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Formation of the Union By Albert Bushnell Hart Characters: 5153

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


[Sidenote: Arkansas debate.]

The first step in the great slavery contest was a bill introduced into the House in December, 1818, providing a territorial government for Arkansas. Taylor of New York proposed that slavery be prohibited in the Territory; McLane of Delaware suggested the "fixing of a line on the west of the Mississippi, north of which slavery should not be tolerated." The test vote on the exclusion of slavery was a tie, and Clay, as Speaker, cast his vote against it. The new Territory lay west of the Mississippi, and adjacent to Louisiana. The Northern members were, therefore, not disposed to make the issue at that point, and on March 2, 1819, an Act was passed organizing Arkansas, with no mention of slavery. Meanwhile, Illinois had been admitted, making eleven free States.

[Sidenote: Proposed restriction on Missouri.]

Side by side with this debate had proceeded a discussion on the admission of Missouri as a State. On Feb. 13, 1819, Talmadge of New York proposed as an amendment "that the further introduction of slavery or involuntary servitude be prohibited, … and that all children of slaves born within the said State after the admission thereof into the Union shall be free." Missouri lay west of Illinois, which had just been admitted into the Union as a Free State; the Northern members, therefore, rallied, and passed the Talmadge amendment by a vote of eighty-seven to seventy-six. The Senate, by a vote of twenty-two to sixteen, refused to accept the amendment; there was no time for an adjustment, and Congress adjourned without action.

[Sidenote: Missouri bill.]

[Sidenote: Maine bill.]

[Sidenote: Compromise line.]

During 1819 the question was discussed throughout the Union. Several legislatures, by unanimous votes, protested against admitting a new Slave State, and when the new Congress assembled in 1819 it became the principal issue of the session. Alabama was at once admitted, restoring the balance of Slave and Free States. The people of Maine were now about to separate from Massachusetts, and also petitioned for entrance into the Union. A bill for this purpose passed the House on December 30, and a month later a bill for the admission of Missouri, with the Talmadge amendment, was also introduced into the House. The Senate, on Feb. 16, 1820, voted to admit Maine, provided Missouri was at the same time admitted as a Slave State. The House still refused to comply. Thomas of Illinois now proposed as a compromise the principle suggested by McLane a year earlier,-that an east and west line be drawn ac

ross the Louisiana cession, north of which slavery should be prohibited. Fourteen Northern members united with the seventy-six Southern members to form a bare majority against prohibiting slavery in Missouri; the principle was thus abandoned, and the only question was where the line should be drawn: the parallel of 36° 30' was selected, but it was expressly provided that Missouri should be slaveholding. On March 3 the compromise became a law.

[Sidenote: Missouri constitution.]

A year later a third difficulty arose. The people of Missouri had formed a constitution which provided that free colored men should not be allowed to enter the State under any pretext. Nearly the whole Northern vote in the House was cast against admitting the State with this provision. Clay brought about a compromise by which the Missourians were to agree not to deprive of his rights any citizen of another State. Upon this understanding Missouri was finally admitted.

[Sidenote: Friends of disunion.]

[Sidenote: Advantage to the South.]

[Sidenote: Advantage to the North.]

In form the compromises were a settlement of difficulties between the two Houses; in fact they were an agreement between the two sections, by which the future of slavery in every part of the Louisiana purchase was to be settled once for all. Threats were freely made that if slavery were prohibited in Missouri, the South would withdraw. Calhoun told Adams that if the trouble produced a dissolution of the Union, "the South would be from necessity compelled to form an alliance, offensive and defensive, with Great Britain." Adams retorted by asking whether, in such a case, if "the population of the North should be cut off from its natural outlet upon the ocean, it would fall back upon its rocks bound hand and foot to starve, or whether it would not retain its powers of locomotion to move southward by land?" The compromise was, as Benton says, "conceived and passed as a Southern measure," although Randolph called it a "dirty bargain;" nevertheless, on the final test vote thirty-five Southern members refused to admit the principle that Congress could prohibit slavery in the Territories. The South gained Missouri, and a few years later Arkansas came in as a slave State; but in the long run the advantage was to the North. The South got the small end of the triangle; the North the whole region now occupied by the States of Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, the Dakotas, and Montana, and parts of Colorado, Wyoming, and Minnesota; and the final struggle over slavery was postponed for thirty years.

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