james_tallmadge_portrait
James Tallmadge.

By 1819, the area west of the Mississippi River, known as the Missouri Territory, had obtained a population qualifying it to be admitted to the Union. Daniel Walker Howe, What Hath God Wrought: Transformation of America, 1819-1848, 147. The only requirement to be admitted was that an enabling act be presented to Congress “authorizing Missouri voters to elect a convention to draft a state constitution.” Id. That bill was proposed, but Representative James Tallmadge proposed an amendment prohibiting further “importation of slavery” and “all children of slaves born after Missouri’s admission to the Union should become free at the age of twenty-five.” Id. This provoked great “consternation in the House of Representatives.” Id. citing Annals of Congress, 15th Cong., 2nd sess., 1170.

Individuals in the North advocated for the so-called “Tallmadge amendment” based on “morality, religion, economics, and the Declaration of Independence.” Daniel Walker Howe, What Hath God Wrought: Transformation of America, 1819-1848, 148. However, the South, joined by Thomas Jefferson, strongly opposed the amendment. Thomas Cobb of Georgia told Tallmadge: “You have kindled a fire which all the waters of the ocean cannot put out, which seas of blood can only extinguish.” Annals of Congress, 15th Cong., 2nd sess., 1204. Tallmadge responded by stating, “If a dissolution of the Union must take place, let it be so! If civil war, which gentlemen so much threaten, must come, I can only say, let it come!” Id.

Senator Jesse Thomas of Illinois proposed a new amendment that would prohibit slavery, not in Missouri, “but in all the rest of the Louisiana Purchase lying north of 36° 30′ north latitude.” Daniel Walker Howe, What Hath God Wrought: Transformation of America, 1819-1848, 152. This became known as the “Missouri Compromise.” It passed the House of Representatives with 95 out of 100 northern Representatives voting for it and 39 of 76 southern Representatives voting in favor. Id.

The Missouri Compromise prevented “the breakup of the Republican Party along sectional lines.”Daniel Walker Howe, What Hath God Wrought: Transformation of America, 1819-1848, 155 citing Major Wilson, Space, Time, and Freedom, 1815-1861 (Westport, Conn., 1974), 22-48; Richard H. Brown, “The Missouri Crisis, Slavery, and the Politics of Jacksonianism,” South Atlantic Quarterly 65 (Winter 1966): 55-72. Another effect of the compromise was that it reinforced the Senate’s power, as it was entering its so-called Golden Age. Daniel Walker Howe, What Hath God Wrought: Transformation of America, 1819-1848, 155. The biggest consequence, however, was the revelation that a peaceful resolution to the slavery issue was looking increasingly less likely. Id.

It was becoming increasingly clear that the lines were being drawn, both in terms of policy and geography, between those who were pro-slavery and anti-slavery. With that, many recognized that this would require a conflict as severe as civil war to resolve the differences between the two factions. The Tallmadge amendment, and the Missouri Compromise, were just the first steps on the road toward that bloody civil war.

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