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Primary Documents in American History

Missouri Compromise

Missouri territory formerly Louisiana.
Missouri territory formerly Louisiana.
Mathew Carey.
[S.l., 1814]
Geography and Map Division.

In an effort to preserve the balance of power in Congress between slave and free states, the Missouri Compromise was passed in 1820 admitting Missouri as a slave state and Maine as a free state. Furthermore, with the exception of Missouri, this law prohibited slavery in the Louisiana Territory north of the 36° 30´ latitude line. In 1854, the Missouri Compromise was repealed by the Kansas-Nebraska Act. Three years later the Missouri Compromise was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in the Dred Scott decision, which ruled that Congress did not have the authority to prohibit slavery in the territories.

Library of Congress Web Site | External Web Sites | Selected Bibliography

Digital Collections

A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation

This collection contains congressional publications from 1774 to 1875, including debates, bills, laws, and journals.

  • February 8 through February 17, 1820- The Senate debated the admission of Maine and Missouri.
  • February 16, 1820 - The Senate agreed to unite the Maine and Missouri bills into one bill.
  • February 17, 1820 - The Senate agreed to an amendment that prohibited slavery in the Louisiana Territory north of the 36° 30´ latitude line, except for Missouri, and then agreed to the final version of the bill by a vote of 24 to 20.
  • March 1, 1820 - The House of Representatives passed its own bill, which admitted Missouri without slavery, by a vote of 91 to 82.
  • March 2, 1820 - A House-Senate conference agreed to the Senate's version of the bill.
  • March 2, 1820 - The House voted 90 to 87 to allow slavery in Missouri.
  • March 2, 1820 - The House voted 134 to 42 to prohibit slavery in the Louisiana Territory north of the 36° 30´ latitude line.
  • March 6, 1820 - President James Monroe signed the Missouri Compromise.

The American State Papers contain the legislative and executive documents of Congress during the period 1789 to 1838. References in the American State Papers to the Missouri Compromise include:

The James Madison Papers

The James Madison Papers from the Manuscript Division at the Library of Congress consist of approximately 12,000 items captured in some 72,000 digital images.

References to the Missouri Compromise include:

  • James Madison to Robert Walsh, November 27, 1819. Missouri Controversy, "On the whole, the Missouri question, as a constitutional one, amounts to the question whether the condition proposed to be annexed to the admission of Missouri would or would not be void in itself, or become void the moment the territory should enter as a State within the pale of the Constitution. And as a question of expediency & humanity, it depends essentially on the probable influence of such restrictions on the quantity & duration of slavery, and on the general condition of slaves in the U. S." [Transcription] External Link
  • James Madison to James Monroe, February 10, 1820, "It appears to me as it does to you, that a coupling of Missouri with Maine, in order to force the entrance of the former thro' the door voluntarily opened to the latter is, to say the least, a very doubtful policy..." [Transcription]
  • James Madison to James Monroe, February 23, 1820, "The pinch of the difficulty in the case stated seems to be in the words "forever," coupled with the interdict relating to the Territory N. of L 36° 30'. If the necessary import of these words be that they are to operate as a condition on future States admitted into the Union, and as a restriction on them after admission, they seem to encounter indirectly the argts. which prevailed in the Senate for an unconditional admission of Missouri." [Transcription]

Search Madison's Papers to find additional letters discussing the Missouri Compromise.

The Thomas Jefferson Papers at the Library of Congress

The complete Thomas Jefferson Papers from the Manuscript Division at the Library of Congress consists of approximately 27,000 documents.

  • Thomas Jefferson to William Short, April 13, 1820, "...the Missouri question aroused and filled me with alarm...I have been among the most sanguine in believing that our Union would be of long duration. I now doubt it much..." [Transcription]
  • Thomas Jefferson to John Holmes, April 22, 1820, "I thank you, Dear Sir, for the copy you have been so kind as to send me of the letter to your constituents on the Missouri question. it is a perfect justification to them. I had for a long time ceased to read newspapers or pay any attention to public affairs, confident they were in good hands, and content to be a passenger in our bark to the shore from which I am not distant. but this mementous 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." [Transcription]

Search Jefferson's Papers to find additional letters discussing the Missouri Compromise.

America's Library

Jump Back in Time: Missouri Became the 24th State, August 10, 1821.

Exhibitions

Thomas Jefferson

This exhibition focuses on the legacy of Thomas Jefferson--founding father, farmer, architect, inventor, slaveholder, book collector, scholar, diplomat, and the third president of the United States. A section on the West contains another copy of the letter in which Jefferson writes that the Missouri 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."

Today in History

March 15, 1820

Maine became the twenty-third state on March 15, 1820.

August 10, 1821

Missouri entered the Union as the twenty-fourth state on August 10, 1821.

Link disclaimerExternal Web Sites

Our Documents, Missouri Compromise, National Archives and Records Administration

Missouri Compromise, The Lehrman Institute

The Missouri Compromise, ushistory.org

Selected Bibliography

Fehrenbacher, Don E. The South and Three Sectional Crises. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1980. [Catalog Record]

Forbes, Robert Pierce. The Missouri Compromise and Its Aftermath: Slavery & the Meaning of America. Chapel Hill : University of North Carolina Press, 2007. [Catalog Record]

Moore, Glover. The Missouri Controversy, 1819-1821. Gloucester, Mass.: P. Smith, 1967. [Catalog Record]

Shoemaker, Floyd Calvin. Missouri's Struggle for Statehood, 1804-1821. New York: Russell & Russell, 1969. [Catalog Record]

Younger Readers

Burgan, Michael. The Missouri Compromise. Minneapolis: Compass Point Books, 2006. [Catalog Record]

Gold, Susan Dudley. The Missouri Compromise. New York: Marshall Cavendish Benchmark, 2011. [Catalog Record]

Hinton, KaaVonia. To Preserve the Union: Causes and Effects of the Missouri Compromise. North Mankato, Minn.: Capstone Press, 2014. [Catalog Record]

Lanier, Wendy. What Was the Missouri Compromise?: And Other Questions About the Struggle Over Slavery. Minneapolis: Lerner Publications, 2012. [Catalog Record]

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