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The Missouri Compromise of 1820

the two compromises in one that "allowed" Missouri to be admitted to the Union as a slave state

Missouri Territory first petitioned Congress for statehood in 1817, but debate over whether or not to allow slavery in the new state prevented its admission at the time.

In 1819, Missouri once again petitioned for statehood. This time, Representative James Tallmadge of New York offered an amendment to the petition which would have prohibited the introduction of slaves into Missouri, as well as free all slaves born in Missouri after its admission, once they had reached the age of 25. Tallmadge's amendment passed the House, where Northern states held a majority, but was defeated in the Senate, even though slave states were outnumbered there as well; several Northern Senators who had been born and/or raised in the South voted with the slave states. Congress adjourned without settling the issue. The dispute focused on whether or not Congress had the right to pose conditions for the entrance of new states. Southerners said Congress had no such right. Northerners, however, cited Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois as examples of states admitted under stipulations laid down in the Northwest Ordinance, the sixth article of which prohibited slavery.

Soon after Congress reconvened in December 1819, Maine petitioned for statehood. Senator Henry Clay of Kentucky proposed that Maine be admitted as a free state, thus balancing the admission of Missouri as a slave state. Senator Jesse Thomas of Illinois added another provision whereby all other states formed out of the Louisiana Territory north of 36 30' latitude be admitted as free states. The Clay-Thomas Compromise passed Congress on March 3, 1820, and Maine was admitted to the Union on March 15, 1820.

map showing the proposed line between free and slave states

The path seemed to have been laid for Missouri's admission to the Union, but another issue quickly surfaced. The state constitution Missouri had presented excluded all free Negroes from the state, something even Southern Congressmen had trouble accpeting. Senator Clay proposed another compromise, which called upon the Missouri State Legislature to never deny privileges and immunities guaranteed to all citizens of the United States. And, since blacks were not at the time considered citizens, Missouri's provision banning free Negroes was unncessary. Missouri was admitted to the Union on August 10, 1821.

See Also

Northwest Ordinance
Henry Clay

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This page was last updated on December 02, 2018.