Study Guide

Missouri Compromise Timeline

By Henry Clay, Sr.

Timeline

September, 1787

U.S. Constitution Adopted and Signed

The basis of the federal government is formed, though it wouldn't be ratified until New Hampshire and insanely metal state motto (Live Free Or Die) finally relented and signed in June of 1788. Significantly, the Constitution in its original form says nothing about slavery other than the inclusion of the Three-Fifths Clause.

February 4th, 1793

Fugitive Slave Act is Passed

The Federal government's first law concerning slavery itself, the Fugitive Slave Act cemented into law the idea that slaves were purely property, guaranteeing the right of a slaveholder to recover an escaped slave.

Evil? 100%.

This was the first of many half-measures taken by the Federal government on slavery: slaveholders felt it was too weak, as it empowered a slaveholder to recover escaped slaves only through his own devices and not with State assistance. It also angered abolitionists, because the Act stated anyone caught supporting an escaped slave was subject to a fee of five hundred dollars (which was a chunk of change at the time).

March 22nd, 1794

Slave Trade Act of 1794 is Passed

This is first in a series of laws that would lead to the cessation of slave importation. The act was designed to curtail American participation in the international slave trade, forbidding the American citizens from financing or joining any venture which would result in the capture and sale of slaves in America or foreign nations.

Great in theory, right?

But the act didn't forbid foreign ships from importing new slaves to America, and so really just drove the market towards foreign slavers (who naturally increased the price as a result of the reduced supply).

May 10th, 1800

Slave Trade Act of 1800 is Passed

The second law concerning the international slave trade, this was little more than an strengthening of the first Slave Trade Act. Fines for participating in international slaving were increased and U.S. citizens were forbidden from serving on foreign ships who contributed to the Atlantic slave trade.

July 4th, 1803

Louisiana Purchase

Thomas Jefferson buys up the majority of the land of the western continental U.S. from a cash-strapped France. While the issue of state sovereignty was likely to have arisen sooner or later, the fact that the U.S. had so much new room for growth played a big hand in bringing the issue up decidedly sooner.

March 2nd, 1807

Act Prohibiting the Importation of Slaves is Enacted

The nail in the coffin for American international slavery, the act prohibited the importation of slaves by any vessel, foreign or domestic. While this didn't actually end the importation of new slaves, it reduced the number of slaves imported.

February 2nd, 1818

Missouri Begins the Process of Entering the Union

In 1817, a number of petitions signed by citizens of the Missouri Territory had been sent to Congress, agitating for admission into the Union as a full-fledged State. These were more or less ignored for a year…until the Speaker of the House presented them before Congress.

This would lead John Scott, the Missouri Territory's rep in Congress, to submit a more formal application for admission into the Union in early February of 1818.

Surely nothing would stand in Missouri's way now.

February 13th, 1819

The Tallmadge Amendment is Submitted

The issue of adding Missouri as a slave state had been a matter of hot, hot debate Congress for the past year. Senator James Tallmadge proposed in his amendment a solution to Missouri's stalled statehood: grant statehood on the condition they prohibit any further introduction of slaves in their state and allow the emancipation of all enslaved children by age twenty-five.

Easy, right? Surely nobody would object to such a reasonable solution.

Yeah, not exactly.

It passed the House but the Senate shut it down, sending everyone back to square one, resulting only in fanned flames until the debate over Missouri threatened to engulf Congress.

March 3rd, 1819

Act to Protect the Commerce of the United States and Punish the Crime of Piracy is Passed

An act that made piracy punishable by death in the United States. Bad news for all aspiring Jack Sparrows. Within this law was included a clause that included any participation in the international slave trade as piracy, and likewise punishable by death.

December 14th, 1819

Alabama Enters the Union

In what would otherwise be a fairly unremarkable event, Alabama's entry into set the number of free and slave states as equal, with eleven each. Missouri's entrance into the Union, no matter where it fell on the slave or free debate, got a lot more complicated.

January 26th, 1820

John W. Taylor Introduces a Bill to Admit Missouri as a Slave State

While this bill passed the House without much hullabaloo, getting through the Senate was another matter. Missouri was fortunate in this, however: earlier that month, a bill proposing the breakaway of the northern portion of Massachusetts to form a new state had also passed the House and was sitting on the Senate's to-do list.

To resolve this, the Senate mashed the two bills together and hoped to pass them as one.

March 5th, 1820

The Missouri Compromise is Signed by President Monroe

After months of further debate and bureaucratic hoop-jumping, Congress finally managed to work out the addition of both Missouri and Maine into the Union as slave and free states, respectively.

Maine was added more or less immediately afterwards, on March 15th, but Missouri's inclusion was contingent upon Congress agreeing to their state constitution.

1832

The Nullification Crisis Forces another Showdown between State vs. Federal Rights

A crisis that broke out over the Federal governments ability to interfere with state economies. While this also was settled with compromise, it forced a deeper divide between the Federal North and the State's rights South.

April 25th, 1846

The Mexican-American War Begins

As a result of the drive to absorb all of the land to the West, combined with a Congress dominated by war hawks, war over the border between America and Mexico broke out…which would lead to a great deal of land being added to the U.S.

This would spark new tensions (fun times) similar to those which necessitated the Missouri Compromise.

January 29th, 1850

Henry Clay Introduces the first attempt at the Compromise of 1850

The new lands acquired during the Mexican-American War forced a situation similar to that of Missouri: with all of this new land ripe for statehood, which parts would be abolitionist and which would be pro-slavery?

Henry Clay foresaw the problem and tried to address it as best he knew: with compromise. It would take nearly an entire year, but eventually a compromise was reached. As in Missouri, both sides were frustrated with their concessions…but happy to see the Union preserved.

May 30th, 1854

The Kansas-Nebraska Act Passes

This was the beginning of the end.

Kansas-Nebraska struck down the Missouri Compromise in all but name, reopening the slavery issue to devastating results. In some ways the Civil war started here as open, bloody conflict consumed Kansas.

April 12th, 1861

The Civil War Officially Begins

A long time coming, the growing gulf between the North and South just couldn't go on peacefully any longer.

Many in the south believed that if Henry Clay were still alive to broker a third compromise, the Civil War might yet have been avoided. In all likelihood this wouldn't have further stalled the issue: though Slavery was the main source of contention, the fundamental differences between the South and the North were in desperate need of resolution, and with neither side willing to back down, war was the last recourse.