What sectional divisions led to the Missouri Compromise?

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The Missouri Compromise (1820–21) was significant because it demonstrated the seriousness of the country's division over the slavery issue. The Founding Fathers had chosen not to deal with the thorny topic because they wanted to create a viable and united nation. Therefore, the issue of slavery was dormant for the...

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The Missouri Compromise (1820–21) was significant because it demonstrated the seriousness of the country's division over the slavery issue. The Founding Fathers had chosen not to deal with the thorny topic because they wanted to create a viable and united nation. Therefore, the issue of slavery was dormant for the first three decades of the United States' existence.

Questions over slavery could not be postponed indefinitely, however. The Louisiana Purchase (1803) had doubled the size of the nation, and its territories would eventually apply for statehood.

By 1818, Missouri was ready to become a state. The majority of its residents came from the South, so it seemed likely that Missouri would enter as a slave state. But James Tallmadge, a congressman from New York, sponsored legislation that would have eventually ended slavery in Missouri. The Tallmadge Amendment passed the House of Representatives because of the North's superior population. It was blocked in the evenly divided Senate, however.

The deadlock was broken by Maine's fortuitous application for statehood. Maine entered as a free state and Missouri joined as a slave state. This preserved the balance of power between the North and the South in the Senate.

Thomas Jefferson, former president of the United States, realized that the controversy was a harbinger of things to come. Indeed, the North-South dispute over slavery led to the Civil War four decades later.

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The United States in the early 19th century was plagued by intricate rivalries. In 1820, Maine was admitted to the Union as a free state (or a state in which slavery was prohibited), while Missouri was admitted as a slave state. This compromise, known as the Missouri Compromise, was designed to continue the status quo; an equilibrium of power among the sectional divisions that then were jockeying for political authority in the United States.

Specifically, the U.S. was unofficially divided into a "free" north and a "slave" south. With eleven states in each region, the admission of a new free state would upset political power in the Senate, while the admission of a new slave state would do the same. Ultimately, the compromise set-out the admission of two states, one statutorily prohibited from practicing slavery and the other not so prohibited.

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There were huge cultural, economic, and political differences between slave states and free states. As the United States began to expand rapidly in the wake of the Louisiana Purchase, thoughts inevitably turned to the issue of slavery in the new territories. The question was deceptively simple: should slavery be allowed to expand into land west of the Mississippi? Those opposed to slavery said no and supporters of slavery, with equal insistence, said yes.

Aside from the moral considerations involved, there were important political matters at stake. If the new territories were to be gradually incorporated into the American system of government—as it was always intended they should—then that would potentially upset the existing balance of political forces in the nation. If the new territories became slave states, that would tip the balance of power strongly in favor of what abolitionists contemptuously described as "the slave interest." Likewise, advocates of slavery were concerned that if slavery were not allowed to spread to the new territories, then the slave states would be outvoted in Congress. And if this were to happen, it could only be a matter of time before slavery were abolished altogether.

It was these sectional divisions that necessitated some kind of compromise. It came in the form of the Missouri Compromise of 1820, which excluded slavery from the Louisiana Purchase lands north of latitude 36°30′. Neither side was particularly happy with the new arrangement. Northerners opposed it for acquiescing in the expansion of slavery, albeit in a restricted area of the country. For their part, Southerners didn't like the fact that Congress could now formally make laws regarding slavery, something they believed was entirely a matter for individual states. Nevertheless, the Missouri Compromise, for all its flaws, somehow managed to hold the nation together for over thirty years before it was repealed by the highly contentious Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854.

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The sectional division that led to the Missouri Compromise (or, more accurately, to the conflicts that made the compromise necessary) was the division between North and South.  This division had mostly to do with slavery.

Slavery was, of course, legal in the South and illegal in most parts of the North.  By the time of the Louisiana Purchase, there were equal numbers of free and slave states.  This meant there was a balance of power in Congress.  The purchase upset this balance because the new territories would want to become states and that would mean an end to the equality in the number of free and slave states.

So, the sectional difference that was relevant here was the fact that the North and the South were split on the issue of slavery.

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