The Missouri Compromise

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The significance and impact of the Missouri Compromise on settling sectional issues


The Missouri Compromise was significant in addressing sectional tensions by maintaining the balance of power between slave and free states. It admitted Missouri as a slave state and Maine as a free state, while also establishing the 36°30' parallel as the boundary for future slavery expansion. This temporary solution delayed the sectional conflict but highlighted the growing divide over slavery in the United States.

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What was the significance of the Missouri Compromise?

Throughout the early-nineteenth century in the United States, there were many attempts to maintain the delicate balance of slave states and free states in the country. At the time, there were eleven free states and eleven slave states, which meant that one faction did not become dominant over the other. By 1819, the territory of Missouri had gained enough population to petition for statehood. There were many that wanted it to be a slave state and others that wanted it to be a free state. Those in favor of slavery argued that the federal government had no authority to outlaw slavery in a new state. They felt that the issue should be decided by the state itself. Opponents of the expansion of slavery argued that slavery should not be expanded into the Louisiana territory on the basis that it would give an unfair advantage to the South, which used its slave population to determine congressional representation. Overall, it seemed as though pro-slave interests in Missouri would have their way if the territory became a state. This created a deadlock in the Senate.

A compromise was struck in 1820. Maine, which had been a part of Massachusetts, petitioned for statehood as a free state. The Senate, which was split in half between pro-slave and anti-slave interests, linked the statehoods of Maine and Missouri. By admitting both states, one with slaves and one without, the balance would be maintained. A proviso was added to this that would ban any further expansion of slavery in the Louisiana Territory north of latitude 36° 30'. This compromise limited slavery but did nothing to abolish it where it already existed. It did, however, put off the issue of rectifying differences that would eventually be settled by the Civil War 45 years later.

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Why is the Missouri Compromise significant?

The Missouri Compromise was an attempt to head off the slavery debate which was gradually heating up. The issue was not so much the existence of slavery, as its extension into the West.  Stephen A. Douglas proposed the Compromise as part of a plan to have the Eastern Terminus of the Transcontinental Railroad in Chicago in his home state.

Missouri petitioned to come into the Union as a slave holding state. This would have upset the balance of slave and free states in the Union. The free states already had a majority in the House of Representatives; but the Senate was evenly divided. Were the slave states to achieve a majority; they might institutionalize slavery with a constitutional amendment. If the free states were to gain a majority, they might attempt to eliminate slavery altogether, again by Constitutional Amendment (both sides agreed that as onerous as slavery was, it was constitutionally sanctioned.  The plan called for the admission of Missouri as a slave state, and Maine as a free state; whereby the division in the Senate would be preserved. It also provided that slavery would not exist above the parallel which constituted the bottom of the Missouri state line.

The compromise is important in that it delayed the slavery debate for a short time. It did not end it. Later, the compromise was declared unconstitutional by Justice Roger Taney in the Dred Scott decision, and the slavery debate heated up anew.

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Why is the Missouri Compromise significant?

The Missouri Compromise was significant because it helped to reduce tensions between the North and the South.  By doing so, it helped to delay the Civil War.  It is also significant, however, because it is the first real manifestation of those tensions.

The North and the South had been evenly split in terms of number of states until 1820.  At that point, Missouri wanted to enter the Union as a slave state.  That would have given the slave states more power in the Senate than the free states had.  This worried the free states and was the first real sign of tension between the two sections.

The Missouri Compromise solved the problem by letting Maine in as a free state to maintain the equality in numbers of the free and slave states.  It also set out which parts of the Louisiana Purchase would become slave territory and which parts would be free.  By doing so, it reduced the tensions between the North and the South.

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What is the Missouri Compromise and its significance?

Due to the growing conflict between slave states and free states in the early nineteenth century, the Missouri Compromise was drafted as a way to create agreement between the two sides prohibiting slavery in new territories in the former Louisiana territory except for the newly formed state of Missouri which would be a slave territory.  Any area above the parallel of 36 30 north would be designated as free territory.

During its passage through congress the measure also acquired the admittance of Maine and Alabama as free and slave states respectively, thus equaling the number of slave and free states in the Union.

Jefferson, among others, felt that this division would eventually lead to a divided nation and the act was eventually repealed by the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854.

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What was the Missouri Compromise?

The Missouri Compromise was one of a series of compromises over the expansion of slavery. It is usually identified a key event in causing the American Civil War.  

Before 1820, congressmen from the north and the south were very careful when admitting new states to the Union. The number of slave and free state had to always be balanced in order to prevent any one side from gaining too much power. To help this balance, the Ohio River was chosen as the official boundary between free and slave. States were then submitted in slave/free alternating order or in pairs to prevent the balance of power in the Senate from being upset.

In 1820, the state of Missouri applied for statehood. This caused quite an uproar for two reasons. First, it wanted to be a slave state, but most of it lay north of the Ohio River boundary. Second, the state would have upset the balance between slave and free states since no other northern state had applied for statehood.

Northern senators blocked the admission of Missouri while southern senators threatened secession if Missouri wasn’t admitted immediately. Finally, Henry Clay submitted a plan known as the Missouri Compromise in 1820 which solved the issue. Missouri would be submitted as a slave state while Maine, which was part of Massachusetts at the time, would be submitted as a free state. He also proposed a new boundary known as the Missouri Compromise line be drawn as the new slave/free frontier.

The compromise may have allowed Missouri to be submitted, but it would not solve the slavery issue itself.  

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How did the Missouri Compromise settle sectional issues?

The Missouri Compromise admitted Missouri into the Union as a slave state and Maine into the Union as a free state. All future territory below Missouri's southern border was to become slave states. All future states north of Missouri's southern border were to become free states. This compromise was executed in order to ensure an equal number of slave states and free states in the Senate. Henry Clay created the Missouri Compromise.

Anti-slavery lawmakers were worried that slavery would spread throughout the nation if it was not limited to where it already existed. Pro-slavery lawmakers wanted each new state to decide whether or not to allow slavery within its borders.

The Missouri Compromise provided for one new free state to enter the Union provided that one new slave state entered at the same time. The Compromise came under fire with the Compromise of 1850, when California was admitted as a free state but had to send one pro-slavery senator to Congress. The Missouri Compromise was repealed with the Kansas-Nebraska Act, as Stephen Douglas stated that the people of each new state should be able to vote on slavery.

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