The New International Encyclopædia/Missouri Compromise

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842202The New International Encyclopædia — Missouri Compromise

MISSOURI COMPROMISE. In American history, an arrangement between the free and slave States, embodied chiefly in an act of Congress approved March 6, 1820, which provided for the admission of the State of Missouri into the Union with a constitution which allowed slavery, but which forever prohibited slavery in all the rest of the Louisiana territory lying north of latitude 36° 30′ N., that being the southern boundary line of Missouri. To balance the admission of Missouri as a slave State, Maine was admitted as a free State at the same time. In February, 1819, in the debate in Congress on the bill to admit Missouri into the Union, James W. Tallmadge, of New York, moved to amend the Missouri bill to the effect “that the further introduction of slavery or involuntary servitude be prohibited, and that all children of slaves born within the State after the admission thereof in the Union shall be free.” The admission of Alabama in the same year without any prohibition against slavery made the number of ‘slave’ States and of ‘free’ States equal. The admission of Missouri as a ‘free’ State, therefore, would disturb the equilibrium. The bill with the Tallmadge amendment passed the House February 17, 1819, by a vote of 87 to 76. On March 2d the Senate passed the bill without the Tallmadge amendment. Two days later Congress adjourned and the question of Missouri went over to the next session. In December, 1819, another bill for the admission of Missouri was introduced, whereupon John W. Taylor, of New York, offered an amendment in the House which provided that as a condition of admission the State should be required to adopt a constitution forever prohibiting slavery within its limits. This gave rise to a prolonged and vigorous debate on the power of Congress to impose conditions upon the admission of a State into the Union. Those who upheld the power of Congress in the premises based their argument on the provision of the Constitution which empowers Congress to admit new States, the implication being that it may admit under any conditions which it may see fit to impose. Their opponents relied chiefly upon the doctrine of the equality of the States in the Federal system, and declared that Congress had no constitutional power to destroy that equality by attaching onerous conditions to admission of the new States. Meantime the situation was complicated by the application of Maine to be admitted with a constitution prohibiting slavery. The House of Representatives promptly passed a bill for this purpose, and when this bill came up for discussion in the Senate in January, 1820, the friends of slavery in Missouri, who were in a majority in the Senate, coupled the Maine bill with the bill to admit Missouri with slavery, and the Senate steadily refused to disconnect the two measures. In this situation the substance of the compromise was proposed by Senator Thomas, of Illinois, in an amendment which provided that Missouri should be admitted with a constitution allowing slavery, but that in all the rest of the Louisiana territory north of latitude 36° 30′ N. slavery or involuntary servitude should be forever prohibited. The bill with this amendment finally passed the Senate, February 18, 1820. The bill thus amended was coupled with the bill to admit Maine, and in this shape was sent to the House for concurrence. The House refused to agree to the combination, and the matter was then referred to a conference committee of the two Houses, which recommended that the Maine bill be passed separately, and that the Missouri bill should be passed with the Thomas amendment. To this report the House agreed. The separation of bills as distinct subjects was thus secured, and recognition was given to the claim of the Southerners that Congress had no power to impose such limitations as it saw fit upon any State as a condition of its admission to the Union. President Monroe approved the Maine bill on March 3, and the Missouri bill on March 6, 1820. Henry Clay, who was Speaker of the House, exerted his influence to bring about this result. In the next session the Constitution of Missouri, including a paragraph making it the duty of the Legislature to prevent the immigration of free negroes into the State, was presented to Congress for approval. This provoked a heated debate concerning the duty of the Federal Government to protect the citizens of each State in the exercise of their civil rights of citizenship in every other State. After protracted negotiation, in which Henry Clay took a leading part, a bill was finally introduced providing that Missouri should he considered admitted as a State only after its Legislature had declared that no law would ever be passed, nor any construction placed upon the obnoxious paragraph which would justify any law which might abridge within Missouri the rights guaranteed to all citizens by the Federal Constitution. The bill involving this second compromise was approved March 2, 1821, and in accordance with its terms Missouri became a Commonwealth. Consult: Burgess, The Middle Period (New York, 1897); Carr, Missouri (Boston, 1888); Dixon, History of the Missouri Compromise (Cincinnati, 1899); and Woodburn, “The Historical Significance of the Missouri Compromise,” in the Report of the American Historical Society for 1893 (Washington, 1894). See United States; Slavery.