The Missouri Compromise

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How effective were the Missouri Compromise, Compromise of 1850, and Kansas-Nebraska Act individually and as a whole?

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The Missouri Compromise (1820), the Compromise of 1850, and the Kansas-Nebraska Act (1854) were all attempts to deal with the divisive issue of slavery in the United States. The white South wanted slavery to thrive and expand. The North, on the other hand, wanted to limit its spread. Some Northerners...

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thought slavery should be abolished. In the end, these three attempts to resolve the issue failed, and the Civil War (1861–1865) occurred.

The North and the South had equal representation in the Senate. When Missouri applied for statehood, though, this threatened that balance. Senator Henry Clay (1777–1852) tried to placate both sides with the Missouri Compromise. Missouri entered as a slave state, while Maine entered as a free state. Also, slavery was prohibited in the territories northwest of Missouri's southern border.

The acquisition of territory in the West in 1848 reignited the slavery debate. America seized huge tracts of land from Mexico: would they be slave states or free states? Once again, Clay, the "great compromiser," helped avoid a civil war with the Compromise of 1850. California was admitted as a free state. In return, the South received a stronger Fugitive Slave Act.

The Kansas-Nebraska Act was the last major attempt to find an enduring compromise. It overturned the Missouri Compromise by allowing slavery in territory north of Missouri's southern border. By this time, Clay was dead, and there were no national figures of comparable stature. Senator Stephen Douglas explained that the people of the territories would decide if they wanted slavery; in other words, there would be popular sovereignty. The Kansas-Nebraska Act led to a small-scale civil war in Kansas and increased hostility between North and South.

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