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The Missouri Compromise


Part 2: The Solution

Abolitionists wanted slavery outlawed everywhere, and they were willing to resort to violence to get what they wanted. Many slave owners and even non-slave-owning Southerners were willing to fight to keep what they thought was their right to own slaves if they chose. The country, only five years removed from a victory (again) over Great Britain, was close to going to war with itself.

So how did Congress solve this growing problem? By compromising. Because both sides were on opposite sides of the issue, both sides couldn't be satisfied by the same outcome. So Congress gave both sides something: Each side got a new state.

Maine applied for statehood about the same time, and both were eventually admitted to the Union, Maine as a free state and Missouri as a slave state.

The Missouri Compromise, as it was called, found its greatest champion in Henry Clay, who was at that time the Speaker of the House. A War Hawk from his days advocating war with Great Britain, he tried desperately to keep the North and South from fighting over the slavery issue. Largely because of Clay's efforts, the Missouri Compromise went into effect.

Here are some details of the Compromise:

  • Missouri was admitted as a slave state
  • Maine was admitted as a free state
  • Slavery was forbidden north of the 36 degree latitude mark, the southern boundary of Missouri.
  • People in the North were encouraged to return runaway slaves to their masters.
  • Slavery was not prohibited anywhere, not even in the free territories.

The Missouri Compromise solved the immediate problem but didn't solve the slavery issue as a whole. As many people on both sides were sure, that would take a war.

First page > The Background > Page 1, 2

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