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The 1820 Missouri Compromise.

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The 1820 Missouri Compromise Michael Argenti Whilst the institution of slavery had been a divisive issue in the political arena of the United States (consider the Northwest Ordinance of 1787) it was not until the territory of Missouri petitioned Congress for admission to the Union that this issue was brought to confrontation. Slavery had existed in all the English mainland colonies and had come to dominate the South. In fact, most of the Founding Fathers themselves were large-scale slaveholders, as were eight of the first twelve presidents of the United States. Since the Revolutionary War the Union had grown from only thirteen states to twenty-two states and yet, constantly managed to maintain a sense of balance between free and slave states. With eleven 'free' states and eleven 'slave' states there was voting stability in the Senate allowing the prevention of legislation from being passed by either side if it was not to their approval. Conversely, in the House of Representatives the free states had the majority, 105 votes to 81, due to a larger population of the northern states. Whilst this symmetry had been challenged on prior occasions, agreement had always been reached based on the geographical location of the state. This was decided based on the Mason-Dixon Line and the Ohio River, both which created a natural boundary between free and slave states. ...read more.


The cry against the South's 'peculiar institution' had grown louder throughout the years and now the debate was in full swing. In session with the House of Representatives, Representative Livermore from New Hampshire asked "How long will the desire for wealth render us blind to the sin of holding the bodies and souls of our fellow men in chains?" Tallmadge's amendment passed in the House of Representatives but the Senate, however, passed its own version of Missouri's statehood request which included no restrictions on the institution of slavery. The task had now changed into forming a compromise between the House and Senate however the session was adjourned with no resolution. It was decided to discuss this issue at a later date. The congressional session met again in 1820, yet it was still clear that there would be no agreement regarding Tallmadge's amendment and the Senate's adaptation of Missouri's request. While the legislators argued over the issue at hand, an opportunity arose with a new request for statehood from the Northern territory of Maine. With this request, two states, one free and one with slavery, could be admitted without altering the balance of power in existence. Nonetheless, the difficulty still remained, since part of Missouri's territory was north of the Ohio River. Therefore, Senator Jesse Thomas presented a compromised bill that included the provisions of the Northwest Ordinance, 1787. ...read more.


(See Appendix 1) The "settlement" of Missouri in Congress seemed to be merely the signal for its agitation among the non-slave holding States. Fanatics sprang up like mushrooms, and, "in the name of God," proclaimed the enormity of slavery and eternal damnation to all who indulged in the wicked luxury. While on the surface one could argue that the Missouri Compromise resolved the potential crisis with regards to conflicts of opinion on slavery, in actuality it created the foundation for the abolition of slavery forty years later. It emphasised divisions within the Senate (i.e. balance of power), it brought confrontations of the North vs. South (House of Representatives), it made Federal vs. State (i.e. interfering in the drafting of the Missouri Constitution), it acquired attention of the public on the issue of slavery (i.e. the debate lasted for two years) and finally it clearly marked new territories above latitude thirty-six degrees, thirty minutes, as free states. The abolitionists were unsatisfied that Missouri and other states south could be admitted as slave states, while the slavery advocates still wanted slavery to be expanded north if the need be. The anti-slavery movement, fuelled by the Missouri Compromise, kept pressure on both the South and Washington following 1820, regarding the removal of slavery from the Union, and thus perpetuated the soon to be explosive issue of abolition and the ultimate confrontation of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, followed by Civil War. 1 1 ...read more.

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