Reasons for the Missouri Compromise

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How far was the Missouri Compromise driven by economic rather than moral reasons?

When Congress was presented with the problem of Missouri, an area within the Louisiana Purchase requesting permission to form a constitution in preparation for admission to the Union as a state, it had to quickly seek a compromise in order to prevent already stale situations within the US getting exacerbated. Jefferson described the incident as “like a fire bell in the night, awakened and filled me with terror” for it opened up the issue of slavery being an economic v moral issue.

Missouri already had a slave-owning population of more than 10,000 (16% of the total) and they wanted a further increase of slaves, as they believed it was needed due to the vast spread of cotton cultivation and the slave owning which was spreading rapidly up the Mississippi river from Alabama, Louisiana and Arkansas. Those within Missouri wanted more slaves to be allowed in so that they could capitalise on the economic advantage which the other agricultural states in the south had been able to gain from. However, James Tallmadge (a Republican) believed that for moral issues, the introduction of new slaves should be prohibited and that the children of slaves already in Missouri should be freed when they turned 25. The proposed motion divided Congress; however, the House of Representatives managed to pass the motion due to the support of the northern congressmen where they had the majority, although in the senate where the North did not have a majority, the bill was not passed and therefore didn’t succeed.

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The Missouri crisis showed that the South had become far more committed to slavery than it ever had been before.  The rapid growth of the slave-cultivated cotton industry meant that a good field hand had increased in value from “around $500 in 1814 to about $1100 dollars by early 1819”.  Slavery was important not only economically in the Deep South where cotton cultivation was concentrated, but also in areas like Virginia where selling on slaves to the plantations had become increasingly important as tobacco became less profitable.  Restricting the expansion of slavery into new territories in the west would ...

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