Missouri Compromise

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Missouri Compromise of 1820
Slavery and the Missouri Compromise

Missouri Compromise of 1820
Missouri Compromise Act of 1820 History

What was the Missouri Compromise? In an effort to preserve the balance of power in Congress between slave and free states, the Missouri Compromise was passed in 1820, thus, admitting Missouri as a slave state and Maine as a free state (see Missouri Compromise of 1820: Transcription). Furthermore, with the exception of Missouri, this law prohibited slavery in the Louisiana Territory north of the 36 30 latitude line. In 1854, the Missouri Compromise was repealed by the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854. In 1857, the Missouri Compromise was declared unconstitutional by the United States Supreme Court in the Dred Scott decision, which ruled that Congress did not have the authority to prohibit slavery in the territories.
 
Thomas Jefferson expressed his opinion regarding the Missouri Compromise in a letter to John Holmes dated April 22, 1820. Jefferson stated that the Missouri question, "Like a fire bell in the night, awakened and filled me with terror. I considered it at once as the knell of the Union."
 
In a letter to William Short on April 13, 1820, Jefferson declared that the "Missouri question aroused and filled me with alarm...I have been among the most sanguine in believing that our Union would be of long duration. I now doubt it much."

Missouri Compromise of 1820 Map
The Missouri Compromise of 1820 Map.jpg
(The Missouri Compromise Act of 1820 Map)

The Senate debated the admission of Maine and Missouri from February 8 through February 17, 1820. On February 16, the Senate agreed to unite the Maine and Missouri bills into one bill. The following day the Senate agreed to an amendment that prohibited slavery in the Louisiana Territory north of the 36 30 latitude line, except for Missouri, and then agreed to the final version of the bill by a vote of 24 to 20. However, after rejecting the Senate's version of the bill, the House of Representatives passed a bill on March 1, that admitted Missouri without slavery.
 
On March 2, after a House-Senate conference agreed to the Senate's version, the House voted 90 to 87 to allow slavery in Missouri and then voted 134 to 42 to prohibit slavery in the Louisiana Territory north of the 36 30 latitude line. The Missouri Compromise was ratified by President James Monroe on March 6, 1820. See also: Missouri Civil War History and Kansas Civil War History.

(Sources and related reading below.)

Recommended Reading: The Missouri Compromise and Its Aftermath: Slavery and the Meaning of America (Hardcover). Description: Robert Pierce Forbes goes behind the scenes of the crucial Missouri Compromise, the most important sectional crisis before the Civil War, to reveal the high-level deal-making, diplomacy, and deception that defused the crisis, including the central, unexpected role of President James Monroe. Continued below...

Although Missouri was allowed to join the union with slavery, Forbes observes, the compromise in fact closed off nearly all remaining federal territory to slavery. Forbes's analysis reveals a surprising national consensus against slavery a generation before the Civil War, which was fractured by the controversy over Missouri. "Great study...discusses the results and details of a powerful act that affected all Americans."

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Recommended Reading: CAUSES OF THE CIVIL WAR: The Political, Cultural, Economic and Territorial Disputes Between the North and South. Description: While South Carolina's preemptive strike on Fort Sumter and Lincoln's subsequent call to arms started the Civil War, South Carolina's secession and Lincoln's military actions were simply the last in a chain of events stretching as far back as 1619. Increasing moral conflicts and political debates over slavery-exacerbated by the inequities inherent between an established agricultural society and a growing industrial one-led to a fierce sectionalism which manifested itself through cultural, economic, political and territorial disputes. Continued below...
This historical study reduces sectionalism to its most fundamental form, examining the underlying source of this antagonistic climate. From protective tariffs to the expansionist agenda, it illustrates the ways in which the foremost issues of the time influenced relations between the North and the South.

 

Recommended Reading: Slavery and Politics in the Early American Republic. Description: Giving close consideration to previously neglected debates, Matthew Mason challenges the common contention that slavery held little political significance in America until the Missouri Crisis. Mason demonstrates that slavery and politics were enmeshed in the creation of the nation, and in fact there was never a time between the Revolution and the Civil War in which slavery went uncontested. Continued below...

The American Revolution set in motion the split between slave states and free states, but Mason explains that the divide took on greater importance in the early nineteenth century. He examines the partisan and geopolitical uses of slavery, the conflicts between free states and their slaveholding neighbors, and the political impact of African Americans across the country. Offering a full picture of the politics of slavery in the crucial years of the early republic, Mason demonstrates that partisans and patriots, slave and free—and not just abolitionists and advocates of slavery—should be considered important players in the politics of slavery in the United States.

 

Recommended Reading: Lincoln and Douglas: The Debates that Defined America (Simon & Schuster) (February 5, 2008) (Hardcover) . Description: In 1858, Abraham Lincoln was known as a successful Illinois lawyer who had achieved some prominence in state politics as a leader in the new Republican Party. Two years later, he was elected president and was on his way to becoming the greatest chief executive in American history. What carried this one-term congressman from obscurity to fame was the campaign he mounted for the United States Senate against the country's most formidable politician, Stephen A. Douglas, in the summer and fall of 1858. Lincoln challenged Douglas directly in one of his greatest speeches -- "A house divided against itself cannot stand" -- and confronted Douglas on the questions of slavery and the inviolability of the Union in seven fierce debates. As this brilliant narrative by the prize-winning Lincoln scholar Allen Guelzo dramatizes, Lincoln would emerge a predominant national figure, the leader of his party, the man who would bear the burden of the national confrontation. Continued below... 

Of course, the great issue between Lincoln and Douglas was slavery. Douglas was the champion of "popular sovereignty," of letting states and territories decide for themselves whether to legalize slavery. Lincoln drew a moral line, arguing that slavery was a violation both of natural law and of the principles expressed in the Declaration of Independence. No majority could ever make slavery right, he argued. Lincoln lost that Senate race to Douglas, though he came close to toppling the "Little Giant," whom almost everyone thought was unbeatable. Guelzo's Lincoln and Douglas brings alive their debates and this whole year of campaigns and underscores their centrality in the greatest conflict in American history. The encounters between Lincoln and Douglas engage a key question in American political life: What is democracy's purpose? Is it to satisfy the desires of the majority? Or is it to achieve a just and moral public order? These were the real questions in 1858 that led to the Civil War. They remain questions for Americans today.

 

Recommended Reading: Arguing about Slavery: John Quincy Adams and the Great Battle in the United States Congress. Description: In the 1830s, slavery was so deeply entrenched that it could not even be discussed in Congress, which had enacted a "gag rule" to ensure that anti-slavery petitions would be summarily rejected. This stirring book chronicles the parliamentary battle to bring "the peculiar institution" into the national debate, a battle that some historians have called "the Pearl Harbor of the slavery controversy." The campaign to make slavery officially and respectably debatable was waged by John Quincy Adams who spent nine years defying gags, accusations of treason, and assassination threats. In the end he made his case through a combination of cunning and sheer endurance. Telling this story with a brilliant command of detail, Arguing About Slavery endows history with majestic sweep, heroism, and moral weight.

 

Recommended Reading: Lincoln and Chief Justice Taney: Slavery, Secession, and the President's War Powers, by James F. Simon (Simon & Schuster). Publishers Weekly: This surprisingly taut and gripping book by NYU law professor Simon (What Kind of Nation) examines the limits of presidential prerogative during the Civil War. Lincoln and Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger Taney saw eye to eye on certain matters; both, for example, disliked slavery. But beginning in 1857, when Lincoln criticized Taney's decision in the Dred Scott case, the pair began to spar. They diverged further once Lincoln became president when Taney insisted that secession was constitutional and preferable to bloodshed, and blamed the Civil War on Lincoln. In 1861, Taney argued that Lincoln's suspension of habeas corpus was illegal. This holding was, Simon argues, "a clarion call for the president to respect the civil liberties of American citizens." Continued below...

In an 1862 group of cases, Taney joined a minority opinion that Lincoln lacked the authority to order the seizure of Southern ships. Had Taney had the chance, suggests Simon, he would have declared the Emancipation Proclamation unconstitutional; he and Lincoln agreed that the Constitution left slavery up to individual states, but Lincoln argued that the president's war powers trumped states' rights. Simon's focus on Lincoln and Taney makes for a dramatic, charged narrative—and the focus on presidential war powers makes this historical study extremely timely.

 

Recommended Reading: The Radical and the Republican: Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, and the Triumph of Antislavery Politics. Review From Publishers Weekly: The perennial tension between principle and pragmatism in politics frames this engaging account of two Civil War Era icons. Historian Oakes (Slavery and Freedom) charts the course by which Douglass and Lincoln, initially far apart on the antislavery spectrum, gravitated toward each other. Lincoln began as a moderate who advocated banning slavery in the territories while tolerating it in the South, rejected social equality for blacks and wanted to send freedmen overseas—and wound up abolishing slavery outright and increasingly supporting black voting rights. Conversely, the abolitionist firebrand Douglass moved from an impatient, self-marginalizing moral rectitude to a recognition of compromise, coalition building and incremental goals as necessary steps forward in a democracy. Continued below...

Douglass's views on race were essentially modern; the book is really a study through his eyes of the more complex figure of Lincoln. Oakes lucidly explores how political realities and military necessity influenced Lincoln's tortuous path to emancipation, and asks whether his often bigoted pronouncements represented real conviction or strategic concessions to white racism. As Douglass shifts from denouncing Lincoln's foot-dragging to revering his achievements, Oakes vividly conveys both the immense distance America traveled to arrive at a more enlightened place and the fraught politics that brought it there. AWARDED FIVE STARS by americancivilwarhistory.org

Sources: Fehrenbacher, Don E. The South and Three Sectional Crises. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1980; Moore, Glover. The Missouri Controversy, 1819-1821. Gloucester, Mass.: P. Smith, 1967; Shoemaker, Floyd Calvin. Missouri's Struggle for Statehood, 1804-1821. New York: Russell & Russell, 1969; Thomas Jefferson Papers from the Manuscript Division at the Library of Congress.

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