A Student's Guide to the Missouri Compromise from

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. This piece was the Congress's attempt to address the issue while maintaining this delicate balance.

Missouri first requested admission to the union in 1819. The requesting bill sought to allow the people 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 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 the territory as well as the rest of Louisiana Territory. Who proposed the Missouri Compromise ? This bill was sponsored by Henry Clay and passed on March 6, 1820. It admitted the state 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 agreement included legislation that created a demarcation line at 36 degrees 30 minutes latitude and at the Mississippi River. The state 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 it 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.

Here are a few resources to help you learn more about the Missouri Compromise and its role in shaping American history:

who proposed the missouri compromise
what state was the exception to this line west of the Mississippi

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