Missouri Compromise (Great Events from History: North American Series)
Article abstract: A measure that attempts to pacify both Northern and Southern sectional interests by allowing slavery to exist in the southern part of the Louisiana Purchase territory.
Summary of Event
Between 1818 and 1819 both the territories of Missouri and Maine petitioned the U.S. Congress to be admitted as new states. The Missouri Territory had been created from the Louisiana Purchase (1803) and was promised constitutional protection. However, Congress could not decide if the right of property applied to the institution of slavery. Should it be allowed in Missouri and the rest of the Louisiana Purchase, or did Congress have the moral responsibility to rectify the issue of slavery that had been avoided since the Constitutional Convention of 1787? It would take three sessions of Congress between 1818 and 1821 before Missouri was fully admitted as a state. The issue of slavery sparked by the ensuing debate spread throughout the country and threatened to cause disunion between the Northern and Southern regions.
At the time Missouri and Maine applied for statehood, the United States consisted of eleven free states and eleven slave states. This political balance had been achieved since 1789 by admitting a slave state and then a free state determined by geographical location and each region’s past history with regard to slavery. This arrangement supplied each section with an equal number of senators (two...
(The entire section is 1639 words.)
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Missouri Compromise (1820) (Major Acts of Congress)
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 (1801809) and James Madison (1809817). 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.
ILL WILL BETWEEN NORTH AND SOUTH
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 slaveryo 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.
EFFECTIVENESS OF THE COMPROMISE
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 1850he 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 1860861, 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.
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