The Missouri Compromise

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What were the obstacles overcome to complete the Missouri Compromise of 1820?

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The Missouri Compromise of 1820 marked a turning point in our nation's history. Missouri had some slave owners in the southern parts of the state who wished to keep their slaves. If Missouri came in as a slave state, it would disrupt the balance of power in the Senate, as it would have more slave states than free states. Many national leaders saw this as a vexing issue, as the nation was sure to create more states after the area of the Louisiana Purchase was settled. Thomas Jefferson even called the debate a "firebell in the night," meaning that it had the potential to destroy the Union. The Missouri Compromise allowed Missouri to enter the Union as a slave state, but Maine had to enter as a free state; until this time, Maine had been part of Massachusetts. A dividing latitude of 36 degrees was applied to any further states who wished to join the Union. All states above this line would be free states; all states below the line would be slave states. This latitude coincides with the southern border of Missouri. Missouri could keep its slaves since it had them before the law was applied. Many felt as though this would be a permanent solution to the nation's slavery issues, but already radicals on both sides were beginning to find their voices on this. Abolitionists claimed that presidents from slave states would try to grow the nation to the South, while slave holders claimed that the North was willing to curtail slavery in the first place, which infringed on their property rights. The federal government had already set a precedent on controlling the spread of slavery, as this was one of the provisions of the Northwest Ordinance.

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A major concern of Congress at the time of the Missouri Compromise was maintaining a balance between the free states in the North and the slave-holding states of the South. The two sections of the country had thus far kept a balance; there was a similar number of states on either side, and the North's growing population was offset by an earlier compromise in the Constitution allowing slave states to count their slaves as 3/5 of a person for the purposes of population-based representation in the House of Representatives.

The proposed admission of Missouri threatened that balance, as the territory contained many settlers from the South who had brought their slaves with them. An attempt to admit Missouri as a free state failed, but in 1820, Jesse Thomas of Illinois proposed to admit both Missouri (as a slave state) and Maine (as a free state) simultaneously, with the additional condition that slavery would not be allowed to spread north of the latitude 36º30', which was Missouri's southern boundary.

This compromise kept the peace for a while, but the issue of slavery would eventually ignite the Civil War just thirty years later.

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In December of 1818 a bill was placed into the hands of congressmen to allow Missouri to be acknowledged as an independent state of the United Sates.  The bill wanted Missouri to be permitted to have slaves.  One of the obstacles was that issue of slavery.  The Northern representatives did not want Missouri to have any slaves.  They wanted a free state and they wanted any slaves located in the territory of Missouri to be freed.  The Southern representatives wanted the state to retain their right to have slaves.  The on-going debate and argument progressed for the next two years until Mr. Jesse B. Thomas, a senator from Illinois, created what was to be known as the Missouri Compromise.

Main would break away from Massachusetts and become its own state and it would be a slave free state.  Missouri would become a state and be a slave state.  No territory above the 30-36 parallel would be permitted slaves and the balance would be maintained in Congress.

"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. Northerners were also angry at the policies of the two presidents from Virginia, Jefferson (1801–1809) and James Madison (1809–1817)"

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