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THE MISSOURI COMPROMISE OF 1820

As early as the beginning of the 1800s, the increasingly industrial Northern states and the slave-holding agricultural Southern states were anxiously watching the balance of power between them. Because each had exactly 11 states, the balance of power in the U.S. Senate was even. The problem, however, was that Missouri wanted to be admitted as a slave state, which would throw the balance of power to the South. Henry Clay, the Great Compromiser, was seen as neutral because he came from what was then the slave holding Wild West of Kentucky. He came up with the Missouri Compromise (1820).

The compromise stated that Missouri would come in as a slave state, but Maine would enter as a free state to keep the balance. From then on, an imaginary line would cross the middle of the U.S. Any territory north of that line would be free; anything south would be open to slavery. This was called the Mason-Dixon line (1820).

Example

Question: What new free state was added as the result of the Missouri Compromise?

Answer: Under the Missouri Compromise, Maine entered the Union as a free state.

Neither the North nor the South liked the Missouri Compromise, but both sides lived with it for the next 30 years. The Compromise led to fights within the previously united Democratic-Republican party, which, up until that time, had been the only political party in the U.S. Because things had been so mellow before the compromise, the period was called the Era of Good Feelings. Afterward, the good feelings wore off in a political fight between Andrew Jackson and John Quincy Adams. The states' rights issue had been hidden in the closet with the failure of the Articles of Confederation (see Chapter 9). Now it came out of the closet and became the subject of continuing compromise to avoid the threat of succession.

Tip

The Missouri Compromise is a cinch to be on the AP test. Remember, that it's early (1820) and deals directly only with Missouri and Maine. It helped divide, not unite, the political process, but it remained the general law of the land for 30 years. After that, the new Compromise of 1850, which dealt with the Western states and the Fugitive Slave Law, took over.

 
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