American History: Missouri Compromise (1820-21)


Figure 1.--Here we see a map of the United States at the time of the Missouri Compromise. With the boundary for future slkave states set at the southern border of Missouri, you can see how little scope for the expasion of slavery was invisioned with the Missouri Compromise.

American history after the ratification of the Constitution was a series of compromises meant to difuse the issue of slavery. The centerpiece of this effort was the Missouri Compromise (1820). Northern states had abolished slavery or were in the process of doing so. Many had thought that slavery would gradually disappear of its own accord. This had happened in the north, but the development of the cotton gin had given a new live to slavery in the South. Northerners began to see that the admission of more slave states would simply worsen the problem. The first in a series of sectional crisis occurred when Missouri applied for admission to the Union as a slave state. Many northern Congressmen opposed the admission of another slave state. from the North did not want another slave state. When Maine asked to be admitted to the Union as a free state. Southern Congressman demanded the admission of Missouri in exchange for their support for admitting Maine. The result was the Missouri Compromise. This allowed Missouri to come into the Union as a slave state and Maine would be a free state. Congress also agreed to draw a line in the remaining territory acquired in the Louisana Purchse. That line was the southern border of Missouri. This line would be the border between free and slaves states. Any new state entering the Union that was south of the line could be a slave state. Any state north of the line would have to enter the Union as a free state. A look of the map of the Louisana Purchase shows that free states would be the real bulk of the Western territories at the time. Henry Clay's role in arranging the Mussoiri Compromise earned him the title, the Great Compromiser.

The Constitution (1789)

The Constitution does not use the term slavery, but there are provisions in the Constitution that recognized slavery. A curious arrangement was written in to the Constitution by which for voting purposes slaves would be counted as 2/3s of a person. The Constitution also included a provision to end the African slave trade. Many delegates believed or at least hope that slavery would gradually die out as individuals states abolished it. While the Constitution recognized slavery, it did not authorize it. Rather the Constitution established the principle that powers not specifically delegated to the Federal Government become the jurisdiction of the states. Thus authority over slavery and voting rights fell under the jurisdiction of each state. And this could only be changed by amending the constitution. And because of the difficult amendment process, the Southern slave states could block any effort to abolish slavery through amending the Constitution.

Expanding the Union (1791-1819)

The American Revolution demonstrated the error of a mother country attempting to dictate to its developed colonies. (The British learned the lesson as well as persued different policies in Australia, Canada, and New Zealand). The Constitution provded for new states to enter the Union with full rights equal to those of the original 13 states. Since the Revolution, American had expanded from from 13 to 22 states. The new states included: Vermont (1791), Kentucky (1792), Tennessee (1796), Ohio (1803), Louisiana (1812), Indiana (1816), Mississippi (1817), Illinois (1818), and Alabama (1819). In doing so, a balance had been maintained between slave and free states. There were in 1819 an equal division in the Sente, 11 free states and 11 slave states. The admission of Alabama as a slave state had evened the slave states and free states to equal representation (1819). This meant that legislation could not be passed by Congress if the Slave states voted as a block. (Actually given the rules of the Senate even a minority of senators could block legislation. But the idea of control of the Senate became a fixed in the national debate.) The House of Represenatives was a different matter. There the northern free states because they had a larger population, controlled the chamber 105 votes to 81. But even if a bill was passed by the House, it could be voted down in the Senate.

Louisian Purchase (1803)

The Revolutionary War settlment with Britain, the Treaty of Ghent (1783) left the United States with most of North America east of the Mississippi. This was an almost inconceivable diplomatic success for the new nation which at the time was largely confined to settlment along a relatively narrow coastal strip east of the Apalachins. A series of developments in Europe allowed Napoleonic France to obtain the Louisiana Territory. And Napoleon conceived of turning it into an important French colony. The army he planed to use to accomplish this was, however, was first deployed in Haiti, ironically to quell a slave revolt. There it was devestated by both the Haitians and disease. At the same time, Napoleons wars on the Continent and with Britain left his cash strapped. Also he questioned his ability to hold on to it given the strength of the Royal Navy. This was a key moment in American history. Had Britain acquired Louisiana, they could have prevented American expandion beyond the Mississippi. President Jefferson insructed American Minister in Paris, Robert Livingston, to inquire about Napoleon's willingness to sell New Orleans. The port was critical to the economic viability of the American states west of the Appalachins. Without roads and railroads, water tranportation was critical. And all the rivers west oif the Appalachins l\fed into the Mississippi and ultimately to the port of New Orleans. Livingston was joined by James Monroe. And when the French surprised them with the offer of the entire Louisiana Territory, the purchase for $15 million was agreed. President Jefferson was at first unsure what to do. He was a strict constructionist who had criticized the Federalists for attempting to assume powers not specified in the Constitution. No where in the Constitution does it convey on the President the authority to purchase additional territory. He finally decided to go ahead and in doing so more than doubled the country's territory which would help to form 13 new states. The first would be Louisiana (1821). Next would be Missouri.

Prohibiting the Slave Trade (1807)

The founding fathers realized that slavery was an issue which would likely make agreement on a new constitution impossile. As a result, the delegates at the Constitution Convention generally avoided the issue and the term "slavery" does not appear in the constitution, although there are references to it. By not mentioning slavery, the instiution was essentially put in the hands of individual state governments. The new United States Constitution which was adopted in 1787, prohibited Congress from banning the importation of slaves before 1808. The Congress did just that on January 1, 1808 suggesting that there was considerable opposition to slavery and the slave trade early in the 19th century. To some extent this was because many still believed that slavery was a dieing institution. This was, however, not the case.

Shifting Economics of Slavery

American history after the ratification of the Constitution was a series of compromises meant to difuse the issue of slavery. The centerpiece of this effort was the Missouri Compromise (1820). Northern states had abolished slavery or were in the process of doing so. Many had thought that slavery would gradually disappear of its own accord. This had happened in the north, but the development of the cotton gin had given a new live to slavery in the South.

Abolitionism

While the Constitutional Convention had side stepped the issue of slavery, the abolitionist movement in the north had begun to grow. The debate in the Congress over Missouri statehood brought out some empassioned speeches for and against slavery. Movements were a foot tgo abolish slavery in the northern states and more criticim was being directed at the South's "peculiar institution". Representative Livermore (New Hampshire) asked "How long will the desire for wealth render us blind to the sin of holding both the bodies and souls of our fellow men in chains?".

Missouri (1818)

The entry of new states from the Northwest Territory and and the southern states west of the Appalachens went off with little sectional rancor. This changed when the Missouri Territory applied for admission to the Union (1818). This would be the state from the Louisiana Territory, outside of the already relatively well settled Louisiana itself. Missouri's request sparked a rancorous Congressional debate over slavery in the new territories that had been acquired as part of the Louisiana Purchase (1803). Until this northerners and many in the Souuth had thought slavery would gradually whither away. By 1820 it was not only clear that this was not going to happen, but as fabulous fortunes began to be made on cotton plantations, a new generation of southern leaders began to take a much more aggressive position in defending slavery. Northerners began to see that the admission of more slave states would simply worsen the problem. The first in a series of sectional crisis occurred when Missouri applied for admission to the Union as a slave state. The Missouri Territory by 1818 had been settled with sufficent people to warrant its admission into the Union. Many of the settlers had come from southern slave states so a Territorial Government was formed which favored slavery. There were about 2,000 slaves in Missouri. The Missouri petition brought to the fore an increasinly sectional outlook. Northern Congressmen saw the possibility of southern slave sdates gaining a representational advantage in Congress. At the time there were 11 free states and 11 slaves states, creating a ballance in the Senate. Many northern Congressmen opposed the admission of another slave state. from the North did not want another slave state. James Tallmadge (New York) introduced a possible compromise (1819). He proposed an amendment to the Missouri statehood bill that would have legally prohibited the importation of additional slaves into Missouri and provided for the eventual emancipate Missouri slaves. This meant that there would be large numbers of slave and free blacks. Talmadge explained "the difficulties and the dangers of having free blacks intermingling with slaves," Tallmadge declared, "I know the will of my constituents, and regardless of consequences, I will avow it; as their representative, I will proclaim their hatred to slavery in every shape." The Congressional debate became incressingly acrimonious. The Talmadge compromise that the bill passed in the House (February 1819) but failed to be enacted in the Senate.

Maine

The extreme northeast of the United States involved a range of territorial problems. During the colonial era New Hamshire and Massachusetts developed as separate colonies,but with difficult boundary disputes. Both paricipated in the Revolutionary War. Neighboring Vermont was not one of the original 13 colonies, but joined the Union after the Constittion was ratified as the 14th state (1791). The boundary dispute between Massachusetts and New Hampsire was settled with New Hampsire having a small coast. This left northern Massachusetts separated from the rest of the state. A bondary dispute with the British (Canada) further complicated the situation. When Maine asked to be admitted to the Union as a free state, the basis for resolving the impasse over Missouri became available.

President Monroe (1817-25)

James Monroe was elected president (1816). He was another Virginian president. He was fully aware that America faced an increasingly difficult sectional problem. A Revolutionary War hero, His approsch was to aggressively promote American nationalism using symbols like the Revolutionary struggle and the Constitution. He had some success. The Federalist Party had been essentially destroyed, leaving only one party--the Republicans. A Massachusetts newspaper described his administration as the Era of Good Feelings. Lurking just below the surface, however, was the sectional split with slavery ast its heart. American political life at the time was dominated by the Congress. And thus it was up to Congress to resolve the developing crisis,

Congressional In Fighting (1820)

The House voted down the compromise bill allowing the entry of both Maine and Missori. One of the critical issues was the future of slavery in Missouri and the right of free blacks to enter the state. A conference committee with members of both House and Senate decided to treat the ststehood bills separately as well as bills addressing other related issues. Maine statehood was more easily resolved. Missouri ststehood coninued to be a problem. Norther Cngressmen were willing to accept a state constitution with no restrictions on slavery. Limitations on the free blacks settling in the state prevented agreement. This required another congressional compromise. Finally the Missouri legislature pledged that they would not limit the rights of citizens of the United States. This removed the last major barrier to settling the crisis.

Henry Clay

Henry Clay (Tennessee) was elected to Congress (1810). Amazingly he was choesn as Speaker (1811). He led the War Hawks who pushed for war with Britain, leading to the War of 1812. He resigned from Congress (1814). This was seen as a step making possible a peace treaty with the British. He was elected again (1815) and served as Speaker (1815–20). He was the leader of the western exspansionists in Congress. His program was the “American system”. This was a national program seeking to use Federal funding to finance what were called internal improvements to facilitate western development. Another aspect of the American system was high tariff to protect protection developing American industries. (Because those industries were mostly in the notyh, this also became a setional issue.) Clay was Speaker when the Missouri crisis exploded. While Tennesse was a slave state, Clay had natioinal aspirations and thus had connections sith both northern and southern Congressmen. He played a major role in arranging the Missouri Compromise. This earned him the title, the Great Compromiser (often term the Great Pacifator at the time). Senator Jesse B. Thomas (Illinois) played a key role in the Senate. Clay served in the House a few more years until 1825. He played a major role in developin the modern office of Speaker of the House. He alxo succeeded in enacting important acpects of the American System. This included the building of the Natiional Road. And finally passage of the controversial Tariff of 1824.

The Compromise (1820-21)

The developing crisis was resoved with what became known as the Missouri Compromise, a series of measures passed by Congress (1820-21). The central issue was addressed with a two-part compromise. The northern sector of Massachusetts was admitted to the Union as Maine as a free state (March 1820). Problems with the Missouri Constitution, however, delayed passage of the statrhood bill. It finally passed and Missouri was admitted as a slave state (August 1821). This maintained a ballance in the Senate of 12 slave and 12 free states. Congress also agreed to draw a line in the remaining territory acquired in the Louisana Purchse. That line was the southern border of Missouri (36 degrees 30 minutes north latitude). Any portion of the Louisiana Territory lying north of the compromise line would be free. This provivded a political framework for all the territory of the United States sat the time. (The Oregon Territory was disputed and the southwest was Mexican territoiry.) This line would be the border between free and slaves states. Any new state entering the Union that was south of the line could be a slave state. Any state north of the line would have to enter the Union as a free state. A look of the map of the Louisana Purchase shows that free states would be the real bulk of the Western territories at the time (figure 1). Thus an unwritten aspect of the Missouri Compromise was that America as it developed ould be a redominantely free country wih a minrity of slave states. There were other provisions associated with the compromise. The act included a fugative slave provision. This stated that fugitive slaves "escaping into any ... state or territory of the United States ... may be lawfully reclaimed and conveyed to the person claiming his or her labour or service". This meant that southern slave owners could lay claims to their "property" even in a free state. In addition, "slavery and involuntary servitude ... in the punishment of crimes" was not prohibited.

Mexican War (1846-48)

The Missouri Compromise succeeded in defusing the slavery issue. It was the Mexican War that began to unravel the compromise. First the United States annexed Texas (1845). This brought on the War and as a result America acquired the southwestern territories meaning land below the Missouri Compromise line (the southern border of Missouri. And slave holders were determined to bring new slave states into the Union.

Compromise of 1850

The Compromise of 1850 was an effort to defuse the sectional rancor over the spread of slavery in the territories acquired from Mexico. Congress attempted to balance the interests of the free and slave states. Texas was the first state to enter the Union from the southwestern territory acquired as a result of the Mexican War. Some southerners had assumed that Texas would come into the Union as several new slave states. This did not transpire. The next territory which asked to be admitted to the Union was California, another large state (1850). This created a problem because the Missouri Compromise line cut California in half. Northern and Southern Congressmen argued over whether California should enter the war as a free or slave state. The great figures of the early 19th century (Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, and John C. Calhoun) played their final role in American politics. Calhoun who was dieing and opposed the compromise had to be carried into the Senate chamber. A new generation of leaders, especially Stephen A. Douglas emerged abnd it was Dougls who was lagely responsible for brokering the final agreement. The result was the Compromise of 1850. It was in effect a mixed bag of legislation. Congress rejected the Wimot Proviso. The individual measures could not be passed by Congress, but were passed as a result of a comprehensive basket consisting of five measures. 1) Congress admitted Califirnia as a free state. 2) Slave trading in Washington, D.C. was ended. (D.C. residents could still own slaves, but could not buy or sell them. 3) Texas was compensated for relinquishing claim to the area west of modern day Texas (New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah). This not only apeased Texas, but also other slave states who wanted new slaves states. 4) Congressmen accepted that at least some of the southwestern land acquired from Mexico could enter the Union as slave states, depending on the desires of the settlers there. The territory of New Mexico (which including modern Arizona and Utah) was organized without any prohibition of slavery. This esentially endorsed Douglas' Popular Sovereignty doctrine. 5) The South was further appeased by a tough new Federal Fugitive Slave Law. Federal marshalls were empowered to arrest and return escaping slaves to their masters even in free states. Bounty hunters would be paid for finding and returning slaves. This created a range of problens. Some bounty hunters kidnapped free blacks. And northerns who resisted the bounty hunters could be procecuted. These actions enraged public opinion in some northern states. The northern reaction to the Fugitive Slave Law enraged southerners. Rather than defuse the sectional tension as the Missouri Compromise had done, the Compromise of 1850 while resolving the immediate problem and postponing civil war, in the long run intensified sectional feeling, especially after the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act.

Kansas Nebrasla Act (1854)

Slave holders were not satisfied with bring new slave states into the Union in the southwestern territories. They set their eyes on new slave states above the Missouri Compromise Act. The Missouri Compromise (1820) has been called as perhaps the "most fatefull single piece of legislation in American history." [Catton] We might suggest Lend Lease, but the "Act to Organize the Territories of Nebraska and Kansas" was undeniably a Congressional act of enormous consequences. The Missosuri Compromise worked for over three decades to defuse the slavery issue until Congress, spearheaded by Seator Stephen Douglas, undid it with the Kansas-Nebraska Act (1854). Douglas wanted Congressional support to support the construction of a trans-continental railroad. Southern legislators were unwilling to support the railroad without opening the new western territories. Douuglas' answer was the Kansas-Nebraska Act which in effect repealed the Missouri Compromise. The issue of slavery would be taken out of Federal hands and put in the hands of the people in the territories. Douglas termed this "popular soverignty". Douglas believed that this would difuse the increasingly vitriolic debate over slavery in the Congress. Rarely has a politican been more wrong about the consequences of his actions. It was the Kansas-Nebraska Act that motivated Abraham Lincoln to reibvigorate his political career. The result proved to be rising tensions, "Bleeding Kansas", the and a the breakdown of compromise, John Brown's raid on the Federal arsenal, and at last the final breakdown of comprosise and a terrible civil war.

Dread Scott Case (1857)

The Missouri Compromise was not only repealed by the Kansas-Nebraska Act, but it was declared unconstitutional in the Dred Scott decision issued by the Tanney Court. Dred Scott (1847- )was a Missouri slave whose owner took him to Illinois and then to Wisconsin Territory, free teritory. His owner took him back to Missouri. After his owner died, Scott sued his new ower, claiming tht since he was taken to a free state, he was no longer a slave. He brought suit (1847). After years of litigation, the U.S. Supreme Court, decided that as a slave, Scott had no right to bring suit. The Court, however, went on to say much more. The court clearly stated that the Federal government did not have the power to prohibit slavery in its territories. The Court alsoruled that congress could not outlaw slavery any were in America. This in effect repealed the Missouri Compromise, the cornerstone law which had for a time defused the slavery issue. The South waselated at the decission. The Noth was apalled It man that there was no legal (constitutional) way of dealing with the issue of slavery.





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Created: 12:50 PM 3/30/2007
Last updated: 12:50 PM 3/30/2007