The Missouri Compromise: the Balance of Political Power

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One of the most significant conflicts our nation has experienced was the controversy regarding the justification and acceptance of slavery. From the time slavery was legalized in the mid-1600s by the New England colonists to the subsequent years after the Civil War had ended, the debate involving the morality of slavery remained hostile. While most Northerners advocated anti-slavery, many Southerners continued to support slavery as it was already an accepted and commonplace part of their lives. Thus, when Missouri applied for statehood in 1819 and threatened to upset the balance of political power between free states and slave states, colonists were furious (American History, 2018). The Missouri Compromise of 1820, a bill regarding the state’s entrance into the Union, aimed to resolve the feud and suggest an agreement for the balance of political power (Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2018).

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Although the bill fought to diffuse the argument between anti-slavery and pro-slavery supporters, it was ultimately unsuccessful and detrimental, further pushing America to entering the Civil War in the early 1860s. On one hand, most Southerners supported slavery and therefore the ratification of the Missouri Compromise. They believed the Constitution served as a guide to allow states to decide whether slaves were permitted or not. However, the mere admittance of Missouri as a slave state would disturb the equity of political power between free states and slave states so the federal government declared the compromise, temporarily removing the state’s reserved power to permit slavery or not (Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2018). Evidently, Southerners continued to fight for the state to be admitted as a slave state and lean political power towards pro-slavery states in the Senate (American History, 2018). In response, Congress suggested to admit Missouri as a slave state and Maine as a free state in an attempt to maintain balance. However, despite Congress’ efforts, Southerners expressed weak support for the proposal.

On the other hand, many Northerners, especially politicians, were against the bill. Many of them were abolitionists and believed slavery was immoral (New World Encyclopedia, 2014). Many of them fought to prevent the ratification of the bill because they sought to rid the nation of slavery altogether. However, some Northerners had different intentions. Politicians who had been involved in the Federalist party attempted to create a campaign revolving around the issue of slavery to restore their political power (Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2018). They claimed they wanted to fight against the Southerners who were mostly pro-slavery when in actuality, they looked to reestablish Federalist power by utilizing the notorious attention surrounding the conflict of the Missouri Compromise. Despite overstated arguments from both sides, neither the Southerners or Northerners expressed strong attention for the issue at hand.

The compromise advanced through multiple congressional decisions and became an authority on the issue regarding the elimination of slavery in admission of states. Representative John Tallmadge suggested an amendment to the compromise which stated that no more slaves could be transported over the border. He also asserted that all children of slaves born in Missouri after its admission would be free after they turned twenty-five years of age (New World Encyclopedia, 2014). However, this did not settle well with the Senate. Discussion of the bill continued into a second session where the decision to admit Missouri as a slave state and Maine as a free state was made and would secure the balance of political power. The amendment by Jesse B. Thomas of Illinois also outlined the boundaries of the Missouri territory which excluded slavery (New World Encyclopedia, 2014). The compromise continued to be met with opposition and now faced the issue regarding the constitutionality of including the admission of both Missouri and Maine in the same bill (New World Encyclopedia, 2014). Henry Clay, a Kentucky Senator, suggested a clause which would declare that blacks and mulattos were not legitimate citizens of the United States of America, dismissing the conflict regarding the legalization of slavery in Missouri. This amendment is also known as the Second Missouri Compromise (New World Encyclopedia, 2014).

The continued opposition met with the compromise led to future court cases such as the Dred-Scott decision of 1857 where it was proclaimed unconstitutional. The Missouri Compromise was ultimately unsuccessful and repealed by the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1857 which furthered the avenue for the Civil War (New World Encyclopedia, 2014). The act reignited the conflict of whether states can decide if they are admitted as a free state or a slave state. The Missouri Compromise essentially set a precedent for the elimination of slavery from the states’ public territory and brought attention to the boundaries of federal and reserved powers. After many rounds of amending and debating, the Missouri Compromise became a foundation for the admittance of states, whether slave or free.

The Missouri Compromise was first proposed to resolve the balance of political power between free states and slave states when Missouri’s admittance into the Union came to light. The efforts of many Congressman were involved as the federal government sought to eradicate conflict. Unfortunately, the compromise was both unsuccessful and detrimental as it led to the succeeding Kansas-Nebraska Act which repealed it entirely and deemed it forgotten in the myriad of other constitutional affairs. It was also harmful and detrimental to the state of the Union because it ultimately led to the start of the Civil War by furthering tension between the general sides of the North and the South. The strain on the nation remained strong and unresolved as the debate between abolitionists and pro-slavery supporters infected the country.

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The Missouri Compromise: The Balance of Political Power. (2019, Aug 13). Retrieved February 4, 2023 , from
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