In November of 1818, Missouri petitioned Congress for statehood and ignited a controversy over slavery and a balance of power in the Senate that would span two sessions of Congress and threaten the dissolution of the Union and a civil war. Prior to the Missouri question, the Union had eleven Free states and eleven slave states, each with two Senators. The Missouri Territory, carved out of land acquired in the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, covered an expanse of land just north of the Ohio River and just west of the Mississippi (these rivers joined in the southeastern corner of the territory). According to the terms of the Ordinance of 1787, which prohibited slavery in the Northwest Territory, the Missouri Territory was designated a free territory, but many of the settlers had brought their slaves with them when they settled the area and were determined to enter the Union as a slave state. With the growing abolitionist sentiment in the North and the South pressing to legalize slavery, permitting Missouri to enter the Union as a slave state would tilt the power of the Senate in favor of the South and make the realization of legalizing slavery more attainable. Since 1809, the issue of slavery had been relatively quiet, but Missouri’s request to enter the Union as a slave state just at the nation was beginning to expand westward, thrust the question of slavery back into the spotlight of national politics. A set of compromises, known as the Missouri Compromise of 1820, allowed Congress to avoid a resolution on the issue of slavery.
The Missouri question was the first slavery related political crisis of the 1800’s. It was an attempt to allow slavery in a state considered a free territory. Just after the American Revolution, Congress divided the land ceded by Great Britain in the 1783 Treaty of Paris, into free and slave regions. The Ordinance of 1787 permitted the introduction of slavery in the territory south of the Ohio River
Cited: Primary Sources Annals of 15th Congress Session 2. Vol.1. A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation. Library of Congress. n.d. Web. 17 October 2012. “Letter to John Holmes 20 April 1820”. Thomas Jefferson Exhibition. Library of Congress. August 3, 2010. Web. 17 October 2012. Secondary Sources Dixon, Susan B. The True History of the Missouri Compromise and its Repeal. Cincinnati: The Robert Clarke Company, 1899. Print Forner, Eric. Give Me Liberty! An American History. Vol. 1. 3rd ed. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. 2011. Print. Glover, Moore. The Missouri Controversy 1819-1821. Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 1966. Print Ransom, Roger, L. “A House Divided: American Slavery in the Antebellum Era.” American Slavery Ed. William Dudley. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 2000. 83-91. Print.