1918 KANSAS AND KANSANS Chapter 12

CHAPTER XII

THE MISSOURI COMPROMISE

The "Louisiana Purchase" was not designed by Jefferson for immediate settlement by the white people. He believed the transaction he had concluded with France to be in conflict with the constitution. To correct this defect he proposed that Congress should pass a constitutional amendment. This amendment he prepared. It provided that that portion of Louisiana west of the Mississippi River and east of the Rocky Mountains, north of the thirty-second parallel should remain in the possession of the Indians inhabiting it, and that the tribes east of the Mississippi should be gradually moved into that reserved domain. The policy of removing the Eastern Indians to the country west of the Mississippi had its origin in the amendment, which, however, was never adopted. The policy was later put into effect, almost all the Indians living east of the Mississippi being forced to settle west of Arkansas and Missouri.

John C. Calhoun elaborated the plan proposed by Jefferson. In his report of 1825 he put forward his plan to invest the Indians with an inalienable title to the land west of the Missouri River north of the thirty-second parallel. In this plan he might have been sustained in that early day. But he had coupled with it another region. All that territory west of Lake Michigan was likewise to become Indian country in perpetuity.

It will be seen that all the country to be forever excluded from white settlement lay in the free North - in the bounds wherein slavery could not be introduced - in which it had been proscribed and excluded by the Ordinance of 1787 and the Missouri Compromise. It is supposed that the loss of Texas to the prospective slave territory caused Calhoun to seek in this way to defeat the provisions of the Missouri Compromise.

The issues underlying the Missouri Compromise developed suddenly and unexpectedly. Slavery had been so generously dealt with by Congress that the South considered the status of the institution fixed. Kentucky had been admitted as a slave State. A drastic fugitive-slave law had been passed in 1793. The cession of the Tennessee country by North Carolina had been accepted with the promise that slavery would not be prohibited in the state to be erected from it. And thereupon Tennessee was at once brought in as a slave state. Mississippi Territory was organized in 1798, and slavery was imbedded in the organic act. In 1803 Louisiana had been purchased with the understanding that slavery should remain unmolested. In 1805 Congress had refused by a decisive vote to provide for the emancipation of the slaves in the District of Columbia. And, finally, Louisiana had been admitted as a slave state in 1812.

Slavery had disappeared in the North, and it was believed that it would do so in the South. This might have been the fate of the institution but for the invention of the cotton gin, in 1793. An immense impetus was given cotton production. In this industry slave labor was extremely profitable. While the industries and the life of the people of the North were not influenced by slavery, it was the foundation of the industrial life of the South. It became the settled policy of the South to foster, push and fortify it in every possible way. It was made the paramount consideration in every political question. It engrossed the political energies of the South. This condition had been of gradual growth. Little had been heard of slavery in Congress after the passage of the law prohibiting the importation of slaves, in 1807.

So, there was surprise in the South when opposition arose in Congress to the admission of Missouri with a slave constitution. Slavery had been firmly established in the Territory. That it should be antagonized when that Territory demanded statehood had not occurred to the statesmen of the slave-holding area of the Union. The application of Missouri for admission was presented in March, 1818. No action was had at that session. The next session began in December, 1818. One of the first bills introduced was one to organize Arkansas Territory with the boundary line of the thirty-six thirty north latitude. The Ohio River had been recognized as the line between free and slave soil. The north line of Arkansas as proposed in the bill, was nearly a prolongation of that line, from the mouth of the Ohio.

The serious consideration of these bills did not begin until February, 1819. Determined opposition to the slavery feature of the bills developed at once. James W. Talmadge, member of the House from New York, moved as an amendment to the Missouri bill, "that further introduction of slavery or involuntary servitude be prohibited and that all children of slaves born within the said state after the admission thereof into the Union shall be free." The members from the North saw no injustice in the amendment. Missouri lay north of the accepted line between free and slave soil. It was immediately west of the free State of Illinois. And the amendment was adopted, the bill being then sent to the Senate. The Arkansas bill was then taken up. The Talmadge amendment was in substance proposed for it by John W. Taylor, also from New York. The motion was defeated only by the deciding vote of Henry Clay, then Speaker of the House. At this juncture was offered the first proposal to fix by law a line between free and slave territory. It was suggested by McLane, of Delaware. Mr. Taylor accepted the suggestion and moved that slavery should be prohibited north of the parallel of thirty-six thirty. It became apparent that the House would not concur in that amendment, and Mr. Taylor withdrew it. The Arkansas bill was then passed and sent to the Senate. That body accepted the bill, but it rejected the Talmadge amendment to the Missouri bill. Congress then adjourned.

The debates had been earnest and even exciting in Congress. The whole country was aroused. Mass meetings were held in the North at which the extension of slavery was condemned. Meetings in the South invoked the Constitution and demanded the rights it guaranteed, slavery being affirmed one of these. The legislatures of Delaware, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, and Pennsylvania passed resolutions protesting against the admission of Missouri with slavery.

The debates in Congress turned at times on the power of that body to pass the Talmadge amendment. It had power to "admit new states this Union." Those favoring the amendment insisted that Congress had power to admit, which implied power to refuse to admit. They said this power had been in a measure exercised in the admission of Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio, they having been required to form constitutions prohibiting slavery. To this contention the South replied by asserting that principle which was later to be developed into the doctrine of squatter-sovereignty - that Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois might under the Constitution, have insisted that they had the right to determine for themselves what their domestic institutions should be. Southern representatives argued that the right of Congress to fix terms upon which a state might came into the Union would establish a centralized despotism. The institutions of the states would be determined by Congress, which might or might not make them equal. They insisted that states coming into the Union must have the same powers possessed by the original states.

The Missouri question became the leading matter for consideration by the Congress which assembled in December, 1819. Maine had secured the consent of Massachusetts, of which she had been a part since 1677, to apply for admission into the Union as a state. In December, 1819, the application of Maine was submitted, and with it a copy of her constitution, which, of course, was anti-slavery. The house promptly passed the bill admitting Maine, and sent it to the Senate. When the Senate came to consider the Maine bill, the Missouri bill was attached to it as an amendment. This brought up the whole matter of the extension and restriction of slavery. The Senate rejected the Talmadge amendment, but it was clear that the main question must have some form of settlement. Otherwise, no states could be admitted as long as either party controlled one branch of Congress. As each branch was standing firm in its attitude toward the bills as they then were, the only hope for action was in compromise. For the Talmadge amendment to the Missouri bill, Senator Jesse B. Thomas, of Illinois, proposed the following amendment:

That in all that territory ceded by France to the United States under the name of Louisiana, which lies north of thirty-six degrees, thirty minutes, north latitude not included within the limits of the state contemplated by this act, slavery and involuntary servitude, otherwise than in the punishment of crimes, whereof the party shall have been convicted, shall be and is hereby forever prohibited.

There was a provision for the reclamation of fugitive slaves in the excluded territory.

This was the Missouri Compromise. By it Maine was admitted. Missouri was authorized to form a constitution and submit it for approval, when she would be formally admitted. This constitution was laid before Congress in 1821. It was found to contain a provision forbidding free negroes from entering the state. This raised another troublesome question. For free negroes were citizens of the United States. The resolution admitting Missouri twice passed the Senate and was twice rejected by the Senate. On motion of Henry Clay a committee was appointed by the House to act with a committee to be appointed by the Senate to consider the new controversy over the admission of Missouri. The joint committee agreed on a report and brought in a resolution in favor of the admission of the State, "Upon the condition that her legislature should first declare that the clause in her constitution relative to the free colored immigration into the State, should never be construed to authorize the passage of any act by which any citizen of either of the States of the Union should be excluded from the enjoyment of any privilege to which he may be entitled under the Constitution of the United States; and the President of the United States being furnished with a copy of said act, should, by proclamation, declare the State to be admitted."

This declaration was soon made by the legislature, and Missouri was admitted. There were, in fact, two compromises. The main question, however, is the one involving the national controversy. Its settlement is regarded as the Missouri Compromise. Its author was Senator Jesse B. Thomas, of Illinois, and not Henry Clay, as has so often been asserted.

The South furnished the votes for the enactment of the Missouri Compromise and was for some time satisfied with that measure. But it was the beginning of the end of slavery in America. Southern statesmen began to realize this some years later, and by the year 1850 they were willing to repeal it. This feeling grew until 1854, when they forced its repeal. To permit it to stand meant the ruin of slavery. In its repeal there might be a hope for the institution. The Compromise gave the South Arkansas and Texas for slavery west of the Mississippi. To freedom it consecrated a territory of vast extent, later to be increased, capable of furnishing many states.

The Missouri Compromise was the most important matter with which Congress had been required to deal to that time. It was a struggle for power between the North and the South. Jefferson said of it: "This momentous question like a fire bell in the night, awakened me and filled me with terror. I considered it at once as the knell of the Union. It is hushed indeed for the moment. But this is a reprieve only, not a final sentence. A geographical line coinciding with a marked principle, moral and political, once conceived and help up to the angry passions of men will never be obliterated, and every new irritation will mark it deeper and deeper."

This prophecy burst into flames on the prairies of Kansas in 1855. The fires kindled there raged with uncontrollable fury until slavery was burned out of America.

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A Standard History of Kansas and Kansans , written and compiled by William E. Connelley, transcribed by Carolyn Ward, 1998.

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