Missouri Compromise 1820

The Missouri Compromise of 1820 was an act of Congress, signed by U.S. President James Monroe on March 6, 1820.

The issue was slavery. The United States didn't settle in favor for or against slavery, but with a compromise.

Congressman Henry Clay from Kentucky gets most of the credit for bringing about the Missouri Compromise of 1820.


John Quincy Adams called it "a title-page to a great tragic volume."

Unfortunately, Adams was right.

In a Nutshell

The territory of Missouri tried unsuccessfully to join the Union, because Congress was gridlocked over a possible anti-slavery amendment to Missouri's new state constitution.

Why the gridlock?

The United States at the time consisted of 22 states that were evenly divided on the matter: 11 free states and 11 slave states. An additional slave state, therefore, would have tipped the balance.

A solution presented itself when Maine wanted to break away from Massachusetts and become a state as well.

The compromise was to accept Missouri as a slave state and Maine as a free state.

Monroe signed the bill on March 6, 1820.

Maine became the 23rd state to join the Union on March 15, 1820.

Missouri became the 24th state to join the Union on August 10, 1821. Missouri's admission was delayed because it had a problem with the concept of free blacks. Once it was agreed that free blacks would be treated as regular citizens, statehood was granted.


The Missouri Compromise Line

In addition, the Missouri Compromise of 1820 disallowed slavery in all new territory that was acquired by the Louisiana Purchase and situated north of the 3630' parallel, with the exception of Missouri.

3630' latitude corresponds with Missouri's southern border. See map below.

The Missouri Compromise of 1820 was repealed by the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854.



The United States BEFORE the Missouri Compromise of 1820 - University of Oregon
Map of the United States BEFORE the Missouri Compromise of 1820
Copyright University of Oregon


Map of the United States AFTER the Missouri Compromise of 1820 - University of Oregon
Map of the United States AFTER the Missouri Compromise of 1820
Illustrating the parallel at 3630', which corresponds
with the southern border of Missouri.
Copyright University of Oregon


And one more map:

Slavery and Emancipation in the United States, 1777-1865. Inset: The Region South of the Great Lakes.
1777-1865 United States Slavery and Emancipation



Missouri and Observations by Experts

People who had a clue, knew that the Missouri question was bad news.

On April 22, 1820,
Thomas Jefferson wrote to John Holmes 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.

And the following is John Quincy Adams' journal entry from January 10, 1820:

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 title-page 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.



Go here for the Missouri Compromise page, provided by the University of Oregon.

Here is the text of the Missouri Compromise of 1820, provided by the Library of Congress.

Here is more on the American Civil War.

And here is more on Slavery and Abolition.



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