1820 Missouri Compromise



On January 1818 Missouri requested to be admitted as a new slave state in the Union prompting a sectional battle that would last three years. At the time the state’s population was 56,000 free men and women and 10,000 slaves. Missouri’s application opened a political firestorm over the spread of slavery in the new western territories and disrupted the balance of free and slave states. There were 22 states in the Union, 11 free and 11 slave states. Missouri would be the 23rd state.

For some members of Congress, mostly antislavery leaders from the north, this situation was unacceptable. It was clear that as new states were created and joined the Union a new system to regulate slavery in those territories was needed. The solution was provided by the Missouri Compromise.

Missouri Compromise 1820 map

The 1820 Missouri Compromise drew an imaginary line dividing the country in two. In the north slavery was not allowed and in the south slavery was allowed. Click on map to enlarge.


36° 30′ latitude

Congress devised a two part compromise. It granted Missouri statehood as a slave state and admitted Maine as a free state, restoring the political balance. It also drew an imaginary line west of the Mississippi and North of the 36 degrees 30 minutes latitude in which slavery would not be allowed after 1820. The Missouri Compromise settled the dispute between North and South and brought peace for nearly three decades. Both northerners and southerners opposed the law. Northerners because it allowed a new slave state and perpetuated slavery in the Union. Southerners were opposed because it limited slavery in the territory and it was their constitutional right to settle anywhere in the territory with their slaves.

In 1850 the admission of states in pairs, one free, one slave, was violated when California was admitted as a free state as part of the Compromise of 1850. In exchange, no restrictions were placed on the slavery issue on the territories of Utah and New Mexico. The Compromise of 1820 remained law until the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854.

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