Untitled Document

Missouri Compromise

Table of Contents

Henry Clay’s Role
1820 Passage
The President and the Presidency
Signing the Legislation
Thomas Jefferson’s Reaction

“Those whom we shall authorize to set in motion the machine of free government beyond the Mississippi will, in many respects, decide the destiny of millions,” said New York Congressman John W. Taylor during an 1819 debate over the admission of Missouri as a slave-holding state. “Our votes this day will determine whether the high destiny of this region, and of these generations, shall be fulfilled, or whether we shall defeat them by permitting slavery, with all its baleful consequences, to inherit the land.”11 Taylor’s speech accurately suggested the four decades of agitation over slavery west of the Mississippi River that would culminate in four years of Civil War. The decisive vote on slavery in Missouri would not occur for a year after this speech. Ultimately, the Missouri Compromise would postpone a sectional Civil War for four decades. Temporarily, the Missouri Compromise of 1820 would temper conflict between the North and the South. Resentment, however, would linger on both sides – in the South for congressional interference in slavery and in the North for the necessity to yield on a question of political morality. Underneath, political power was at stake. As historian Garry Wills noted, “the South was not demanding slave representation to achieve a near-parity at the moment, but as a way of achieving majority control in the immediately foreseeable future.”2

The Louisiana Purchase of 1803 had doubled the size of the United States and opened a world of opportunity for Americans. It also opened a whole new field for sectional conflict and political confrontation over the issue of slavery. Scholar William Lee Miller wrote: “In 1812 the settled portion of Jefferson’s purchase at the mouth of the Mississippi River, ‘Orleans territory,’ was admitted to the Union as the slave state Louisiana, and the immense reach of land to the north and west became known as ‘Missouri territory.’ Congress took no action applying to that territory the exclusion of slavery that was part of the Northwest Ordinance.”33 The remaining territory would obviously yield numerous additional states. It took more than a decade for population pressures on the west bank of the Mississippi to set up a real political and constitutional crisis for the country. Just as the end of war with Britain in 1783 stimulated immigration to Kentucky and Ohio, the end of war with Britain in 1815 stimulated another move west. Historians Samuel Eliot Morison, Henry Steele Commager and William E. Leuchtenburg wrote that “in the westward rush after the War of 1812, several thousand slaveowners with their human property emigrated to the Territory of Upper Louisiana, establishing wheat and cotton plantations in the rich bottom lands of the lower Missouri river, or on the west bank of the Mississippi near the old fur-trading town of St. Louis. When the people of this region demanded admission to the Union as the state of Missouri, slavery was permitted by their proposed state constitution.”44 The stage was set for Congress to decide whether to restrict slavery in the proposed states as ti had in the Northwest Ordinance of 1787. Missourians thought they should have the right of self-determination regarding slavery without interference from Congress. But they were literally at the confluence of a number of political forces. Historian George Dangerfield wrote: “Its borders were adjacent to free-soil Illinois and to slave-soil Kentucky and Tennessee. It was, in short, a challenge both to the idea of a democratic West and the scarcely formulated notion of universal slavery.”5

The conflicting forces built at the end of the second decade of the 19th century . Historian James Albert Woodburn wrote: “The Fifteenth Congress assembled at Washington, December 1, 1817. Henry Clay was chosen as Speaker of the House. John Scott appeared as the delegate from the Missouri Territory. On March 16,1818, Mr. Scott, the delegate from Missouri, presented a petition from Missouri praying for statehood, which together with former similar petitions was referred to a select committee. On April 18, 1818, Mr. Scott, chairman of this committee, reported to the House a bill, an enabling act, to authorize Missouri Territory to form a constitution and State government and for the admission of the State into the Union on an equal footing with the other States. The bill was read twice and referred to the Committee of the Whole, where it slept for the remainder of the session. The same Congress met again in second session, November 16, 1818. On December 18,1818, the Speaker presented a memorial from the territorial legislature of Missouri again praying to be permitted to form a constitution and State government preparatory for admission.”6Missourians were not happy to be kept waiting. Historians David S. Heidler and Jeanne T. Heidler observed: “On the most basic level, Missourians were angry at being treated differently from other territories because they happened to own slaves. Led by Thomas Hart Benton’s St. Louis Enquirer, Missouri’s newspapers demanded admission on Missouri’s terms.”77 Many northerners opposed such an extension of slavery but others were amenable to compromise. Historian Marc Egnal noted that both northern and southern leaders had economic reasons to favor a solution. He noted: “Although few in the bay State had any love for slavery, the puritan commonwealth had strong commercial links with the South. Manufacturers depended on the cotton planters for raw materials, while wealthy merchants agreed with Southerners on the need for low tariffs.”8

Missouri “seemed a harbinger of the fate of the Union,” wrote historian H. W. Brands. “Till now the North had acquiesced in the adoption of slavery by new states Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Alabama. But each of those states had been created in territory that belonged to the Union at the end of the Revolutionary War, territory that seemed a natural extension of the southern states to their east. That Kentucky had been part of Virginia and Tennessee part of North Carolina simply reinforced the idea that the Southwest belonged to the South and slavery, just as the Northwest belong to the North and freedom.”9 Historian Sean Wilentz wrote: “With discussions already underway for the creation of Maine as a new state, Missouri’s admission as a slave state was essential to preserve the sectional balance. Moreover, Missouri was to be the second state carved out of the Louisiana Purchase, and the first whose land lay entirely west of the Mississippi River. The precedent for Purchase land, thought slight, was pro-slavery. Although Missouri, unlike Louisiana, was not suited to cotton, slavery had long been established there, and its western portions were promised for growing hemp, a crop so taxing to cultivate that it was deemed fit only for slave labor. Accordingly, southerners worried that is slavery were banned in Missouri – with its ten thousand slaves, comprising roughly 15 percent of its total population – there would be a precedent for doing so in all the states from the trans-Mississippi West. When the territorial citizens of Missouri applied for admission to the Union, most southerners – and probably, at first, most northerners as well – took it for granted that slavery would be allowed. All were in for a shock.”10

Legally, Congress did not have to rubberstamp Missouri’s wishes. "The U.S. Constitution had made Congress the maker and enforce of all necessary rules and regulations governing the territories, which generally passed through an internship in democracy while waiting for their populations to grow to sufficient size for statehood,” wrote John C. Waugh. “Congress laid the tinder for a political firestorm when it upgraded Missouri, a part of the Louisiana Purchase, to a territory of the highest rank in 1816. Missouri had been growing rapidly in population since the War of 1812. By 1816 it had reached 40,000 and had been in training for statehood for thirteen years."11 What was for Missouri a question of admission to the Union was to much of the rest of the country a question of political power and the future of slavery.

President James Monroe, himself a Virginia slaveowner, was conflicted by his personal dislike of slavery and his economic reliance on slaves – as well as his worry about the upcoming presidential election of 1820. Historian James Schouler wrote that Monroe was characterized by “the conscientious performance of official duty, magnanimity, and the habit of deliberation.”12 Monroe’s concern with the development Mississippi River valley was genuine and his political activism on the issue dated back 35 years to when he served in congress under the Articles of Confederation. Historian W. Edwin Hemphill argued: “No other American had been equally interested in the contest for an unchecked communication by water between the Ohio River and the Gulf of Mexico. He had been the author and a chief administrator of the vital policy which led directly to the glorious culmination of 1803.”13 Along with New York’s Robert Livingston, Monroe had negotiated the Louisiana Purchase with Napoleon’s government in 1803.

The U.S. Constitution of 1787 made no direct references to “slavery” but decreed that the slave trade could not be shut off for two decades. “Ironically, the closing of the transatlantic slave trade in 1808 created a condition that made slavery in the United States considerably uglier than it had been previously,” wrote historian Robert P. Forbes. “It led to vast expansion of the domestic slave trade – the familiar coffles of manacled slaves crisscrossing the land.” Forbes noted: “The freedom to sell their slaves west without restrictions – ‘diffusion’ planters liked to call it – was essential both to Virginians’ continued prosperity and to their safety.”15 Farming increasingly unproductive land, Virginians increasingly depended on revenue from sales of their abundant slaves. Historian Don E. Fehrenbacher noted that the controversy over slavery engendered by Missouri’s proposed admission as a slave state reflected a return to issues which had been shoved aside by conflict and then by the war with Britain that ended in 1815. Slavery as an institution was growing and the admission of Missouri as a slave state would stimulate its growth further. Fehrenbacher wrote that “Northerners in considerable number seem to have awakened suddenly to the realization that the national prospect had somehow become weighted in favor of slavery. For one thing, federal prohibition of the African slave trade, from which much had been expected, was obviously having no significant effect on the viability of domestic slavery, and talk of the institution as an undesirable but permanent necessity was becoming more and more perfunctory.”16

The opportunity for the spread of slavery was real. Pressure for the admission of Missouri as a state grew at the same time that pressure to block the extension of slavery was growing as well. Conflict in Congress was virtually inevitable. One man in particular was caught in the middle of the crisis. Historian Noble E. Cunningham, Jr., wrote: “Early in 1818, Henry Clay, the Speaker of the House, and John Scott, the territorial delegate from Missouri, presented on separate days petitions from the Missouri Territory ‘to form a constitution and state government, and for the admission of such state into the Union on an equal footing with the original states.’ With the end of the session approaching, the House referred the bill to the Committee of the Whole and took no further action before it adjourned on April 20. Early in the next session, on December 18, 1818, Clay presented a petition from the Legislative Council and House of Representatives of the territory of Missouri, renewing the plea for permission to form a constitution and be admitted as a state.”17 Opposition, however, was building. Thomas Crump wrote that in “December 1818 – delegates from anti-slavery societies in New York, Pennsylvania, and Delaware, meeting in a convention in Philadelphia, appointed a committee to prepare a memorial to Congress, to be signed by American citizens, requesting that ‘slavery be prohibited in all territories established in the future as well as in any states erected from such territories.’”18 Though himself a slaveholder, Clay’s attitude toward slavery was ambivalent and somewhat contradictory. He opposed it on moral grounds, but supported it politically.

Missouri was a hot topic but many politicians like Clay had pressing financial issues. The Missouri Controversy took place amidst other national problems – including a severe recession that began in 1819. Historian Glover Moore wrote: “The South might have received more aid from the Middle states in 1819-1821 if it had not been at daggers’ points with that section on the subject of the tariff and internal improvements. Furthermore, the disagreement over the tariff was accentuated by the Panic of 1819, which began shortly before the Missouri Controversy. American manufacturers, finding themselves driven to the wall by the panic, sought salvation in clamoring for higher protective duties.”19 That alienated them from the anti-tariff South.

Talmadge Amendment

New York Congressman John Tallmadge was a conventional politician who did a very unconventional thing on February 13, 1819. In November 1818, Tallmadge had led opposition to the admission of Illinois on the grounds that the state’s new constitution lacked safeguards against slavery. Now he introduced an amendment to statehood legislation which read: “Provided, That the further introduction of slavery or involuntary servitude be prohibited, except for the punishment of crimes whereof the party shall have been duly convicted and that all children born within the said State after the admission thereof into the Union shall be free, but may be held to service until the age of twenty-five years.”

Tallmadge was hardly the logical leader for such a revolutionary move. He had been gravely sick for a month – hardly in shape to lead a debate. He was near the end of his term. He was in mourning for his infant son who had died in late January. Indeed, Tallmadge was barely in condition to speak. “He had just taken his wife back home to Poughkeepsie, buried their son, and returned to Washington," when the Missouri issue was taken up, wrote historian Leonard Richards.20 Historian Walter McDougall described Tallmadge as “a peripatetic congressman...An ally of De Witt Clinton, he later ran with Van Buren’s Bucktails, became lieutenant governor, and helped to found New York University.”21 Tallmadge apparently decided that a stand needed to be taken against slavery’s spread and against the growing power of slavery as an institution. The basis for his position was Article IV, Section 4 of the constitution that guaranteed “a republican form of government” in all states.22 In 1819 he was not the man to ignite a major constitutional crisis. McDougall wrote that “for reasons still obscure, Tallmadge decided to ’redeem our beloved country from Disgrace & Danger’ by halting the spread of slavery.”23 Over four days of debate, Tallmadge spearheaded his amendment which passed the House on February 17.

Another upstate New York congressman had actually made the first move in the antislavery campaign. Historian Junius P. Rodriguez wrote: "On January 26, 1819, Congress considered a measure to create the Arkansas Territory out of Arkansas County in the Missouri Territory. This action was approved, but not before the Congress had to defeat an amendment, proposed by New York representative John W. Taylor, that would have prohibited slavery from the Arkansas Territory....Although the House approved both of these amendments, the Senate defeated them."24 Historian James Schouler wrote:

The Senate debate is not preserved; but that of the House, brief though it was, is shown by the speeches reported to have been eager and exciting. Taylor and Tallmadge stated the argument strongly for the restrictionists, and Scott, Missouri's territorial delegate, for the right of unqualified admission. Upon such a controversy, the strong point in Missouri's favor was that her population and present condition entitled her already to the essential rights of self government; for she had passed the period of nurture, and was turning majority. Hence, to require the assent of her people to such fundamental conditions, thereby disarranging her social institutions at so late a day, was to stretch a Congressional right beyond former precedent, and put a premium upon the nation's negligence. Nevertheless, the federal constitution never conceded that newly-formed States of the future should be admitted into the Union as unreservedly and with so profound a respect for co-ordinate consent as its original members. Such a concession would be inconsistent with a due regulation of the national territory and the educational process applicable to infant settlements. And, as the restrictionists justly contended, Congress had the discretion to admit or not admit, and meantime to regulate public territory for which the Union had paid.25

There was high drama in the House debate. Historian James Schouler observed that Tallmadge “advocated the amendment which he himself had proposed, with courage, forcible argument, ready wit, felicitous allusions, and an eloquence which shamed if it could not disarm. Like [Fisher] Ames in the Jay treaty debate, he pressed his point with the pathos of one in frail health, whose present appeal must be his last; and for the moment, and while that appeal was fresh, the House repelled slave encroachment as it did not soon again.” Schouler noted: “While this first Missouri debate was in progress, the clanking of chains was heard without and members ran to the window and entrance. A slave-driver of villainous aspect passed the door of this unpretentious building, the temporary Hall of Congress, turning the high road at Capitol Hill on his way west. He drove before him some fifteen half-naked blacks collected in the pursuit of his traffic; the men handcuffed and chained to one another in front, women and children fetching up the rear. As this piteous flock shuffled by to the dull music of their manacles, some dusky being, perchance, stealing a furtive glance at the stars and stripes which floated above the roof so proudly, our national legislators looked upon the scene. If the flag which meant to protect the oppressed was thus to become the symbol of oppression, if yonder rising temple was to be dedicated with human sacrifices, if emigration must take its westward course, driving fellow-men and cattle together, would not in God's good time come the day of righteous retribution?”26 The forces of anti-slavery were stalled by Senate opposition to the Tallmadge amendment. “On the return of the bill to the House, March 2, Tallmadge moved the indefinite postponement of the bill, a motion which was barely lost, and which would probably have been carried but for absentees,” wrote historian James Albert Woodburn. “The House then refused to concur in the Senate amendments, and the bill was returned to the Senate with a message of nonconcurrence. A message came back immediately that the Senate still adhered to its amendment, and thereupon, by motion of Mr. Taylor, of New York, the House voted to adhere to its disagreement, and the bill was lost with the Fifteenth Congress in deadlock. This was the end of the first struggle.”27

The controversy over Missouri’s admission raised long dormant issues. Historian Roger G. Kennedy wrote: “In the debates of 1818 and 1819, the question of congressional line-drawing was raised by the Taylor Amendment freeing all black children born in Arkansas after 1819. That provision (so similar in intent to that Jefferson had supported in 1784 for the West except for Kentucky) was twice approved in the House of Representatives. It was defeated when Speaker Henry Clay broke an eighty-to-eighty tie, after Jefferson weighed in with the view that ‘spreading them [slaves] over a larger surface’ would ‘dilute the evil everywhere.’” Tallmadge argued that extending slavery across the country would sow the seeds of the nation’s “dissolution; you turn its accumulated strength into positive weakness; you cherish a canker in your breast; you put poison in your bosom; you place a vulture on your heart – nay, you whet the dagger and place it in the hands of a portion of your population, stimulated to use it, by every tie, human and divine.” The debate over Arkansas and Missouri was as much about the political balance between North and South as it was about slavery. More slaves meant more political power for the states that harbored them, noted Tallmadge.28 Nineteenth century politician and historian Carl Schurz observed: “Thus began the struggle on the slavery question in connection with the admission of Missouri, which lasted, intermittently, until March, 1821.”29 Morality and power were equally at issue.

Part of the dilemma on Missouri’s future status was its relatively northerly geographical position in relation to other slave states – which raised questions of slavery’s northern spread as indeed did the tolerance for slavery in nearby Illinois and Indiana, noted Don E. Fehrenbacher. “Admission of a new state of Missouri would therefore necessitate erecting a new territory farther south in the less populated region centering on the Arkansas River. The conspiracy theory was logical since leading New York Federalists such as Alexander Hamilton and John Jay had also been leading advocates of slavery’s abolition. If the latter had been settled first, the slavery issue perhaps could have been resolved without great difficulty by admitting Arkansas as a slaveholding state and reorganizing the rest of Missouri as a free territory.”30 At least, that would be the eventual compromise. Historian Carl Schurz wrote: “On February 16, 1819, the House of Representatives adopted the amendment restricting slavery, and thus passed the Missouri bill. But the Senate, eleven days afterwards, struck out the antislavery provision and sent the bill back to the House. A bill was then passed organizing the Territory of Arkansas, an amendment moved by Taylor of New York prohibiting the further introduction of slavery there having been voted down. Clay had opposed that amendment in a speech and thrown the casting vote of the Speaker adversely to it on a motion to reconsider. Thus slavery was virtually fastened on Arkansas. But the Missouri bill failed in the fifteenth Congress. The popular excitement steadily increased.”31

February 1819 was a month of intense rhetoric. Walter McDougall wrote: “Tallmadge moved an amendment to prohibit new transportation of slaves into Missouri and to grant freedom at age twenty-five to people born into servitude there. Fellow Yorker John Taylor seconded the motion, warning if slavery were permitted in Missouri ‘its baleful consequences would surely conquer the West.’ Did not southerners themselves speak of slavery as an ‘original sin’ of which they must someday repent?”32 The motivation for Tallmadge's action was unclear although Thomas Jefferson then and many historians subsequently blamed New York Governor DeWitt Clinton, who had a bad relationship with Monroe dating to Clinton’s Federalist candidacy for president in 1812 against James Madison.

That was too simple. Tallmadge was acting on his own, wrote historian Leonard Richards: "According to one of Tallmadge's private letters, every faction in New York was angry at him – the Federalists for his defense of Andrew Jackson's invasion of Florida, Clinton for his backing of President Monroe, and Clinton's enemies for his support of Clinton. According to one of Tallmadge's political allies, Clinton opposed Tallmadge's amendment until he discovered how popular it was in New York."33 The debate was clearly sectionally polarizing but less so than it might have been. Historians Peter Marshall and David Manuel noted that Tallmadge’s amendment “was a relatively mild proposal, considering that it did not demand the manumission of slaves already in the Missouri Territory and allowed slave owners to keep children of slaves for the duration of their prime hard-labor years, generally reckoned to be eighteen to twenty-five. But the slaveholding states wanted no part of it, for to accede to it meant acknowledging that Congress had the right to determine the slave or free status of all future states – a precedent that would only encourage the nascent abolitionists."34

“‘This motion gave rise to an interesting and pretty wide debate,’ one observer recorded in the reporting the opening exchanges, in which Tallmadge was supported by Livermore of New Hampshire and Elijah Mills of Massachusetts and opposed by Clay and Virginians Philip P. Barbour and James Pindall,” wrote historian Noble E. Cunningham, Jr. “But it was far more than interesting debate. Tallmadge’s amendment had suddenly transformed the routine business of admitting a new state into the Union into a dangerous dispute. It would produce the most important debate about slavery in the United States since the ratification of the Constitution; and its polemics would continue beyond the halls of Congress – in newspapers and pamphlets, on public platforms and pulpits, and in countless unrecorded exchanges throughout the country.”35 New Hampshire Congressman Clifton Clagett argued: “The free people I have the honor to represent have, by their constitution, excluded slavery, and believed it malum in se [an evil in itself], and my own sentiments sincerely accord with theirs.”36 New York’s John Taylor presaged the arguments of the next two decades regarding free labor versus slavery. “The description of immigrants may in some measure be affected by the amendment. If slavery shall be tolerated, the country will be settled by rich planters with their slaves. If it shall be rejected, the emigrants. will chiefly consist of the poorer and more laborious classes of society. If it be true that the prosperity and happiness of a country ought to constitute the great object of its legislators, I can not hesitate for a moment which species of population deserves most to be encouraged. In their zeal to oppose the amendment, gentlemen seem to have considered but one side of the case. If the prohibition of slavery will tend to discourage migration from the south, will not its admission have the same effect with relation to the north and east?”37

Throughout this debate, Tallmadge’s chief defender and ally was John W. Taylor, 34, a lawyer from Ballston Spa who would later serve as speaker of the House. Tallmadge’s chief opponent was Georgian William Cobb, then 35. Historian Walter McDougall wrote that “Cobb accused Tallmadge of kindling a fire only ‘seas of blood’ could extinguish. Tallmadge replied if blood sacrifice was required he would contribute his mite.”38 Historian Daniel Walker Howe wrote: “There was little love lost between the grandson of Georgia’s most famous patriarch and the accomplished city lawyer. They had tangled on issues, before, Cobb eloquently if savagely attacking Andrew Jackson over his campaign in Florida against the Seminoles; Tallmadge had defended the general with equal vigor.”39 Historian James Albert Woodburn wrote of the 1819 struggle: “On the return of the bill to the House, March 2, Tallmadge moved the indefinite postponement of the bill, a motion which was barely lost, and which would probably have been carried but for absentees. The House then refused to concur in the Senate amendments, and the bill was returned to the Senate with a message of nonconcurrence. A message came back immediately that the Senate still adhered to its amendment, and thereupon, by motion of Mr. Taylor, of New York, the House voted to adhere to its disagreement, and the bill was lost with the Fifteenth Congress in deadlock. This was the end of the first struggle.”40

Cobb’s speech was hot rhetoric directed at the New York congressman: “You have kindled a fire which all the waters of the ocean cannot put out, which seas of blood can only extinguish.” Tallmadge was unmoved. “Language of this sort has no effect on me; my purpose is fixed, it is interwoven with my existence; its durability is limited with my life; it is a great and glorious cause, setting bounds to a slavery the most cruel and debasing the world has ever witnessed; it is the freedom of man; it is the cause of unredeemed and unregenerated human beings,” Tallmadge responded. He asked if “it already come to this: that in the Congress of the United States—that, in the legislative councils of republican America, the subject of Slavery has become a subject of so much feeling—of such delicacy—of such danger, that it cannot safely be discussed? Are members who venture to express their sentiments on this subject, to be accused of talking to the galleries, with intention to excite a servile war; and of meriting the fate of Arbuthnot and Ambrister [two British citizens hanged by a military tribunal during the First Seminole War]? Are we to be told of the dissolution of the Union, of civil war. and of seas of blood? And yet, with such awful threatenings before us, do gentlemen, in the same breath, insist upon the encouragement of this evil; upon the extension of this monstrous scourge of the human race? An evil so fraught with such dire calamities to us as individuals, and to our nation, and threatening, in its progress, to overwhelm the civil and religious institutions of the country, with the liberties of the nation, ought at once to be met, and to be controlled. If its power, its influence, and its impending dangers, have already arrived at such a point, that it is not safe to discuss it on this floor, and it cannot now pass under consideration as a proper subject for general legislation, what will be the result when it is spread through your widely-extended domain? Its present threatening aspect, and the violence of its supporters, so far from inducing me to yield to its progress, prompt me to resist its march. Now is the time. It must now be met, and the extension of the evil must now be prevented, or the occasion is irrecoverably lost, and the evil can never be controlled.”41

The congressional arguments ranged from economic to philosophical to regional power. “As the congressional debate continued, two distinct opposing positions were advanced,” noted Noble Cunningham. “On the one hand, some members insisted that Congress had no authority to prescribe to any state the details of its government except that it be republican in form. Such a power, if exercised, would be nugatory, they contended, because once admitted to the Union, the people of that state would have the right to amend their state constitution. On the other hand, it was argued that Congress was empowered to prescribe conditions for the admission of any new state into the Union and that slavery was incompatible with republican institutions.”42

The Tallmadge effort suggested the emergence of a new political demarcation in American politics. The “Era of Good Feelings” that President Monroe had ushered in when his presidency began in 1817 was under attack. “The efforts made in Congress to prevent Missouri from entering the Union as a slave state were undertaken by a majority of Northern Federalists and Clintonian Democrats, as well as certain other Northern Democrats,” wrote historian Robert D. Reid. “This was the first organized attack by Northerners against the extension of slavery into the territories. The Federalist restrictionists saw in the controversy an opportunity to create a new political alignment among Northern voters in which they would play a dominant role.”43 Some saw a Federalist plot in the Tallmadge amendment. Shaw Livermore wrote: “Southern Republicans insisted at every turn that Federalists were the principle provocateurs. This charge was just as often refuted by northern Republicans. ‘It is well known,’ responded one, ‘that it originated with Republicans, that it is supported by the Republicans throughout the free states; and that the Federalists of the South are its warm opponents.”44 Historian George Dangerfield argued: “As soon as a considerable body of Northern Democrats were convinced that the Federalists and Clintonians were seeking to make political capital out of the Missouri question, a compromise with the South was inevitable.”45 Historian Shaw Livermore, noted: “Those who dreaded the splintering of their party and a possible Federalist renaissance were compelled to find a plausible reason for supporting the compromise...To men hardened in past battles with Hamiltonians the concept of a Federalist plot was certainly a reasonable one.” Livermore, however, observed “Powerful forces...combined to bring about a crisis. Northern Republicans hand long chafed under the ‘Virginia Influence,’ which appeared to dominate the party.”46

Dormant resentments about slavery and its constitutional protection surfaced in the course of northern speeches. Southerners, on the other hand, were outraged by the attacks on the institution of slavery that was implied by northerners’ arguments. Virginia Congressman Hugh Nelson wrote: “We have been for two or three days occupied on the Bill for erecting Missouri into a state. A warm and vehement debate was had in this Bill on an amendment prepared by the Yankees, to exclude slavery from that Country. The most outrageous doctrines have been advanced by these people, and no incident has occurred since the adoption of this Constitution, calculated to produce so much alarm with the slaveholding states – as the attempts of these Yankees to throw their arms around this vast region of Country in the West – and to exclude all the Southern people from migrating to this Country.”47

Slumbering since the antislavery movement of the 1790s, antislavery sentiment was resurgent. “The voting on the Tallmadge amendment seemed to indicate the sudden emergence of a antislavery majority in the House of Representatives,” wrote historian Don E. Fehrenbacher. “The amendment was approved in the committee of the whole, 79 to 67, and on the floor of the House in two parts: 87 to 76 for the clause prohibiting the ‘further introduction’ of slavery into Missouri, and 82 to 78 for the clause liberating at age twenty-five all slaves born in the state after its admission.”48 The coalition against slavery was a strong one. This would be the last gasp of the Federalists who had been dying politically for nearly two decades. Historian Harry Ammon wrote that President Monroe was “struck by the emergence of former Federalist Rufus King as the outstanding congressional spokesman of the restrictionists, but the anti-slavery campaign in the North had been largely dominated by ex-Federalists.”49 King, then 64, was a powerful rhetorical force for the power of the federal government to regulate slavery. “The power to make all needful regulations,” he argued in 1819, “ includes the power to determine what regulations are needful; and if a regulation prohibiting slavery within any territory of the United States be, as it has been, deemed needful, Congress possesses the power to make the same.”50 Historian James Schouler wrote that “there was a political force working beneath the surface that gave to this popular movement, which so many out of national influence espoused, a peculiar impetus and direction. That force was Federal in its basis, negative in the main as to Monroe's administration and policy, immutably jealous of southern ascendency. King, venerable in years and courtly of aspect, was its chief inspiration, as befitted one of his commanding talents and vast and varied public experience, reaching back to revolutionary times. Contemporaries, indeed, agree in ascribing to this sage from a State singularly divided in politics, though rapidly rising to national leadership, an ambition of astonishing vitality; and bitterly enough did Jefferson inveigh against him at this time as one who was ready to risk the Union for any chance of restoring his party to power and wriggling to the head of it. The last heated stricture was too severe; but that King set on foot and organized, in the summer of 1819, the concert of measures which awoke the north for a renewal of the Missouri straggle cannot be doubted; and, whatever possible alloy may have mingled with the pure metal, posterity owes the praise which his own age denied him. The first Missouri debate disclosed, in fact, an issue, and the only one on which the slave power might and ought to be unitedly opposed by the conscience and intelligence of the Union; the only issue, moreover, which could stir the sluggish pool into which the old parties were slowly subsiding. This was no feigned issue, but a genuine one, which the free north was compelled to meet by force of natural circumstances, and that tardily enough.” Schouler wrote of the Southern reaction:

Southern leaders saw with dismay their political allies at the north falling in with new men and old malcontents upon the Missouri protest, and a fresh and portentous issue looming up which threatened to engulf the southern democracy, if not to shake to pieces the social fabric upon which southern interests rested. But the instinct of self preservation, aside from the propagating ambition, banded southerners together on their own side. Accepting the line south of the Potomac and Ohio as theirs, they maintained the effort to outflank freedom beyond the Mississippi; befriending with much zeal the cause of Missouri, as that of an outraged sovereign community. [Georgia’s William] Crawford, at a 4th of July celebration in Washington, volunteered as a toast, "the admission of new States on the principles of the federal constitution, that they should be Republican." The legislatures of Virginia and Kentucky led off not long after with resolutions which deplored all imposition of social restrictions by Congress as the condition of Missouri's admission. What could be accomplished practically by such a course? was asked. Would force be used to compel Missouri to emancipate? If so, the South would make her cause, which was the cause of self-government, their own, and fight with her. Would she be left to regulate her own affairs outside of the Union? Then she could afford to wait until a repentant legislature would receive her on terms compatible with the self-respect and independence of a sovereign State.

This new anti-slavery movement, which for the moment so closely united Republicans and Federalists of the free States, men of whatever political antecedents, took its rise in the middle section, and New York was its banner State. Fanaticism, should the cause gain violent headway, might threaten slavery in its citadel; but at present there was no fanaticism, nothing but resistance within strictly constitutional lines. Territorial aggression was opposed; but no one meant to interfere with slavery in a single State where the institution still existed. Slave-trade abolition had, however, failed of its main purpose; the system of slave labor was not dying out but spreading; and now that spread should be stopped. Congress had the right and the responsibility in the premises; Congress should therefore extend the ordinance of 1787 to all the territory west of the Mississippi. 51

The last gasp of the Federalists was matched by growing muscle of southern slaveholders. The South quickly mobilized to fight off what was thought to be an attack on the institution of slavery and the economy of cotton. Speaking to the House, Tallmadge rejected threats of secession: “Sir, if a dissolution of the Union must take place, let it be so! If civil war, which gentlemen so much threaten, must come, I can only say, let it come.....If blood is necessary to extinguish any fire which I have assisted to kindle, I can assure gentlemen, while I regret the necessity, I shall not forbear to contribute my mite.”52 Carl Schurz examined the economic threat that Tallmadge posed to the South:

No sooner had the debate on Tallmadge's proposition begun than it became clear that the philosophical anti-slavery sentiment of the revolutionary period had entirely ceased to have any influence upon current thought in the South. The abolition of the foreign slave-trade had not, as had been hoped, prepared the way for the abolition of slavery or weakened the slave interest in any sense. On the contrary, slavery had been immensely strengthened by an economic development making it more profitable than it ever had been before. The invention of the cotton gin by Eli Whitney in 1793 had made the culture of cotton a very productive source of wealth. In 1800 the exportation of cotton from the United States was 19,000,000 pounds, valued at $5,700,000. In 1820 the value of the cotton export was nearly $20,000,000, almost all of it the product of slave labor. The value of slaves may be said to have at least trebled in twenty years. The breeding of slaves became a profitable industry. Under such circumstances the slave-holders arrived at the conclusion that slavery was by no means so wicked and hurtful an institution as their revolutionary fathers had thought it to be. The anti-slavery professions of the revolutionary time became to them an awkward reminiscence, which they would have been glad to wipe from their own and other people's memories.”53

In the remainder of February and March there was a pointed debate on Tallmadge’s amendment in the House and Senate – as well as discussion of the future of Arkansas, the less-settled area just south of Missouri. The Arkansas debate was led by Congressman Taylor, who attempted to restrict slavery in the territory. One unsuccessful amendment by Taylor would have prohibited slavery north of 36° 30'. “Whether he realized it or not, this was an especially shrewd move; for it tied the permission of slavery in Arkansas to the prohibition of slavery in Missouri,” wrote Don. E. Fehrenbacher.54 Historian James Albert Woodburn wrote that Taylor’s amendment “‘gave rise to a wide and long continued debate, covering part of the ground previously occupied on this subject, but differing in part, as the proposition for Arkansas was to impose a condition on a Territorial government instead of, as in the former case, to enjoin the adoption of the (prohibitive) principle in the constitution of a State.’ This distinction is important, in view of the fact that the chief argument against restriction on Missouri was based on the sovereignty and equality of the States. The fact of the discussion over Arkansas is important as indicating the temper of the lower House, and that the prime motive, the uppermost desire, of those who wished to impose conditions upon Missouri, was to limit the area of human slavery. The House first adopted one clause of the Taylor amendment, that providing for gradual emancipation in Arkansas, but by the casting vote of the Speaker, Mr. Clay, the bill was recommitted, and in the final decision the House determined by a majority of two votes to strike out all the antislavery restriction on the Territory of Arkansas. Territorial restriction failed only because of complication with the Missouri question. Thus, we see, the Fifteenth Congress expired with the House refusing to admit Missouri without restriction, the Senate refusing to admit her with restriction.” Missourians were not pleased. Woodburn continued:

...the Fifteenth Congress left Missouri without authority to organize as a State was the occasion of great excitement among the people of that Territory, and from the adjournment of the Fifteenth Congress to the assembling of the Sixteenth the whole Union was agitated. The legislatures of the States passed resolutions in favor of and against restriction, according to their respective sections, sending copies of these to one another and to the General Government; popular assemblies in all parts of the country debated the question, adopted resolutions, petitioned Congress, and appealed to the public sentiment of the country in whatever demonstration they could use for their cause; the press kept up a continual agitation and a multitude of pamphleteers entered the field, adding to the momentum and excitement of the great national argument.55

Congress was stalemated, but the debate accelerated and so did political divisions in the dominant Republican (later called the Democratic) Party founded by Thomas Jefferson. Historian Sean Wilentz wrote that “the antislavery Republicans also attacked slavery head-on as an immoral institution, whose very existence in any news states would deny those states a truly republican government. By condemning slavery while abjuring broad construction of the Constitution, the Republicans lessened their vulnerability to charges, plausible enough when delivered against the Federalists, that they were using the slavery issue as a pretext to enlarge federal power and their own political advantage. And they exposed the southerners to countercharges that they were simply twisting constitutional issues as a means to expand slavery.” Wilentz continued: “The result was a rupture within the Republican camp, between antislavery northerners who embraced egalitarian Jeffersonian ideals and hard-core, pro-slavery southerners who rejected those ideals – leaving in the middle Republican nationalists such as Henry Clay, who like Jefferson considered slavery a necessary evil.” Wilentz wrote: “The soft antirestrictionist line, voiced most eloquently by Speaker Clay and a young Virginia congressman named John Tyler, held that diffusing slavery across a wider geographic area would actually benefit the slaves and encourage the institution’s eventual demise.”56 This, of course, was a convenient fairy tale.

Heating Up Congress

The fire of controversy died down, wrote historian Glover Moore, when Congress adjourned. Northern agitation in the Mid-Atlantic, especially that fomented by onetime Federalists, reignited the controversy.57 Don E. Fehrenbacher noted that “by the autumn of 1819, an antislavery crusade was take shape in many northern states, and the demand for exclusion of slavery from Missouri echoed in mass meetings, pamphlets, editorials, and legislative resolutions.”58 On January 10, 1820, Secretary of State John Quincy Adams, who two decades later would become an antislavery champion, wrote in his journal: "The Missouri question has taken such hold of my feelings and imagination that, finding my ideas connected with it very numerous, but confused for want of arrangement, I have within these few days begun to commit them to paper loosely as they arise in my mind. There are views of the subject which have not yet been taken by any of the speakers or writers by whom it has been discussed — views which the time has not yet arrived for presenting to the public, but which in all probability it will be necessary to present hereafter. I take it for granted that the present question is a mere preamble — a titlepage to a great tragic volume. I have hitherto reserved my opinions upon it, as it has been obviously proper for me to do. The time may, and I think will, come when it will be my duty equally clear to give my opinion, and it is even now proper for me to begin the preparation of myself for that emergency. The President thinks this question will be winked away by a compromise. But so do not I. Much am I mistaken if it is not destined to survive his political and individual life and mine."59

Slaveholding Missourians were just as upset as antislavery northerners. Historian James Albert Woodburn wrote: “The fact that the Fifteenth Congress left Missouri without authority to organize as a State was the occasion of great excitement among the people of that Territory, and from the adjournment of the Fifteenth Congress to the assembling of the Sixteenth the whole Union was agitated. The legislatures of the States passed resolutions in favor of and against restriction, according to their respective sections, sending copies of these to one another and to the General Government; popular assemblies in all parts of the country debated the question, adopted resolutions, petitioned Congress, and appealed to the public sentiment of the country in whatever demonstration they could use for their cause; the press kept up a continual agitation and a multitude of pamphleteers entered the field, adding to the momentum and excitement of the great national argument.”60

Clearly, the Missouri drama was destined for a quick revival. Historian Glover Moore wrote: “When the sixteenth Congress convened at Washington on December 6, 1819, it was confronted with a multitude of problems. A severe depression was in progress; manufacturers were clamoring for higher tariff duties – a measure strongly opposed by Southern planters and New England shipping interests; the merchants were eager for the passage of a uniform national bankruptcy law; and the West as usual was deeply concerned with the perplexities of banking and credit.”61 Walter McDougall wrote: “Henry Clay shuddered to hear senators mutter of sparks, explosions, prairie fires, the ‘hottest paroxysm,’ disunion, civil war. Northerners spied plots to extend slavery everywhere. Southerners spied abolitionist plots. Most congressmen danced around these fears by arguing the constitutionality of this or that bill, Missouri’s demographics and economics, the original intent of the Framers. But restrictionists escalated debate with moral condemnations of slavery that southern gentlemen regarded as insults to their honor and manhood, not to say threats to property and states’ rights.”62

On January 10, President Monroe wrote his son-in-law: “My own decided opinion is that new states cannot be admitted into the union, on other conditions than the old: that their incorporation must place them on precisely the same footing, as to rights granted, and retained. The Eastern people, who are so much pressed by their constituents, who have been moved by political men, for purposes of personal aggrandizement, want some ground on which to justify them in a measure of accomodation [sic], to their constituents. They think, I mean those who have the public good only in view, that they may legislate more extensively over the territories, that is, that their power is more extensive there, than over the states, and under it, that they may prohibit slavery in a territory, leaving the state free, to admit it, after it becomes one. These seem to be willing, as I am told, to admit Missouri, and to make the northern boundary of that state, extending to the northern boundary of the US., the region over which the power of territorial legislation shall operate. I take of course no part in these concerns, tho’ I am inclined to think that a difference exists in the two cases.”63 The slavery debate consumed Washington. Speaker Clay wrote in late January that Missouri “monopolizes all our conversation, all our thoughts and for three weeks at least to come will all our time. No body seems to think or care about anything else. The issue of the question in the H. of R. is doubtful. I am rather inclined to think that it will be finally compromised.”64 Both sides engaged in menacing comments and emotional recriminations. Historian Glover Moore noted: “Threats of disunion became commonplace in the winter of 1819-1820. Henry Clay wrote from Washington in January that the words ‘civil war’ and ‘disunion’ were uttered almost without emotion.”65

It was perhaps logical that the seeds of compromise to end the impasse were sown by representatives of the Old Northwest. Historian Marc Egnal noted that “politicians in the Mississippi Valley states of Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois were sympathetic to Southern demands that slavery continue in Missouri. Residency in this expansive region gave individuals a frame of reference that transcended sections. ‘We inhabit the great valley of the West,’ Ohio senator Benjamin Ruggles explained. ‘We belong to the family of the Mississippi. Our latitude, pursuits, productions, and markets are the same. Many of the politicians whose states bordered the Ohio River...were Southern born.” Historian Glover Moore wrote: “Between the adjournment of the Fifteenth Congress and the convening of the Sixteenth, the voters of one state, Illinois, had the opportunity of expressing their sentiments on the Missouri question. This they did by defeating John McLean, who had opposed the Tallmadge amendment during the first Missouri debate, and giving his seat in Congress to Daniel Pope Cook, a militant restrictionist. Cook’s election gave the North one more vote in the House of Representatives, though it seemingly had little effect on the Southern-born senators from Illinois, Jesse B. Thomas and Ninian Edwards, who continued to vote on the Southern side with unswerving regularity.”66 Slaveholding Senator Thomas, however, was destined to play a leading and unexpected role in resolving the stalemate. Illinois illustrated the complexity of the slavery question – even in a state supposedly governed by the Northwest Ordinance. Historian Glover Moore wrote that “Thomas owned five servants or slaves in 1820. Edwards, who was the owner of many Negroes, defended himself for not freeing them in language that today it is hard to believe an Illinois official should ever have used. He had no doubt, he wrote to a critic, that ‘you & others honestly believe our negroes are all entitled to their freedom....But,...I feel confident that this opinion is the result of too limited a view of the question, and that however strong your present conviction I could satisfy you, in a personal interview, that it is erroneous, and that instead of bettering, it is calculated, by its obvious consequences, to deteriorate the condition of these unfortunate people.”67

The North’s antislavery advantage was nullified in the Senate where both North and South had equal votes. Historian Glover Moore wrote that “those who opposed the restriction of slavery in Missouri had a clear-cut majority in the Senate. They speedily announced their intention of blocking Maine’s admission in the Senate until the House should consent to Missouri’s admission with slavery. On December 30 Speaker Henry Clay informed Northerners that ‘if you refuse to admit Missouri also free of condition, we see no reason why you shall take to yourselves privileges which you deny to her – and, until you grant them also to her, we will not admit you [Maine].’”68 On January 3, 1820, the lower House passed legislation admitting Maine as a state separate from Massachusetts, of which it formerly had been a part. Carl Schurz wrote: “In the Senate the admission of Missouri with slavery was coupled with the admission of Maine, on the balance-of-power principle that one free state and one slave state should always be admitted at the same time. An amendment was moved absolutely prohibiting slavery in Missouri, but it was voted down. Then Mr. Thomas, a Senator from Illinois, on January 18, 1820, proposed that no restriction as to slavery be imposed upon Missouri in framing a state constitution, but that in all the rest of the country ceded by France to the United States north of 36° 30', this being the southern boundary line of Missouri, there should be neither slavery nor involuntary servitude....By it the slave power obtained the present tangible object it contended for; free labor won a contingent advantage in the future. The South was strongly bound together by a material interest; it obeyed a common impulse and an intolerant will, presenting a solid and determined front. The Northern anti-slavery men were held together, not by a well understood common interest, but by a sentiment; and as this sentiment was stronger or weaker in different individuals, they would stand firm or yield to the entreaties or threats of the Southern men. Thus the bargain was accomplished.” New Hampshire Congressman William Plumer, Jr. wrote of the compromise: “The Southern & Western people talked so much, threatened so loudly, and predicted such dreadful consequences from the success of our measures that they fairly frightened our weak-minded members into an abandonment of this most important & salutary measure.”69

President Monroe saw the looming crisis clearly. On January 5, 1820, President Monroe had written: “The Missouri question has assumed its worst, and is producing all the mischief to which it can be made instrumental. It is evidently an effort for power on the part of its authors, which is to be wielded, in every direction, for their benefit, without regard to its consequences on the southern states. Our members are enlightened and virtuous, but they want experience.” Monroe wrote disparagingly of Rufus King, then senator from New York and a former Federalist candidate for both president and vice president who had taken a leading role in 1878 in prohibiting slavery in the Northwest territories.” Monroe argued: “The object of Mr. King is to defeat any compromise applicable to unsettled territories, as the ground of the admission of Missouri; and the union of Maine with Missouri is producing the effect of alienating all the Eastern members from the Southern, on the question. They must vote for Maine, or destroy themselves at home, and thus separating from the friends of Missouri, their reunion will be difficult, if practicable. If a compromise is made, it must be the ensuing week, so that your prompt decision and movement are indispensible.”70

Henry Clay’s Role

The Missouri conflict introduced a new role for Kentucky’s Henry Clay, previously known more as a political agitator than a pacifier. A slaveholder, Clay’s own attitudes toward slavery were complex. He owned slaves but had begun his political career as an opponent of slavery. He was a founder of the American Colonization Society and spent much of the rest of his life trying to prevent a sectional rupture over the slavery issue. Historian Glover Moore wrote: “Clay was theoretically antislavery, and it was rumored widely that he advised the Missourians to abolish slavery gradually by state action. Nevertheless, he vigorously supported the Southern position that slavery within a state was a subject for local and not congressional regulation. Discarding his usual role of politician for that of statesman, he used his utmost energies to effect a compromise which would be acceptable to Northerners and Southerners alike. Sometimes he blustered and threatened to go to Kentucky and raise troops to defend Missouri’s rights, but this was obviously for the purpose of frightening the weak-kneed in the hope that they would vote for the compromise.”71 As historian Paul Johnson wrote, however, “It seemed to Clay ridiculous that Congress should allow the slavery issue, which it was unwilling to resolve fundamentally by banning it once and for all (as he wished), to obstruct the admission of Missouri, the first territory to be carved out of the Louisiana Purchase entirely west of the Mississippi. It was part of his American System to develop the Midwest as quickly as possible, so that America could continue its relentless drive to the Pacific before anyone else came along.”72

Clay always understood that morality must be tempered with practical politics. In 1819, noted historian Harry L. Watson wrote, Jackson’s “instincts were to evade this quarrel and move back to the great economic questions he preferred. He spoke against the Tallmadge amendment but failed to halt its passage in the House.”73 Historian Merrill D. Peterson wrote: “No politician could regard the Missouri Question as simply a moral issue. Clay did not. His own anti-slavery principles enabled him to appreciate the higher motives of the restrictionists, however. As a personal matter, he told the restrictionists, he not only opposed slavery in Missouri but would be willing for Congress to confer freedom on any slave henceforth imported into the new state provided there was authority to enforce the decree.”74 Clay, however, was suspicious of northern radicals. Historian Harry Ammon wrote: “Clay, who closely observed political trends in Congress, suspected that the restrictionist campaign masked an attempt to form a new party.” 75 The Missouri Compromise of 1820 was Clay’s first opportunity to exercise national leadership on slavery questions. Historian Walter A. McDougall wrote that Clay “ believed slavery doomed by Malthusian law. America’s white population was bound to grow geometrically, driving down wages until simple balance-sheet calculations impelled southerners to transport their blacks and hire free labor. That was fantasy, but Clay’s vision of greatness was not. The Freemason and promoter of the American System for national growth shuddered at the thought [that] sectional feuds might cheat the United States (and himself) of glorious destinies.” 76 Only Clay’s involvement seemed likely to get the country out of the Missouri controversy in one national piece.

Clay was in a double bind – one political and one financial. Jackson biographer H. W. Brands wrote of the Tallmadge controversy: “The House Speaker had been hinting at retirement. He owed more money than he could ever repay on a congressman’s salary – which placed him in much the same predicament as many of those new planters who couldn’t afford to free their slaves. ‘No man is more sensible of the evils of slavery than I am, nor regrets them more,’ he wrote a friend. ‘Were I the citizen of a State in which it was not tolerated, I would certainly oppose its introduction with all the force and energy in my power.’ But Kentucky was a slave state, and Clay a slave owner – besides being a politician. And the fact of his owning slaves gave him standing among other slave owners that northern politicians lacked. When the Missouri question grew virulent, Clay put off his return to the private practice of law in order to shape a statute that might hold the Union together in the face of threats like those of Cobb and Tallmadge.”77 Clay biographer Robert V. Remini wrote "Clay's initial efforts against the Tallmadge restrictions in 1819 argued that the Constitution clearly states that the citizens of each state shall be entitled to all the privileges and immunities of citizens of the several states, and since the Tallmadge amendment would deprive a Missouri citizen of his slave property, it was patently unconstitutional. He also argued the cause of humanity, as Representative John W. Taylor of New York called it, by insisting that the slaves would be happier, better fed, clothed, and sheltered if they were allowed to be ‘dispersed’ over the entire country rather than remain ‘cooped up’ in the South.”78 Thus, Clay had set the stage for the Missouri Compromise the next year.

Historian Merrill D. Peterson wrote: “Clay made his major speech against the Missouri restriction on February 8. Unfortunately, like every other speech he made on this question, it was not reported. Careless of fame, Clay never wrote out or even scribbled notes for his speeches before or after delivery, as if acknowledging the inadequacy of the printed page to convey the power of his oratory.”79 Historian Robert Remini wrote that Clay “spoke for four hours, and it consumed the entire ‘sitting’ of the House. Again, unfortunately, his speech went unreported, possibly because it was a spellbinder, as one observer noted.”80 According to Remini, “One of his arguments in this speech – again inferred from the responses of other members – bears close attention, for Clay expressed his belief that the ultimate end of slavery would come if the laws of economics and population were permitted to operate. With time, he predicted, the country would be largely populated with white citizens, thus driving down the price of labor so that free labor would become cheaper than slave labor. Once that happened, the slave states would free their blacks and presumably ship them back to Africa.”81 Peterson wrote: “Clay advanced the idea of the diffusion of slavery in the hope of reconciling all but the most determined opponents of the institution to its geographical extension.” Peterson noted: “Talking to congressmen in search of a consensus, Clay found among those who had voted against Missouri’s admission a number who were in agony about disunion. These he made the point of operations. William Plumer, Jr., an anxious New Englander, said that Clay had assumed a new character. ‘He uses no threats, or abuse – but all is mild, humble, and persuasive – he begs, instructs, adjures, supplicates, and beseeches us to have mercy on the people of Missouri.’” 82

1820 Passage

Throughout December and January, pressure built in Washington as the Senate and house occupied the restored Capitol chambers for the first time since they had been torched by the British in the War of 1812. Historian George Dangerfield wrote: “From December 8, 1819 until March 20, 1820, Congress discussed in all its aspects – legal, Constitutional, moral, political, economic – the problem of whether Missouri should be admitted to statehood with slavery or without it. The basic events were complex as the House and Senate debated competing bills, amended each others’ bills, rejected the amendments to each others’ bills. Secretary of State John Quincy Adams was constrained from commenting publicly on the controversy, but wrote in his journal: “Never since human sentiments and human conduct were influenced by human speech was there a theme for eloquence like the free side of this question now before Congress of this Union. By what fatality does it happen that all the most eloquent orators of the body are on its slavish side? There is a great mass of cool judgment and plain sense on the side of freedom and humanity, but the ardent spirits and passions are on the side of oppression. Oh, if but one man could arise with a genius capable of comprehending, a heart capable of supporting, and an utterance capable of communicating those eternal truths that belong to this question, to lay bare in all its nakedness that outrage upon the goodness of God, human slavery, now is the time, and this is the occasion, upon which such a man would perform the duties of an angel upon the earth!”83 Two decades later, that man would be John Quincy Adams himself as a member of Congress from Massachusetts.

The debates were a mix of constitutional and practical concerns – but they raised questions that struck at fundamental assumptions and settled law like the Constitution and the Northwest Ordinance. New York State Senator King raised an even more fundamental point, declaring that slavery was "contrary to the law of nature.” Historian George Dangerfield wrote that King in February gave two major anti-slavery speeches regarding Missouri. “His language was grave, dignified, and earnest, and ‘the great slave-holders in the House gnawed their lips and clenched their fists as they heard him.’ This speech was followed by a second, on February 16, and the effect of this second speech was even more enraging, if one may judge by the virulence of the replies. Yet Mr. King had, for the most part, confined himself to Constitutional arguments, and with Constitutional arguments the Southern Senators were perfectly at their ease. Why then were they so enraged? Partly, no doubt, because they believed that Mr. King was bent on forming a new party designed to crush them; partly because, when he did venture beyond the theoretical pale of the federal and state Constitutions, he was either understood too well or not understood at all. When he declared that slavery was contrary to natural law, he was hated for saying it because he was the first Senator to do so, and because it was true.”84 Carl Schurz wrote:

Clay has been widely credited with being the "father" of the Missouri Compromise. As to the main features of the measure this credit he did not deserve. So far he had taken a prominent but not an originating part in the transaction. His leadership in disposing of the Missouri question belonged to a later stage of the proceeding. But the part he had so far taken appeared to be little in accord with his early anti-slavery professions. The speeches he made in the course of these debates, among them one of four hours, have never been reported. But some of the things he said we can gather from the speeches of those who replied to him. Thus we find that he most strenuously opposed the exclusion of slavery from Missouri, and any interference with it; we find him asserting that Congress had no right whatever to prescribe conditions to newly organized states in any way restricting their ‘sovereign rights;’ we find him sneering at the advocates of slavery-restriction as afflicted with ‘negrophobia;’ we find him pathetically, in the name of humanity, excusing the extension of slavery as apt to improve the condition of the negro, and advancing the argument that the evils of slavery might be cured by spreading it; we find him provoking a reply like the following from Taylor of New York: —

"It [labor] is considered low and unfit for freemen. I cannot better illustrate this truth than by referring to a remark of the honorable gentleman from Kentucky [Mr. Clay]. I have often admired the liberality of his sentiments. He is governed by no vulgar prejudices; yet with what abhorrence did he speak of the performance, by your wives and daughters, of those domestic offices which he was pleased to call servile! What comparison did he make of the "black slaves" of Kentucky and the "white slaves" of the North; and how instantly did he strike a balance in favor of the condition of the former! If such opinions and expressions, even in the ardor of debate, can fall from that honorable gentleman, what ideas do you suppose are entertained of laboring men by the majority of slave-holders!"

We find him arguing that the provision of the Constitution, "The citizens of each state shall be entitled to all the privileges and immunities of citizens in the several states," would be violated by the restriction to be imposed on Missouri as to slavery.

The compromise as proposed he supported heartily, and when the bill embodying it had passed we find him resorting to a very sharp and questionable trick to save it from further interference.85

Ultimately, the Missouri Compromise was designed by a northern slaveholder. The compromise was shaped by Senator Jesse B. Thomas of Illinois. Thomas’s amendment read: “That, in all that territory ceded by France to the United States, under the name of Louisiana, which lies north of thirty-six degrees and thirty minutes north latitude, excepting only such part thereof as is included within the limits of the State contemplated by this act, slavery and involuntary servitude, otherwise than in the punishment of crimes whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall be and is hereby forever prohibited: Provided, always, That any person escaping into the same, from whom labor or service is lawfully claimed in any State or Territory of the United States, such fugitive may be lawfully reclaimed and conveyed to the person claiming his or her labor or service aforesaid.”86 Historian Don E. Fehrenbacher noted that Thomas simply adapted the proposal made the previous year by New York Congressman Taylor when the future of Arkansas was being debated: “Northern members of Congress voted for it, 115 to 7 (Senate 20 to 2; House 95 to 5). As a separate measure, it would have been opposed by southerners with similar solidarity, but proslavery strategists eventually brought it forward as an offer of part of the price to be paid for the admission of Missouri as a slave state. The question of whether to make this concession divided the southern membership in Congress, a membership that had otherwise displayed a high degree of unity wherever slavery was concerned. Southerners voted for the Thomas amendment, 53 to 45 (Senate: 14 to 8; House 39 to 37). This was, in a sense, a measure of southern willingness to compromise.”87

With a compromise amendment to work with, Clay did his job. Historian Walter A. McDougall wrote: “Clay used his power as speaker to appoint pliable members to a House-Senate conference, then he called for separate votes on the three parts of the deal. That prevented southern ‘ultras’ angry over the Thomas amendment from joining with northern restrictionists to defeat the package. Maine statehood breezed through. Missouri statehood with slavery squeaked through on the votes or abstentions of nineteen northern ‘dough faces.’ The Thomas amendment passed 134 to 42. On the evening of March 2, 1820, Clay secretly ratified the votes and rushed them to the Senate to pre-empt motions to reconsider. Monroe, much relieved, signed off.”88 Historian Merrill D. Peterson wrote: “In the eyes of Congress, Clay alone seemed capable of achieving a settlement of the crisis. Forceful, eloquent, indefatigable, magnanimous, he pursued his object, it was said, ‘with a zeal which does equal honor to his heart and head, as though he desired to earn for himself, in the last days of his service in Congress, the laurel, peacefully won, which never fades.’ After a week’s labor, the committee reported. It called for Missouri’s admission on the condition that the legislature never pass a law barring settlement by any description of persons who are or who may become citizens of the United States. Whenever the legislature signified its assent to the condition, the president would proclaim Missouri a state without further ado. The proposition went some way toward meeting anti-slavery objections. Neither side got what it wanted, but neither was compelled to yield it principle. Clay, leading off the debate, appealed to ‘that spirit of compromise which is occasionally necessary to the existence of all societies.’” Nevertheless, it was defeated.89 Historian H. W. Brands wrote: “The enemies of compromise, they said, would divide and conquer. But the professional politicians understood: Clay’s maneuver allowed his colleagues to vote their consciences on parts of the package and conciliation on the rest. By finagling the majorities, he’d get the compromise through, and they’d preserve their bona fides for constituents back home.” 90 As Remini described the events: “The House rejected the Senate bill that tied Missouri and Maine together with the Thomas amendment, whereupon the Senate informed the House that it would agree to no other. An impasse. So a joint committee of the two houses, to which Clay appointed a majority of conciliators who favored compromise, was formed to break the deadlock..”

Through rhetoric and personality, Clay succeeded, but as historian Leonard L. Richards wrote, “it took all of Henry Clay’s manipulative genius to bring the two-year battle over Missouri to a close.” 91 Remini wrote that “as a mollifying gesture toward the House, the three parts of the bill – a free Maine, a slave Missouri, and no slavery north of 36° 30' in the Louisiana Territory – were subsequently separated into three individual bills of legislation. And strangely, what was unpalatable as a single dose was swallowed by the House in three separate gulps.” That was because different sets of congressmen provided the needed votes for each part. Some northern congressmen – whom John Randolph termed “doughfaces” – bowed to southern pressure on slavery in Missouri to allow passage of the compromise. 91 Historian Sean Wilentz noted: “Clay’s major weapon as Speaker, apart from his rhetorical skills and stamina, was his power over committee appointments. On February 29, the House consented to hold a joint conference with the Senate over the outstanding issues, and Clay chose reliably pro-compromise members for the conference committee. Keeping the restrictionists momentarily happy, Clay, the next day, allowed the House to pass its own Missouri bill, even as the conference committee met. The day after that, the Senate returned the House bill once more, with the restrictionist amendment stricken and the Thomas amendment restored – and at virtually the same hour, the conference committee issued a quickly drafted statement urging passage of the Senate version. Clay knew that he could never get a majority in the House if he presented his compromise in a single bill, so the House considered Missouri statehood and the 36° 30' questions separately. With the South voting as a bloc and with eighteen northerners either going along or absenting themselves, the House agreed, by a mere three votes, to remove its slavery restriction provision. The outcome was touch and go until the final tally was counted.”93

The issues came to a head at the beginning of March.94 The anti-slavery forces were losing their stamina and their majority as the House voted 134-42 to replaced the Taylor Amendment with the Thomas Amendment. Carl Schurz wrote of Clay’s exercise of raw power in thwarting the intervention of Virginia Congressman John Randolph, an eccentric and quarrelsome politician whose antics alienated and aggravated Washington leaders for three decades. Randolph was a walking contradiction – personally antislavery but vehemently pro-states rights. Glover Moore argued that Randolph “was the most conspicuous of the disunionists. This picturesque and querulous descendant of Pocahontas opposed any compromise or concession to the North, declaring that ‘God has given us the Missouri and the devil shall not take it from us.’ As if anticipating the events of 1861, he formulated a plan by which all the Southern delegation should abandon Congress in a body, but it is not certain whether he made this rash proposal in 1820 or 1821.” 95 Randolph intended to thwart Clay, but instead was thwarted by the speaker. Schurz observed: “The bill passed on March 2. On the morning of March 3, John Randolph, having voted with the majority, offered a motion that the vote be reconsidered. Clay, as Speaker, promptly ruled the motion out of order ‘until the ordinary business of the morning, as prescribed by the rules of the House, should be disposed of.’ The House went on receiving and referring petitions. When petitions were called for from the members from Virginia, Randolph moved ‘that the House retain in their possession the Missouri bill until the period should arrive when, according to the rules of the House, a motion to reconsider should be in order.’ Speaker Clay ‘declared this motion out of order for the reason assigned on the first application of Mr. Randolph on this day.’ When the morning business was at last disposed of, Randolph ‘moved the House now to reconsider their vote of yesterday.’ Then Speaker Clay — so the record runs — ‘having ascertained the fact, stated to the House that the proceedings of the House on that bill yesterday had been communicated to the Senate by the clerk, and that, the bill not being in possession of the House, the motion to reconsider could not be entertained.’ The bill had been hurried up to the Senate while Speaker Clay was ruling Randolph's motions out of order. It is certain that a mere hint by the Speaker to the clerk would have kept the bill in the House. It is also probable, if not certain, that the first motion by Randolph, being heard by the clerk, would have had the same effect, had not that official received a hint from the Speaker, that he desired the bill to be hurried off, out of Randolph's reach. The history of the House probably records no sharper trick. 96

Southerners used the debate to justify slavery. “From the opinions expressed respecting the Southern States and the slaves there, it appears to me most clear that the members on the opposite side know nothing of the Southern States, their lands, products or slaves. Those who visit us, or go to the southward, find so great a difference that many of them remain and settle there,” argued South Carolina Congressman Charles Pinckney. “Sir, when we recollect that our former parent State was the original cause of introducing slavery into America, and that neither ourselves or ancestors are chargeable with it; that it cannot be got rid of without ruining the country, certainly the present mild treatment of our slaves is most honorable to that part of the country where slavery exists. Every slave has a comfortable house, is well fed, clothed, and taken care of; he has his family about him, and in sickness has the same medical aid as his master, and has a sure and comfortable retreat in his old age, to protect him against its infirmities and weakness. During the whole of his life he is free from care, that canker of the human heart, which destroys at least one half of the thinking part of mankind, and from which a favored few, very few, if indeed any, can be said to be free. Being without education, and born to obey, to persons of that description moderate labor and discipline are essential. The discipline ought to be mild, but still, while slavery is to exist, there must be discipline. In this state they are happier than they can possibly be if free. A free black can only be happy where he has some share of education and has been bred to a trade or some kind of business. The great body of slaves are happier in their present situation than they could be in any other, and the man or men who would attempt to give them freedom, would be their greatest enemies.”97

The President and the Presidency

President Monroe had twin sets of concerns – solving the Missouri problem and appeasing Virginia politicians. Historian Noble Cunningham noted that Monroe was “more actively engaged in discussions with members of Congress on the Missouri question than he disclosed to either Clay or Adams. He maintained particularly close contact with the president pro tempore of the Senate, James Barbour of Virginia. On February 1, 1820, Barbour had told the Senate: “But let us suppose [the South] will quietly submit to the wrongs you inflict, what must be their feelings friendly to union – to that harmony so essential to our common prosperity? What is the foundation of our connexion? The Federal compact? He must indeed, be profoundly ignorant of human nature, if he suppose the union reposes on such a foundation. No, sir, it is a common interest, and those kind and affectionate sentiments which the preservation by a parental government of that interest generates, form its prop and security. Withdraw these, you may preserve the form, but the vital part is gone.” 98 Cunningham wrote:

“On February 3, Monroe began a letter to Barbour by saying that he had reflected much on the subject of our conversation yesterday,’ and he ended by asking Barbour to dine with him that day. Also invited with representatives John Floyd of Virginia and Samuel Ringold of Maryland, along with ‘one or two more friends.’ The subject Barbour and Monroe had discussed was whether the admission of Maine should be made dependent on the admission of Missouri without restriction. In his letter of Barbour, Monroe gave his decided opinion that ‘the best course for our Union, and for that also of the Southern States, will be to separate the two questions at once, and to admit Maine.’ If delayed even for a few days, the opportunity would be lost, he warned, but if adopted immediately, it would put the southern members on high ground, reward the eastern members who had voted with the South against restrictions on Missouri, and ‘command the applause of the Union.’ The movement of events, however, was outpacing the president.”99

Historian James Schouler wrote about the final machinations that allowed the compromise’s passage: “The first day of Spring saw, therefore, the Missouri question brought to its crisis in Congress; the majorities of the two Houses diametrically opposed as to admitting that State with or without an anti-slavery condition. But the joint committee of conference were already at work, and the air was thick with rumors of a compromise. The very next day, in fact, March 2d, that compromise was effected; the Senate, in a word, carrying out their whole programme, which, in reality, embraced an offer of compromise through the Thomas amendment, yielding, nevertheless, a courteous separation of the Maine and Missouri bills, now that their junction remained a mere matter of form. The condition that Missouri should prohibit slavery by its constitution, and enter the Union virtually as a free State, a condition demanded by the previous and the present House, and the source of the whole controversy, was thus completely abandoned. Louisiana, Missouri, and prospectively Arkansas were yielded up to slave institutions; but, agreeably to the Thomas amendment, slavery was forever prohibited in the remaining part of the Louisiana cession lying north of latitude 36° 30'. The ponderous jaws of legislation, which usually grind so slowly, may be made to disgorge a session's grist in a few hours; and so was it now. In the Senate the Missouri bill from the House was amended by striking out the anti-slavery proviso, 27 to 15, Otis and King voting with the minority; and with the Thomas territorial amendment inserted the bill was returned to the House for concurrence. Simultaneously with its reappearance in that body, [Virginian David] Holmes, from the Committee of Conference, reported the compromise programme agreed upon, which, after a stormy debate, lasting until evening, prevailed. Eighteen northern men co-operated to carry it out, more in truth than were positively necessary; for the Taylor prohibition of slavery in Missouri which two days before had commanded a majority of nine on a line nearly geographical, was now discarded by 90 to 87. After this test of strength the Thomas proviso was easily carried, the vote standing 134 to 42, nearly all the northern members, in fact, accepting it while 37 of those voting against it were southerners who, like Randolph, denied altogether the right of Congress to put territorial restrictions upon slavery. The Maine bill being released from pledge the next day passed the Senate easily, on its distinct merits, and the two acts went at once to the President, that for the admission of Maine receiving his signature before night. Leap-year might have been thought a god-send to the northeastern community in this instance, for there was not another day to spare.”100

For Southerner slaveowners, the Missouri Compromise set a dangerous precedent and thus was dangerous politics. It was almost politically suicidal to support it. Sean Wilentz wrote: “Clay was fortunate to get a bare majority of southern congressmen to back the 36° 30' restriction. Those who went along with him were not quite as fortunate: more than two-thirds of the congressmen who took a hard line and voted against the Thomas proviso won reelection in 1832, compared to about two-fifths of those who supported it.”101 Henry Clay was pleased with his work. “I gave my consent to and employed my best exertions to produce this settlement of the question, and I shall be rejoiced if the community will sanction it. The question thus put at rest will I hope leave no bad consequences,” wrote Clay on March 4.102 Three days later, Clay wrote: “The settlement of the Missouri question I think is a happy thing; and I believe the arrangement which has been made a very good one. Yet there are some persons on each side of the question extremely dissatisfied with it.” In his 1852 eulogy of Clay, Abraham Lincoln summarized Clay’s role in the Missouri Compromise:

Mr. Clay was in congress, and, perceiving the danger, at once engaged his whole energies to avert it. It began, as I have said, in 1819; and it did not terminate till 1821. Missouri would not yield the point; and congress – that is, a majority in congress – by repeated votes, showed a determination to not admit the state unless it should yield. After several failures, and great labor on the part of Mr. Clay to so present the question that a majority could consent to the admission, it was, by a vote, rejected, and as all seemed to think, finally. A sullen gloom hung over the nation. All felt that the rejection of Missouri, was equivalent to a dissolution of the Union: because those states which already had, what Missouri was rejected for refusing to relinquish, would go with Missouri. All deprecated and deplored this, but none saw how to avert it. For the judgment of Members to be convinced of the necessity of yielding, was not the whole difficulty; each had a constituency to meet, and to answer to. Mr. Clay. though worn down, and exhausted, was appealed to by members, to renew his efforts at compromise. He did so, and by some judicious modifications of his plan, coupled with laborious efforts with individual members, and his own over-mastering eloquence upon the floor, he finally secured the admission of the State. Brightly and captivating as it had previously shown, it was now perceived that his great eloquence, was a mere embellishment, or, at most, but a helping hand to his inventive genius, and his devotion to his country in the day of her extreme peril.103

Signing the Legislation

Only a presidential signature was necessary for the compromise to take effect. Historian James Schouler noted that President Monroe had already “consulted the three ex-Presidents by letter.”104 Historian Sean Wilentz wrote: “At the White House, even before Thomas offered his amendment to the Senate, President Monroe, who fervently favored allowing slavery in Missouri – and believed that the controversy was a power play by his old foe DeWitt Clinton – kept close tabs on the Virginia delegation. He also quietly conferred with friendly northern congressmen, using patronage promises to seal their loyalty.” 105 Historian George Dangerfield noted that Monroe “was by nature inclined to maximize dangers first, and minimize them afterwards.”106

For Monroe, the crisis threatened both the Union and his reelection as President. “I have never known a question so menacing to the tranquility and even the continuance of our Union,” Monroe wrote to Thomas Jefferson on February 19, 1820. “All other subjects have given way to it, & appear to be almost forgotten. As however there is a vast portion of intelligence & virtue in the body of the people, & the bond of Union has heretofore prov'd sufficiently strong to triumph over all attempts against it, I have great confidence that this effort will not be less unavailing.”107 Unlike Jefferson, Monroe’s cabinet generally supported the legislation. “A motion for excluding slavery from it...has set the two sides of the House, slaveholders and non-slaveholders, into a violent flame against each other,” wrote Secretary of State John Quincy Adams of the legislation.108 Even future flamethrower John Calhoun, then the secretary of war, united behind the legislation.

President Monroe held a cabinet meeting on March 3, 1820 to ask for advice on whether the Missouri Compromise’s prohibition. All the Cabinet members agreed that Congress was within its constitutional rights to prohibit territorial slavery and that Missouri Compromise’s prohibition of slavery was constitutional. Historian Harry Ammon wrote: “The Secretaries were unanimous on the first point, although Adams detected some embarrassment on the part of his Southern colleagues at not finding the power specifically stated in the Constitution. They had to fall back on the clause empowering Congress to make needful regulations for the territories and other property of the Untied States. When Adams expressed the opinion that the word ‘forever’ in the passage prohibiting slavery north of the compromise line was binding on all future states organized in this region, a sharp exchange took place between him and Crawford, who thought his colleague sounded like Rufus King – a comparison not in the least offensive to the Secretary of State. The President and the Southern members of the Cabinet felt that the term was not applicable to future states, since it would be a limitation on their sovereignty. In view of the President’s obvious desire for unanimity, Calhoun suggested a rewording of the second question so that all could give an affirmative reply. In accordance with his proposal the Cabinet members were now asked whether the section containing the word ‘forever’ was in conflict with the Constitution. All agreed that it was not, but each interpreted the application as he saw fit.”109 Historian Kevin C. Gutzman noted that Monroe “accede[d] to John C. Calhoun’s advice and sign[ed] all three bills. Monroe agreed with Calhoun that the most important imperative in the Missouri Crisis was not to secure a theoretically satisfactory outcome but just to end the debate; that way, Calhoun advised, Americans might be permanently impressed with the idea that North and South were separate and irreconcilable.”110

Adams observed that he thought the Missouri Compromise “to be all that could be effected under the present Constitution, and from extreme unwillingness to put the Union at Hazard” he favored its approval. “But perhaps it would have been a wiser as well as a bolder course to have persisted in the restriction upon Missouri, till it should have terminated in a convention of the States to amend and revise the Constitution. This would have produced a new Union of thirteen or fourteen States unpolluted with slavery, with a great and glorious object to effect, namely, that of rallying to their standard the other States by the universal emancipation of their slaves. If the Union must be dissolved, slavery is precisely the question upon which it ought to break. For the present, however, this contest is laid asleep.”111 Scholar William Lee Miller noted that Adams and Calhoun conversed as they walked home. “After this meeting,” wrote Adams, “I walked home with Calhoun, who said that the principles which I had avowed were just and noble: but that in the Southern country, whenever they were mentioned, they were always understood as applying only to white men.” Adams concluded:

“I have favored this Missouri compromise, believing it to be all that could be effected under the present Constitution, and from extreme unwillingness to put the Union at hazard. But perhaps it would have been a wiser as well as a bolder course to have persisted in the restriction upon Missouri, till it should have terminated in a convention of the states to revise and amend the Constitution. This would have produced a new Union of thirteen or fourteen States, unpolluted with slavery, with a great and glorious object to effect; namely, that of rallying to their standard the other states by the universal emancipation of their slaves. If the Union must be dissolved, slavery is precisely the question upon which it ought to break. For the present, however, this contest is laid asleep.”112

“In approving the compromise, Monroe did so convinced that this was the only way in which the Union could be preserved,” wrote historian Harry Ammon. “The plot to dismember the Union, he wrote Jefferson, had only been prevented ‘by the patriotic devotion of several members in the non slave-owning states, who preferred the sacrifice of themselves at home, to a violation of the obvious principles of the Constitution.’”113 Monroe had a strong political consideration as he considered signing the legislation; 1820 was a presidential election year. Noble E. Cunningham noted: “After Thomas introduced his compromise proposal in the Senate, Clay reported a rumor that a caucus was to be held from nonslaveholding states to nominate some person for president in opposition to Monroe in the coming presidential election. ‘I hope there is no foundation for it,’ he wrote, ‘but if the question remains open I shall not be surprized at all at such an event.’”114 In Monroe’s home state, Virginia legislators were greatly upset by the proposed Thomas amendment and by President Monroe’s support of conciliation and compromise. Virginia Assemblyman Charles Yancey wrote Virginia Senator James Barbour from Richmond: “It is said by many that the President and others in power think more of their situations, than the best interest of the people whose rights are involved in the Missouri questions – harsh expressions are used in relation to you all. Some say you are all frightened.”115 Another Virginia politician, Henry St. George Tucker wrote Senator Barbour to protest the Thomas Amendment: “A compromise which gives up the fairest and largest part of the Western Territory and leaves to us a narrow slip intersected with mountains in one direction, destroyed by Earthquakes in another, and interspersed in a third with swamps and bayous, and infested with mosquitoes, and bilious diseases, never can be grateful to us.”116 Richmond Enquirer Editor Thomas Ritchie wrote against compromise: “And why yield. To save a Virginia President? Because these men tell us they will split the Union? And we are to yield in this panic – as we did in the embargo times. No, whatever be the consequence, let us do our duty. If they do put us under the ban of the constitution, it is far better for them to attempt it than for us to yield up our principles to our interests....As to disunion, if our Eastern brethren have made up their minds to it, deeply, solemnly as we should regret it, we must bow to their resolution – but let us adhere to justice and the constitution. They may outvote us; – but let us not bind ourselves by our own votes.”117

Madison was in a political box. He indeed considered a veto, writing in some unused notes: “That the proposed restriction to Territories which are to be admitted into the Union, if not in direct violation of the Constitution, IS REPUGNANT TO ITS PRINCIPLES, since it is intended to produce an effect on the future policy of the new States, operating unequally in regard to the original States – injuring those affected by it, in an interest protected from such injury by the Constitution, without benefiting any State in the Union; and that in this sense it is repugnant to the generous spirit which has...always existed and been cherished by the several States towards each other.” One historian noted that among the southern states, “Virginia was the most uncompromising, that in fact if it had depended upon her action, the issue of slavery instead of being postponed to 1861, would have been fought to a finish at this time.”118 Virginia legislators met in caucus on February 9 to decide on presidential electors.

The Virginians postponed action until February 17 when calmer heads prevailed and Monroe’s reelection was endorsed – probably under the false impression that the president would exercise his veto power. That endorsement cleared Monroe’s way to signing the legislation. Assemblyman Charles Yancey wrote Senator Barbour the day before the Richmond meeting: “The feeling which rose so high...I think is fast subsiding; distrust is giving way to more liberal and just views as the difficulties and dangers have been better understood at Washington, and I hope we shall go on quietly and settle all things as we ought in the caucus.”119 The same day, Virginia Chief Justice Spencer Roane warned Monroe: “In this distressing crisis it becomes us to be true to ourselves, and to the Constitution, and, if necessary, to die in the last ditch. Let us cherish, also, the western people, they have an identity of interests with us, and they also hold the Keys of the Mississippi. If driven to it, we can yet form with them a great nation.”120 The next day, Monroe’s son-in-law, George Hay, wrote him from Richmond: “I have never said how you would act, but simply that you would do your duty. The members have gone up to the caucus under a conviction that you will put your veto on this infamous cabal and intrigue, in all its forms and shapes. This I would certainly and promptly do. You may be injured in the northern and eastern States, but you will be amply repaid by the gratitude of the South.”121


The controversy did not end with Monroe’s signature. Historian Glover Moore wrote: “according to nearly every historian who has written on the subject, the compromise of 1820 would have effected a permanent settlement of the Missouri Controversy if the Missourians had not attempted to insert in their constitution a provision which prevented free Negroes and mulattoes from immigrating to the new state. Actually, it was not the Missourians but the slavery restrictionists who first revived the controversy after the passage of the compromise, and this they did long before the meeting of the Missouri constitutional convention and before any issue relating to free Negroes and mulattoes had arisen. The leadership in the revival of the controversy was assumed by the same general group (though not in all cases the same individuals) which had organized the antislavery meetings in the fall of 1819 – the Federalist and Clintonian philanthropists and politicians of the Middle states.”122 The issue was revisited in 1821 when Congress faced the clause in the Missouri constitution that prohibited free blacks from entering Missouri. Clay again led a solution to the crisis by drafting language that the constitution’s language “shall never be construed to authorize the passage of any law.. By which any citizen, of either of the states in this Union, shall be excluded from the enjoyment of any of the privileges and immunities to which such citizen is entitled under the constitution of the United States.” The wording was, wrote historian Robert Pierce Forbes, “a landmark in deliberately obfuscatory legislative language.123 Historian Don E. Fehrenbacher argued that the decision of 1821 “basically obfuscated the question at hand simply to restore peace. By that point, antislavery fervor in Congress was spent, and the relative calm that earlier had characterized congressional discourse on slavery returned.”124 The issue of black citizenship would not be resolved until the Civil War.

The Missouri Compromise had been built on a rickety structure of political support. Historian Sean Wilentz argued: “What occurred in 1820 and 1821 was not a genuine compromise so much as it was a cleverly managed political deal, patched together by moderate leaders frightened by the depth of sectional antagonisms, yet unable to achieve genuine sectional accord. By pushing the two halves of the compromise through the house on separate votes, Clay helped to create an exaggerated sense of amity. Antislavery Republican representatives had not at all been cowed by a recalcitrant South, as John Randolph claimed, and neither had their constituents.”125 Historian Don E. Fehrenbacher wrote: “In previous debates on slavery in the territories, as we have seen, the constitutional power of Congress had scarcely come into question. But the Tallmadge amendment was more difficult to justify in constitutional terms because it proposed to place on one state a disability not placed on all states. And beyond the question of whether Congress had the power to impose such a discriminatory restriction lay the question of how the restriction could be enforced after Missouri became a sovereign state.”126

The arguments of 1820 presaged the arguments of the next four decades. “The discussion on the Missouri question has undoubtedly contributed to weaken in some degree the attachment of our southern and western people to the Union; but the agitators of that question have, in my opinion, not only completely failed; but have destroyed to a great extent their capacity for future mischief,” wrote John C. Calhoun to Andrew Jackson in June 1820. 127 Future President Jackson saw the issue clearly, writing a friend in April: “The Missouri question so called, has agitated the public mind, and what I sincerely regret and never expected, but what now I see, will be the entering wedge to separate the union. [I]t is even more wicked, it will excite those who is the subject of discussion [slaves] to insurrection and masacre [sic]. [I]t is a question of political ascendancy, and power, and the Eastern interests are determined to succeed regardless of the consequences, the constitution or our national happiness. [It] will find the southern and western states equally resolved to support their constitutional rights. I hope I may not live to see the evills [sic] that may grow out of this wicked design of demagogues, who talk about humanity, but whose sole object is self agrandisement [sic] regardless of the happiness of the nation.” 128 The reality was more complicated than Jefferson’s analysis. Historian Merrill D. Peterson wrote: “No politician could regard the Missouri Question as simply a moral issue. Clay did not. His own anti-slavery principles enabled him to appreciate the higher motives of the restrictionists, however. As a personal matter, he told the restrictionists, he not only opposed slavery in Missouri but would be willing for Congress to confer freedom on any slave henceforth imported into the new state provided there was authority to enforce the decree.”129 Clay had postponed but not eliminated a crisis. Historian Walter McDougall wrote: “The events of 1820 made inevitable none of the decisions or flights from decision made by Americans later. It can be said, however, Clay purchased valuable time during which the North industrialized and the Middle West matured.”130 Historian Robert Pierce Forbes wrote that “the Missouri controversy can perhaps best be understood as a flash of lightning that illuminated the realities of sectional power in the United States and ignited a fire that smoldered for a generation.” 131

In the North, Rufus King was closer to the truth when he wrote on March 18 that “the Missouri question...is given out to be settled, but nothing is less true. Its influence will increase, its magnitude.”132 Indeed, some northerners saw the measure as a defeat for their antislavery position and restriction of slavery’s expansion: “We have after all our labour & our exertions lost the restriction on the Missouri bill,” wrote New Hampshire Congressman William Plumer, Jr.. “The Southern & Western people talked so much, threatened so loudly, and predicted such dreadful consequences from the success of our measures that they fairly frightened our weak-minded members into an abandonment of this most important & salutary measure.”133

Some saw the Missouri Compromise as a southern victory because Missouri was admitted to the Union. “Following the Missouri Compromise, Americans in general, other than those of a firm antislavery persuasion, seemed to subscribe to a new southern understanding that the Declaration of Independence did not in fact proclaim universal human rights, but rather applied to whites alone,” wrote historian Don E. Fehrenbacher.134 134 “I hasten to inform that this moment WE have carried the question to admit Missouri, and all Louisiana to the southward of 36 30', free from the restriction of slavery, and give the South, in a short time, an addition of six, perhaps eight, members of the Senate of the United States. It is considered here by the slaveholding States, as a great triumph,” wrote a South Carolina Congressman on March 2. 135 Later, Missouri politician Thomas Hart Benton wrote of the southern supporters of the legislation:

This array of names shows the Missouri compromise to have been a Southern measure, and the event put the seal upon that character by showing it to be acceptable to the South. But it had not allayed the Northern feeling against an increase of slave States, then openly avowed to be a question of political power between the two sections of the Union. The State of Missouri made her constitution, sanctioning slavery, and forbidding the legislature to interfere with it. This prohibition, not usual in State constitutions, was the effect of the Missouri controversy and of foreign interference, and was adopted for the sake of peace—for the sake of internal tranquillity—and to prevent the agitation of the slave question, which could only be accomplished by excluding it wholly from the forum of elections and legislation. I was myself the instigator of that prohibition, and the cause of its being put into the constitution—though not a member of the convention—being equally opposed to slavery agitation and to slavery extension. There was also a clause in it, authorizing the legislature to prohibit the emigration of free people of color into the State; and this clause was laid hold of in Congress to resist the admission of the State. It was treated as a breach of that clause in the federal constitution, which guarantees equal privileges in all the States to the citizens of every State, of which privileges the right of emigration was one; and free people of color being admitted to citizenship in some of the States, this prohibition of emigration was held to be a violation of that privilege in their persons. But the real point of objection was the slavery clause, and the existence of slavery in the State, which it sanctioned, and seemed to perpetuate. The constitution of the State, and her application for admission, was presented by her late delegate and representative elect, Mr. John Scott; and on his motion, was referred to a select committee. Mr. Lowndes, of South Carolina, Mr. John Sergeant, of Pennsylvania, and General Samuel Smith, of Maryland, were appointed the committee; and the majority being from slave States, a resolution was quickly reported in favor of the admission of the State. But the majority of the House being the other way. the resolution was rejected, 79 to 83—and by a clear slavery and anti-slavery vote, the exceptions being but three, and they on the side of admission, and contrary to the sentiment of their own State. A second resolution to the same effect passed the Senate, and was again rejected in the House. A motion was then made in the House by Mr. Clay to raise a committee to act jointly with any committee which might be appointed by the Senate, "to consider and report to the Senate and the House respectively, whether it be expedient or not, to make provision for the admission of Missouri into the Union on the same footing as the original States, and for the due execution of the laws of the United States within Missouri and if not, whether any other, and what provision adapted to her actual condition ought to be made by law." This motion was adopted by a majority of nearly two to one—101 to 55—which shows a large vote in its favor from the non-slaveholding States. Twentythree, being a number equal to the number of the States, were then appointed on the part of the House, and were: Messrs. Clay, Thomas W. Cobb, of Georgia; Mark Langdon Hill, of Massachusetts; Philip P. Barbour, of Virginia; Henry R. Storrs, of New-York; John Cocke, of Tennessee, Christopher Rankin, of Mississippi; William S. Archer, of Virginia; William Brown, of Kentucky; Samuel Eddy, from Rhode Island; William D. Ford, of New-York; William Culbreth, Aaron Hackley, of New-York; Samuel Moore, of Pennsylvania, James Stevens, of Connecticut; Thomas J. Rogers, from Pennsylvania; Henry Southard, of New-Jersey; John Randolph; James S. Smith, of North Carolina; William Darlington, of Pennsylvania; Nathaniel Pitcher, of New-York; John Sloan, of Ohio, and Henry Baldwin, of Pennsylvania. The Senate by a vote almost unanimous—29 to 7—agreed to the joint committee proposed by the House of Representatives; and Messrs. John Holmes, of Maine; James Barbour, of Virginia; Jonathan Roberts, of Pennsylvania; David L. Morril, of New-Hampshire; Samuel L. Southard, of New-Jersey; Colonel Richard M. Johnson, of Kentucky; and Rufus King, of New-York, to be a committee on its part. The joint committee acted, and soon reported a resolution in favor of the admission of the State, upon the condition that her legislature should first declare that the clause in her constitution relative to the free colored emigration into the State, should never be construed to authorize the passage of any act by which any citizen of either of the States of the Union should be excluded from the enjoyment of any privilege to which he may be entitled under the constitution of the United States; and the President of the United States being furnished with a copy of said act, should, by proclamation, declare the State to be admitted. This resolution was passed in the House by a close vote—86 to 82—several members from non-slaveholding States voting for it. In the Senate it was passed by two to one—28 to 14; and the required declaration having been soon made by the General Assembly of Missouri, and communicated to the President, his proclamation was issued accordingly, and the State admitted. And thus ended the “Missouri controversy," or that form of the slavery question which undertook to restrict a State from the privilege of having slaves if she chose. The question itself, under other forms, has survived, and still survives, but not under the formidable aspect which it wore during that controversy, when it divided Congress geographically, and upon the slave line. The real struggle was political, and for the balance of power, as frankly declared by Mr. Rufus King, who disdained dissimulation; and in that struggle the non-slaveholding States, though defeated in the State of Missouri, were successful in producing the "compromise," conceived and passed as a Southern measure. The resistance made to the admission of the State on account of the clause in relation to free people of color, was only a mask to the real cause of opposition, and has since shown to be so by the facility with which many States, then voting in a body against the admission of Missouri on that account, now exclude the whole class of the free colored emigrant population from their borders, and without question, by statute, or by constitutional amendment. For a while this formidable Missouri question threatened the total overthrow of all political parties upon principle, and the substitution of geographical parties discriminated by the slave line, and of course destroying the just and proper action of the federal government, and leading eventually to a separation of the States. It was a federal movement, accruing to the benefit of that party, and at first was overwhelming, sweeping all the Northern democracy into its current, and giving the supremacy to their adversaries. When this effect was perceived the Northern democracy became alarmed, and only wanted a turn or abatement in the popular feeling at home, to take the first opportunity to get rid of the question by admitting the State, and re-establishing party lines upon the basis of political principle. This was the decided feeling when I arrived at Washington, and many of the old Northern democracy took early opportunities to declare themselves to me to that effect, and showed that they were ready to vote the admission of the State in any orm which would answer the purpose, and save themselves from going so far as to lose their own States, and give the ascendant to their political adversaries. In the Senate, Messrs. Lowrie and Roberts, from Pennsylvania; Messrs. Morril and Parrott, from New-Hampshire; Messrs. Chandler and Holmes, from Maine; Mr. William Hunter, from Rhode Island; and Mr. Southard, from New-Jersey, were of that class; and I cannot refrain from classing with them Messrs. Horsey and Vandyke, from Delaware, which, though counted as a slave State, yet from its isolated and salient position, and small number of slaves, seems more justly to belong to the other side. In the House the vote of nearly two to one in favor of Mr. Clay's resolution for a joint committee, and his being allowed to make out his own list of the House committee (for it was well known that he drew up the list of names himself, and distributed it through the House to be voted), sufficiently attest the temper of that body, and showed the determination of the great majority to have the question settled. Mr. Clay has been often complimented as the author of the "compromise" of 1820, in spite of his repeated declaration to the contrary, that measure coming from the Senate; but he is the undisputed author of the final settlement of the Missouri controversy in the actual admission of the State. He had many valuable coadjutors from the North—Baldwin, of Pennsylvania; Storrs and Meigs, of New-York; Shaw, of Massachusetts: and he had also some opponents from the South—members refusing to vote for the "conditional" admission of the State, holding her to be entitled to absolute admission— among them Mr. Randolph. I have been minute in stating this controversy, and its settlement, deeming it advantageous to the public interest that history and posterity should see it in the proper point of view; and that it was a political movement for the balance of power, balked by the Northern democracy, who saw their own overthrow, and the eventual separation of the States, in the establishment of geographical parties divided by a slavery and anti-slavery line. 136

In Virginia, of course, the threat to slavery and the South was seen most clearly. The Richmond Enquirer editorialized after the legislation’s passage: “Instead of joy, we scarcely ever recollect to have tasted a bitterer cup. We cannot chuckle over the prospect which this compromise presents to our comprehension. A constitution warped from its legitimate bearings, and an immense region of territory close for ever against the Southern and Western people – such is the ‘sorry sight’ which rises to our view....The Compromise which threw this city and this commonwealth into a flame, and suspended for a week the Electoral Caucus, is consummated. We submit. It is the duty of good citizens to hold by the sheet anchor, the law of the land, so long as it remains a law. We bow to it, though on no occasion with so poor a grace and so bitter a spirit.”137 James Madison thought the tempest would pass, writing that “occasional fevers” such as the Missouri legislation ‘are of the transient kind flying off thro’ the surface, without preying on the vitals.”138

Historian Leonard L Richards noted that there was some truth to Benton’s argument, writing that “without the South’s seventeen slave seats, the likelihood of Clay putting together a three-vote majority would have been slim at best.”139 The North had been aroused by the antislavery movement, but the south had been more aggressive in slavery’s defense. The debate over slavery had been nationalized. “The ‘Compromise’ altered American politics in two fa teful ways,” wrote historian Walter McDougall. “Having tasted northern bile over extension of slavery southern leaders found it almost impossible to countenance any enhancement o f federal power lest in the future it be trained against them. Having heard slavery condemned as evil, southern leaders felt compelled to portray it as a genuine boon while damning northern ‘wage slavery’ as evil.” 140 Historian Sean Wilentz wrote: “It has been said that had the Civil War broken out over the Missouri controversy, it would have amounted to a brawl on the floors of Congress, with the rest of the nation looking on perplexed. Certainly by 1821, the nation, in its second year of unprecedented hard times, welcomed the end of the congressional quarreling over slavery and the preservation of the Union. So did virtually all of the major figures who would dominate national politics over the coming two decades...Divided over other important issues – especially the questions of banking and economic development raised by the Panic of 1819 – they would prove effective at keeping the slavery issue out of national debates, at least until the early 1830s.”141

Although it resolved the dispute over slavery in the Louisiana Territory, the Missouri Compromise inadvertently undermined other elements of the American System which Henry Clay was developing. Historian Robert Forbes noted that "the Missouri crisis reignited generation-old fears among some slaveholders that the entire project of a strong national government posed a deadly threat to slavery. Coming on the heels of the Supreme Court's ruling in McCulloch v. Maryland, which gave wide latitude to federal power, former anti-Federalists and younger converts to the doctrine of strict construction now adamantly opposed any undertakings by the general government not explicitly stipulated by the Constitution – and even balked at some functions, such as instituting a national tariff, that the document expressly authorizes."142 Southerners feared that a federal government powerful enough to fund internal improvements would eventually be powerful enough to end slavery. Glover Moore wrote: “Judging by the vote in the Senate and House on the Missouri Compromise of 1820, it would appear that a majority of Southern congressmen were then willing to concede that Congress possessed the power to prohibit slavery in a territory. A considerable minority, however, refused to make even that concession.” 143 Rather than pacified, the South was panicked. The Founders in 1787 and the politicians of 1820 were trying to postpone a problem that would not go away. Historian James Roger Sharp wrote: “The Missouri Compromise, which ostensibly solved the issue of slavery in the Louisiana Territory by forbidding it north of 36º 30' latitude, rekindled Southerners’ deep fears about the safety of their peculiar institution and threatened to split the party along sectional lines. John Quincy Adams saw the political crisis arising from the issue as revolutionizing American politics and dividing the country into pro and antislavery parties.”144 Historian James Schouler wrote:

Viewed from the stand-point of a stern morality, the Missouri compromise must be pronounced a surrender to the slave power, the cowardly abandonment of a cause and occasion for which northern men might as well have drawn the sword then as did their posterity forty years later. But this point of view is not just to the honor and statesmanship of the times. The political evil was inherent in the constitution itself, which brought States slaveholding and non-slaveholding into indissoluble bonds, providing no radical means for assimilating their condition. The anti-slavery spirit of 1776 had died out, or rather had exhausted its power of persuading States to emancipate; a border line separated already the free and slave sections; and to extend that line beyond the Mississippi and perhaps ultimately to the Pacific had at length become a political necessity, with civil war for the most probable alternative. Latitude 36° 30' was not the established parallel throughout, though had Virginia followed the impulse of her better days it might have been, and it fairly marked the division of the Union at the cotton belt. In procuring the establishment of that parallel, freedom gained the first real territorial victory it had won since the adoption of the constitution; for the renown of the Ordinance of 1787 belongs justly to the old Continental Congress. This was a victory worth all the agitation it cost, and securing a new northwest territory to freedom. Whether a greater area might not have been rescued from bondage without hazarding fratricide and disunion we cannot assume to judge; perhaps the north would well have pressed opposition to the Missouri bill, long enough to see whether the south would not yield the whole remnant of the territory, Arkansas included; but it is certain that the Trimble amendment, which offered to test this point, was voted down in the Senate. Nor, in justice to the southern compromisers, should the ambiguous "forever," over which Monroe's cabinet differed so greatly, be taken for trickery. Not a State of this Union which once emancipated ever restored slavery afterwards or made serious attempt to do so; not one of the new States carved out of western territory once pledged to freedom ever deliberately as a State broke the fundamental terms upon which its admission was granted. The real mischiefs which the Missouri compromise engendered were these: the strife for political power between slavery and freedom which it sanctioned and perpetuated upon the broad national domain; the insatiate appetite for foreign acquisitions south of that line, whether by war or purchase, which it whetted; and finally, by suffering an immense State like Missouri, whose population near the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri rivers was sure to increase rapidly, to be set above the geographical latitude, the license it gave to the wolves of slavery to ravage among the scattered free soil settlers over its borders. Nevertheless this sectional compact was faithfully sustained for more than thirty years; it was broken at length not by those who had bound themselves to keep it, but by degenerate sons of freedom, by disciples also of the malignant John Randolph school who constantly stirred the south to believe that slavery should accept no territorial restraints at all. That perfidious rupture, as our later history will show, brought the north once more to its feet, as no other aggression of its rights could have done, and re-established party opposition on the geographical line; the south once more opposing its solid phalanx, for the preservation of its common interests, until crushed in the unequal contest thus provoked. Slavery and slaveholders went down in the dust together, and the American constitution became, what it never had been before, a charter of universal freedom.”145

Ironically for Missouri’s Benton, it was the South, not the North, that would seek to overturn the Missouri Compromise in 1854 with passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act. In the wake of the Missouri Compromise, Georgia’s Howell Cobb said: “You have kindled a fire that all the waters of the ocean cannot put out, which seas of blood can only extinguish.”146 Historian Glover Moore wrote: “So soon as the Missouri Controversy had subsided the public was happy to forget it for a season, and its immediate effect upon political parties was not great. Its significance lay rather in what it clarified and foreshadowed. It was an epitome of the entire sectional controversy between 1860, containing all of the important elements of previous and future antagonisms.” Moore contended that “the Missouri Controversy was the first occasion on which all of the strands in the fabric of North-South sectionalism were brought together and paraded before the public in magnitudinous proportions.” Moore wrote: “In the contest over Missouri foreshadowed the sectional tension of the forties and fifties, it also provided a formula by which this tension might be kept under control. The Missouri Compromise was probably the most satisfactory solution of a difficult problem that could have been devised at the time and under the circumstances.”147

Thomas Jefferson’s Reaction

The Missouri Compromise re-engaged the political energies of the surviving Founders. New York’s Rufus King was one of the few still to be active in Washington. Historian Don E. Fehrenbacher noted: “Outside of Congress, John Jay, also a northern Founding Father of renown, offered an ingenious constitutional argument. Focusing on Article I, Section 9, paragraph 1, relating to Congress’s power to restrict the importation of slaves after 1808, he claimed that Congress could ban the importation of slaves into the state of Missouri specifically.”148 In subsequent years, however, most historians’ attention focused on the reaction of Thomas Jefferson, whose attitudes toward slavery had always been ambiguous and contradictory. The Missouri Compromise revealed the depth of those contradictions. Fehrenbacher observed: “The strongest opposition to the 36° 30' restriction came from the state of Virginia. Both Virginia senators voted against it, and, in the House of Representatives, eighteen Virginians contributed almost half of all the negative votes. They received emphatic moral support from the two greatest living Virginians. Thomas Jefferson had virtually invented the idea of prohibiting slavery in the American West, but now, thirty-six years later, he opposed the restrictive portion of the Compromise, adducing the ‘diffusion’ argument that the expansion of slavery would ameliorate the condition of the slave.”149

Historian Garry Wills wrote that after passage of the Missouri Compromise restricting slavery, “Jefferson, in great agitation, denied that Congress had or could have any such power: ‘To Regulate the condition of the different descriptions of men composing a state...is certainly the exclusive right of every state, which nothing in the Constitution has taken from then and given to the general government.’ If Congress has no right to exclude slavery in any place where the inhabitants desire it, why did he say it had that right in 1784, when he drafted his Ordinance. Apologists for Jefferson have puzzled over this matter for years.”150 To former President Jefferson, the Missouri Compromise was an anathema and a political trick by old Federalists. Jefferson’s concept of the nation was under attack. Samuel Eliot Morison, Henry Steele Commager and William E. Leuchtenburg wrote: “Surviving Federalist politicians and Middle-State Republicans saw an opportunity to create a solid North; to ‘snatch the sceptre from Virginia for ever,’ as H. G. Otis said. ‘Federalism, wrote the aged Jefferson, ‘devised this decoy to draw off the weak and wicked from the Republican ranks....The East is replaced in the saddle of government, and the Middle States are to be the cattle yoked to their cart.’” The authors wrote: “When Congress again took up the question, in January 1820, enough Northern Republicans were detached from the anti-slavery bloc by fear of a Federalist renaissance, to get a compromise measure through.”151

Historian Joseph J Ellis wrote: “Missouri made the long-standing paradox of slavery that he had been living so deftly into an undeniable contradiction. He had all along been living a lie.”152 Missouri demonstrated the inherent contradictions of Jefferson’s beliefs and actions. Ellis wrote: “Or, in the same vein: ‘On the subject of emancipation I have ceased to think because [it is] not to be the work of my day.’ In terms of his legacy, and within the context of the silent sectional agreement shared by the leadership of the revolutionary generation, now passing away, this constituted a confession of failure. The enlightened southern branch of the revolutionary generation, which Jefferson unequivocally headed, had not kept its promise. The Missouri crisis made that unpalatable fact more obvious than ever before and made it more difficult, even for Jefferson, to avoid it unattractive implications.”153

In April 1820, Jefferson wrote of the Missouri Compromise: “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.”154 Historian Darren Staloff wrote: “In Jefferson’s view, the real object of opponents to Missouri’s admission as a slave state was power, pure and simple....In fact, the whole issue smacked of a sectional power grab by the northern states, a mere ‘trick of hypocrisy.’” 155 In late December, Jefferson wrote his former secretary of the Treasury, Albert Gallatin of the dispersion of slavery: “The Federalists, completely put down and despairing of ever rising again under the old divisions of Whig and Tory, devised a new one of slave-holding and non-slave-holding States, which, while it had a semblance of being moral, as at the same time geographical, and calculated to give them ascendency....Moral the question certainly is not, because the removal of slaves from one State to another, no more than their removal from one country to another, would never make a slave of one human being who would not be so without it. Indeed, if there were any morality in the question it is on the other side; because by spreading them over a larger surface their happiness would be increased, and burden of their future liberation lightened by bringing a greater number of shoulders under it. However, it served to throw dust into the eyes of the people and to fanaticize them, while to the knowing ones it gave a geographical and preponderant line of the Potomac and Ohio, throwing fourteen States to the North and East, and ten to the South and West. With these, therefore, it is merely a question of power; but with this geographical minority it is a question of existence. For if Congress once goes out of the Constitution to arrogate a right of regulating the condition of the inhabitants of the States, its majority may, and probably will, next declare that the condition of all men within the Untied States shall be that of freedom; in which case all the whites south of the Potomac and Ohio must evacuate their States, and most fortunate those who can do it first.” 156

On February 7, 1820, President Monroe had written Jefferson: “The Missouri question, absorbs by its importance, & the excit'ment it has produc'd, every other & there is little prospect, from present appearances of its being soon settled. The object of those, who brought it forward, was undoubtedly to acquire power, & the expedient well adapted to the end, as it enlisted in their service, the best feelings, of all that portion of our Union, in which slavery does not exist, & who are unacquainted with the condition of their Southern brethren. The same men, in some instances, who were parties to the project in 1786, for closing the mouth of the Mississippi for 25 years, may be consider'd as the Authors of this. The dismemberment of the Union by the Allegheny Mountains, was then believ'd to be their object; and altho' a new arrangement of powers, is more particularly sought on this occasion, yet it is believ'd, that the anticipation, of even that result, would not deter its Authors from the pursuit of it. I am satisfied that the bond of Union, is too strong for them, and that the better their views are understood, throughout the whole Union, the more certain will be their defeat in every part. It requires, however, great moderation, firmness, & wisdom, on the part of those opposed to the restriction, to secure a just result. These great & good qualities, will I trust, not be wanting.”157

Jefferson wrote Congressman John Homes in April: “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. I can say, with conscious truth, that there is not a man on earth who would sacrifice more than I would to relieve us from this heavy reproach, in any practicable way. The cession of that kind of property, for so it is misnamed, is a bagatelle which would not cost me a second thought, if, in that way, a general emancipation and expatriation could be effected; and, gradually, and with due sacrifices, I think it might be. But as it is, we have the wolf by the ears, and we can neither hold him, nor safely let him go. Justice is in one scale, and self-preservation in the other. Of one thing I am certain, that as the passage of slaves from one State to another, would not make a slave of a single human being who would not be so without it, so their diffusion over a greater surface would make them individually happier, and proportionally facilitate the accomplishment of their emancipation, by dividing the burthen on a greater number of coadjutors. An abstinence too, from this act of power, would remove the jealousy excited by the undertaking of Congress to regulate the condition of the different descriptions of men composing a State. This certainly is the exclusive right of every State, which nothing in the constitution has taken from them and given to the General Government. Could Congress, for example, say, that the non-freemen of Connecticut shall be freemen, or that they shall not emigrate into any other State?”

I regret that I am now to die in the belief, that the useless sacrifice of themselves by the generation of 1776, to acquire self-government and happiness to their country, is to be thrown away by the unwise and unworthy passions of their sons, and that my only consolation is to be, that I live not to weep over it. If they would but dispassionately weigh the blessings they will throw away, against an abstract principle more likely to be effected by union than by scission, they would pause before they would perpetrate this act of suicide on themselves, and of treason against the hopes of the world. To yourself, as the faithful advocate of the Union, I tender the offering of my high esteem and respect.158

It was not Jefferson’s style to get involved in contentious national issues when out of office. He did not like to be involved personally in controversy; he preferred others to do that work. Historian Roger G. Kennedy wrote: “Jefferson, still very much a force in the nation, might have influenced these narrow outcomes but chose not to do so. In fact, he used his influence on the side of the plantation owners, giving as his reason an abhorrence of the prospect of Congress drawing boundaries for slavery. He communicated that severe view to President James Monroe, who may have been a little surprised; as noted earlier, Monroe had been beside Jefferson...during the debates over limiting slavery in 1784, when Jefferson had taken the opposite view. Then, Merrill Peterson assures us, ‘slavery had become in his [Jefferson’s] mind a matter of fundamental national importance overriding questions of local autonomy.’ Then he had supported congressional action to decree ‘that after the year 1800...there shall be neither slavery nor involuntary servitude in any of the said states, otherwise than punishment for crimes, whereof the party shall have been convicted to have been personally guilty.’”159 Historian Alf J. Mapp, Jr., noted: “In February, the month in which a Missouri Compromise was attained under Henry Clay’s leadership, Jefferson wrote about slavery in his memoirs. The compromise did nothing to lessen his anxiety because, as he wrote Spencer Roane, the agreement had merely ‘smeared over’ the central issue. So Jefferson, in his memoirs, wrote of American blacks: ‘Nothing is more certainly written in the book of fate than that these people are to be free. Nor is it less certain that the two races, equally free, cannot live in the same government. Nature, habit, opinion has drawn indelible lines of distinction between them. It is still in our power to direct the process of emancipation and deportation peaceably and in such slow degree as that the evil will wear off insensibly, and their place be part pass filled up by free white laborers. If on the contrary it is left to force itself on, human nature must shudder at the prospect held up.’” 160

Jefferson might think emancipation inevitable, but he opposed the very means to prevent slavery’s extension. Historian Garry Wills wrote that after passage of the Missouri Compromise, “Jefferson, in great agitation, denied that Congress had or could have any such power.”161 In a letter to John Holmes on April 20, 1820, Jefferson wrote: “I had for a long time ceased to read the newspapers or pay any attention to public affairs, confident they were in good hands, and content to be a passenger in our bark to the shore from which I am not distant. 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 concieved [sic] and held up to the angry passions of men, will never be obliterated; and every new irritation will mark it deeper and deeper. I can say with conscious truth that there is not a man on earth who would sacrifice more than I would, to relieve us from this heavy reproach, in any practicable way, the cession of that kind of property, for so it is misnamed, is a bagatelle which would not cost me in a second thought, if, in that way, a general emancipation and expatriation could be effected: and, gradually, and with due sacrifices, I think it might be. but, as it is, we have the wolf by the ear, and we can neither hold him, nor safely let him go. Justice is in one scale, and self-preservation in the other. Of one thing I am certain, that as the passage of slaves from one state to another would not make a slave of a single human being who would not be so without it, so their diffusion over a greater surface would make them individually happier and proportionally facilitate the accomplishment of their emancipation, by dividing the burthen on a greater number of co-adjutors an abstinence too from this act of power would remove the jealousy excited by the undertaking of Congress, to regulate the condition of the different descriptions of men composing a state. this certainly is the exclusive right of every state, which nothing in the constitution has taken from them and given to the general government. could congress, for example say that the Non-freemen of Connecticut, shall be freemen, or that they shall not emigrate into any other state?”162

The threat that Jefferson perceived and feared was not just concerning slavery, but the ghosts of Federalists who had fallen into a shrinking political minority two decades earlier. The former president had a well-developed sensibility to lurking demons. Historian Roger G. Kennedy wrote: “What was the evil he had in mind, we may ask? Was it slavery? If so, why had he done nothing to prevent its spread since 1784? Perhaps the evil he imagined was the presence of people of color, whether slave or free. As noted in earlier pages, Jefferson could not accept the concept of a multiracial society wherein free people of color would coexist with free people of his complexion; he did not share the high opinion of free blacks asserted by ‘noisy pretenders to exclusive humanity.’”163 Kevin R. C. Gutzman wrote: “Jefferson’s devotion to the idea of colonizing as many American blacks as possible died only when he did....As Jefferson claimed to understand the matter, extension of the South’s peculiar institution would not increase the number of people held in slavery by even one, so the supposed moral issue involved in the campaign to keep slavery out of Missouri must be a mask for some other motive. He had no difficulty arriving at the conclusion that what lay at the root of anti-Missouri agitation was an attempt by Northern crypto-Federalists to resuscitate their moribund party. This they could achieve, Jefferson argued, by drawing a geographic line between the (minority) slaveholding section and the (majority) free section of the country. The Missouri Crisis was all about Federalist electoral machinations!” 164

Former President James Madison was also upset by the Thomas Amendment. Madison shared Jefferson’s preoccupation with Rufus King an a crypto-Federalist plot to undermine the Constitution. “It was perhaps predictable that Madison, like Jefferson, Taylor, and other elderly Republican figures, espied a Federalist plot behind the Missouri Crisis,” wrote Madison biographer Kevin R. Gutzman. “King’s prominent role in the anti-Missouri- leadership gave this hypothesis great weight, as King had been the Federalist presidential nominee in both 1812 and 1816.”165 Madison wrote Monroe: “The inflammatory conduct of Mr. King surprises every one. His general warfare agst. the slave-holding States, and his efforts to disparage the securities derived from the Const. were least of all to be looked for.”166 Madison wrote President Monroe on February 10 about its political implications: “I find the idea is fast spreading, that the zeal with which the extension (so called) of slavery is opposed, has, with the coalesced leaders, an object very different from the welfare of slaves, or the check to their increase; and that the real object is, as you intimate, to form a new state of parties founded on local instead of political distinctions; thereby dividing the Republicans of the North from those of the South, and making the former instrumental in giving the opponents of both an ascendancy over the whole. If this be the view of the subject at Washington, it furnishes an additional reason for a conciliatory proceeding in relation to Maine.”167 Ever the political theorist, Madison again wrote James Monroe nearly two weeks later: “As to the right of Congress to apply such a restriction during the territorial period, it depends on the clause specially providing for the management of those subordinate establishments.

On one side it naturally occurs, that the right, being given from the necessity of the case, and in suspension of the great principle of self-government, ought not to be extended further, nor continued longer, than the occasion might fairly require. On the other side, it cannot be denied that the constitutional phrase ‘to make all rules,’ &c., as expounded by uniform practice, is somewhat of a ductile nature, and leaves much to legislative discretion. 168

The Missouri controversy pushed together the disparate sections of the South into a more cohesive block. Historian George Dangerfield wrote: “In a sense, the Tallmadge Amendment, with its train of town-meetings, pamphlets, editorials, and debates summoned the South into being. No man could have said in 1819 what ‘the South’ was; still less could one have spoken of a typical Southerner. Those who dwelt south of the Mason-Dixon line might have been said to have, perhaps, a kind of climatic fellowship.” 169 Cotton had changed the economy of the Louisiana Purchase and was undermining the Jeffersonian ideal of a nation of yeoman farmers. Historian Roger G. Kennedy wrote: “The slave population of the Spanish possessions in the Mississippi Valley was confined within the immediate neighborhood of New Orleans and a few plantations along the Mississippi. There was very little agricultural servitude in the villages upriver. Had these enclaves been allowed to shrivel further, the valley might have been organized into free territories instead of slave territories.”170 It was not to be.

The Missouri Compromise would become Abraham Lincoln’s touchstone in his fight against the extension of slavery in 1854 after passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act. Historian Robert Pierce Forbes wrote: "Lincoln's approach to the question of slavery was carefully circumscribed. Initially, in fact, he stood aloof from the new Republican organization, until convinced that it would eschew abolitionism. Although he claimed to hate slavery as much as the abolitionists, Lincoln's approach to combating it consisted, almost entirely, in restricting it to the boundaries prescribed by the Missouri Compromise. In part, this circumspection reflected Lincoln's understanding of the constitutional limits to interference with slavery; but it was also true that he was confident that to limit slavery's expansion was to condemn it to extinction.”171 Eventually, the conflict over slavery’s expansion would lead to slavery’s demise.

For Further Reference:

  1. Noble E. Cunningham, Jr., Noble E. Cunningham, Jr., pp. 88-89.
  2. Garry Wills,“Negro President”: Jefferson and the Slave Power, p. 58.
  3. William Lee Miller, Arguing About Slavery: The Great Battle in the United States Congress, p. 182.
  4. Samuel Eliot Morison, Henry Steele Commager and William E. Leuchtenburg, editors, The Growth of the American Republic, Volume I, p. 397.
  5. George Dangerfield, The Era of Good Feelings, p. 205.
  6. James Albert Woodburn. The Historical Significance of the Missouri Compromise, p. 255.
  7. David S. Heidler and Jeanne T. Heidler, Henry Clay, The Essential America, p. 146.
  8. Marc Egnal, Clash of Extremes, p. 77.
  9. H. W. Brands, Andrew Jackson: A Life and Times, p. 353.
  10. Sean Wilentz, The Rise of American Democracy, p. 223.
  11. John C. Waugh, On the Brink of Civil War, p. 9.
  12. James Schouler, History of the United States, Volume IV, p. 203.
  13. W. Edwin Hemphill, “The Jeffersonian Background of the Louisiana Purchase, The Mississippi Valley Historical Review, September 1935, p. 190.
  14. Walter McDougall, Freedom Just Around the Corner, p. 470.
  15. Paul Finkelman and Donald R. Kennon, editors, Congress and the Emergence of Sectionalism from the Missouri Compromise to the Age of Jackson, pp. 82-83 (“Robert P. Forbes, “The Missouri Controversy and Sectionalism”).
  16. Don E. Fehrenbacher, The Dred Scott Case: Its Significance in American Law and Politics, pp. 100-101.
  17. Noble E. Cunningham, Jr., The Presidency of James Monroe, p. 87.
  18. Thomas Crump, Abraham Lincoln’s World: How Riverboats, Railroads, and Republicans Transformed America, pp. 112-113.
  19. Glover Moore, The Missouri Controversy, 1819-1821, p. 18.
  20. Leonard Richards, The Slave Power: The Free North and Southern Domination, p. 52.
  21. Walter McDougall, Freedom Just Around the Corner, p. 468.
  22. Don E. Fehrenbacher, The Slaveholding Republic, p. 263.
  23. Walter McDougall, Freedom Just Around the Corner, p. 468.
  24. Junius P. Rodriguez, The Louisiana Territory, p. 228.
  25. James Schouler, History of the United States, Volume IV, p. 149.
  26. James Schouler, History of the United States, Volume IV, pp. 150-151.
  27. James Albert Woodburn, “The Historical Significance of the Missouri Compromise,” Journal of the American Historical Association, 1894, p. 256.
  28. Glover Moore, The Missouri Controversy, pp. 50-51.
  29. Carl Schurz, The Life of Henry Clay, p. 172.
  30. Don E. Fehrenbacher, The Dred Scott Case: Its Significance in American Law and Politics, p. 101.
  31. Carl Schurz, Life of Henry Clay, Volume I, p. 177.
  32. Walter McDougall, Freedom Just Around the Corner, pp. 468-469.
  33. Leonard Richards, The Slave Power: The Free North and Southern Domination, p. 53.
  34. Peter Marshall and David Manuel, From Sea to Shining Sea: 1787-1837, p. 239.
  35. Noble Cunningham, Jr., The Presidency of James Monroe, p. 88.
  36. Marc Egnal, Clash of Extremes, p. 74.
  37. William O. Blake, The History of Slavery and the Slave Trade, Ancient and Modern, p. 479.
  38. Walter McDougall, Freedom Just Around the Corner, p. 469.
  39. Daniel Walker Howe, Missouri, “Slave or Free?,” American Heritage, Summer 2010, pp. 21-22.
  40. James Albert Woodburn. The Historical Significance of the Missouri Compromise, p. 256.
  41. Horace Greeley, A History of the Struggle for Slavery Extension or Restriction in the United States, pp. 13-16.
  42. Noble E. Cunningham, Jr., Presidency of James Monroe, p. 88.
  43. Robert D. Reid, "Review of The Missouri Controversy 1819-1821,” Journal of Negro History, January 1954, p. 66.
  44. Shaw Livermore, Jr., The Twilight of Federalism: The Disintegration of the Federalist Party, p. 90.
  45. Glover Moore, The Missouri Controversy 1819-1821, p. 178.
  46. Shaw Livermore, Jr., The Twilight of Federalism: The Disintegration of the Federalist Party, p. 89.
  47. (Letter from Hugh Nelson to William C. Rives, February 17, 1820).
  48. Don E. Fehrenbacher, The Dred Scott Case: Its Significance in American Law and Politics, p. 104.
  49. Harry Ammon, James Monroe: The Quest for National Identity, p. 454.
  50. Rufus King, Papers Relative to the Restriction of Slavery: Speeches of Mr. King in the House of Representatives, p. 3.
  51. James Schouler, History of the United States, Volume IV, pp. 153-155.
  52. Marc Egnal, Clash of Extremes: The Economic Origins of the Civil War, p. 73.
  53. Carl Schurz,Life of Henry Clay, Volume I, pp. 172-173.
  54. Don E. Fehrenbacher, The Dred Scott Case: Its Significance in American Law and Politics, p. 105.
  55. James Albert Woodburn, The Historical Significance of the Missouri Compromise, pp. 256-258.
  56. Sean Wilentz, The Rise of American Democracy: Jefferson to Lincoln, pp. 228-229.
  57. Glover Moore, The Missouri Controversy, pp. 67-83.
  58. Don E. Fehrenbacher, The Dred Scott Case: Its Significance in American Law and Politics, p. 106.
  59. Worthington Chauncey Ford, John Quincy Adams: His Connection with the Monroe Doctrine, p. 80.
  60. James Albert Woodburn. The Historical Significance of the Missouri Compromise, pp. 257-258.
  61. Glover Moore, The Missouri Controversy, 1819-1821, p. 84.
  62. Walter McDougall, Freedom Just Around the Corner, p. 469.
  63. (Letter from James Monroe to George Hay, January 10, 1820).
  64. (Letter from Henry Clay to John J. Crittenden, January 29, 1820).
  65. Glover Moore, The Missouri Controversy, 1819-1821, p. 92.
  66. Glover Moore, The Missouri Controversy, 1819-1821, p. 85.
  67. Glover Moore, The Missouri Controversy, 1819-1821, p. 282.
  68. Glover Moore, The Missouri Controversy, 1819-1821, p. 87.
  69. (Letters from William Plumer, Jr. To William Plumer, March 4, 1820).
  70. (Letter from James Monroe to George Hay, January 5, 1820).
  71. Glover Moore, The Missouri Controversy, 1819-1821, p. 92.
  72. Paul Johnson, A History of the American People, p. 324.
  73. Harry L. Watson, Andrew Jackson vs. Henry Clay: Democracy and Development in Antebellum America, p. 58.
  74. Merrill D. Peterson, The Great Triumvirate: Webster, Clay and Calhoun, p. 59.
  75. Harry Ammon, James Monroe: The Quest for National Identity, p. 454.
  76. Walter A. McDougall, Freedom Just Around the Corner: A New American History,, 1585-1828, p. 470.
  77. H. W. Brands, Andrew Jackson: A Life and Times, p. 354.
  78. Robert V. Remini, Henry Clay: Statesman for the Union, p. 182.
  79. Merrill D. Peterson, The Great Triumvirate: Webster, Clay and Calhoun, p. 60.
  80. Robert V. Remini, Henry Clay: Statesman for the Union, p. 181.
  81. Walter A. McDougall, Freedom Just Around the Corner: A New American History,, 1585-1828, p. 470.
  82. Merrill D. Peterson, The Great Triumvirate: Webster, Clay and Calhoun, pp. 60-61, 63.
  83. Allan Nevins, The Diary of John Quincy Adams, p. 103.
  84. George Dangerfield, The Era of Good Feelings, p. 225.
  85. Carl Schurz, Life of Henry Clay, Volume I, pp. 177-182
  86. Glover Moore, The Missouri Controversy, 1819-1821, p. 89.
  87. Don E. Fehrenbacher, The Dred Scott Case: Its Significance in American Law and Politics, p. 108.
  88. Walter A. McDougall, Freedom Just Around the Corner: A New American History,, 1585-1828, pp. 470-471.
  89. Merrill D. Peterson, The Great Triumvirate: Webster, Clay and Calhoun, pp. 63-64.
  90. H. W. Brands, Andrew Jackson: A Life and Times, p. 355.
  91. Leonard L Richards, The Slave Power, p. 78.
  92. Robert V. Remini, Henry Clay: Statesman for the Union, p. 183.
  93. Sean Wilentz, The Rise of American Democracy: Jefferson to Lincoln, pp. 232-233.
  94. James Albert Woodburn, The Historical Significance of the Missouri Compromise, pp. 256-258.
  95. Glover Moore, The Missouri Controversy, p. 93.
  96. Carl Schurz, Life of Henry Clay, Volume I, pp. 177-182
  97. http://college.cengage.com/history/ayers_primary_sources/pickney_speech_congress.htm
  98. (Speech of James Barbour, February 1, 1820).
  99. Noble Cunningham, Jr., The Presidency of James Monroe, p. 98.
  100. James Schouler, History of the United States, pp. 164-165.
  101. Sean Wilentz, The Rise of American Democracy, p. 237.
  102. (Letter from Henry Clay to Adam Beatty, March 4, 1820).
  103. Roy P. Basler, editor, Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, Volume II, p. 129 (Eulogy of Henry Clay, July 6, 1852).
  104. James Schouler, History of the United States, p. 166.
  105. Sean Wilentz, The Rise of American Democracy: Jefferson to Lincoln, p. 233.
  106. George Dangerfield, The Era of Good Feelings, p. 229
  107. (Letter from Thomas Jefferson to James Monroe, February 19, 1820).
  108. Harlow Giles Unger, The Last Founding Father: James Monroe and a Nation’s Call to Greatness, p. 297.
  109. Harry Ammon, James Monroe: The Quest for National Identity, p. 457.
  110. Kevin C. Gutzman, James Madison and the Making of America, p. 339.
  111. Ellen Mackay (Hutchinson) Cortissoz, Arthur Stedman, editors, A Library of American Literature: Literature of the Republic, Part. 1, 1788-1820, Volume IV, p. 233.
  112. Charles Francis Adams, editor, Memoirs of John Quincy Adams, Comprising Portions of his Diary from 1795 to 1848, vol. 5, 1875, pp. 11-12.
  113. Harry Ammon, James Monroe: The Quest for National Identity, p. 458.
  114. Noble E. Cunningham, Jr., The Presidency of James Monroe, p. 98.
  115. (Letter from Charles Yancey to James Barbour, February 9, 1820).
  116. (Letter from Henry St. George Tucker to James Barbour, February 11, 1820).
  117. (Richmond Enquirer, February 10, 1820).
  118. “Missouri Compromise,” The William and Mary Quarterly, July 1901, p. 6.
  119. (Letter from Charles Yancey to James Barbour, February 16, 1820).
  120. (Letter from Spencer Roane to James Monroe, February 16, 1820).
  121. (Letter from George Hay to President Monroe, February 17, 1820).
  122. Glover Moore, The Missouri Controversy, 1819-1821, p. 129.
  123. Robert Pierce Forbes, The Missouri Compromise and Its Aftermath, p. 118.
  124. Don E. Fehrenbacher, The Slaveholding Republic, p. 265.
  125. Sean Wilentz, The Rise of American Democracy, pp. 236-237.
  126. Don E. Fehrenbacher, The Dred Scott Case: Its Significance in American Law and Politics, p. 103.
  127. (Letter from John Calhoun from Andrew Jackson, June 1, 1820).
  128. (Letter from Andrew Jackson to A. J. Donelson, April 16, 1820).
  129. Merrill D. Peterson, The Great Triumvirate: Webster, Clay and Calhoun, p. 59.
  130. Walter A. McDougall, Freedom Just Around the Corner: A New American History,, 1585-1828, p. 472.
  131. Robert Pierce Forbes, The Missouri Compromise and its Aftermath, p. 5.
  132. (Letter from Rufus King to J.A. King, March 18, 1820).
  133. (Letter of William Plumer, Jr. To William Plumer, March 4, 1820).
  134. Don E. Fehrenbacher, The Slaveholding Republic, p. 266.
  135. (Letter from Charles Pinckney to unknown, March to 2, 1820).
  136. Thomas Hart Benton, Thirty Years’ View, pp. 8-10.
  137. (Richmond Enquirer, March 7, 1820).
  138. (Letter from James Madison to Marquis de Lafayette, November 25, 1820).
  139. Leonard L Richards, The Slave Power, p. 80.
  140. Walter A. McDougall, Freedom Just Around the Corner: A New American History,, 1585-1828, pp. 471-472.
  141. Sean Wilentz, The Rise of American Democracy, p. 236.
  142. Robert Pierce Forbes, The Missouri Compromise and Its Aftermath, pp. 6-7.
  143. Glover Moore, The Missouri Controversy, p. 63.
  144. James Roger Sharp, American Politics in the Early Republic: The New Nation in Crisis, p. 284.
  145. James Schouler, History of the United States, Volume IV, pp. 171-173.
  146. http://www.visitthecapitol.gov/Exhibitions/online/1815-to-1851/house-1815-1851/a-fire-bell-in-the-night.html
  147. Glover Moore, The Missouri Controversy, 1819-1821, pp. 343, 350.
  148. Don E. Fehrenbacher, The Slaveholding Republic, p. 264.
  149. Don E. Fehrenbacher, The Dred Scott Case: Its Significance in American Law and Politics, p. 110.
  150. Garry Wills, “Negro President”: Jefferson and the Slave Power, p. 24
  151. Samuel Eliot Morison, Henry Steele Commager and William E. Leuchtenburg, editors, The Growth of the American Republic, Volume I, p. 298.
  152. Joseph J. Ellis, American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson, p. 270.
  153. Joseph J. Ellis, American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson, p. 268
  154. (Letter from Thomas Jefferson to John Holmes, April 22, 1820).
  155. Darren Staloff, Hamilton, Adams, Jefferson: The Politics of Enlightenment and the American Founding, p. 35
  156. 3.
  157. (Letter from Thomas Jefferson to Albert Gallatin, December 26, 1820).
  158. (Letter from James Monroe to Thomas Jefferson, February 7, 1820).
  159. (Letter from Thomas Jefferson to John Holmes, April 22, 1820)
  160. Roger G. Kennedy, Mr Jefferson’s Lost Cause: Land, Farmers, Slavery, and the Louisiana Purchase, p. 214.
  161. Alf J. Mapp, Jr., Thomas Jefferson: Passionate Pilgrim: The Presidency, the Founding of the University and the Private Battle, p. 305.
  162. Garry Wills, “Negro President”: Jefferson and the Slave Power, p. 24.
  163. (Letter from Thomas Jefferson to Thomas Holmes, April 20, 1820).
  164. Roger G. Kennedy, Mr Jefferson’s Lost Cause: Land, Farmers, Slavery, and the Louisiana Purchase, p. 214.
  165. Brian R. Dirck, editor, Lincoln Emancipated: The President and the Politics of Race, pp. 61-62 (Kevin R. C. Gutzman, “Abraham Lincoln, Jeffersonian”).
  166. Kevin R. Gutzman, James Madison and the Making of Americ, p. 340.
  167. (Letter from James Madison to James Monroe, February 23, 1820).
  168. (Letter from James Madison to James Monroe, February 10, 1820).
  169. (Letter from James Madison to James Monroe, February 23, 1820).
  170. George Dangerfield, The Era of Good Feelings, p. 204.
  171. Roger G. Kennedy, Mr. Jefferson’s Lost Cause: Land, Farmers, Slavery, and the Louisiana Purchase, p. 208.
  172. Robert Pierce Forbes, The Missouri Compromise and Its Aftermath, pp. 284-285.
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