Missouri Compromise



The question of slavery created increasing political agitation in the early nineteenth
century. There was a clear divide between pro-slavery and anti-slavery political
factions across the country. By 1819, 11 states out of 22 had abolished slavery. The
other 11 states still allowed slavery. The future of slavery in America became a
federal question due to the land acquisitions of the Louisiana Purchase. Missouri was
the first state to emerge from the Louisiana Purchase and asked to join the union as
a slave-holding state. This created a large problem for the federal government as it
did not want to create an imbalance between pro-slavery and anti-slavery states as
this would likely create even greater political turmoil. The Missouri Compromise was
the Congress's attempt to address the Missouri issue while maintaining this delicate
balance.
Missouri first requested admission to the union in 1819. The requesting bill sought to
allow the people of Missouri to create a state constitution and government. Because it
wanted to join the union as a slave state, John Tallmadge, a Congressman from New
York, put forth the Tallmadge Amendment which would prevent any new slaves from
being admitted into Missouri and freeing the children of current slaves upon
adulthood. This measure was rejected by the Senate and an appointed committee
further debated the Missouri issue. During this time, there was also a bill seeking the
admission of Maine to the Union as a free state. Once these bills reached the Senate,
the Senate determined that a compromise could be achieved by combining these
bills. The final bill would also address the question of slavery for the admission of
states in the future, as the remainder of the Louisiana Territory was hanging in the
balance.
After much debate, the enacted Missouri Compromise was a two-part deal that
addressed the issue of slave-holding in Missouri Territory as well as the rest of
Louisiana Territory. This bill was sponsored by Henry Clay and passed on March 6,
1820. The Missouri Compromise admitted Missouri to the Union as a slave state while
concurrently adding a free state. In order to maintain the balance of senate seats
between slave-holding and free states, Maine was admitted as a free state. The
compromise also addressed the question of the remainder of Louisiana Territory. The
Missouri Compromise included legislation that created a demarcation line at 36
degrees 30 minutes latitude and at the Mississippi River. Missouri would be the sole
exception to these boundaries because according the bill, slavery was permitted only
south of this line. All territories above this line and to the west of the Mississippi River
were declared free territory.
This compromise satisfied Congress's hopes of maintaining the balance of power
between Northern and Southern states, but there was still much dissatisfaction
amongst the people. While the Missouri Compromise created a tentative peace
between the Northern and Southern states, it was clear that tensions would continue
to build. Fourteen new states were ultimately created from Louisiana Territory within
the terms of the Missouri Compromise, but the divisiveness grew worse over the
following years. Ultimately the division created by the Comprise would divide the
nation as friction between states grew and turmoil spread within political parties. The
decisions of the Missouri Compromise were effectively negated by the
Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1856 and officially declared unconstitutional by the Supreme
Court in the Dred Scott case. By this point, it was clear that it would be impossible to
continue as a divided nation. The question of slavery had reached a boiling point and
America was on its way to the Civil War.