Missouri Bicentennial Minutes: The Missouri Compromise

Mar 26, 2020

Welcome to the Missouri Bicentennial Minute from the State Historical Society of Missouri. I’m Bill Eddleman.

The Congressional debate on the petition for Missouri Statehood continued in late 1819 and early 1820. Legislators introduced enabling bills in both houses of Congress, and Southerners made it clear they would block the application of Maine for statehood as part of the impasse.

The House had a plurality of representatives against slavery, while Senators balanced evenly on slavery. In December 1819, Speaker of the House Henry Clay proposed the admission of Missouri as a slave state, and Maine as a free state. The Senate added another provision to the statehood bill in February 1820, banning slavery west of the Mississippi River and north of 36 degrees 30 minutes north latitude, Missouri’s southern border. The provision exempted Missouri. Thus, the two key provisions of the Missouri Compromise came about.

The Senate version of the bill received approval by the House on March 3, and President Monroe signed it into law on March 7. In the aftermath of the passing of the statehood bill and the Missouri Compromise, former President Thomas Jefferson prophetically wrote to his friend John Holmes on April 22, 1820, that “…this momentous question, like a fire bell in the night, awakened and filled me with terror. I considered it at once as the knell of the Union. It is hushed indeed for the moment, but this is a reprieve only, not a final sentence. A geographical line, coinciding with a marked principle, moral and political, once conceived and held up to the angry passions of men, will never be obliterated, and every new irritation will mark it deeper and deeper.”