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Missouri Compromise

The United States had changed greatly during these years. Before the Revolution, Negro slaves had been owned in all the states. As slaves were not needed in the North, where every one worked, and as many people thought that the colored race had as much right as the white to be free, one Northern state after another abolished or put an end to slavery within its limits.

But it was different in the South. The climate there was so warm, and often so moist, that it was thought Negroes only could thrive as laborers. The planters, therefore, bought many slaves to cultivate their rice, cotton, indigo, sugar, and tobacco plantations. As white men refused to work side by side with the slaves, the latter soon came to form the whole working class in the South.

When the Constitution was signed, both slave and free states formed part of our Union, so it was settled that the western land north of the Ohio should be cut up into free states, while that south of the river should form slave states.

When Jefferson bought the Louisiana territory, both parties wanted to have their own way in the new land. But as the people at New Orleans were slaveholders, the first state formed, called Louisiana, asked and was allowed to come into the Union as a slave state, in 1812.

Later on, when our Union consisted of eleven free and eleven slave states, Missouri asked to join the Union as a slave state, too. To please both parties, and end quarrels in Congress which every day became more bitter, it was finally agreed that Maine should be separated from Massachusetts and come into the Union as a free state, while Missouri entered as a slave state. But, at the same time, it was also decided that in all the rest of the Louisiana territory north of the parallel 36” 30′, slavery should never be allowed. This law is called the “Missouri Compromise” (1820), and was favored by Henry Clay, a great Southern orator.

While the Missouri Compromise did not exactly suit any one, it stopped serious trouble on the subject of slavery for about thirty years. Still, the Southerners thought they had been unfairly treated, and they found fault with Clay for supporting the Compromise. Indeed, some were so angry that they even refused to vote for him when he became a candidate for the presidency. Of course this was a disappointment for him, but he rightly felt that his nickname of the “Great Pacificator” (peacemaker) was far nobler than any other, and once said: “I would rather be right than be President.”