|The United States in 1819|
The Missouri Compromise (1820)Even before the rise of the abolitionists, the question of slavery was a dominant concern. As a result of the North-West Ordinance and the pattern of migration, new states were coming into the Union. Ohio (1803), Indiana (1816), and Illinois (1818) were carved out of the old North-West territory, and they had been set up as free states. The South had balanced this with the creation of Louisiana (1812), Mississippi (1817), and Alabama (1819) so that by 1819 the country had an equal number of free and slave states, eleven of each.
In 1819 the House of Representatives was asked to approve legislation enabling Missouri Territory to draft a state constitution, its population having passed the minimum of 60,000. In the westward rush of population, settlers had flocked to the area, through the old French town of St Louis and then on to the Mississippi. Most of these settlers came from the South so that the territory now had 10,000 slaves. From December 1819 to March 1820 the House fiercely debated the terms on which Missouri should be given the status of a state. Congressman James Tallmadge of New York proposed that Missouri only be admitted as a state if it undertook to forbid further slave immigration and to provide freedom at the age of twenty-five for those born after admission. This was passionately opposed by the Southern states. Senator William Pinkney of Maryland argued that the new states should have the same freedom as the original thirteen, and be thus free to choose slavery if they wished.
Eventually, in February 1820 Congress accepted the compromise
'The Great Pacifier'
The Missouri Compromise won for Clay the title of the Great Pacifier. It can be seen as a squalid deal, but it can also be argued that it postponed the war for a generation. Thomas Jefferson wrote:
‘This momentous question, like a fire bell in the night, awakened 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 held up to the angry passions of men, will never be obliterated; and every new irritation will mark it deeper and deeper.’