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Slavery has always been an important issue in the United States. Our history will show that the issue of slavery was not only about racism, bias or prejudice. It was not only about one race believing that they are superior against another or one race demanding for liberty, equality and freedom. Slavery as an institution has little to do with morality or religious grounds.
Based on our history, the Southern States sought the perpetuation of slavery because their whole economy depended on slaves. (“Slavery and the Constitution” 2) The states in the South mainly relied on the production and exportation of cotton for their source of income. This meant maintaining vast tracts of land which served as plantations for cottons. Plantation owners had to rely on thousands of slaves for cultivation and harvesting of cotton. (“Slavery and Constitution” 2) Relying mainly on slaves to support the state’s main source of income, the Southern States opposed any action on the part of the federal government to abolish slavery.
On the other hand, influential leaders in the North opposed slavery. They thought that maintaining slavery is immoral. The Northern States which were more progressive than the Southern States relied on manufacturing and exportation of goods for their source of income. They did not, however, need slaves to meet the demand for production.
As a result of this conflict of interest between the Northern and Southern States, conflict became inevitable. Our history is replete with information about the bloody events that have taken place because of this conflict of interest between the Northern and the Southern States. This includes the Slave Conspiracy of 1741, the Bleeding Kansas in 1855 and the Civil War in 1861.
Efforts were made to maintain peace between the Northern and Southern States. These efforts bore fruit as bloodsheds and clashes were avoided. Part of the reason for the temporary truce was the balance of power in the Senate during the early part of the 19th Century. Because there were twenty-two states at that time, the Northern States, which had eleven representatives in the Senate, and the Southern States, which had eleven representatives in the Senate, were equally represented. (Andrew C. McLaughlin 2)
Balance of power in the Senate was crucial since for them this meant that the other states can be protected against any passage of legislation that is prejudicial to the interest of the other states. This balance of power was maintained for several years until Missouri sought for admission to the Union as a state in 1818.
It must be emphasized however that this petition did not come as a surprise for political leaders. They knew that these territories acquired in view of the Louisiana Purchase will eventually grow in number and ask for statehood. (Gary Gallagher 2) Tension and conflict once again erupted. For the political leaders in the South, they thought that admission of Missouri as a slave state will mean the perpetuation of slavery.
On the other hand, the political leaders in the North opposed the possible admission of Missouri as a slave state since that mean that the balance of power will be titled heavily in favour of the Southern States which may mean the slavery may be imposed even in the Northern States. The two years of bitter animosity, bickering and conflict was addressed by the enactment of the Missouri Compromise.
Under the Missouri Compromise, to ensure that a balance is maintained between the pro-slavery and anti-slavery states, two states will be admitted to the Union. It was very fortunate that at that time Maine also petitioned for admission to the Union. As a result, it was agreed that Missouri will be admitted as a slave state while Maine will be admitted as a free state. (“Missouri Compromise”) This compromise also formally organized a boundary in Missouri providing that in case future states join the Union slavery will not be allowed territories north of 36°30’ while slavery will be allowed south of it. (“Missouri Compromise”) This temporarily defused the tension between them.
Significance of Missouri Compromise
The Missouri Compromise is significant in our history because it averted, at least momentarily, the potential eruption of violence that may result from the admission of Missouri. It is one act that preserved peace between the Northern States and the Southern States. History will soon prove that without the Missouri Compromise violence could have immediately erupted. It can be recalled that in 1853, Senator Stephen A. Douglas repealed the Missouri Compromise when he passed the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854. (Gary Gallagher 4) This eventually resulted to the death of 200 people as violence soon erupted in Kansas in what is now known as the Bloody Kansas.
Another importance of the Missouri Compromise is that this represented the first affirmative act of Congress to finally settle the issue of slavery. For thirty years, they were able to successfully bring temporary peace to the union. Indeed, the Missouri Compromise helped bring about and preserve sectional peace in the Union. It also provided short-lived but effective solution to maintaining the balance of power as it became the guiding rule in case other territories petition for inclusion in the Union.
Gary Gallagher. “American Civil War.” 2008. 22 June 2008. <http://encarta.msn.com/text_761567354___31/Civil_War.html>
McLaughlin, Andrew C. A Constitutional History of the United States: Chapter XXIX: The Missouri Compromise. 22 June 2008 <http://www.humanitiesweb.org/human.php?s=s&p=h&ID=1786>
“Missouri Compromise.” The Library of Congress. 21 September 2007. 22 June 2008. <http://www.loc.gov/rr/program/bib/ourdocs/Missouri.html >
“Slavery and Constitution.” Eagleton Institute of Politics: The State University of New Jersey. 23 June 2008. <http://www.eagleton.rutgers.edu/e-gov/e-politicalarchive- compromise.htm>