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Missouri Compromise, 1820

        When the Missouri territorial assembly petitioned Congress for admission to the Union in 1818, the U.S. comprised 22 states: 11 slave, 11 free. Until that time, the legislators had consciously alternated between admitting slave and free states to preserve the balance of power among sectional interests. But some 2,000 to 3,000 slaves were then living in Missouri Territory. To receive Missouri with a constitution permitting slavery would have upset the balance in favor of the South in the Senate, though not in the House, where the difference in population gave Northerners 105 votes to the Southerners 81.
        In a move to limit slavery in Missouri and in the West, on February 13, 1819 New York Rep. James Tallmadge proposed an amendment to exclude slavery from the territory, which passed in the House but was blocked by Southern legislators in the Senate. Through fall the Missouri issue dominated national politics, hut the apparent stalemate broke when Maine separated from Massachusetts in 1819 and petitioned for admission to the Union as a free state. Legislators seized the opportunity to settle the immediate dilemma by passing enabling acts authorizing the people of Maine and Missouri to draft constitutions and form state governments.
        The Maine constitution passed unchallenged, hut rising antislavery sentiment in the nation forced legislators to address the extension of involuntary servitude into the Louisiana Purchase, where slaveholders had already begun to settle. Hoping to avoid political imbalance as states were organized in the Purchase territory, Illinois Sen. Jesse B. Thomas proposed admitting Missouri as a slave state but restricting slavery thereafter in the Louisiana Purchase to land below latitude 36" 30'. The Senate passed this Missouri Compromise quickly, the House accepting the amendment after some debate. Missouri was admitted to the Union the next year, March 2, 1821. When slavery again threatened to split the nation 30 years later, another generation of legislators honored the 36" 30' line in the Comprise of 1850, but 4 years later the Kansas-Nebraska Act voided the Missouri Compromise, pushing the nation toward war.
Source: "The Historical Times Encyclopedia of the Civil War" Edited by Patricia L. Faust

This Page last updated 02/16/02


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