The Missouri Compromise: Slavery in America

Thomas Jefferson had written in the Declaration of Independence that all men are created equal. The Patriots, from the original Thirteen Colonies, emphasized this idea of equality as they believed that they deserved their independence from Great Britain. During that period of time, no one would have ever predicted the damage the institution of slavery in America would create years later.

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Many would have never believed that slavery would be the conflict that would tear the country apart and bring them into the Civil War, the bloodiest war in American history. The issue was due to the lack of control of slavery within the country, as the ideas of the North and South often conflicted between one another. The division between the North and the South only increased as the acts passed to control and assist in abolishing slavery were only ignored by the people. However, once Missouri made a petition to enter the United States as a slave state, the issue of slavery could not have been disregarded, and a resolution was needed to solve this conflict.

Although the Missouri Compromise of 1820 was necessary to temporarily resolve the conflict of slavery, it was detrimental to the country’s stability since it was a primary long- term cause of the Civil War as tensions between the Northern and Southern states increased.Before the Missouri Compromise and Civil War, the people of the United States were already divided due to the previous tensions regarding slavery between the North and the South. Since the South needed slaves in their plantations and for the growth of their economy, the people in the South believed that abolishing slavery would destroy their political, economic and social way of life in the South (Infobase 1). However, the people in the North had the desire to abolish slavery because the enslavement of African Americans betrays fundamental principles of human liberty upon which the U.S. was founded (Infobase 1). The North believed that the Federal Government can limit slavery due to what is stated in the Constitution, as well as Thomas Jefferson’s repeated idea that all men are created equal. This displays the controversy present between the North and the South based on their views and their needs for the success of the economy, leading to tensions between the North and the South. Not only was the Missouri Compromise created to control the progression of slavery, but the Act of 1807 stated that by January 1, 1808, it would not be lawful to import or bring into the United States […] any negro, mulatto, or person of colour, with intent to hold, sell, or dispose of such [person] as a slave, to be held to service or labour.”” (Kugler 1). This act was meant to implement the stop to slave trade as a penalty of up to $20,000 would be the result of anyone who was building a ship or planning to use an existing ship for slave trade.

Moreover, any American citizen caught trading slaves after January 1, 1808 would have to pay a fine of $10,000 and serve five to ten years in prison. The Act of 1807 was included in the plan to end slavery, since ending international trade of slaves meant slaves would be limited in America, decreasing the number of slaves present in the United States. Despite the establishment of the Act of 1807, the South disregarded this act, and continued to trade slaves after January 1, 1808. This displayed the lack of control the Federal Government had regarding slaves in the United States, and caused numerous people to overlook the conflict of slavery in America.Although the issue of slavery was avoidable in the past, it became an issue that was inevitable once the territory of Missouri had a population of 60,000 people. This was mainly because Missouri had the minimum amount of people needed to allow representation in the United States government. Since the territory of Missouri can officially become a state, the people in this territory sent a petition to Congress to begin to recognize Missouri as a slave state since 10,000 people in Missouri were slaves. Slavery became an issue that was inescapable when Missouri sent a formal petition of statehood in 1819 because if it had been admitted as a slave state, Missouri would have tipped the balance in the Senate toward slave states. (EBSCOhost 1).

This presents the dilemma that the people in the United States were facing because the balance between the 11 slave states and 11 free states would be disrupted if Missouri were to enter the nation. Missouri was not able to be either a slave state nor a free state because the North or the South would have disagreed regarding the decision with which side receives the advantage of having an additional state. Even though there may have been controversy regarding this issue within the general population, the conflict mainly lied in the Senate. When a decision needs to be made through Congress, it must go through both the House of Representatives and the Senate. Since there was a larger population in the North, the North had the majority in the House of Representatives. However, the Senate was composed of an equal amount of members from each state. Since there were previously 11 slave states and 11 free states, there was no majority in the Senate and all bills regarding slavery were easily overlooked. On the contrary, if Missouri became a free state, the North would not only have the majority in the House of Representatives, but also have the majority in the Senate. This would mean that every bill would be decided based on the opinions and ideas of the free states and slavery could easily be abolished. The South disagreed with the decision to enable Missouri to become a free state for this particular reason. If Missouri were to become a slave state, the South would have the majority in the Senate and this could lead to the continuation of slavery which the North opposed.

The controversy only increased as opponents of slavery wanted Missouri to eliminate the institution prior to being admitted as a state; proponents thought that was a matter for Missouri alone to decide. (Infobase 1). Due to the controversy between the North and the South regarding Missouri’s position in this nation, Speaker of the House, Henry Clay, solved the problem at least temporarily by admitting Missouri as a slave state and Maine (formerly part of Massachusetts) as a free state. (ABC-CLIO 1). Allowing Missouri to be a slave state will disrupt the balance, but breaking away Maine from Massachusetts and allowing Maine to be a free state will create the balance between the North and the South. These two additions would enable the nation to have a balance of 12 free states and 12 slave states, allowing a balance in the Senate as well. Furthermore, the Missouri Compromise also stated that people living in territory which lies north of thirty-six degrees and thirty minutes north latitude, (EBSCOhost 1) cannot own any slaves. If one were to be caught owning slaves in this territory, there will be punishment of crimes whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall be and is hereby forever prohibited, (EBSCOhost 1). This demonstrates that slavery is restricted above parallel 36 degree 30 degree latitude line, and this territory is considered as Northern territory. This compromise was able to temporarily resolve the conflict regarding Missouri’s position in the country and solved the dispute between the North and South.

The Missouri Compromise solved the past conflict regarding the issue of slavery, but it only led to a greater issue in the nation. Some think that the Missouri Compromise made the north seem more aggressive in its anti-slavery views and contributed to southern resentment, which may have led to the Civil War occurring sooner (Infobase 1). Others believe that the Missouri Compromise postponed the internal conflict of slavery because there was talk of secession and civil war, but the crisis was averted by the 1820 Missouri Compromise, (ABC-CLIO 1). Although it is arguable if the Missouri Compromise passed in 1820 led to the Civil War, it is definite that repealing the Missouri Compromise was a long term cause of the Civil War because it contributed further to the division between the Northern and Southern states regarding the issue of slavery. Members in Congress believed that the localization of the question in the Territories, and leaving it to the people to decide for themselves was the best and surest way to settle it, (The New York Times 1). Although the Kansas- Nebraska Act allowed each territory to decide whether it will be a slave or free state by the idea of popular sovereignty, this particular act also repealed the Missouri Compromise.

Kansas should have been deemed a free state by the Missouri Compromise, since it was in Northern Territory and north of thirty-six degrees and thirty minutes north latitude. If, by popular sovereignty, Kansas decides to be a slave state, this would violate the Missouri Compromise, causing the long-standing compromise […] to be repealed […] Territory north of the sacred 36°30′ line was now open to popular sovereignty (U.S. History 1). The North viewed the act of repealing the Missouri Compromise as an act in which Congress allowed the South to have more control in Congress even though there was no majority with the balanced number of free and slave states. Not only was the North and the South divided even further as the South was more aggressive in their pro- slavery sentiments (Infobase 1), but the Whig Party, one of the two major political parties during that era, was also divided. This was shown due to the fact that every northern Whig had opposed the bill; almost every southern Whig voted for it. With the emotional issue of slavery involved, there was no way a common ground could be found (U.S. History 1). The repeal of the Missouri Compromise led to the division of the Whig Party and the creation of two new parties. There was the Democratic Party which was comprised of the Southern Whigs, and the Republican Party which included the North with their anti-slavery views. The division between the North and the South, as well as Congress seeming to favor the South’s views caused the North to feel inferior.

The people in the North felt that if the Compromise of 1820 was ignored, then there will only be inequality since their other compromises may be ignored as well. Thomas Jefferson, himself, even says that a much larger conflict will arise from this disagreement, as ‘a geographical line, coinciding with a marked principle, moral and political, once conceived […] will never be obliterated; and every new irritation will mark it deeper and deeper.’ (Nettrekker 1). Although the Missouri Compromise temporarily resolved the conflict regarding the issue of Missouri’s statehood, the repeal of this Compromise of 1820 only resulted in greater division between the North and the South. From the start of the new nation, there were already conflicts arising between the North and the South because of their differences in political and economic views. The South argued the slaves were essential to the growth of their economy as they needed people to work their plantations due to the need of tobacco and cotton for trade. On the other hand, the North believed that this institution was never built upon the growth of their new nation, and should be eliminated in this country. Many acts have been approved to assist in the abolition of slavery, including the Act of 1807, but these acts only showed how weak and uncontrolling the issue of slavery is because none were taken seriously and were often ignored.

It was not until Missouri’s formal petition to Congress regarding their statehood which created an issue of slavery that was not able to be disregarded. This led to the establishment of the Missouri Compromise which enabled the country to live in peace for a couple decades as the balance of free states and slave states was restored. However, once the Kansas- Nebraska Act was established in the United States, it caused the Missouri Compromise to be repealed. The reason being that Kansas should have been a free state by the Compromise of 1820, but this decision was left to popular sovereignty and the people in Kansas instead. The repeal of the Missouri Compromise triggered the North as the people felt that Congress was allowing the South to uphold more power. They felt this way in particular after the Southern states disregarded the parallel latitude which separated Northern and Southern territory. The division of the Whig Party was also apparent, and the North and South were only in rage with one another. What was thought to be a solution to hold the country together was only a part of the formula that established the Civil War.

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