The Missouri Compromise was a deliberate effort by a section of the political class to break a gridlock between the South and the North over the admission of the state of Missouri into the Union. According to Blackett, the Northerners, who had embraced egalitarian principles, feared that admission of Missouri, which was a slave state, would tilt the political power to the South. At that time, there was a near equal balance, especially in the senate. Having two additional senators who were pro-slavery was considered a threat to the concept of having a free country where everyone was considered equal. On the other hand, Southerners were concerned that the North controlled the House of Representatives.
The only hope that they had was to gain control of the senate to balance off the power. They considered an admission of another slave state as the only hope of protecting their interest in Congress. The near equal power balance in Congress meant that the solution to the gridlock was to have a compromise. Each faction had to give something in exchange to get what they wanted. The compromise was that the deal had to involve the admission of Maine as a free state from the North. It also included a total ban of slavery north of the 36-30 latitude line in the Louisiana Purchase territory. Each of the two parties was not satisfied with the deal, but there was a consensus at that time that it was the most ideal agreement that could be acceptable. In this historical monograph, the focus is to discuss the impact of that compromise.
Consequences of the Missouri Compromise
The Missouri Compromise had major implications in the United States. It is important to start by analyzing why the two factions had strong convictions over opinions, beliefs, and principles they held. The Southern states relied heavily on slavery to facilitate their agricultural activities. Most of these states were producing cotton and corn on a large scale and they heavily relied on slaves to work in these large plantations. As such, any ban on slavery would directly threaten their livelihood. Mechanization was not common at that time and these states needed people who would work on these farms. They believed that when slaves are freed and allowed to work as free labor at a fair fee, they may become demanding and unwilling to work under certain conditions. The only hope, according to them, was to protect the practice of slavery to ensure that they have enough people to work on their plantations when needed.
The Northerners had a different approach to that of the South. In the fight for independence, the founding fathers of the Union convinced slaves and the natives to join the freedom fighters. They were promised freedom from slavery as soon as the country freed itself from British rule. As the Union expanded in the North, one of the cardinal concepts that were used was freedom for all irrespective of one’s race, religion, or any other demographic classification. In the process, slaves played a major role in the fight for the country’s independence. They realized that a free Union was the only way that they could get their freedom. The Southern politicians embraced the principle of freedom for all. They believed that allowing slavery would be a direct betrayal of the promise made by the founding fathers of the nation. As such, they were keen on fighting any attempt to promote slavery in any part of the country.
The Expansion of the United States Territory
The Missouri Compromise had various implications, top of which was the expansion of the United States territory. According to Lawson and Lawson, during this period, the Union was keen on expanding its territory as one of the best ways of protecting itself from the colonial power. There was always a constant fear that the British forces would use neighboring independent states to launch attacks against the new nation that had just gained its independence. Admitting new states into the Union would have various benefits Union. First, it would deny the colonial power an entry point into the country. It would also expand the army in terms of size, making it easy to counter any form of external aggression. The move was also important in expanding the economic power of the country. As such, even though the North and South were unable to agree on the best approach of admitting a new state, they both appreciated the significance of expanding the territory of the country. The compromise made it possible for the Union to accept the state of Missouri and Maine as part of its territory. It was a major achievement for the leadership of the nation and its people as it assured them of improved security.
The Growing Mistrust and Tension between the Northerners and Southerners
The Missouri Compromise was able to achieve the fundamental goal of facilitating the admission of the state of Missouri into the Union. However, it also had other unintended and undesirable outcomes. One of them was the creation and growth of mistrust and tension between the North and South. The South or those who were pro-slavery controlled the senate. On the other hand, the House of Representatives was controlled by the North or those who were against the concept of slavery. Principles held by the two extremes were opposite. As such, a trend emerged where the House of Representatives would pass laws meant to eliminate or at least suppress the growth of slavery in the country. However, the bill would be shot down in the senate. There would be stalemates, especially when it was necessary for both houses of Congress to pass such laws.
The trend led to the emergence of deep-rooted mistrust. The South could not understand why the North vehemently rejected slavery. During this time, African Americans (Negros) and mixed-race Americans (mulattoes) were not allowed to vote. They were also prohibited to hold any political seats in the Senate and House of Representatives both in the North and South. Existing laws at the time meant that both houses had whites, which reaffirmed the white supremacy in the country. As such, politicians and people of the South considered its hypocrisy on the part of the Northerners trying to justify why slavery was wrong. More fundamentally, they were concerned about the potential effect of abandoning slavery on their agriculture. Many large-scale farmers in the region felt that their operations may be paralyzed if slaves were freed. They felt that the cost of production would significantly increase if they had to pay their former slaves fair remuneration as free people to work on their farms. They also knew that most of them would consider leaving their farms as a way of demonstrating their freedom. As such, they developed mistrust with the Northern politicians keen on fighting slavery.
The political class and people of the North also had their reason why they felt it was necessary to fight slavery in the entire country. One of the main reasons why they wanted to abolish the slave trade was the need to foster unity as the best way of defending the country against external aggressors. They knew that the threat of attack from the British forces was real. They wanted a people united with a common enemy. Blacks had been slaves during colonial times. These leaders knew that when they are granted freedom as had been promised they would view the colonizers as the true enemy and would join whites to liberate the country.
Embracing slavery would create an enemy within, which would make it easy for the British forces to penetrate the country’s defenses. Kulikoff argues that at this time, it may be true that the majority of whites believed that blacks were racially inferior to whites. However, they were aware of the role that they played and would play to liberate and protect the freedom of the country. They could only do that if they believed that they would benefit more from the independent United States. The political leaders from the North felt that the actions of the politicians from the South would compromise the country’s status as a free and sovereign nation. They felt that they were making it easy for the enemy to penetrate the defenses of the country from within.
The suspicion and tension grew and it was manifested in the Congress. Each divide felt that the opponent was planning something sinister. On the one hand, the South believed that Northerners were targeting their economic progress. They could not understand a proper justification why it was necessary to ban slavery. On the other hand, the Northern politicians felt that Southerners were making it easy for the country to be attacked either because of their ignorance of the reality or as a deliberate attempt to expose the North. It is important to note that the British had made a retreat to Canada, but were still making regular attempts to regain the lost territories. The Northern states felt the heat because they bordered the enemy. They were more prone to attacks by foreign forces and needed unity among all citizens irrespective of race. They felt that the South was undermining the imminent threat. The constant suspicion led to the growth of tension between the two regions. It became evident that a possible armed conflict was inevitable.
Temporary Political Stability in the Country
The Missouri Compromise, as the name suggests, meant that each of the two parties made concessions. They knew that although the outcome was not within their expectations, they gained something from the compromises they made. The effect of the law was that there was restraint in both parties. Although the mistrust and tension were growing, the North and the South knew that they gained something from the agreement that was made. It led to relative political stability in the country. It was a common ground for both the North and South. The common enemy remained external aggressors. However, it was evident that the South, which had gained control of the upper house, did not consider the British power a major threat. They upheld the peace created by the compromise but were keen on having their way.
During this period of relative political calmness, the country realized rapid economic growth. Unlike before when most of the country’s resources were directed towards improving the military capabilities, a new trend emerged where the country focused more on economic growth. The budget for developmental projects such as road construction and support of the industrial sector increased. Many Americans were getting sustainable employment and it became less likely that the country would come under a major attack by foreign forces. Studies show that despite the impressive economic growth during this period, the tension and constant suspicion between people from the North and those from the South did not subside. The battle to control Congress continued.
Repealing of the Missouri Compromise and Subsequent Bleeding Kansas
The need to expand the territorial boundary of the United States was high, and when the opportunity to admit new states of Kansas and Nebraska arose, the supremacy battle in Congress emerged. Senator Stephen Douglas introduced the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854 to open up new land for development. As a senator from the North, Douglas knew that the senate dominated by Southerners was likely to reject the inclusion of the two states because they were considered to be leaning towards antislavery laws. As such, he made an offer that he knew politicians opposed to the Free State would not reject. One of the clauses was to repeal the Missouri Compromise. Instead of putting restrictions against slavery at the federal level, each state was allowed to enact laws at state levels to determine whether they would embrace slavery, in what was called popular sovereignty.
To the Northern politicians, this was unacceptable because it would lead to the spread of slavery even to some Northern states. To the Southern politicians, this was a unique opportunity to protect and promote slavery in the entire country. As would be expected, the Kansas-Nebraska Act received overwhelming support from the Senate. Although it faced stiff competition in the House of Representatives, it was able to pass with the support of a few Northern politicians. President Franklin Pierce soon signed it into law, admitting the states of Nebraska and Kansas into the Union. The two states were allowed to choose whether they would embrace slavery or reject it.
When the bill was signed into law, there was a massive flow of pro-and anti-slavery people into Kansas with the primary goal of influencing the slavery legislation. The Northerners felt that repealing Missouri was a loss to them, and the only way of protecting their interest in the country was to ensure that the new states will vote in the same manner as them. The only way of achieving the goal was to send their people into the state as voters and politicians. The Southerners responded almost immediately by sending their people to the state of Kansas. They were keen on making it a pro-slave state. It would grant them undisputed control of Congress. They knew that with a few additional members of the House of Representatives, they would have the legislative power to pass pro-slavery laws not only in the Southern states but across the entire country.
The influx of people with completely conflicting ideologies into the state of Kansas led to the massive growth of tension in the state. As they settled in Kansas, the tension led to regular outbursts and verbal altercations. O’Dell blames the rivalry on regular incitement by the political class from the two divides. There was a feeling that one group could be intimidated to leave the state. Although Kansas was finally admitted as a free state, cases of physical attacks by the two groups became common. It led to the emergence of pro-slavery border ruffians who attacked perceived anti-slavery people in the state. The attacks became more brutal as many people continued losing their lives. The bleeding of Kansas ultimately led to the American Civil War.
The Missouri Compromise was major legislation that led to the expansion of the United States territory at a time when there was an ideological war in the country over slavery. The Southerners believed that slavery was important for the economic development of the nation at a time when it was struggling to free itself from any form of influence by the United States. On the other hand, the Northerners felt slavery was inhuman and it might put the country at risk if the colonial power uses the oppressed slaves to fight the government. The outcome of the compromises was the expansion of the country’s borders. However, the analysis shows that it also led to the American Civil War.
Blackett, Richard. The Captive’s Quest for Freedom: Fugitive Slaves, the 1850 Slave Law, and Politics of Slavery. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2018.
Foner, Eric. Give Me Liberty: An American History. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2017.
Klotter, James. Henry Clay: The Man Who Would Be President. New York: Oxford University Press, 2018.
Kulikoff, Allan. Abraham Lincoln and Karl Marx in Dialogue. New York: Oxford University Press, 2018.
Lawson, Russell, and Benjamin Lawson, eds. Race and Ethnicity in America: From Pre-Contact to the Present. Santa Barbara: Greenwood, 2019.
Murphy, Justin, ed. American Civil War: Interpreting Conflict through Primary Documents. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2019.
O’Dell, Angela. America’s Story 2 (Teacher Guide): From the Civil War to the Industrial Revolution. Green Forest: New Leaf Publishing Group, 2017.
Randolph, Joanne, ed. Slave States, Free States, and the Missouri Compromise. New York: Power Kids Press, 2018.1
- Each of the eight sources has unique weaknesses and strengths. However, it was apparent that there common strengths and weaknesses, worth discussing here. The main strength of the sources used is that they are all based on extensive research by reputable historians in the United States and Europe. The authors were keen to use primary sources to back their claims. However, the weakness is that all of them are relatively new sources published recently and may be slightly biased based on the current major socio-political discourses.