana Territory north of 36° 30′—the identical line proposed the year before by antislavery advocate Taylor, now Speaker of the House.

In the face of this surge of outrage from both sections, Monroe abruptly backed away from expressions of compromise, avowing privately to Virginians that he would give up the presidency before supporting restrictions on slavery and explaining his earlier stance as a desperate response to extreme danger to the Republic. Monroe and his associates began to advise receptive Southerners and stalwart Northern Republicans that the campaign to restrict slavery in Missouri was really a cynical ploy by Federalists to regain power by appealing to Americans' humanitarian impulses. Cabinet officials and other influential administration allies, most notably Thomas Jefferson, spread the message that only the selfless statesmanship of anti-restrictionist politicians, such as Maine's Holmes, could save the Union from the machinations of northern conspirators. New York governor DeWitt Clinton and Senator Rufus King were portrayed as the architects of an electoral coup that would oust Monroe from the presidential mansion and close the West to slavery, thus insuring that Upper South planters would be "damned up in a land of slaves," as one Virginian put it. This fanciful scenario gained some plausibility from the facts that Clinton was a cousin of Tallmadge, author of the restriction amendment, and that King's half-brother and two sons, all of whom had close ties to Republican leaders, implicitly endorsed the damaging charges against their kinsman by their silence.

The deadlock in Congress continued through February, although restrictionist unity showed growing cracks. While their constituents overwhelmingly continued to oppose the admission of Missouri with slavery, Northern congressmen began to waver in the face of charges of Federalist plotting, Southern threats to withdraw from the Union, and "the influence of the Palace." To secure support from recalcitrant Northerners, the president and his associates employed moral suasion, bullying and removals, political favors and lucrative public offices. A close reading of contemporary accounts reveals James Monroe as a master of persuasion, but most discreet. Despite his activism, Monroe's historical image remains that of a cautious strict constructionist.

On 12 February, when pro- and anti-restriction sentiment reached a fever pitch, Senator Rufus King took the floor of the Senate and delivered an antislavery speech so stinging that, according to John Quincy Adams, slaveholders "gnawed their lips and clenched their fists as they heard him." King repudiated "all laws and compacts" supporting slavery as "absolutely void, because contrary to the law of nature." Thus did he solidify his reputation as the South's most dangerous foe. Four days later the Senate approved the Thomas Amendment, barring slavery above 36° 30′. On 2 March, after three weeks of furiously escalating rhetoric and action (including fervent nationalist Henry Clay's declaration that he would "go home and raise troops, if necessary"), the House voted 90 to 87 to strike the slavery restriction from the Missouri statehood bill, and 134 to 42 to accept the compromise line. "I consider myself and associates as conquered," Rufus King lamented. "The slave States, with their free corps, have subdued us." Charles Pinckney of South Carolina, an opponent of compromise, nonetheless exulted that the South considered it "a great triumph." Secretary of State John Quincy Adams, after a discussion with Secretary of War John C. Calhoun, portentously observed of slaveholders, "The discussion of this Missouri question has betrayed the secret of their souls."

However, not all opponents of slavery were mournful, nor perhaps had slaveholders betrayed all their secrets. Speaker Taylor wrote to his wife, "We have gained all that was possible, if not all that was desired," calling the outcome "an ample recompense for all the time and labour it has cost us." The author of the original restriction, James Tallmadge, wrote his colleague Taylor that news of the vote "gives great Joy," adding, "You have in this business a monument to your fame." After receiving a unanimous opinion from his cabinet that the bill passed constitutional muster, President Monroe signed it on 4 March 1820.

Many Northerners, however, continued to oppose statehood for Missouri, and the July 1820 draft constitution of the territory, which barred free blacks and mulattos from the state, gave opponents the grounds they needed to reopen the controversy: they viewed the measure as an unconstitutional violation of the rights of black citizens of other states under the rights and privileges clause (Art. IV, Sec. 2) of the Constitution. The opening of the Seventeenth Congress witnessed another fractious stalemate, mirroring the previous year's discord. In the end, Henry Clay led a hand-picked joint House-Senate committee in drafting a deliberately ambiguous resolution declaring that the antiblack clause in Missouri's constitution should never be construed as violating the constitutional rights of any citizen. Though in fact designed to be construed differently in different sections, this language, if interpreted consistently, implied that either Missouri's restriction was in fact unconstitutional or black citizens of other states affected by it were not citizens of the federal government. Although, as a New Hampshire newspaper bitterly observed, "a child might penetrate the flimsiness of the evasion" inherent in the compromise language, the exhausted House members narrowly adopted Clay's compromise on 26 February 1821 and a week later voted to admit Missouri to statehood.

It is not clear how much the election of John Quincy Adams in 1824 was influenced by the controversy. The election of Andrew Jackson in 1828 and the rise of the Democratic Party constituted setbacks to the policy of containing slavery, which the compromise was designed to promote. Yet the Arkansas statehood bill (1836) generated a nearly equal sectional showdown between the House and Senate, as did the Wilmot Proviso a decade later, demonstrating the continued explosiveness of the slavery issue. The repeal of the Missouri Compromise by the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854 galvanized antislavery sentiment and spurred the formation of the Republican Party. The Supreme Court's decision in Dred Scott that the compromise was unconstitutional helped to trigger the Civil War. Thus if the short-term impact of the Missouri Compromise is difficult to assess, in the long run it must be viewed as a decisive setback to slavery and the cornerstone of a later free-state majority.

See alsoAbolition of Slavery in the North; Antislavery; Election of 1824; Election of 1828; Presidency, The: James Madison; Proslavery Thought; Slavery: Overview; Slavery: Slavery and the Founding Generation .


Brown, Everett S. The Missouri Compromises and Presidential Politics, 1820–1825: From the Letters of William Plumer, Jr., Representative of New Hampshire. St. Louis: Missouri Historical Society, 1926.

Brown, Richard H. "The Missouri Crisis, Slavery, and the Politics of Jacksonianism." South Atlantic Quarterly 65 (winter 1966): 55–72.

Dangerfield, George. The Era of Good Feelings. New York: Harcourt, Brace, and Co., 1952.

Fehrenbacher, Don E. The South and Three Sectional Crises. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1980.

Forbes, Robert P. "Slavery and the Meaning of America, 1819–1833." Ph.D. diss., Yale University, 1994.

Moore, Glover. The Missouri Controversy, 1819–1821. Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 1953.

Shoemaker, Floyd. Missouri's Struggle for Statehood, 1804–1821. Jefferson City, Mo.: Hugh Stevens, 1916.

Robert P. Forbes

Missouri Compromise

views updated May 17 2018

Missouri Compromise

When America gained the vast territorial expanse of the Louisiana Purchase from France in 1803, northern free states and southern slave states saw the opportunity to increase their respective representation in both the House and Senate through the inclusion of new states. Because each state was represented by two senators in the Senate and a number of representatives in the House based proportionally on their population, it was generally assumed that those congressmen would be sympathetic to either the proslavery or antislavery cause. In 1818, when the Missouri Territory reached the required population for statehood of 100,000, it applied to Congress for admission into the Union as a slave state. From February to March of 1820, northern and southern congressmen debated whether or not the proposed state of Missouri would be admitted as free or slave. The resulting decision reached by Congress, known as the Missouri Compromise, consisted of a federal ban on slavery north of Missouri's southern border (36° 30′ latitude), while Missouri itself was admitted as a slave state in 1821.

Although the population of Missouri was primarily proslavery, the North expected Missouri to be entered as a free state for two reasons according to President Abraham Lincoln's (1809–1865) personal memoirs. First, the North was based on the "principle that slavery ought not to be permitted in any State or Territory where it could be prohibited" (Black 1861, p. 48). Second, after Alabama was admitted as a slave state in 1819, the North assumed Missouri would be entered as a free state in order to maintain the balance. When Missouri applied as a slave state in 1818, the growing rift between the North and South was made painfully public. As James Buchanan (1791–1868) later said of the debate that followed, "The Missouri Question had nearly shaken this Union to its centre" (p. 30).

The congressional debate over Missouri's inclusion as either a free or slave state was documented by author Horace Greeley. As Congress debated the legality of slavery and the constitutionality of preventing a new state from choosing slavery, Howell Cobb (1815–1868), a representative from the slave state of Georgia, ominously predicted the inevitable conflict between the North and South. In regard to the North's attempts to prevent slavery in Missouri, he said of the North, "They were kindling a fire which all the waters of the ocean could not extinguish. It could only be extinguished in blood" (Greeley 1856, p. 20).

The issue of compelling Missouri to be a free state before ratifying its constitution pointed to the larger issue of states' rights. The North sought federal control in the matter, whereas the South demanded that each state should have the ability to exercise its political liberty. During the debate that ensued, Cobb remarked:

What is the end and tendency of the measure proposed? It is to impose on the State of Missouri conditions not imposed on any other State. It is to deprive her of our branch of sovereignty not surrendered by any other State in the Union … for all of them had legislated upon this subject; all of them had decided for themselves whether Slavery should be tolerated, at the time they framed their several constitutions. (p. 19)

Both the House and Senate debated Missouri's admission for weeks and it seemed as though no progress was being made.

As a first attempt to compromise, Congressman James Tallmadge (1778–1853) of New York proposed a bill that would have freed the children born to Missouri slaves, while freeing others currently in servitude once they reached the age of twenty-one. Daniel Webster (1782–1852), a noted statesman and attorney, submitted a second compromise that would restrict slavery in new territories west of the Mississippi, claiming that the Senate had previously imposed restrictions not related to slavery to other states and that it was the obligation of Congress to restrict slavery in this case. Both bills were voted down and were seen by most of Congress as too extreme.

Webster's proposition in particular was met with strong resistance from southern states, who argued for slavery extension on the basis of states' rights. The issue, as Webster saw it, was the unchecked expansion of slavery if Missouri was admitted without regulation. He writes, "If its extensive end and fertile field shall be opened as a market for slaves, the Government will seem to become a party to the traffic which, in so many acts, through so many years, it has denounced as impolitic, unchristian, and inhuman" (Greeley 1856, p. 24).

During the debate, the northern portion of Massachusetts considered breaking off and becoming the free state of what is now Maine, thereby balancing the addition of Missouri as a slave state. While some saw this as an effective compromise, Lincoln's memoirs note that while Maine would have balanced the Senate, it would have done nothing to balance the congressional population of free representatives (Black 1861). The North remained unsatisfied, and once again, Congress was locked.

A third attempt at compromise came from Senator Jesse Thomas (1777–1853) of Illinois whose bill would prohibit the introduction of slavery into the territories of the United States north and west of Missouri. Thomas's bill would essentially and legally demarcate the nation into two distinct zones and, as author Edward Alfred Pollard writes in his book The Lost Cause, "indicated the true nature of the slavery controversy, and simply revealed what had all along existed: a political North and a political South" (1866, p. 48). The line proposed was the area north of the 36° 30′ latitude, which consisted of the southern border of Missouri.

Thomas's bill was seen as a more reasonable and moderate compromise by both North and South, House and Senate. Greeley explained why the proposal was attractive to the South when he noted, "It was, in effect, an offer from the milder opponents of Slavery Restriction to the more moderate and flexible advocates of that Restriction—Let us have Slavery in Missouri, and we will unite with you in excluding it from all the uninhabited territories North and West of that State" (1856, p. 28).

Still, the bill was not without its opponents. The particular line of demarcation became a point of contention to the Missouri Territory representative, who had asked Thomas:

What precise line of latitude suited his conscience, his humanity, or his political views, on this subject. Could that member be serious, when he made the parallel of latitude the measure of his good-will to those unfortunate blacks? Or was he trying how far he could go in fallacious argument and absurdity, without creating one blush even on his own cheek for inconsistency (Greeley 1856, p. 19).

Thomas's bill exchanged hands between the House and Senate and it appeared as though it would be passed even though Missouri's constitution was not yet ratified.

Strong northern supporters of slavery restriction who fought to prevent Missouri from becoming a slave state were particularly unsatisfied with the result, but, as Greeley wrote, "It is unquestionable that, without this compromise or equivalent, the Northern votes, which passed the bill, could not have been obtained for it" (1856, p. 30). Northern congressmen who had attempted to restrict slavery and who saw the compromise as a loss were infuriated by what happened next.

The South added an amendment to Missouri's admission that Greeley called needlessly defiant and insulting. The amendment attempted to "prevent free negroes and mulattoes from coming to, and settling in [Missouri] under any pretext whatever" (1856, p. 30). This new amendment would effectively strip all rights from blacks in the state of Missouri whether they were slave or free. Northern congressmen, upon hearing this new addition to the Missouri constitution, renewed their resolve to not admit Missouri as a slave state and when the time came to ratify its constitution, it was harshly voted down.

Henry Clay (1777–1852), as speaker of the House, called together a Joint Committee by secret ballot that would settle the issue. After the Joint Committee deliberated, the clause restricting the rights of blacks was removed, and Thomas's bill was passed in March of 1820. A year later, Missouri was added as a slave state, while the remaining territories were partitioned into slave-soil and free-soil.

Clay is usually mistakenly seen as the architect for the Missouri Compromise. According to the Emancipator and Weekly Chronicle (May 1, 1844), Clay gave a speech in 1844 in which he claimed "that his influence alone framed and carried the compromise." While his apt diplomacy may have resolved the final sticking point, the bill initially proposed by Thomas constitutes the bulk of the Missouri Compromise. In 1820, Maine separated from Massachusetts and became a free state. In 1821, Missouri's constitution was ratified, and it was included in the Union as a slave state, and the balance between slave and free states was maintained for nearly fifteen years.

The Missouri Compromise was eventually repealed by the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854 and was deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. Whereas the Missouri Compromise attempted to contain slavery, the Kansas-Nebraska Act left "the people … perfectly free to form and regulate their domestic institutions in their own way, subject only to the Constitution of the United States: Provided, That nothing [t]herein contained shall be construed to revive or put in force any law or regulation which may have existed prior to … either protecting, establishing, prohibiting, or abolishing slavery."


Black, Robert. A Memoir of Abraham Lincoln: President Elect of the United States of America, His Opinion on Secession, Extracts from the United States Constitution. London: Sampson Low and Son, 1861.

Charles Torrey, "The Missouri Compromise," Emancipator and Free American, August 18, 1842.

The Constitution of the United States, with the Acts of Congress, Relating to Slavery: Embracing, the Constitution, the Fugitive Slave Act of 1793, the Missouri Compromise Act of 1820, the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, and the Nebraska and Kansas Bill, Carefully Compiled. Rochester, NY: D.M. Dewey, 1854.

Emancipator and Weekly Chronicle, May 1, 1844

Greeley, Horace. A History of the Struggle for Slavery Extension or Restriction in the United States, from the Declaration of Independence to the Present Day. New York: Dix and Edwards, 1856.

Library of Congress. A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774–1875, American State Papers, Senate, 16th Congress, 1st Session.

Pollard, Edward Alfred. The Lost Cause; A New Southern History of the War of the Confederates. New York: E.B. Treat, 1866.

Republican Party (Michigan). State Central Committee. Important Facts Drawn from Authentic Sources: Proving beyond a Doubt that the Approaching Presidential Election Is Forever to Decide the Question between Freedom and Slavery. Detroit: H. Barns, 1856.

                                              John Reilly

Missouri Compromise

views updated May 29 2018

Missouri Compromise

By the early nineteenth century, the United States was increasingly divided by the issue of slavery . Increasing numbers of Northerners wanted the government to limit slavery to the states in which it already existed, while most Southerners viewed slave labor as essential to their economic prosperity and resented governmental interference. In 1819, the nation held a delicate balance. There were eleven free (nonslave) states and eleven slave states, giving both sides equal representation in the U.S. Senate. (The free states had larger populations and therefore dominated the U.S. House of Representatives.) When the territory of Missouri applied for admission to the Union as a slave state early in 1819, it threatened to tip the scale. This set off a full-fledged congressional debate. It was the first time in the nation's history that the institution of slavery had advanced to the center of the political stage.

Tallmadge Amendment

In February 1819, U.S. representative James Tallmadge Jr. (1778–1853) of New York proposed an amendment to the congressional bill admitting Missouri to the Union. Taking into account that slavery was already commonly practiced in the Missouri Territory, his amendment prohibited the further introduction of slavery into the territory and provided for the gradual emancipation of slaves already there.

The South was just beginning to expand westward with its slave-labor plantation system. For those engaged in the production of cotton and other Southern staples, the economic future had looked bright. By limiting slavery, the Tallmadge Amendment threatened that future. It also challenged the doctrine of states’ rights, the belief that state governments should have more authority over local affairs than the federal government,

which had become accepted doctrine throughout much of the South. Southerners believed that Tallmadge and his supporters were launching a moral attack on the Southern way of life. Many Southern congressmen who had earlier expressed uneasiness about slavery became decisively proslavery in response to the amendment.

Ending the standoff

The Tallmadge Amendment did not make it through the Senate. At a loss, from December 1819 through March 1820 Congress debated how to admit Missouri to the Union without infuriating either the North or the South. The significance of the debate lay mainly in the stance taken by Southerners in defending slavery. All the arguments that Southerners would use during the next thirty years to justify the institution of slavery were first aired during the Missouri debates.

Finally, Congress passed a bill that provided for Missouri to enter the Union as a slave state, but for Maine to be admitted as a free state, thus keeping the prior balance between slave and free states. It also declared that territories north of latitude 36°30’ north of the Louisiana Purchase (the present-day southern border of Missouri), with the exception of the state of Missouri, were to be admitted only as free states.

When Missouri submitted its state constitution to Congress, the debate was renewed. In the proposed constitution, the Missouri Assembly was ordered to pass laws prohibiting free blacks or mulattoes (people of mixed racial backgrounds) from entering the state. This prohibition violated the federal Constitution 's guarantee that “the citizens of each State shall be entitled to all of the privileges and immunities of citizens of the several States.” The status of free blacks in the North was at stake. Free blacks were considered citizens in the state of Massachusetts . Could Missouri then deny them their rights?

Under the leadership of Speaker of the House Henry Clay (1777–1852) of Kentucky , nicknamed “the Great Compromiser,” Congress passed a resolution admitting Missouri on the condition that the legislature of that state abstain from passing any laws that abrogated (voided) the privileges and immunities clause of the U.S. Constitution. Nonetheless, in 1825 and 1847 Missouri passed laws designed to prohibit the immigration of free Negroes and mulattoes into the state.

The start of a long conflict

The congressional struggle that finally produced the Missouri Compromise transformed the South into a self-conscious political section of the nation. In the decades that followed, sectional controversy and North-South conflict became the norm.

The balance attained by the Missouri Compromise would not hold up under the conflict. In 1854, Kansas Territory applied to be admitted to the Union. In another compromise, the territory was carved up to form two states, Kansas and Nebraska , and the slavery status of each was to be decided by popular sovereignty (the voters in each state). Thus, the Kansas-Nebraska Act repealed the antislavery clause of the Missouri Compromise, which had pronounced that the Northern territories of the Louisiana Purchase were to be free. Leaving the decisions about slavery up to the new states did not help. Violence ensued in Kansas between antislavery and proslavery adherents. In 1857, Dred Scott (c. 1795–1858), a slave from Missouri, sued for his freedom on the basis of having traveled and lived with his owner in the free territory. The U.S. Supreme Court decided against Scott; in the course of the Dred Scott case trial, the Court declared the Missouri Compromise unconstitutional.

Missouri Compromise (1820)

views updated May 23 2018


The Missouri Compromise provided a simple constitutional and geographical expedient for resolving a crisis of the Union growing out of slavery's expansion into the western territories. Because the compromise formed the basis of a balance of the free and slave states in the Union for a generation, its abrogation in the 1850s destabilized the constitutional system and intensified the disruption of the Union.

In 1819, Representative James Tallmadge of New York offered an amendment to the Missouri statehood enabling bill that would prohibit the further introduction of slavery into Missouri and would free all children born to slaves after the state's admission, but hold them in servitude until age 25. Free-state congressmen supported congressional power thus to restrict the admission of Missouri by arguments derived from four constitutional sources: the new states clause of Article IV, section 3, giving Congress discretionary authority to admit new states into the Union; the territories clause of the same article and section, empowering Congress to make "Regulations respecting the Territory" of the nation; the slave trade clause of Article I, section 9, permitting congress to control the "Migration" of persons; and the guarantee clause of Article IV, section 4, which required all states to have a republican form of government. Supporters of the Tallmadge amendment, citing the declaration of independence, argued that slavery was incompatible with republican government.

Opponents of the Tallmadge amendment rejected all these arguments, insisting particularly that the logical implications of the republicanism argument would subvert slavery in the states where it already existed. The first Missouri crisis was resolved by a package of statutes that admitted Missouri without the Tallmadge restriction, admitted Maine as a free state, and prohibited the introduction of slavery into the remainder of the Louisiana Purchase territory north of Missouri's southern boundary. This compromise was subsequently supplemented by an informal process of admitting paired free and slave states, thus preserving a balance between the sections in the senate.

On the eve of its statehood Missouri precipitated the second crisis by adopting provisions in its new constitution that would have prohibited the abolition of slavery without the consent of slaveholders and that required the state legislature to prohibit the ingress of free blacks. Constitutional arguments over the second controversy turned on the privileges and immunities clause of Article IV, section 2, which introduced the question of the constitutional status of free black people. This issue went unresolved because the compromise that settled the second crisis simply provided that nothing Missouri might do in legislative compliance with the constitutional mandate should be construed to deny any citizen a privilege or immunity to which he was entitled, a toothless provision that Missouri flouted in 1847 by excluding free blacks.

thomas jefferson warned at the time that "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." His somber prediction was fulfilled in the 1850s. The wilmot proviso of 1846, which would have prohibited the introduction of slavery into territories acquired as a result of the Mexican War, inaugurated a period of controversy that terminated in the destruction of the Union in 1860. Democrats and southern political leaders in 1848 began to insist that the first Missouri restriction was unconstitutional and to demand its repeal. Repeal was accomplished by the kansas-nebraska act of 1854; and Chief Justice roger b. taney gratuitously held that the Missouri Compromise had been unconstitutional all along in his opinion in dred scott v. sandford (1857). Yet during Secession Winter, Senator john j. crittenden resurrected the Missouri Compromise as the centerpiece of his compromise proposals, which recommended extrapolating the Missouri line all the way to the Pacific. But by 1860 sectional developments had made the constitutional settlement of 1820 obsolete.

William M. Wiecek


Moore, Glover 1953 The Missouri Controversy, 1819–1821. Lexington: University of Kentucky Press.

Missouri Compromise

views updated May 23 2018


Between 1815 and 1850, the politics of the United States became increasingly sectional. The question of slavery dominated the issues dividing the new republic. An increasing number of northerners viewed slavery as morally wrong and insisted that government abolish the system, while most southerners viewed slave labor as essential to their economic prosperity and to that of the nation.

Both the North and the South looked to the newly settled western territories to expand their interests. In 1818 when the Territory of Missouri (part of the Louisiana Purchase of 1803) applied for statehood, there were 11 free states and 11 slave states, giving both sides equal representation in the U.S. Senate. (Because of their populations, the free states dominated the U.S. House of Representatives.) Congress began debating the question of whether to admit new states as free or as slave states. In an effort to preserve the delicate North-South political balance, Congress agreed to the Missouri Compromise in 1820.

The Missouri Compromise provided for Maine to be admitted to the Union as a free state, Missouri as a slave state, and designated as free territories north of the Louisiana Purchase (the present-day southern border of Missouri), with the exception of the state of Missouri.

By the 1850s the issue of the extension of slavery had become very controversial. In 1854 the federal legislature again considered the problems of organizing and admitting new states to the Union. This time the Kansas Territory was under consideration. In another compromise, the territory was carved up to form two states, Kansas and Nebraska, and the slavery status of each would be decided by popular sovereignty (the voters in each state). The Kansas-Nebraska Compromise also repealed the anti-slavery clause of the Missouri Compromise, which had pronounced the northern territories free. Violence ensued, especially in Kansas where anti-slavery and pro-slavery adherents squared off in a series of deadly skirmishes, deepening the North-South schism. In 1857 the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in the case of Dred Scott (17951858), a slave who had sued for his freedom on the basis of having traveled with his owner in the free territory north of the 36th parallel, declared the Missouri Compromise unconstitutional.

See also: Abolition, Louisiana Purchase, Dred Scott Case, Slavery, Tallmadge Amendment

Missouri Compromise

views updated May 29 2018

Missouri Compromise (1820–21) Effort to end the dispute between slave and free states in the USA. Largely the work of Henry Clay, it permitted Missouri to join the union as a slave state at the same time as Maine joined as a free state, preserving an equal balance between slave and free.


Missouri Compromise

views updated Jun 11 2018

Missouri Compromise an arrangement made in 1820 which provided that Missouri should be admitted to the Union as a slave state, but that slavery should not be allowed in any new state lying north of 36° 30′.

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Missouri Compromise

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Missouri Compromise