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The Missouri Compromise was passed in 1820 between the pro-slavery and anti-slavery factions in the United States Congress, involving primarily the regulation of slavery in the western territories. It prohibited slavery in the former Louisiana Territory north of the parallel 36°30′ north except within the boundaries of the proposed state of Missouri.
To balance the number of "slave states" and "free states," the northern region of what was then Massachusetts ultimately gained admittance into the United States as a free state to become Maine. This only occurred as a result of a compromise involving slavery in Missouri, and in the federal territories of the American west. A bill to enable the people of the Missouri Territory to draft a constitution and form a government preliminary to admission into the Union came before the House of Representatives in Committee of the Whole, on February 13, 1819. James Tallmadge of New York offered an amendment, named the Tallmadge Amendment, that forbade further introduction of slaves into Missouri, and mandated that all children of slave parents born in the state after its admission should be free at the age of 25. The committee adopted the measure and incorporated it into the bill as finally passed on February 17, 1819, by the house. The United States Senate refused to concur with the amendment, and the whole measure was lost.
During the following session (1819–1820), the House passed a similar bill with an amendment, introduced on January 26, 1820, by John W. Taylor of New York, allowing Missouri into the union as a slave state. The question had been complicated by the admission in December of Alabama, a slave state, making the number of slave and free states equal. In addition, there was a bill in passage through the House (January 3, 1820) to admit Maine as a free state.
The Senate decided to connect the two measures. It passed a bill for the admission of Maine with an amendment enabling the people of Missouri to form a state constitution. Before the bill was returned to the House, a second amendment was adopted on the motion of Jesse B. Thomas of Illinois, excluding slavery from the Louisiana Territory north of the parallel 36°30′ north (the southern boundary of Missouri), except within the limits of the proposed state of Missouri.
The vote in the Senate was 24 for the compromise, to 20 against. The amendment and the bill passed in the Senate on February 17 and February 18, 1820. The House then approved the Senate compromise amendment, on a vote of 90 to 87, with those 87 votes coming from free state representatives opposed to slavery in the new state of Missouri. The House then approved the whole bill, 134 to 42 (the latter votes being from southern states).
During the decades following 1820 Americans hailed the 1820 agreement as an essential compromise almost on the sacred level of the Constitution itself. The Civil War broke out in 1861; historians often say the Compromise helped postpone the war.
These disputes involved the competition between the southern and northern states for power in Congress and for control over future territories. There were also the same factions emerging as the Democratic-Republican party began to lose its coherence.
...but 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.
Congress' consideration of Missouri's admission also raised the issue of sectional balance, for the country was equally divided between slave and free states with eleven each. To admit Missouri as a slave state would tip the balance in the Senate (made up of two senators per state) in favor of the slave states. For this reason, northern states wanted Maine admitted as a free state.
The two houses were at odds not only on the issue of slavery, but also on the parliamentary question of the inclusion of Maine and Missouri within the same bill. The committee recommended the enactment of two laws, one for the admission of Maine, the other an enabling act for Missouri. They recommended against having restrictions on slavery but for including the Thomas amendment. Both houses agreed, and the measures were passed on March 5, 1820, and signed by President James Monroe on March 6.
The question of the final admission of Missouri came up during the session of 1820–1821. The struggle was revived over a clause in Missouri's new constitution (written in 1820) requiring the exclusion of "free negroes and mulattoes" from the state. Through the influence of Henry Clay, an act of admission was finally passed, upon the condition that the exclusionary clause of the Missouri constitution should "never be construed to authorize the passage of any law" impairing the privileges and immunities of any U.S. citizen. This deliberately ambiguous provision is sometimes known as the Second Missouri Compromise.
The provisions of the Missouri Compromise forbidding slavery in the former Louisiana Territory north of the parallel 36°30′ north were effectively repealed by the Kansas–Nebraska Act of 1854, despite efforts made to fight the Act by prominent speakers, including Abraham Lincoln in his "Peoria Speech."
In the Dred Scott v. Sandford case in 1857, the Supreme Court ruled that Congress did not have authority to prohibit slavery in territories, and that those provisions of the Missouri Compromise were unconstitutional.
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