The Missouri Compromise Crisis

Q1. The Missouri Compromise had a tremendous impact on the expansion of slavery. Explain the origins of the Missouri Compromise and the long-term consequences of this legislation for African Americans and the institution of slavery in the nineteenth century?


1. In 1819, the year in which Alabama was scheduled for admission as a slave state, the nation was made up of eleven free states and eleven slave states; the admission of Missouri threatened to disturb this balance. The territory was already home to over two thousand slaves.

2. Northern congressmen were reluctant to admit Missouri as a slave state because doing so would increase the South’s power in Congress. Although more than 60 percent of white Americans lived in the North in 1818, northern representatives held only a slight majority of congressional seats by 1818. The Three-Fifths Compromise gave southerners more seats in the House of Representatives than they would have had if seats had been assigned based on just the free population.

3. Northern legislators were uneasy about the westward expansion of slavery. New York representative James Tallmadge proposed a radical amendment to Missouri’s statehood bill that would ban slavery in the new state and free all slaves in the region by the time they turned 25 years old. Tallmadge’s amendment inspired a sectional controversy that Thomas Jefferson likened to a “fire bell in the night.” The controversy that followed Tallmadge’s proposal raised questions about the future of slavery in America as well as the ability of the nation to remain united.

4. The “Missouri question” prompted the first sustained national debate over slavery. Blacks in Washington, D.C., crowded the galleries of the Senate and the House to see what the fate of slavery would be in the nation, while white southerners threatened to secede from the nation, and northern politicians invited the federal government to take a stand against slavery for the first time.

5. Tallmadge’s amendment was narrowly approved in the House of Representatives, but it stalled in the Senate. Questions about Missouri’s fate remained open until 1820, when Kentucky senator Henry Clay led a compromise that would admit Missouri as a slave state and Maine as a free state. This solution to the Missouri question became known as the Missouri Compromise. The Missouri Compromise retained the balance of free and slave states in the nation, but it also included a major concession to antislavery northerners: Congress agreed to prohibit slavery in the Louisiana Territory north of latitude 36°30´. These measures quelled northerners’ fears that slavery would travel north, but African Americans in both regions were disappointed that the lawmakers had not taken a stronger stand against slavery.

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