History, Tales, and Destinations in the Land of Ahs


Missouri Compromise of 1820

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The first petition of Missouri for admission as a state, presented on March 16, 1818, was referred to a Select Committee but no further action was taken until a session of Congress in the following fall.


It came up for further consideration in November, which awakened the apprehensions of those opposed to the further extension of slavery. An Amendment was proposed which provided for:


That the introduction of slavery, or involuntary servitude, be prohibited, except for the punishment of crimes, whereof the party has been duly convicted; and that all children born within said State, after the admission into the Union, shall be declared free at the age of twenty-five years.


Though the amendment was adopted by the House, the Senate disagreed and the bill failed. However, in the meantime, a bill organizing the Territory of Arkansas passed at this session, even though attempts were made to apply the slavery restriction, but it failed. Arkansas thus became a slave Territory.


The determined spirit of the slavery propagandists, as evinced in the discussion attending the territorial organization of Arkansas and the defeated Missouri bill, created intense interest and feeling throughout the country, and, at the convening of the new Congress on December 6, 1819, it was apparent that party lines could no longer prevent the slavery question from becoming the vital issue of the time.




The Union

The Union, a symbolic group portrait eulogizing  legislative efforts, including the Compromise of 1850, to preserve the Union. Painted by Tompkins H. Matteson and engraved by  Henry S. Sadd, 1852.This image available for photographic prints and  downloads HERE!




Early in the session, the House passed a bill admitting Maine as a State, and sent the same to the Senate for concurrence. In the meantime, the Missouri petition was referred to a committee. In the end, a compromise was met that Maine would be admitted as a free state and Missouri would be admitted as a Slave State. The compromise also provided for provisions that excluded slavery from the Missouri Territory north of the parallel 3630' north (the southern boundary of Missouri, except within the limits of the proposed state of Missouri. It was passed by Congress on March 5, and ratified by President James Monroe on March 6, 1820.


Though the compromise had been made, the bitter disputes in gaining the agreement led to intense competition between the southern and northern states for power in Congress and for control over future territories. The debates also resulted in a radical change of opinion on the part of the South in regard to the institution of slavery. The profits accruing from servile labor, with the arrogance sprung from the unnatural relations of master and slave, had, in a generation, remolded the character of the Southern whites. Conscience no longer told them of the inhumanity of the traffic. Apology had given place to justification. It was no longer an acknowledged evil, only to be endured until it could be safely eradicated, but an essential and indispensable element in the structure of Southern civilization, to be fostered and perpetuated as such. The abolition of slavery, even at any remote or indefinite time, had no advocates except among the radical and somewhat unpractical abolitionists, who, though meager in numbers, continued to cry aloud against the enormity. The conservative North sought only its restriction; the solid South, forgetful of the traditions of the fathers, boldly championed it as a heaven-sanctioned institution, to be protected and defended under the constitution so long as possible, with disunion as the alternative.


There was; however, one most important advantage gained by the North -- the remainder of the Louisiana Purchase was, for the first time, freed from the chances of ever establishing slavery within its borders. Kansas, so much as was a part of Louisiana, was a part of the territory thus solemnly pledged to freedom.


From 1820 To 1852


The changes of the next thirty years, though gradually increased and intensified the antagonism of sentiment between the North and South, resulted in no flagrant violation of the Missouri Compromise. On June 30, 1834, Congress enacted that all that part of the United States lying west of the Mississippi River, and not within the States of Missouri and Louisiana or the Territory of Arkansas, should be taken for the purpose of Indian country.


Missouri Compromise MapBy the simultaneous admission of Michigan and Arkansas in 1836, and Iowa and Florida in 1845, the numerical equality of the free and slave states continued. At that time, the material from which to manufacture more slaveholding states had become exhausted. Quite opportunely for the South, Texas was then admitted to the Union, not, however, without a determined and earnest opposition on the part of the North.


The Annexation of Texas


The annexation of Texas brought the embers of Northern discontent, which had smoldered since the days of the Missouri contest, again to a white heat. The circumstances attending and preceding it were to the Northern mind exasperating in the extreme. Its boundaries were still in dispute with the Mexican Republic, Texas claiming a country over which she had never established jurisdiction, for exceeding in area her unquestioned domain. It was well understood that to annex Texas, with her boundaries thus in dispute, was to adopt, on the part of the United States, her territorial claims, and that to establish them, war with Mexico was inevitable. No secret was made of the fact that the whole project was in the interest of slavery.


Nevertheless, the annexation was completed on March 2, 1845. The only redeeming feature for the Northerners was in the recognition of the compromise line of 36 30', north of which slavery was prohibited. Otherwise, they were embittered, as it also provided for the formation of more slave States, and for the first time embodied in law the doctrine of squatter sovereignty. It was as follows:


New States of convenient size, not exceeding four in number, in addition to the said State of Texas, and having sufficient population, may hereafter, by the consent of the provisions of the Federal Constitution, and such States as may be formed out of that portion of said territory lying south of thirty-six degrees and thirty minutes north latitude, commonly known as the Missouri Compromise line, shall be admitted into the Union with or without slavery, as the people of each state asking admission may desire; and in such state or states as shall be formed out of said territory north of said Missouri Compromise line, slavery or involuntary servitude (except for crime) shall be prohibited.


Annexation of TexasIn the war which followed, the North was subjected to the deeper humiliation of fighting to win free territory from Mexico to increase the domain of slaveholding Texas. War with Mexico was declared on May 12, 1845 and uninterrupted and continued victories followed the American armies. Soon, it became evident that, however unjust the American cause, the United States would speedily force Mexico into terms of submission.


The proposed accession of territory forced the slavery question into notice in a new form. Before this time, slavery laws had not been subject to question. In the case of all territory previously acquired, except in the Virginia cession, it had been plausibly and successfully contended that, slavery being established and legalized already, it must be upheld until those immediately interested should see fit to abolish it.


However, Mexico had utterly abolished slavery some twenty years before, and every acre that she should cede to the United States, beyond the Rio Grande River would come to as free soil. However, under this consideration in the case of Texas, all concessions were refused by the South, since, on the basis of this doctrine, slavery was already in full possession, and should not be changed.  


To solve this debate, the Wilmot Proviso was introduced on August 8, 1846, in the United States House of Representatives as a rider on a $2 million appropriations bill intended for the final negotiations to resolve the Mexican-American War.


The intent was to prevent the introduction of slavery in any territory acquired from Mexico. However, the proviso did not pass in the current session or in any other session when it was re-introduced over the course of the next several years. The territory acquired came to the United States with no positive sslavery restriction, and brought with it a renewed discussion of the whole question, which was characterized by an intensity of feeling far exceeding that which preceded the admission of Maine and Missouri. This conflict was but one of many that eventually culminate in secession and Civil War.



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