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History of Congress:

The Basis of the Missouri Compromise



Given the objective history of the world—the world as the human race experienced it between 1500 and 1800—it ought not surprise an intelligent person living today that the African race was enslaved in America. The slavery of the race occurred simply because the white Europeans of the time, driven by the human instinct of self-interest, had the political will and the physical power to do it. Given the reality of this fact, it hardly can be intelligently denied by any one, of any race, living in the world of today, that if the tables had been turned and the Africans of 1500 were white and the Europeans black the same result would have occurred. So, those of us seriously thinking through the problem of racism in America ought to grasp quickly enough the essential fact that it was the failure of moral courage, of the whole white people of the antebellem Union to accept the Africans into their political communities (the "States"), as citizens with equal political rights, that caused the happening of the American Civil War.

The history of the whole white people's failure of moral courage, to bring the Africans into the Union as American citizens, without going to war with themselves to do it, is found the records of Congress. The record is a long and dense one, commencing with the ratification of the Constitution, in 1789, and ending with the ratification of the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments, 1865-67; a period of seventy-eight years. What follows are snippets from the congressional record which reveal the abstractions the politicians used to construct an explanation why the whole white people they represented were justified in refusing to live with the Africans as citizens in their communities.




Map of Louisiiana Purchase

Treaty Between the United States and France


Treaty between France and US

8th Congress of the United States

John Randolph of Roanoke, House Chairman of Ways & Means




James Elliot, Representative From Vermont

Elliot speech 1803




Treaty Ratified October 1803

Senate ratifeis treaty 1803




In the House of Representatives: The 15th Congress, Second Session. 1819.

In February 1819, the House received from the Senate a bill for the admission of the Territory of Missouri into the Union as a new state. In the course of the House's consideration, James Tallmadge, a representative from New York, moved an amendment, to limit the existence of slavery in the new state, by providing,

"That the further introduction of slavery be prohibited, except for the punishment of crimes, .. . ; and that all children born with the said State, after the admission thereof into the Union, shall be free at the age of twenty-five years." (italics added.)

Here was the water mark of a new age for America. At the time of the Revolution, in 1775, there were but two million white people inhabiting the British Government's thirteen colonies on the Atlantic coast of America, and about eight hundred thousand Africans, most of whom were held as slaves by the landed gentry of seven of the colonies: New Jersey, Maryland, Delaware, Virginia, North & South Carolina and Georgia. While Africans were held as slaves in all of the colonies at the end of the 17th Century, by 1775 the colonies of Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York and Pennsylvania had sold theirs to the others. It is true that, in the course of accomplishing this, the Northern colonial governments, as they transformed themselves into "State" governments, passed legislation that granted "freedom" to the few Africans remaining in their territories, but the "freedom" the legislation granted was "gradual" and did not include conveyance of citizenship.

The reason for this, plain and simple, was the feeling of the white people that the Africans were so different—in intelligence, in religion, in social habits, in personal peculiar characteristics—that the two races could not live together as equals in their communities. Thirty years later, as the founding generation was passing away, though the populaton of Africans had increased to two million, and the white population to eight million, a substantial number of the politicians in Congress were willing to prohibit the existence of slavery in the vast tract of territory the Federal Government had obtained from France. The human problem of doing this, however, was complex and it was this human complexity that, after a debate in Congress that raged through two sessions in 1819 and 1820, a compromise was agreed to which brought Missouri into the Union as a new State without the prohibition.

The essence of the complexity was human racism. In the antebellum period, most citizens of Southern states did not have a legal interest in the labor of Africans: they were poor or middle class people who made their living as small farmers, merchants, or craftsmen. If slavery were prohibited in the territory west of the Mississippi—a territory thinking persons in the times recognized would eventually extend to the Pacific Ocean—the likelihood would arise, given human nature, that this class of white people would tend to migrate away from the population of Africans being held as slaves and into the western territory where Africans were an insignificant part of the whole population; though some of these Africans might be free, because of the size of their numbers, they would be incapable of competing with the white population for political power.

At the same time, as a consequence of this migration, the ratio of Africans to whites in the Southern states would tend to increase in favor of the Africans, and the whites' natural fear of the Africans—caused by the fact of their generational enslavement—would not only increase to paranoid levels in the white population that remained, but also would become multifaceted: the mixed fear of insurrection, miscegenation, and of competition for control of government. So, to the Southern white population of 1819-20, the idea of slavery being prohibited in the Union's western territories meant their states' increasing populatons of Africans, already approaching majorities in Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina, would be bottled up in the old South and their fear would evolve into the reality. But, if the Southern whites, who were dependent on the business of slavery, could migrate with their slaves into the western territories, the pressure of the Africans on the social and political communities of the South would be materially relieved. It is in this human context that the following debate can be reasonably understood.

The members of the House framed their arguments on the basis of two questons: one abstract, the other practical. As to the abstract question, it was contended, on the one hand, that Congress had no "right" to prescribe to any State the "details" of its government, any further than that it should be republican in its form; that, even if such a power could reasonably be found granted Congress by the Constitution, it would be pointless to use it, since, once admitted into the Union, the people of any State have the unquestioned right to amend their constitution of government. On the other that certainly Congress had the right to attach conditions to the admission of any State into the Union which insured that the new state would maintain a republican form of government and, as slavery was incompatible with such a form, Congress had the right and power to prohibit it in the new state.

John Taylor of New York, Speaker of the House until replaced by Henry Clay that session, made the case for Congress requiring the prohibition as a condition of Missouri's admission.

"Those who we authorize to set in motion the machine of free government beyond the Mississippi will decide the destiny of millions. Our votes this day will determine whether the high destiny of this region, and of these generations, shall be fulfilled, or whether we shall defeat them by permitting slavery to inherit the land.

John TaylorHas Congress the power to require of Missouri a constitutional prohibition against the further introduction of slavery as a condition of her admission into the Union? It is admitted that Congress has no power unless it be expressly granted by the Constitution, or necessary to the execution of some power clearly delegated.

Article IV, Section 3 declares, that `the Congress shall have power to dispose of and make all needful rules. . . respecting the territory belonging to the United States.' Until admitted into the Union, the political society of Missouri is a territory, and all the preliminary steps relating to its admission are territorial rules and regulations. After its formation, the Congress examines the provisions of its constitution and, if approved, admits it as a state into the Union on the basis of the power granted Congress in the same section in the following words: `New States may be admitted into the Union.' If, therefore, Congress has the power to refuse to admit Missouri as a State, it certainly must be deemed to have the power to to attach conditions to admission."

Taylor, asserting that the foregoing proves the right of Congress to condition Missouri's admission on its adhering to a constitution that prohibits slavery within its territory, turned to the practical question whether it was appropriate, given the circumstances, to exercise the power.

"How often and how eloquently have the Southern politicians deplored the existence of slavery among them? What willingness have they not manifested to be relieved of the burden? How have they wept over the unfortunate policy that first introduced slaves into this country! How have they disclaimed the guilt and shame of that original sin, and thrown it back upon their ancestors! Gentlemen have now an opportunity of putting their principles into practice. I call upon them to exclude slavery from the territory. Let not our children, looking back to the proceedings of this day, say of them, as they have been constrained to say of their fathers, `We wish their decision had been different; we regret the existence of this unfortunately populaton among us; but we found them here: we know not what to do with them; it is our misfortune, we must bear it with patience.'

History will record the decision of this day as exerting its influence for centuries to come over the population of half our continent. If we reject the amendment and suffer this evil, now easily eradicated, to strike its roots so deep in the soil that it can never be removed, shall we not furnish some apology for doubting our sincerity, when we deplore its existence?

Hnery Clay

Henry Clay Was Voted Speaker of the 16th Congress over Taylor

The Defeat of Taylor's Policy Was Clay's Doing.

Mr. Chairman, Mr. Clay has pressed into his service against my argument, what he calls the cause of humanity. He says the Africans as slaves will be better fed, clothed and sheltered, and their whole condition will be improved. The humanity to which he appeals is base coin. It is counterfeit, it is that humanity which seeks to palliate disease by the application of mostrums. Sir, my heart responds to the call of humanity; I will unite in any practical means of bettering the condition of this oppressed people. I am ready to appropriate a territory to their use, and to aid them in settling it. But I am not willing, I never will consent to declare the whole country west of the Mississippi a market for human flesh."

Comment: Here is the first and last express statement made by an antebellum politician that states the practical case precisely. The only human solution to the problem of human racism, as it was among the whole white people in the antebellum Union, was to disperse the Africans as free persons across the breadth of America, each State taking in her relative portion of the African population bottled up in the South, absorbing her share into her political community as gradually or as fast as her white citizens acquiesced. But, then, in the real world of men, how to replace the Africans' enforced labor with labor from free persons fast enough that the economies of the Southern states did not collapse? How to reorganize the process of cultivating the land? How to spread the immense financial loss mass emancipation entailed for the Southern states? Indeed, how to get the Africans to move.

"But it is objected," Mr. Taylor went on to say, "that the amendment is calculated to disfranchise our brethren of the South, by discouraging their migration to the country west of the Mississippi. The problem cuts both ways: If slavery shall be tolerated, the country will be settled by rich planters, with their slaves; if it shall be rejected, the emigrants will chiefly consist of the poorer and more laborious classes of society. I cannot hestitate a moment deciding which species of population deserves most to be encouraged by the laws we may pass. If the rejection of slavery will tend to discourage emigration from the South, wil not its admission have the same effect in relation to the North and East. Whence came the people who, in so short a time, have changed the wilderness of the Ohio Valley into fruitful fields? They came from the eastern hive; from that source of population which has added more than 100,000 inhabitants to my State. Do you believe that these people will settle in a country where they must take rank with African slaves?"

Comment: Taylor's argument, here, is not helpful to his case. Is it based on the fact that the poor white people of the North and the East do not want to live in contact with slaves? Or, is it simply that they do not want to live in contact with Africans? These white people may not wish the Africans be slaves, but if they wish them to be free, is it that they wish them free someplace else?

Timothy Fuller of New York followed Taylor.

Timothy Fuller"Mr. Clay has said that Congress has no right to prescribe any condition to the newly organized state, but must admit it by a simple act, leaving its sovereignty unrestricted. Our duty to the nation requires that we should examine the actual state of things in the proposed state. Above all else the constitution makes a republican form of government in the several states a fundamental principle. It clearly is the duty of Congress, then, to ascertain that Missouri's constitution is republican. The amendment merely requires that slavery shall be prohibited in Missouri. Does this imply anything more than that its constitution shall be republican?

The existence of slavery in any state is so far a departure from republican principles. The Declaration of Independence defines the principle on which our National and State constitutions are all professedly founded. The second paragraph of that instrument begins thus: `We hold these truths to be self-evident—that all men are created equal, that they are endowed with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.' My reason for invoking the Declaration, is to draw from an authority admitted in all parts of the Union to be a definition of the basis of republican government.

If all men have equal rights, it can no more comport with the principles of free government to exclude men of a certain color from the enjoyment of liberty than to exclude those who have not attained a certain portion of wealth, or a certain stature of body, or to found the exclusion on any other accidental circumstance.

At the time when our Nation's constitution was established, to effect a concert of interests, it was proper to make concessions. The states where slavery existed not only claimed the right to continue it, but it was manifest that a general emancipation of slaves could not be asked of them. their political existence would have been in jeopardy; both masters and slaves must have been involved in the most fatal consequences."


Fuller destroys his argument. What is the difference, in the reality, between the circumstances as they were in 1789, when the constitution became operative, and the circumstances as they were in 1819? Why could not a "general emancipation" be asked of the Southern states in 1789? Why would a general emancipation place their political existence in jeopardy? What "fatal consequences" is Fuller referring to, to occur in the aftermath of the general emancipation? Of course, the financial disruption was a real consequence, but more so was the fact that suddenly a mass of Africans, without education, without family connections, and with the memories of slavery, is dumped into white society. How are the Africans to be absorbed, to be settled into occupations, into places, into communities? Given their numbers, how to prevent them from demanding, and fighting for, political rights? Human racism was at the bottom of the thing in 1789 and at the bottom of the thing down to the day the whole white people of the antebellum union went to war with themselves in frustration at the impossibility, because of human racism, of dealing with the Africans as they ought.

Here, Mr. Fuller invokes the decisive clauses of the Constitution that may reasonably be interpreted by Chief Justice Taney's majority, in In Re Dred Scott, to grant the Congress the power to prohibit slavery in the Union's territory west of the Missisippi.

"To guard against such intolerable evils (war between the races in the Southern states of 1789), it is provided in the Constitution `that the migration or importation of such persons, as any of the existing states think proper to admit, shall not be prohibited till 1808.' (Article I, Section 9.) This provision recognized the right in the States, which, at the time of framing the Constitution, held the blacks in slavery, to continue so to hold them, until they should think proper to meliorate their condition. The constitution is a compact among all the states then existing, by which certain principles of government are established for the whole and for each individual state. The predominant principle is that all men are free. In other words the predominant principle is republicanism.

Note: John Jay, the first Chief Justice of the United States, and a member of the Federalist Party, wrote a friend, in November 1819, to say that, in his mind, Art. I, Sec 9. was intended by the framers to give Congress the power to prohibit the migration or importation of African slaves into any State, after 1808. At the same time, James Madison gave his opinion that the framers intended the clause to give Congress the power to prohibit, after 1808, the migration or importation of Africans as slaves from without the United States into a State. Prior to the decision in In Re Dred Scott, in 1856, the only case in which the issue of interpreting this clause came before the Supreme Court, was Groves v. Brown 40 U.S. 449 but it was not reached, the case decided on another ground.

But, then, the same compact contains certain exceptions. The states then holding slaves are permitted, from the necessity of the case, and for the sake of union, to exclude the republican principle so far, and only so far, as to retain their slaves in servitude, and also their progeny, until they should think it proper or safe to conform to the pure principle by abolishing slavery. But the attempt, now, to extend slavery to the new states is in direct violation of the clause which requires the Federal Government to guarantee a republican form of government to all the states."


In the course of the debate, which covers two sessions of the Congress, in 1819 and 1820, the members based their respective arguments on five clauses of the Constitution: First, the "needful rules" clause; second, the "may admit new states" clause; third, the "privileges and immunities" clause, yet to be introduced; fourth, the "guarantee a republican form of government" clause, and, fifth, the "no prohibition before 1808" clause.

Art IV, Section 3: The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a republican form of government.

Art. I, Section 8: The Congress shall have power to regulate commerce among the several states.

Art. I, Section 8: The Congress shall have power to make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution. . . all [powers] vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States.

Art. I, Section 9: The migration or importation of such persons as any of the States now existing shall think proper to admit, shall not be prohibited by the Congress prior to 1808.

In light of the two clauses acknowledging power granted to the Federal Government, to regulate interstate commerce among the States, and, in the execution thereof, to prohibit the migration of persons from one State to another State, after 1808, it is plain that, in 1819, the Congress had the constitutional authority to prohibit the migration of Africans held as slaves in Alabama from migrating to the territory of Missouri, once it had been admitted into the Union as a new State. That the prohibition must be characterized as "necessary" is plain from the fact that the Congress has the constitutional duty to ensure that Missouri be managed by a Republican form of government which means a government operating over a free people; and, if this is a reach, Congress had the power to make, what it considered, "needful" rules for the territory.

If we living today, in 2020, can, in light of this constitutional language, reasonably conclude that the members of Congress, in 1819-1820, must reasonably have known a legitimate constitutional basis existed, which justified their voting to adopt New York Representative Tallmade's proposed amendment to the Missouri Admissions Bill, why didn't they? Though, as we shall see, the members came within a hair's breadth of doing so, they did not do so because, in all things with men, their self-interest is controlling, not "moral" claims or "rights." The members of Congress wanted the land more than they wanted republican values to control the land. It's that simple.

It is true, of course, that the several clauses we want to invoke deal expressly with "states" and not with "territory," which explains why the "needful rules" clause and the "admit new states" clause are woven into the arguments of the members. But, from an objective point of view, these clauses are irrelevant. Yes, one can reasonably argue, from these clauses, that the Constitution allows slaves to migrate to the Territory of Missouri before it becomes a State in the Union. But, so what? The winning clauses operate to require the territorial convention, or legislature, to tender to the Congress a proposed constitution which prohibits the migration of slaves into the territory the moment it is admitted into the Union as a State. Thus, it matters not that the Alabama slave holders rush with their slaves into the territory before it become a State, for once the flow of slaves into the State is shut off, by its admission into the Union, the population of slaves within its territory becomes static, and as such will tend to die out, while the population of white people grows; and as this happens the odds increase that the white people will eventually amend the constitution of Missouri to prohibit slavery in the State.

"[Mr. Fuller continues], Mr. Clay cites Art. IV, Section 2: `The citizens of each State shall be entitled to all the privileges and immunities of citizens of the several States," which he thinks would be violated by the condition proposed in the Constitution of Missouri. To keep slaves—to make one portion of the population the property of another, hardly deserves to be called a privilege, since what is gained by the masters must be lost by the slaves.

But, independently of this consideration, I think the observations already offered, showing that holding the black population in servitude is an exception to the general principle of the Constitution (as expressed in Art. IV, Section 3 and the Declaration of Independence), and cannot be allowed to extend beyond the fair import of the terms by which that exception is provided. (Note that the framers did not state the exception expressly, but it is plainly implied.) I contend that Congress has the right to require any reasonable condition, such as were required of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Mississippi. The State of Lousiana was required to provide in her constitution for trials by jury, the writ of hapeas corpus, and for religious liberty. These certainly are as indispensable ingredients in a republican form of government as is the equality of privileges of all the population.

One gentleman, however, has contended against the amendment, because it abridges the rights of the slaveholding states to transport their slaves to the new states for sale or otherwise. The argument admits of a very clear answer, by recurring to the language of Art. IV, Section 9, which provides that `the migration or importation of such persons as any of the States then existing shall admit, shall not be prohibited by Congress til 1808.' This clearly implies that the migration and the importation has been prohibited, but the migration has not been restrained. Congress, however, may restrain it when it many be judged expedient. The expediency is apparent. The opening of a slave market will tempt the cupidity of those who otherwise might gradually emancipate their slaves."

Mr. Barbour of Virginia: "We have no constitutional power to enact the amendment. Our power is derived from Article IV, Section 3 which is in these words: `New States may be admitted into this Union.' Now, sir, although, by the next seceding clause of the section—`Congress has power to make all needful rules and regulations respecting the territory of the United States'—to establish the principle the amendment proposes; yet, the question assumes a totally different aspect when that principle is intended to apply to a State. This term State has a fixed meaning; the term imports the existence of a political community, free and independent, and entitled to exercise all the rights of sovereignty, of every description whatsoever. Thus, a new state shall enjoy all those rights of sovereignty which belong to the original states which composed the Federal family and into which the new state is to be admitted.

Now, sir, although the original states are shorn of many of their rights of sovereignty—such, for example, of declaring war, regulating interstate commerce; yet we know that, even by an express amendment to the Constitution, all powers not expressly delegated are reserved to the States respectively; and of course the power in question, of deciding whether slavery shall or shall not exist is one of the powers reserved to the state."

Note: Barbour is assuming a fact plainly not shown by the language of the Constitution. Certainly it is true that, as the framers wrote it, they gave Congress no power to regulate the existence of slavery in the old States, those which, in the light of the Law of Nations, became free and independent States upon King George III executing the Treaty of Paris, in 1783. Nor did the framers, in light of their language, give power to the Congress to prohibit slavery in a new state. But, if, in the exercise of the power the framers did grant Congress, the institution of slavery tends to die out in a State, who has a legitimate right to complain? Though the Constitution does not say Congress can prohibit slavery in a state, it says that Congress can prohibit the migration of slaves into a State. That the exercise by Congress of its legitimate power may have eventually the practical effect of slavery disappearing in a State is of no consequence.

"But, sir, the amendment runs afoul of another principle of the Constitution, to be found in Art. IV, Section 2; by which it is declared that `the citizens of each State shall be entitled to all privileges and immunities of citizens of the several States.' Now ask whether, if the amendment pervails, a citizen of Missouri, who cannot hold a slave, can be said to enjoy the same privileges with a citizen of Virginia who now may hold a slave, or even a citizen of Pennsylvania who cannot now hold a slave but can hold one if the Legislature permits it? Sir, it would be a contradiction in terms. And, if we pursue this reasoning still further, and follow it up to all the consequences to which it will lead, we shall be more forcibly struck with its impropriety.

If we have a right to go one step in relation to a new state beyond the footing upon which the original states stand; if we have a right to shear them of one right of sovereignty, we have the same right to take from them any other attribute of sovereign power. We can require that the departments of their government should be organized a particular way; that their executive have a veto power, that their legislature should consist of two chambers. Would gentlemen advocate this doctrine?

Note: Barbour is begging the question, here. The reason Congress can effectively prohibit slavery in a state, is because the framers gave it the power to prohibit the migration of slaves from one state to another after 1808. While the exercise of this power might not have the practical effect of prohibition of slavery within an old state—given the etablished black population of such a state—it can obviously have that effect when the black population in a new state is prevented from being augmented by migration, while the white populaton is not. This reason has no application to the question of establishing the form of the new state government, beyond the constitutional requirement that it be Republican.

Mr. Barbour next turns to the relevance of legislative precedent. "It is said that the like prohibition has been enacted as it respects Ohio and the other states northwest of the river Ohio. (Note: The amendment as originally famed, reads: "The further introduction of slavery. . . ," not "Slavery shall be prohibited.") The House will recall that an ordinance was passed by the old Congress operating under the Articles of Confederation, ordaining that slavery was forever prohibited in those states. I thnk the ordinance void because the territory out of which those states were formed, was territory which originally belonged to Virginia. She ceded it to the United States upon the express condition that it should be formed into states as free and independent as the other states. The prohibition of slavery was ordained by the Continental Congress, after the cession had been made, which would unquestonably render those states less sovereign than the original states of the Federal Union.

Note: The facts are different: Virginia had a claim to the territory northwest of the river Ohio based on her original colonial charters, a claim that was revived after Great Britain defeated France in the Seven Years War and obtained the territory by treaty. Great Britain abandoned the territory to the "United States" in the Treaty of Paris of 1783. The time line is murky, but it appears Virginia offered a quit claim deed of its right to claim the territory to the Continental Congress at the same time the Constitutional Convention was in session at Philadelpia. The Congress, in session at New York, asked Virginia to modify its quit claim deed to express the reservation that the title was being granted to the Congress on condition that slavery be forever prohibited in the territory. The Continental Congress received the revised title and accept the reservation—so that, at the time, the Continental Congress transferred it to the Congress of the Constitution, the latter took it subject to the reservation and, on that basis, passed the Ordinance Barbour is referring to. Similarly, the States of North and South Carolina, and Georgia, transferred their claims of title to the new Congress, but with the reservation that slavery was not to be prohibited in the terrritory transferred.

Now Mr. Barbour changes his ground of argument, from one based on interpretation of the meaning of language, to one that acknowledges the interpretation Taylor and Fuller make as being correct but asserts that, notwithstanding, the amendment should be rejected as against public policy.

"If it is within our power, we are forbidden from exercising it, by every consideration of humanity, of justice, and of sound policy. Upon the subject of humanity I have nothing to add to what has been said by Mr. Clay. He has sown that the condition of the slaves would be greatly improved by their being spread over a greater surface, and by being carried to a country whose fertility was such as to furnish food and everything necessary for their maintenance, in a much more abundant degree than can be produced in the Atlantic States."

Note: We cannot ignore the reality being referred to, here. The problem at the core of the debate is racism; i.e., race relations. If the Africans, with which the white people of 1819 cannot bring themselves to live with as equals, are bottled up in the existing states, their populations, already approaching majorities in the states, will increase, and the increase will eventually generate economic, social and political pressures which force the white people of these states to induce their legislatures to pass laws of mass emancipation, and there will be a flood of white people migrating from these states as the pressures take their effect. But, if the old states can relieve the pressure by pushing the Africans into the new states, the status quo can be maintained—both in terms of the States' internal affairs and of the political power they can exert on the national level.

"Under such circumstances, a prohibition of the importation of slaves will be tanamount to a prohibition of the emigration of the Southern people to the State of Missouri. How can it be just to adopt a regulation as would open a tract of the most fertile land to the Northern part of the Union, and, in effect, entirely shut out the whole Southern people?

Note: Again, Barbour is reaching for straws. While the prohibition will shut out the slave holder and his business, it will tend to encourage the migration from the slave states of the white people whose livelihood is not based on slavery; the artisans, mechanics, tradesmen etc, the great mass of the white people of the South, driven by their prejudice to get away from the Africans and the increasing pressures on white society that their presence in the community entails.

"The real question is, what disposition shall we make of those slaves who are already in he country? Shall they be perpetually confined to this side of the Mississippi, or shall we spread them over a much larger surface by permitting them to be carried beyond the river? The consequences which will flow from the different systems will furnish the answer. The slaves, in the Southern states, bear a very considerable proportion to that of the whole population. According to the census of 1810 there were 400,000 Africans in Virginia. Now, if they should be excited to insurrection, the efficiency of the white population would be challenged to extremity. By spreading the Africans out, you diminish their motives for insurrection, and, if they do revolt, they can be more easily subdued. We must look along the line of time and adapt our measures to the future circumstances of our country. And, if we have these barriers between the sections, will we not soon be distinct castes with nothing in common to hold our Union together?


The House then proceeded to the consideration of the amendments reported by the Committee of the Whole to the bill authorizing the people of the Territory of Missouri to form a constitution and state government and for the admission of same into the Union.

The whole of the amendments were agreed to, with the exception of that which prohibits slavery in the proposed State; i.e., while the Congress did not agree to prohibit slavery as it existed in the territory, it agreed that slaves were to be precluded from migrating to the territory once it was admitted as a State into the Union; and, also, that the State constitution provide for the gradual emancipation of the slaves who then would be inhabitants of the State. On this question the debate was renewed and presecuted "with considerable spirit.

Mr. Tallmadge of New York: "I have expressly declared that I would in no manner meddle with the slaveholding states, nor attempt manumission in any of the original states in the Union. I went further and said that I understood the delimna and dangers of having free blacks mingling with slaves; and on that account, and with a view to the safety of the white population of the adjoining states, I would not even advance the prohibition of slavery in the Alabama Territory; because, surrounded as it is by slaveholding States, and with only James Tallmadgeimaginary lines of division, the intercourse between slaves and free blacks could not be prevented, and a servile war might be the result. While we mourn over the evil of slavery, humanity and good morals require us to wish its abolition, under circumstances consistent with the safety of the white population. Willingly, therefore, will I submit to an evil which we cannot safely remedy. But, sir, all these reasons cease when we cross the banks of the Mississippi.

Sir, Mr. Scott, of Missouri, has told us of the ides of March, and has cautioned us to `beware of the fate of Caesar and of Rome.' Mr. Cobb from Georgia has said that, if we persist the Union will be dissolved; and with a look fixed on me, has told us, we have kindled a fire which all the waters of the ocean cannot put out, which seas of blood can only extinquish. Sir, language of this sort has no effect on me. My purpose is fixed; it is the freedom of man; it is the cause of unredeemed and unregenerated human beings. Sir, if a dissolition of the Union must take place, let it be so! If civil war must come, I can only say, let it come! Here will I hold my stand, until this floor, with the Constitution of my country which supports it, shall sink beneath me. If I am doomed to fail, I shall at least have the painful consolation to believe that I fall, as a fragment, in the ruins of my country.

And yet, with such awful threatenings bfore us, do gentlemen, in the same breath, insist upon the encouragement of this evil; upon the extension of this monstrous scourge of the human race? An evil so fraught with such dire calamities to us as individuals, and to our nation, and threatening in its progress, to overwhelm the civil and religious institutions of he country, with the liberties of the nation, ought at once to be met and controlled. If its power, its influence, and its impending danger, have already arrived at such a point that it is not safe to discuss it on this floor, what will be the result when it is spread through your widely extended domain? Now is the time. It must now be met, and the extension of the evil now prevented, or the occasion is irrevocably lost. (italics added.)

Look down the long vista of the future. See your empire. See it inhabited by the hardy sons of American freemen, owners of the soil on which they live, interested in the institutions which they labor to defend. Compared to yours, the governments of Europe dwindle into insignificance. But, sir, reverse this scene; people this fair dominion with the slaves of your planters; extend slavery over your empire and you prepare its dissolution. You turn its strength into weakness. You put poison in your bosom. You place a vulture on your heart. Nay, you whet the dagger and place it in the hands of a portion of your populaton, stimulated to use it. The envious contrast between your happiness and their misery, between your liberty and their slavery, must constantly prompt them to accomplish your destruction. With this defect, your government must crumble to pieces and your people become the scoff of the world.

Sir, we have been told that we have no right to attach conditons to a State on its admission into the Union. It has been urged that the amendment prohibiting the further introduction of slavery is unconstitutional. But this argument remains unsupported by any authority derived from the Constitution. The Constitution strongly indicates an opposite conclusion. It seems to contemplate a diffference between the old and the new states. The practice of the government has sanctioned this view in many respects.

Art. IV, Section 3 says, `New States may be admitted,' and it is silent as to the conditions upon which the new states may be admitted. The fair inference from this silence is, is that the Congress which might admit, should prescribe the time and the terms of such admission.

Art. I, Section 10 says, `the migration or importation of such persons as any of the states now existing shall think proper to admit, shall not be prohibited by the Congress prior to the year 1808.' The words—now existing—clearly show the distinction for which we contend. This section unquestionably reserved the right to prohibit the importation of Africans into any new state before 1808. Congress, therefore, have power to prescribe the time and the condition upon which any new state may be admitted into the family of the Union.

Sir, we are told that this is a new principle for which we contend, never before adopted, or thought of. This is not correct. It is due to the memory of our ancestors to say, it is an old principle adopted by them as the policy of our country. The states of Kentucky and Tennessee were taken off from other states, and were admitted into the Union without condition, because their lands were never owned by the United States. The Territory northwest of the river Ohoio is all the land which ever was owned by the United States. Shortly after the cession of those lands to the Union, Congress passed, in 1787 (before the constitution was ratified), an ordinance which was declared unalterable, the sixth article of which provides that, 1there shall be no slavery in the said territory.' All the states formed from the territory have been admitted into the Union upon the condition that the sixth article of the ordinace be included.

The state of Louisiana was admitted into the Unon with conditions. It was required to form a government on republican principles, it was required to conduct its affairs in English, to secure the trial by jury, and to guarantee religious freedom.

Sir, we are told that the amendment is contrary to the treaty and cession of Lousiana. Article III of the treaty states that the inhabitants shall be incorporated into the United States, according to the principles of the constitution. The treaty does not control what this House does.

Sir, they tell us that, once Missouri has been admitted as a State, she may change her constitution as she pleases. If she were do commit such an act of bad faith it will be time enough to determine our response. But, if her action was a known faxct, still I would insist upon the amendment. The declaration of the House, the declared will of the nation, to prohibit slavery would produce its moral effect, and stand as one of the brightest ornaments of our country.

Sir, it has been urged that we should spread the slaves now in our country, and thus spread the evil, rather than confine it to its present districts. It has been said, we should thereby diminish the dangers from them, while we increase the means of their living, and augment their comforts. But, sir, this reasoning is fallacious."

Note: Here is the objective dilemma. Spreading the Africans over the entire country would relieve the building pressures in the old states, but, if they are spread as slaves, it just delays the day when the pressures exert themselves. (In 1820, Missouri's population was 66,000, of which 20,000 were Africans; in 1860, the population was 1.1 million, 100,000 of which were Africans.)

The only objectively reasonable solution to the dilemma, was for the Congress to fund the manumission of the slaves, and the people of all the states to take into their territories the freed Africans in proportion to their populations. This means, of course, bringing the Africans into their political communities, educating them, finding homes for them, work for them, and this in circumstances in which the Africans lack family structure, which exposes the very young and the very old to catastrophe.


FEBRUARY 16, 1819

House votes 1819

House votes

house votes

house votes


Given the fact a majority of the members of the House of Representatives voted to adopt the Tallmadge Amendment to the Bill for the Admission of Missouri into the Union, we must conclude that, first, the majority were in agreement that the language of the Constitution gave Congress the power to prohibit the further introduction of slavery into Missouri (i.e., prohibit the migration of slaves to that place), and, second, that their vote was based on the public policy of arresting the spread of slavery in the Union. Had the Senate concurred, which we will see it did not, the institution of slavery in the Old States could not possibly have survived to 1860, its constricted nature forcing its extinction. As Mr. Tallmadge said—This was the time.




Burtus: There is a tide in the affairs of men which taken at the flood leads on to fortune; omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and miseries. On such a full sea are we now afloat, and we must take the current when it serves, or lose our venture.

Cassius: Then, with your will, go on.

President James Monroe's Annual Message to the 15th Congress

First Session

November 1819

James Monroe message

James Monroe message





The Senate adjourned on March 3, 1819, closing the session,without further action on the Missouri Admissions Bill, so it did not pass.


Eleven Northern states and ten Southern states were represented in the Senate at this time. The majority of the senators were of the "Democratic-Republican Party". Some few years later this party spilt into the Democratic Party and the Whig Party, the Whigs eventually becoming the Republican Party. The minority of the senators were of the Federalist Party which would soon die out.

Five Northern senators voted with the twenty senators representing the ten Southern states, and one Northern senator abstained. Had these six senators voted with their Northern colleagues the Tallmadge Amendment would have passed into law. The long and animated debate in the Senate was not reported.



The 16th Congress, firist session, December 6, 1819 to May 15, 1820

On December 15, 1819, Mr. Taylor of New York said he rose to invite the attention of the House to a subject of very great moment. The question of slavery in the territories of the United States west of the Mississippi, it was well known, had at the last session of Congress excitied feelings, both in the House and out of it, the recurrence of which he sincerely deprecated. He was desirous that the question should be settled in that spirit of amity and brotherly love which carried us through the perils of a Revolution, and produced the adoption of our Federal Constitution. If the resolution he was about to introduce should be sanctioned by the House, it was his purpose to move a postponement of the Missouri bill to a future day, that this interesting subject, in relation to the whole Western territory, may be submitted to the consideration of a committee. Mr. Taylor then introduced the following resolution:

"Resolved, That a committee be appointed to inquire into the expediency of prohibiting by law the introduction of slaves into the territories of the United States west of the Mississippi."

Mr. Strother of Virginia rose to remark that, although the question wa already before the House, as involved in the bill for the admission of the Missouri Territory into the Union, yet, when a proposition was made having for its object a compromise of conflicting opinions, it became members to meet it in a spirit of harmony. He proposed, however, that the proposition should lie on the table till tomorrow, to give time for reflection on it.

Mr. Taylor, assenting to this course, the motion was ordered to lie on the table. And, on motion, the House was adjourned until tomorrow.

Note: For you serious students, those of you who have an excitement in your minds, to know why the politicians of the country, representing the people—both in their capacity as the whole and as separate political communities organized in the form of "States" in a Federal Union—shifted the debate from the precise question whether to prohibit the further introduction of slavery into Missouri, to the much broader question, to prohibit slavery west of the Mississippi, you must dig into the record of what happened with the politicians and the whole white people of the Union between the close of the 15th Congress, in March 1819, and the opening of the 16th Congress, in December 1819.

The investigation is important, because the shift from the narrow question to the broad one raised greatly the poliical stakes, making compromise easier for those pushing for slavery's extension to gain a majority. Much better it would have been for Mr. Taylor's side of the case to keep it strictly focused solely on the question of blocking the development of slavery in Missouri. For, once that case was won, the precedent would make the larger case easier to overcome. Why the shift occurred is beyond the capacity of this piece to explain.

On December 16, 1819, Mr, Taylor rose and stated that he was instructed by the committee to ask to be discharged from the further consideration of the subject, because, after a free exchange of opinions, the members could not come to any conclusion, or agree to any report which could promise to unite in any degree the conflicting views of the House on this question.

The committee was discharged, and Mr. Taylor then moved the following resolution:

"Resolved, That a committee be appointed with instructions to report a bill prohibiting the further admission of slaves into the Territories of the United States west of the river Mississippi."

Several members objected to the resolution, and the question was then taken on postponing the vote on the resolution, and this was decided in the affirmative, by a vote of 83 to 62.

Note: What was happening off the floor I cannot say. In the previous session, the house by a majority had voted that not only was the further introduction of slavery to be prohibited in that part of the western territory assigned to Missouri, but also that Africans born in Missouri after it was admitted as a State were to be immediately recognized as free, and those already living in the State at the time of admission were to be free after a term of years. In the Senate, the Southern members, voting as a block, had obtained a majority vote rejecting the position of the House, because five Northern members joined them in the vote. In such circumstance, on the surface at least, it makes no intelligent sense, why the proponents of the policy of restriction would change the focus of debate in a way which increased political resistence against it. If they had stuck to their guns, and renewed the debate on the issue of Missouri's status alone, it seems reasonable to conclude they would have held the majority in the House on their side of the case.

On January 25, 1820, the Missouri Admissions bill was the order of the day, but, objection was made to debating it at that time because the bill had not yet been voted on by the Senate. A motion was made to postpone debate on the bill for this reason, but the House rejected postponement on a vote of 88 to 87. A great deal of discussion then took place, but the House adjourned without deciding on any question.

On January 26, 1820, the House again went into Committee of the Whole on the bill for the admission of Missouri. Mr. Storrs of New York, a member of the Federalist Party, rose and offered the following resolution:

"And provided further, and it is hereby enacted, That, forever hereafter, slavery [is prohibited] in the Territory of the United States, lying north of the 38th degree of north latitude, and west of the river Mississippi, and the boundaries of Missouri as established in this act."

google earth image of nation

Note: Keep in mind as we proceed, that at this time bills were moving through Congress to admit as states Louisiana and Arkansas.

On Mr. Storr's resolution a debate ensued of a desultory character. Mr. Smith of Maryland stated his understanding of the resolution to be that the admission of slaves was to be prohibited west of the west line of Missouri and north of the north line; that it did not interfere with the Territory of Arkansas, or the uninhabited land west thereof, Mr. Smith said he agreed with the concept that Congress, under the make needful rules and regulations clause, had full power to prohibit the migration of slaves into the territory, but that once the territory was admitted as a State the citizens thereof were free to introduce slaves or not, as they pleased.

Mr. Smith objected to the construction offered in the last session, to the migration or importation clause. The word migration was, he contended, applicable to slaves imported; it had no reference whatsoever to the native born slaves. The word was intended to prevent the inference of Congress with slaves imported into one State from being removed to another. The importation, at the time the Constitution became operative, was almost exclusively confined to Charleston, and the word migration was introduced to permit slaves, imported into that port, to be passed into Georgia and North Carolina.

But, Mr. Smith went on, "the gentleman says that Congress has power `to regulate commerce among the several states;' and, under that power, can prohibit slaves passing from one state to another. A farmer, going to Missouri with his family and slaves, can be prohibited by Congress, under the commerce clause, from taking his slaves with him, although intended for agriculture and not commerce. Can the gentleman really believe in that doctrine?"

Note: The state of the law today is that a person who lives in Birmingham, Alabama, owns and operates a restuarant, and buys his ground beef from a local supplier—the ground beef originating with beef cows located outside the state—is subject to laws passed by Congress on the basis of the powers granted it by the interstate ommerce clause. This result is the product of an intrepretational process spanning the Supreme Court's history from 1789 to today. As the generations change—the old passing from the scene and the new emerging—old interpretations of the meaning of the Constitution's language are replaced by new interpretations. One shade of meaning replaces another shade of meaning. No generation can set the meaning of the language in stone, compelling the next to adhere strictly to it. The one immutable doctrine of the reality of life is that time means change. The "originalists" on the Supreme Court of our time pretend to deny this reality. The "Evolutionists" admit it.

Henry MeigsMr. Meigs of New York obtained the floor. "Mr. Chairman, it is well known that the Legislature of New York has requested the state's representatives, here, to vote for the restriction upon Missouri. I have examined the mass of argument, pro and con, on this question and I freely own that I cannot consent to impose this restriction upon Missouri.

Sir, I never yet knew that reason and logic were to be found on this side or that of a parallel of latitude or longitude. On the south side of that line we find the climate and soil adapted to slaves. On the north side we discover that the soil and climate requires no slaves. Gentlemen may flatter themselves that all is logic and pure reason. But certain I am, that it is simply sectional feeling. Feeling, sir, has brought us in hostility to this singular line of combat. Reason divided by parallels of lattitude!

I feel well assured that the body of the people will judge our conduct rightly. They will soon ask us, what is the controversy about? Did you, from motives of policy and regard for the welfare of the whites, propose to remove the growing black race from this country? No. Did you, actuated by humane considerations for the unfortunate slaves, propose to redeem them from their bondage? No. What then? Did you propose to draw such lines of restriction around the African population as would starve them out of existence, and so prevent them becoming dangerous to the whites? If you did, remember the slaveholders take care to feed their property well. Sir, the truth is that nothing has yet been proposed beneficial either to the white or black race in this long drawn debate. (italics added.)

Give me leave to say, sir, that this consideration is what has induced me to introduce the resolution which now lies upon the table, devoting the public lands to the emancipation and colonization of the unfortunate slaves. If we want some object upon which to exhaust our enthusiasm, here is one worth it all. Not the subjugation of a people, but the redemption of a nation.


Finally, we find a politician of the time, who has raised the whole case to the sublime level, and he tells us that there is now a resolution laying on the table before the Speaker of the House; the terms of which specify the emancipation of the slaves in America and, supported by the nation's Government, their migration into the territories of the Union as free Africans. What a wonder! This is the human solution. This is the means by which the nation can assimilate the Africans into the American political community. The economic, political, and social problems this will create for the nation are to be mutually shared by all the States, each taking on the burden of its proportionate share, to find the Africans employment, homes, and education. But, to be friends with them, dine with them, marry them to your children: not within the moral condition of the times could this happen.

Standing as we do in the reality of the 21st Century, looking back with a cold, objective eye on the members of Congress in their seats in the first session of the 16th Congress, in 1820, who among us does not understand the absolute impossibility of Mr. Meigs' resolution being taken from the table and voted on from the floor?

Louisiana territory

New American States arising out f The Louisiana Territory

territory 1850

American States arising out of the Union's Conquest of Mexico

Old South

Why not? Because the whole white people of the antebellum Union were infected with the human disease of racism; a racism so virulent and pervasive that they could not find the moral courage to take the current when it serves and gain the crown of a great integrated nation of Americans,with no equal in the world. The white people, who the Northern members of Congress were representing, in 1820, did not want their Government's revenue spent to compensate the slave-holders for the immense financial loss mass emancipation entailed. They wanted the revenue spent on schools, hospitals, roads, canals, and trains, on the military to drive the savages further and further out of their way. They wanted the territories for themselves alone. Not wanting to live with Africans in their community, they used their legislatures to pass laws blocking the Africans from coming into their states. They wanted the Africans, if they could not be gone, to remain exactly where they were, bottled up in the South.

The white people of the South, knowing their counterparts in the North felt this way, recognized the writing on the wall; that there was no way they could get rid of the Africans, get rid of the reality that, in time, the Africans would become the majority populations in their states, increasing, increasing to the point they felt strong enough to insurrect and battle for, first, freedom, and then political control. So they pushed hard, through their national politicians, to get the Africans into the Territory of the Union which was gained with their money and their young men as much as it was by the North. This would relieve the building population pressure and reinforce their share of the nation's political power, and keep the Africans in their place. And then another generation passed; and came, finally, the Republicans.

The debate ended with the question of adopting the resolution of Mr. Storrs, offering an amendment to the Missouri Admissions Bill, being taken and it was decided in the negative.

We were fools to make war on our brothers-in-arms.



When the debate proceeded as far as the fourth section of the bill, Mr. Taylor, of New York, proposed to amend the bill by incorporating in that section the following provision:

"Section 4, line 25, insert the following after the word 'states:' `And shall ordain and establish, that there shall [not] be slavery in the said state."

On January 27, 1820, the House again resolved itself into the Committee of the Whole on the bill for authorizing the people of Missouri to form a constitution. Mr. Taylor rose and spoke as follows:

"The magnitude of this question is apparent, by casting your eye on a map of the Territory from which it is proposed to carve this State. Who knows its extent? Who has explored its boundaries. The waters of its rivers traverse a country of at least two thousand miles, before they reach the Mississippi. It probably contains more square miles than all the States of the Old Confederacy. The rule you now apply to Missouri, hereafter will be held applicable to the residue of the Territory. Cold, indeed, must be his heart who can contemplate without emotion the high detinies prepared for our posterity in this land of promise—secured to them without possibility of failure, if Congress shall be true to their interests and to our national principles.

And are not we as much in our legislation to regard Missouri's welfare as if we were elected by her people? When all the inhabitants who are now engaged in the business of the Territory shall sleep with their fathers, it scarcely will have commenced its political existence. It depends upon us whether fifty years hence, the counties of Missouri shall be cultivated like the gardens of Pennsylvania, supporting a population of industrious freemen, or whether they shall exhibit the cheerless spectacle presented to our view in the neighborhood of this District—whether her sons shall hereafter become companions of plantation negros, or the independent cultivators of their own fields.

Is not the amendment also necessary to the welcoming of the class of emigrants throughout the Union? Can they flourish in a country of slaves? This class, residing now in the old slaveholding States is constantly diminishing. The arts they know have been taught to their slaves, who now perform the business in which free citizens were formerly employed, and the mechanic is compelled to abandon his home, and search for employment in a distant land.

Here, Mr. Taylor's argument falls flat. It highlights the fundamental social problem: The Africans in the old States were competing with the white worker, the carpenter, the mason, the wheelwright, the tanner, the blacksmith. The prohibition of slavery in the Territory would encourage the speed at which the old South was emptying of this class of white workers, to increase; increasing, in turn, the ratio between the black and white races in favor of the black; which, in turn, might cause the white flight from the South to accelerate, until eventually, feeling their weight, the Africans seize weapons and assert themselves—this outcome being the natural result of human racism. That the white people of the South were motivated in their political views by the fear of this, is indisputable.

But, however necessary the adoption of the amendment may be to promote the welfare of the Territory; however calculated to better the condition of mechanics and laborers; however essential to the preservation of existing state rights, it ought not to be supported, unless in pursuance of some power clearly delegated to Congress. In my judgment, the power may be derived from those grants in the Constitution which authorize Congress `to dispose of and make all needful rules and regulations respecting the Territory of the United States;' 'to admit new states into the Union;' and to make all laws necessary and proper to carry that power into effect; and, also, from the right of sovereignty over the Territory, acquired by the treaty with France, of April 30, 1803.

In regard to the first proposition, we observe that until Missouri shall have formed a constitution, and that constitution has been sanctioned by Congress, and an act of admission passed, it remains a Territory. This bill proposes, on the conditions therein contained, to grant to the people of a Territory permission to do certain acts, which they are now unable to perform. The power exercised in fixing these conditions is, that of making rules and regulations respecting the Territory—it is legislation for the Territory.

Note: It appears that Mr. Taylor has shifted his position from that of Congress prohibiting the further introduction of slavery into Missouri, basing the prohibition on the power, under the commerce clause, to prohibit, after 1808, migration of "persons," or importation of "property" into a State from another State. Now, his proposition is to abolish slavery within the Territory of Missouri, as a "needful rule" for the Territory, leaving aside the ultimate question whether, after the people of the Territory frame a Constitution and seek admission into the Union as a new State, the Congress can refuse, given the constitutional fact it must, in the process of admission, guarantee the new State a "Republican form of government." How to find a line of argument that renders the logical constraints to congressional action, moot?

In deciding upon the application of Missouri for admission into this Union, we are bound to consider the subject in relation to the general welfare, embracing that of the particular territory. We grant the application on particular conditions. The people of the Territory examine these conditions and decide thereon; if approved, they ratify the constitution, and succeed to its advantages; if rejected, they continue in the enjoyment of all the rights previously possessed. We claim no authority to form a State government for Missouri; to compel her to accept it, and come into the Union, but we do claim the right of making her admission depend upon just and reasonable conditions, in the acceptance or rejection of which she acts with entire freedom. (Italics added.)

Note: The coherence of Taylor's argument wavers here. First, the Territory's admission as a new state in the Union must depend on constititutional reasons. Second, Taylor's formula leaves the situation standing still. Missouri is the gate way to a vast tract of land that cries out to be populated and developed by Americans; the Spanish influence driven out, the savages pushed out. Every year that statehood is delayed for Missouri is another year the development and integration of the tract is delayed, inviting foreign powers to fill the void, giving the new state of Mexico time to strengthen its hold on the land beyond the tract's western borders. It is plain, then, to the politicians that the process of Missouri's admission must be concluded, somehow; now, not tomorrow.

It, therefore, becomes important to determine what the principles of our National Government are, in relation to the amendment on your table. In other words, is the power of holding slaves a federal right? (In the sense of the Bill of Rights?) The doctrines of New Hampshire and Georgia in regard to slavery, are diametrically opposite, and cannot both be the doctrines of the United States.

Query: Taylor is using the noun as a referent for the "compact" of Union, for the joint enterprise of the established States, for "America," for the Federal Government? What does he mean, here, by "The United States?

The Federal Government is as distinct from each of these, as they are from each other. Each State exercises a limited sovereignty in her proper sphere. The principles of a dominant State naturally acquire an artificial value from their connection to the State's power. It is evident enough that the Federal Government does not belong to Virginia, any more than to Ohio. But, nevertheless, it may be quite Virginian. Is there danger that the principles of Virginia, in regard to slavery, will acquire popularity, and ultimately pass for those of the nation?

Note: The Federal Government, in large measure, was created by the white men of Virginia. From a strong component of these men, came the impulse to form the colonies of King George into a confederation of "States," in 1776; came also the impulse to form a constitutional convention, in 1787; and came further the idea of establishing the evolution of a consolidated nation called America. From an equally strong component of these men, came the impulse to restrain the power of the new government to interfere with the domestic policies of the new "States;" leaving each State, as an independent political community, to deal with its people as it willed, as long as its government was based on the principle that the people who constituted the sovereignty were its overlords. Moreover, it was the white men of Virginia—the elites, the first families—to propose by Virginia's quitclaim that all her territory north of the river Ohio be admitted into the Union with slavery prohibited (although this fact appears in dispute). They did this for a practical reason—otherwise the people of the Northern states on the seaboard would be blocked from migration—but they did it nonetheless.

But let us examine what are the principles upon which the United States is founded. The first truth declared by this nation, at the era of independence, was, `that all men are created equal; that they are [naturally] endowed with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.' (Italics added; edited for objective understanding.)

Query: In what sense is Taylor using the noun phrase—"The United States?" Apparently he means "nation;" i.e., America; as certainly "The United States" referred to in Jefferson's Declaration of Independence was not a "nation." In 1776, the people of the British Government's colonies, subjects of the King and of Parliament, declared their colonies to be "free and independent" States, capable of being recognized as such by the Law of Nations, if, and when, the King and Parliament acknowledged the fact by treaty or otherwise; and, in consequence thereof, the people of the new states, taking their places among the states of the world, pursuant to the authority of their acquired sovereignty, authorized their States to ratify a compact of Union with each other, in 1789. That this political process would evolve a nation, Washington and his crowd wished for and laid the foundation for. And it must have been to them, too plain a political fact to deny that the nation could not emerge out of their work, with slavery as its core.

"Are we willing to pronounce their declaration a flagrant falsehood, a solemn mockery? Did they proclaim to the world, as self-evident truth, doctrines they did not believe? Did they lay the foundation of this infant Republic in fraud and hypocrisy? The supposition is incredible. In 1784, Virginia ceded to The United States her right and title to the Northwest Territory, on condition, `that the States there to be formed should be admitted members of the Federal Union, having the same rights of sovereignty, freedom, and independence as the other States.' In July 1787 (while the Constitution Convention was at work in Philadelphia), an ordinance was passed (by the Continental Congress in New York) for the government of the Territory, of which the following is an extract:

'And for extending the fundamental principles of civil and religious liberty, which form the basis whereon these republics, their laws and constitutions are erected [Article 6 is attached] which reads—There shall be neither slavery nor involuntary servitude in the said Territory, otherwise than in the punishment of crimes.'

Note: Taylor slips by the fact that, the prohibition was expressly stated in Virginia's quitclaim as a reservation of the grantor which the grantee (the Confederation of "States" formed by the Articles of Confederaton) was bound to respect; we lawyers call it a covenant running with the land.

The convention which formed the Federal Constitution was then in session. The members had the ordinance before them. They saw the rules and regulations which Congress had established for the government of all the territory of the United States. They could not have thought it necessary, therefore, to guard against the extension of slavery by a Constitutional prohibition."

Note: Taylor is losing objective coherence here; he is stumbling. He is ignoring the objective fact that the prohibition had been suggested by the Continental Congress, and Virginia accepted it, modifying its quitclaim to include the reservation as grantor. At the same time, the people of the Carolinas and Georgia, rejected the suggestion as it applied to their claims to the land west of their western borders, and tendered quitclaims of these lands to the Congress with an express reservation that slavery was not to be prohibited. And Congress accepted title to the lands with the reservation.

The decisive question is whether the members of the Constitutional Convention, holding all the quitclaims in their hands, foresaw the possibility, if not the probability, that the power of the Spanish and French Empires, as they existed in 1787, would diminish in time; and thus the vast tract of land west of the Mississippi, extending from that river to the Pacific Ocean might come within the reach of the Union. Certainly they did, and just as certainly, for the sake of Union, they let slip deep beneath the language they chose to write into the Constitution, the un-faced question of what to do with the Africans.

At this point in the progression of his statement of his case, Mr. Taylor strikes the cord that, thirty-five years later, United States Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger Taney, supported by a majority of the associate justices, will pull to strangle the African race in America, in perpetual slavery. Mr. Taylor faces the fundamental obstacle to his case—the right of property as it was understood by the framers and founders of the Union.

"I take it for granted that it does not include the future generations of men who may be born in the territory; and the condition of those now held to service will not be changed by agreeing to the amendment, because it includes a clause which provides that `the inhabitants, in the meantime, shall be protected in the free enjoyment of their property.' But the free enjoyment of property cannot mean an absolute right to use it without control. If this were its meaning the inhabitants might now carry on the slave trade which Congress has prohibited (by Art. 1, Sec. 9). In this manner Congress has respected the rights of man, and has endeavored, in pursuance of the principles of the Federal Government, to limit the extension of slavery as much as possible. (italics added.) That Missouri, at some period, will become a State in this Union, I have no doubt; but that she will ever be admitted by an American congress without recognizing the fundamental principles of civil liberty, I cannot believe. Possessing, as we do, both a moral and Constitutional right to require of Missouri a provision against slavery, as a condition of her admission, if we fail to exert it, we shall justly incur the denunciation of posterity.

Query: Has Mr. Taylor established a coherent, objective case for the proposition that the Congress of the Union possessed the constitutional right to require of Missouri a provision in her constitution prohibiting slavery, as a condition of her admission? Even if "The United States" of 1820 were, in law and fact, a "nation" (i.e., "America") and the Congress the government of that nation, the answer hangs on the political question, where is the power granted Congress to impose the condition? i.e., where are the words to be found in the Constitution from which objectively reasonable persons can find the political authority? Where is the path to be found that takes us through the labyrinth?

John HolmesJohn Holmes, a member of the Democratic-Republican Party, representing a district in Massachusetts, rose at the conclusion of Mr. Taylor's speech, making clear the point that the push for the slavery prohibition was the product of the Federalist Party. This explains why, on the vote in the previous session went in favor of the nays; the Northern votes coming from the Democratic-Republican Party.

"Mr. Chairman, when a man is fallen into distress, his neighbors surround him to offer relief. Among them, I trust, are to be found all the advocates for restriction in this House. But, it is not probable that there are some jugglers behind the screen who are playing a deeper game—who are combining to really under this standard, as the last resort, the forlorn hope of an expiring party? May we not ask of the gentlemen who advocate the restriction of slavery in Missouri, to recognize we are not the aiders and abettors of slavery. I would rejoice if there was not a slave on earth. Liberty is the object of my love and I would extend its blessings to every human being. But, though my feelings are strong for the abolition of slavery, they are yet stronger for the Constitution of my country. And, if I am reduced to the sad alternative to tolerate the holding of slaves in Missouri, or violate the Constitution of my country, I will not admit a doubt to cloud my choice.

I hold the Constitution in my hand. I have carefully examined its text, and I can find no such power as Mr. Taylor advocates. I am certain it is not in the book. This power is not express, and, if given at all, it must be implied. That there are implied powers, I am not disposed to deny; but they are only where the powers are subordinate and the implication is necessary.

My first proposition is, that Congress canot restrict a State which was party to the compact in the exercise of a political power not surrendered by the Constitution. This is a political axiom which scarcely admits of proof. The tenth amendment preserves every power not surrendered. (Mr. Holmes's statement is an indisputable political fact.)

My second proposition is that the power of Congress to restrict an existing State, in the admission or rejection of slavery, is not surrendered to Congress by the Constitution.

Note: Mr. Holmes proposition is subject to dispute. Under Art. 1, Sec. 9, the people of the Old States gave Congress the power to regulate commerce among their States, excepting that the power in relation to the prohibition of the migration of persons or the importation of property could not be restricted until the year 1808. The dispute is over the meaning to be assigned the words—"persons," "property," "imporation" and "migration." Did the framers mean to say only that, notwithstanding the fact Congress was granted power to regulate interstate commerce, between 1789, when the Constitution was ratified, and 1808, Congress was denied the exercise of the power, either to prohibit the importation or migration of Africans as slaves into the United States? Or, is Holmes saying, though Africans were considered "property" the framers did not intend them to be included within the meaning of "commerce." Or, that the framers did not intend them to be included within the meaning of "persons," as the word is used in Art. I, Sec. 9?

And here, sir, is the problem. The advocates of the restriction has presented us, not with one single precept, one source of this power, they have presented six! From that of laying and collecting taxes, regulating commerce, prohibiting migration and importation, admitting new states, governing territories, and making treaties. These are disconnected and distinct, and this power can be derived from only one of them. We demand of them the power—the true genuine coin, and no counterfeit. Instead, they tell us all the precepts look so much alike that they cannot distinquish, and we must select for ourselves. How shall we answer?

The gentlemen attempt to derive this power from that to `regulate commerce.' They assume that, under the power to regulate commerce between the several states, Congress can prohibit a transfer of slaves from one State to another, and concludes, by what process I do not know, that therefore Congress have a right to abolish slavery in Missouri. Sir, where is the authority to prohibit the transfer of an article of commerce from state to state? A man leaves a state to go into another with his family, slaves, cattle, and implements of husbandry, to cultivate a farm. His object is exclusively agricultural. He is met at the line by a law of Congress, and his slaves are stopped under the authority to regulate commerce! When, under this power, gentlemen have established that Congress can prohibit the transfer, how do they arrive at the conclusion that Congress can pass this act of abolition which the amendment proposes? If you can prohibit the removal of an article of property from state to state, does it follow that you can extinquish the right of the owner?

Note: Mr. Holmes' train of logic goes off the track when he ends with the idea of "extinquishing the right of the owner." The "right" to do what? In the form the amendment was presented in the previous session of Congress, it was divided into two distinct pieces: one piece asserted the power of Congress to prohibit "the further introduction of slavery" into Missouri as a condition of its admission into the Union;and the other piece asserted the power of Congress to act directly on property then existing within the Territory, the property in question being Africans held as slaves by persons inhabiting the Territory. Under the power to regulate commerce, after 1808, Congress can prohbit the movement of Africans from the Old States to the new, but the power is limited by the express meaning of interstate commerce to the movement between states; the power has no effect on commerce exclusively existing inside the state.

A person who is a citizen of Birmingham, Alabama, owns and operates a restaurant that sells hamburgers to his neighbors. In 1820, we can reasonably believe, no justice of the Supreme Court would rule his business is subject to regulation under the commerce clause, because the ground beef that the restraurant owners uses to make his hamburgers comes from beef cattle raised in Pennsylvania. But, today, this is the law. Shades of meaning change with the generations.

Gentlemen resort to Art. I, Sec. 9 which reads: `The migration or importation of such persons, as [South Carolina] shall think proper to admit, shall not be prohibited by Congress prior to the year 1808." Gentlemen assume that `migration' means a transfer from state to state, and 'persons' means slaves and that a temporary prohibition implies an immediate grant as to the residue. But even with these assumptions they fail. Admit their assumptions and the question is, how do they arrive at the conclusion? Surely, it can mean nothing more than that Congress may prohibit the transfer of slaves to or from Missouri. What has this to do with a proposition to prohibit the existence of slavery in a State?

Note: Here, who can reasonably deny that Holmes is correct? And the correctness raises the question, why was it that, between the previous session and this session, the focus has changed, from prohibiting the migration of Africans as slaves into Missouri, to prohibiting slavery inside Missouri?

At this crucial moment in time, when the founding generation has passed away, its founding party passing away, when, instead of a national population of three million, some two hundred thousand of which were Africans, the national population is twelve million, when, instead of the nation being confined to the Atlantic seaboard, its reach has expanded beyond the Mississippi, it was enough for the new generation, risen, to establish the precedent that slavery will not be introduced into the new Territory of the Union.

That slavery might exist at the same time the prohibition takes effect, is not of consequence; as the slaveholders of Missouri would soon find themselves crushed out of existence by the masses of white people flooding into the state to take possession of the government lands. Certainly, it can reasonably be expected that they—the white people—would cause the State's Constitution to be amended to abolish slavery among the few Africans originally in the State. In other words, abolishment would be the consequence of prohibition of migration.

Once the precedent was set, the argument won, there would be little point in repeating the debate with the question of the admission of Arkansas. And, so, when, twenty five years later, the nation conquered Mexico and annexed to itself the rest of the continent, little point in resurrecting the debate with the admission of Kansas.

They must go further and introduce the power "to make all laws necessary and proper to carry this power to regulate commerce into execution, and, as it might be impossible to prohibit these transfers, without abolishing slavery, this may be the necessary means to effect the end. But, the argument might operate as a two-edged sword. If the word persons may mean slaves, it may mean free persons; and if 'migrate' authorizes the prohibition of transfer from state to state, Congress might be induced to exercise this power.

But, sir, if you have this power at all, it is a legislative power. Why proceed in this suspicious manner, as though you were doubtful of your own powers, and take this method to extort from Missouri her consent? Bring in your bill in the ordinary way, and legislate if you can. And pray, sir, why, een in ordinary legislation, select Missouri as your object? If you can by this clause of the Constitution shut up the slaves in the states, let your legislation be general, and exercise it upon all the slaveholding states. Why make Missouri the scape-goat?

Note: See where the argument takes them? If the majority of the House were to adopt the commerce clause as the basis of Congress's power to regulate slavery among the states, the reality is that the Africans can never be expected to get out of the South, unless they are free; and, if free, to whose state are they to go and congregate in mass and assert their political claim to citizenship? Now, the argument becomes overwhelmed with the reality that the whole white people of the Union were infected with the disease of human racism, and this disease prevented them from accepting the Africans into their political communities as citizens. They might, in the aggregate, wish the Africans free, but only if they were free someplace else. Trapped in the Old States of the South, how can the white people of the State be expected to adopt the policy of emancipation? Without the infection of the disease of human racism, the political solution is easy to achieve, but with it impossible of solution in the ordinary course of things.

"Sir, it is a new doctrine. It is an alarming doctrine. Let me ask the gentleman from New York, Mr, Taylor, a question: With this doctrine that Congress may confine the slaves within the limits of the respective states, let the four hundred thousand slaves of Virginia be transferred to New York, and what would be his feelings? Would he feel entirely easy, if the slaves of Virginia were shut up in New York, and it had come to their ears that they were all free? Would he not be inclined to doubt the constitutionality or policy of such a law. Confine the slaves in the old states, where they are most numerous; the constant emigration of the whites would soon leave them to an equality with their slaves. Yet, we look on and see the storm gathering; hear its thunders, and witness the lightenings with great composure, and with wonderful philosophy! We are aware, gentlemen [Holmes glancing about the room], that we are diffusing sentiments which endanger your safety, happiness and lives. But it is a constitutional question, keep cool. We are conscious that we are inculcating doctrines that will result in spilling the best of your blood; but as this blood will be spilt in the cause of humanity, keep cool. We have no doubt that the promulgation of these principles will be the means of cutting your throats; but, as it will be done in the most unexceptional manner possible, by your slaves, who will no doubt perform the task with humanity, too, therefore, keep cool.

Frederick Douglas


Those of us astride our high horses, looking back in distain and anger at the whole white people of the antebellum Union, for their great sin of failing to deal with the Africans as they ought, and then reading Holmes's speech—we must slouch in the saddle with our hands on the pommel and shake our heads in wonder that, but for the infection of human racism in the white population of the time, the Africans would have been assimilated into the political communities of the Union as citizens, and there would have been no civil war. All that was necessary to avoid it, was to bring the Africans all the way in, as citizens, disperse them equally among the States and the Territory of the Union, bring them into school, employ them, and live with them side by side in the neighborhoods.

We, on our high horse, see only a make-beleive world, divorced from objective reality of human nature as it was then and is, still, now. But we—the white people of America, that is—have today good cause to slap the black politician's hand away when he demands "reparations:" Our ancestors have made our moral reparations, in the sacrifice into the fire of war, of six hundred thousand young Americans, and the turning of a great civilization into ashes; though we forget their sacrifice and desecrate their memory now, because of them, we are all Americans now.

The debate in the House continued through January and into February, with the alternative prongs of the theories the proponents of the restriction developed closely. Several members dealt at length with the question whether the "make all needful rules" clause provided justification for the restriction. Mr. Smith, of Virginia, here, made the persuasive point that the clause—"make all needful rules and regulations respecting the territory or other property belonging to the United States—contains no grant of power to legislate over persons and private property within a territory. A power to dispose of, and make all needful rules respecting the property of the United States, he argued, is very different from a power to legislate over the persons and property of the people. If the framers intended the contrary, his argument goes, they should have made themselves clear.

Similarly, had the framers intended to grant power to Congress to take private property, this intent is qualified by the Fifth Amendment to the Constition which declares property property cannot be taken for public purposes without just compensation. Thus, the proposition included within the proposed amendments being debated, that the Federal Government can demand of Missouri, as a condition of its admission, the emancipation of all children of slaves born thereafter, would be a direct violation of the Constitution which provides that "no person shall be deprived of property without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken without just compensation." If the Federal Government cannot take property even for public use, without just compensation, Mr. Smith said, it certainly has no power to take it away for the purpose of annihilation without compensation. If you cannot take away the land, you cannot take away the future crops; and if you cannot take the slaves, you cannot take their issue, who, by the law of slavery, will be also slaves. You cannot force the people to give up their property. The Constitution was the work of politicians. The Fifth Amendment was the work of the people.

The precedent of the Northwest Ordinance also appeared less strong an argument in support of the restriction than earlier seemed to be the case. When read closely the language of the ordinance appears to prohibit slavery in the Territory and not in the states formed from the Territory. The people of Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois, it was said, were not eternally bound by the ordinance, since they were not parties to it; and if they had been a party, they had no power to bind the present generation—they had no power to bind their posterity, for the people of a Republican state can change their constitution when they please. That the states of Ohio and Indiana did expressly prohibit slavery in their constitutions means merely that the people did it freely of of their own choice.

The debate finally came down to the meaning of a republic: if the Federal Government were to force the people of Missouri to accept the abolition of slavery as a condition of admission to the Union, the power to do it must be an exercise of the power to guarantee a republican form of government to every state in the Union. If, in the exercise of the power, the Federal Government can prescribe the abolition of slavery in the new state of Missouri, it may just as easily require an old State to add the condition to its constitution. This is an argument to be taken seriously, for, without question, the recognition of the "right" of a government to enslave inhabitants within its jurisdiction is certainly an affront to the principle of Republicanism, though the opponents of the restriction can legitimately rest their case on the fact that the political idealogy rests squarely on a person's status as a citizen of the political community, which Africans, free or slave, were not. They were held under the law of nations, from the remotest recorded time, and by the muncipal laws of the States, over which the framers provided the Federal Government with no control. They sanctioned slavery when they provided for the enumeration of slaves, a representation founded thereon, and for the restoration of fugitive slaves by their masters. But, nonetheless, what they could not do is bind the generations coming after them to the original intent behind their words.

And so, we see the members of the 16th Congress facing in the end the ultimate question of what the nation's policy is to be; will they take the flood and go on to establish national emancipation of the Africans? or, will they continue as they are, representatives of two peoples with two systems of labor tied together by a rope of sand? The answer is, that none of them, not even Henry Miegs of New York, thought seriously, for a moment, that national emancipation was in the cards. All the proponents of the restriction of slavery were trying to achieve, was to hem the Africans in the South; confine them were they were, keep them out of the Territory of the Union and out of the states north of the Ohio, dooming the Africans to scarcity and hard labor, causing their chains to be more tightly wrought—the Southern white people, seeing that they must rely on themselves for safety, knowing what happened in Santo Domingo, naturally would extinquish the Africans' chances of education and manumission.

Note: John Taylor of Caroline, a distinquished political philospher of the time stated the intractable human problem precisely, when he asked the question—"What would be the effect produced on the peace and happiness of the United States were there in them two races of people, free and equal, averse to mingling; one viewing the other with contempt and scorn, the other regarding those who despised them with hatred and revenge?" Such a case, Taylor answered, "would result in massacre and wars, until one or the other race was subjugated or expelled.

On February 26, 1820, the House finally brought itself to vote on the amendments the Senate had attached to the Missouri Admissions bill in the previous session and rejected them. Then, on March 26, 1820, after three months of almost daily debate, the House voted to amend the Missouri Admissons bill to provide that slavery shall be prohibited in that portion of the Territory of the United States that lies north of thirty-six degrees north latitude, the Territory of Missouri excepted; and four days later President Monroe signed the bill into law.

March 2, 1820

House vote

House vote

house vote




In 1820, the total population of the Union, states and territory, was ten million. Of this number 1.5 million were Africans held as slaves. The great bulk of the Africans resided in the Southern states, contributing to the economy and stability of the region as agricultural workers on plantations and farms. Sixty-six thousand of the people were inhabitants of the Territory of Missouri. Of these, 10,000 were Africans held as slaves and, perhaps, as many as one thousand were free men of African descent.

Upon the passage of the Missouri Admissions Bill, the white people living in the Territory, through delegates who owned property, met in convention and established a constitution for the new State. The proposed constitution contained a provision which prohibited the State Legislature from passing laws for the emancipation of slaves without the consent of the owner and without compensating the owner for the market value of the slave, as well as a provision which granted the Legislature power to pass laws which allowed for the importation of slaves by emmigrants or settlers coming into the State from another State of territory of the United States, but disallowing Africans being imported into the State for sale as merchandise, and, last, a provision granting the Legislature power to prohibit free Africans from taking up residence in the State.

Missouri Constitution sec 25

Missouri Constitution sec 26

In December 1820, Missouri's proposed constitution was submitted to Congress and the debate which consumed the time of the House sessions since Feburary 1819, began again.

House, November 23, 1820

House vote Nov. 1820


House, December 13, 1820

House Dec 13 1820

Dec 13

There the matter laid in the House, until January 4, 1821, when Mr. Archer of Virginia enquired of the House whether there were courts of the United States open in Missouri in which the property of United States citizens was being protected.

Archer resollution Jan 1821

Archer resolution

Archer's resolution was laid upon the table. Several days later, Archer moved that the resolution laying on the table be considered by the House but the yeas and nays were against it. The next day, he renewed his motion but it was rejected. On January 12, the record of the Journal of the House, for the previous day, January 11, was read. In recording the events of that day the reporter has described Missouri as a "territory" and this was objected to. Mr. Cobb of Georgia moved to amend the journal to insert "the state of" in the place of the word, "territory." Mr. Smith moved to amend Cobb's motion to use "purported to be" in place of "the state of ." The question of Mr. Cobb's motion was then voted on, which resulted in a tie; yeas 76, nays 76. John Taylor, now again the Speaker, cast his vote as nay and the motion was rejected. On January 16, Henry Clay appeared and took his seat. Eight days later, on January 24, a member moved the House to resolve to accept Missouri into the Union on condition that the section of the new State's proposed constitution, prohibiting the migration of free persons of African descent into the State be expunged therefrom.

House Jan 24

House Jan 24

The question was then taken, whether the resolution should be read a third time and the House voted, 176 to 6 in the negative. At this point, Henry Clay rose to say that he would move on the morrow that the House consider the resolution of the Senate on the subject of Missouri's admission. Three days later, Clay moved the House to admit Missouri on the basis of the Senate's resolution which stepped past the contested constitutional provision by making it ambiguous what it was Missouri's Legislature was not to do. When debate ensued, Clay modified his resolution to adopt the idea that the legislature was not to pass law, relative to "free negroes" which would have the effect of "depriving citizens of the United States of their privileges and immunities." The form of Clay's resolution did not explain how a "free negro" could be recognized by law as a "citizen of the United States." When debate continued, however, Clay withdrew his amendment to his resolution and there the matter was left, for the moment unresolved.

The next day, Mr. Butler of New Hampshire took the floor.

Butler of New Hampshire



The debate continued for three more weeks, with several members offering additional resolutions on the subject of the text of the condition to be adopted; all of which, during the course of the debate, being rejected by the House voting as a whole. At this point, Clay moved that a committee composed of thirteen members be appointed to recommend the language of the resolution which can gain the necessary votes to be adopted. This was done and on February 10, 1821, the committee offered the House this language:

Missouri is admitted into the Union on an equal footing with the original States, upon the fundamental condition that the said State shall never pass any laws preventing any description of persons from coming to and settling in the said State, who are now, or hereafter may become citizens of any of the States of this Union. [Upon Missouri's acknowlegement of her willingness to abide by this] her admission into the Union is complete."

After more debate, the committee's proposed resolution was read, and on the second reading voted upon; the vote being yeas 86 t0 83 to adopt it. Then, when again a vote was taken on the third reading the resolution was rejected on a vate of 83 to 80. This was the seventh resolution voted down on the question and the twenty-fourth time the House had refused to accept Missouri into the Union without condition. And the debate raged on.

Mr. Cushman of Maine

Cushman of Maine

Then, finally, after many votes rejecting the resolution, a motion was made to reconsider it and the motion passed by a vote of 101 to 66.


Mr. Clark of New York

Clark of New York









And, so, again the resolution was rejected

Wednesday, February 21, 1821

Mr. Brown of Kentucky again

Brown of Kentucky




John Quincy Adams, of Massachusetts


Finally, the friends of the Africans having given up, the question is put:







The United States Census Bureau—citing the "UCLA National Standards for U.S. History"—publishes a study plan for middle school teachers to use, teaching students American History. The Census Bureau tells the teachers the purpose of the plan "is to introduce students to the Missouri Compromise and the issues associated with the expansion of slavery in the antebellum period of United States history"; such as "the political and cultural sectionalism of the Northern and Southern states in the early 1800s." And, the Bureau says, the result of the teacher's effort should be that the students leave her class room with a "basic understanding" of the concept of slavery as it was in America's antebellum time, and the "belief system that governed the States on the issue of slavery." At the end of the class, the Bureau tells the teacher, the students should recognize that "the Compromise worked in the short term, but the complexities of slavery and Manifest Destiny would soon surface again;" that the Compromise Line favored the Northern states, and that the teacher might discuss with the students, "ways the country might have avoided the Civil War." What those "ways" were, the Bureau does not say. What the "belief system" was, the Bureau does not say. Indeed, most intelligent persons might say, the Bureau's entire statement of the case is crap. The "belief system" and the "complexities of slavery" are unacknowledged synonyms for "human racism" which the "Compromise" demonstrates emerged from the political process just as virulent as it was when the Congress's debate over Missouri began.

diagram of government

To understand the why it is crucial to the student's thinking the problem through, to keep in clear view the nature of the government that the elite, slave-holding Virginians of 1787, designed as the basis for establishing, in time, the consolidated nation we call—America. The prime movers—George Washington and Richard Henry Lee—using younger men, like James Madison and Thomas Jefferson, created the framework of a government that, in the abstract, ought to be capable, in the long run, of uniting separate political communities into one integrated nation, by the Congress, composed of representatives of those communities, passing laws based on what it perceives to be best for the whole.

To do this, however, national policy cannot always be a choice between A and B, but sometimes must be C. How to gain a majority from the groups labeled A and B, for a national policy based on C, when the majority is composed of men representing A and B who do not want to promote the policy of the other, but neither do either want C? You must base the policy represented by C on a political principle that promotes an outcome for the nation which is materially better than the outcome expected from the policy promoted by A or B. And you must have the moral courage to adopt C despite the social and economic confusion it will probably cause. Something politicians, being cowards by nature, rarely can do.

It was the political struggle between A and B that accounts for the fact that the Congress of the United States spent almost two years of time, arguing through three separate sessions the political question of how the Territory of Missouri was to be admitted into the Union as a State? There were other pressing matters on their agenda: the Bank of the United States, treaties with France, England, and Spain, war operations in Florida, the budget, the slave trade. But, as the student has seen, day after day, week after week, month after month, they argued and argued ad nauseam about this question of Missouri's admission into the Union. Why? Because they could not bring themselves to enforce the framers' fundamental republican principle of equality among men in favor of the Africans.

On the surface of things, the long-winded arguments of the white men, who held seats in the Congress of 1819-1821, were about what to do with the Africans being in Missouri, when the deeper reality was, the arguments were about what to do with the Africans in their own political communities. On the one side, there were some politicians from the Northern states—led at the beginning of the debate by men like John Taylor of New York—who, looking forward with Washington's foresight in mind, wanted to block Africans from inhabiting Missouri as slaves; on the other, there were the monolith of politicians from the Southern states—led by men like Henry Clay—who wanted to block Africans from inhabiting Missouri as free men. This divergence in their respective mind-sets was based squarely upon the fact that increasingly, the white people of the Southern states were feeling pressure intensify in their daily lives, from the presence of the Africans in their communities—a pressure the white people of the Northern states had avoided by erecting laws for their politicial communities which effectively blocked the Africans from entering them.

Because the Northern states had blocked the migration of the Africans the Southern states had manumitted, the African population in the Southern states had exploded to the point the white people recognized that the Africans were challenging their numerical majorities in their communities. At the same time there were now mingled in this population Africans who were "free," and this condition of things, the whites saw, would naturally make the slaves envious of the free; and where they were concentrated in almost equal numbers with the whites—in the Missisippi Valley and the Carolinas—the white people, certainly the ninety-five percent of them who had no financial interest in slaves, wanted the Africans gone. And so, the fundamental basis of the arguments of the Southern politicians in Congress, was that this pressure must be released by dispersing the African slaves across the breadth of the Territory of the Union wherever their presence as laborers made sense. But, though some of the Northern politicians argued for the Africans' freedom, more of them wanted the Territory free of Africans.

John Taylor, one of the visionary men of the time, seems by his words in the record to have understood the fundamental political fact that, not only was the population of Africans, slave as well as free, not going to magically disappear from America by colonization schemes tomorrow; but that also it was going to inexorably continue to grow larger and larger; and that, given the fact the white people of America, both those North as well as South, could not bring themselves to live with the Africans as citizens in their communities, the Congress could reasonably expect the political tension between the sections to increase to the crisis point Madision defined, in a letter he wrote, in 1819,to a politician inquiring of his views at the beginning of the Missouri debate:

James Madison"The expediency of exercising a supposd power of Congress, to prevent the diffusion of the slaves, as far as the local authorities may admit them, resolves itself into the probable effect of such a diffusion on the interests of the slaves and of the Nation. Will it or will it not better the condition of the slaves, by lessening the number belonging to individual masters, and intermixing both with greater masses of free people? Will partial manumissions be more or less likely to take place, and a general emancipation be accelerated or retarded? What do experiences decide as to the comparative rates of generative increase, in their present, and, in a dispersed condition? Will the aggregate strength, security, tranquillity and harmony of the whole nation be advanced or impaired by lessening the population of slaves to the free people in particular sections of it?

Should political parties arise, founded on geographical boundaries and other distinctions which happen to coincide with them, what is to control those great repulsive masses from awful shocks against each other?"

John Taylor, one of the last of the Federalists, understood entirely the nation's future that Madision alluded to, and he saw the Union's territory as the safety value; as the Nation's opportunity to begin the human experiment of amalgating the Africans. Taylor saw the Federal Government—the Congress—as the manager of the process. He saw it as the legitimate political tie-breaker between the two intractable poles of gravity—the one pole committed to keeping the Africans isolated where they were, but tending toward the policy of their being free; the other pole committed to dispersing the Africans but keeping them as slaves. What the white people of the two poles shared and were mutually responsible for, was the national policy of keeping the white and black people of the Union separate in their social relations which necessarily meant political participation for the blacks in their political communities was out of the question and the obvious means of preventing this, was to maintain the institution of slavery where they were.

And, so, making the waning Federalist Party's last great effort, John Taylor went for broke at the threshold of the Missouri debate by proposing that, as a condition of her admission into the Union, the white people of Missouri must agree that their Government would irrevocably abolish the institution of slavery. Taylor proposed that, as of the date of Missouri's admission into the Union, Africans born in the State thereafter were to be deemed free, and those already living in the state on that date were to be recognized as free later. But the devil is in the details and how Taylor expected his proposed policy to be implemented in the real world of men, the record does not say.

There was then in Missouri a population of 66,000 persons. One third of these were Africans held as slaves. To suggest that abolition be decreed without compensation to the slaveholder for the loss of his capital investment in the slave, is to suggest Congress blatently violate the express provision of the Constitution that prohibits the Government taking private property for public use without just compensation; for, in deeming the African slave to be free, the Government is taking private property for the public interest. To conform its laws to the principles of the Constitution, will the Federal Government, then, compensate the slaveholder directly from the National Treasury? Or, will it do so indirectly, by lending money to the State Government to do it? In either case, the money must come from the taxpayers, all of whom are propertied white men, and few of them owners of slaves. Somehow, in the window of time the Missouri Question provided, the representatives of the whole people—composing two distinct groups of political communities, based on two distinct economic systems— must find a majority of the whole that is willing to transfer public wealth to a group of private citizens whose private property is standing in the way of abolishing the institution of slavery in a sparsely populated State.

Once that political obstacle to abolition is hurtled, what is to be done with the one third of the population in Missouri, whose connection to the means of survival has been severed? Where are they to live? What work are they to do? How free are they to be? Are they to remain where they are, working for the white men, who the day before had owned them, or are they to be left to wander the country unattached to the community? Assuming compensation is been paid the white men, can it be used to pay wages to the freed Africans to work the land as before? The Africans could use the wages to pay rent for the huts they had been living in as slaves, pay the grocer for food and clothes. But, if not, if compensation had been promised, but the promise not yet full-filled, how is the landowner to pay the Africans for their labor? Is the solution to be the sharecropper system, the Africans continuing as before, dependent upon the landowner for food, shelter and clothing, the landowner borrowing the capital required to pay the grocer, and repaying the loan from the sale of the crops? Or, are the Africans to be cut loose from their ties to the land of the slaveholder, pushed from the huts and sent down the roads to start their new life somewhere else: alone, by themselves, in some vacant part of the State? Will the Government help them do this, with a stake? If not, where are the animals to come from, the horses, mules, cows; the farm tools, the seed, the wagon?

Assuming the economic problem inherent in the Government's policy of abolition is hurtled, what is the social relationship between the white and black races to be in Missouri? With abolition a fact, and with the economic relationship in transition, would not a wave of freed Africans then clustered together in Maryland and Virginia, with pockets in the Carolinas and Georgia and Tennessee, begin to flow into Missouri? Would not, in the natural course of the thing, the black population grow in Missouri; and, rather than wait for the war between the races to commence, for political control of the State, would not the flow into the State, of white people from New England and the Ohio River Valley, drizzle out, and the State left to the black? And yet, even so, the experiment's result would be at least a start. And, once, the remaining Territory of the Union—Iowa, Wisconsin, and Minnesota—had been organized into States, would they not attract the whites as well as the free blacks; farmers working plots of land, perhaps in different counties at first; mechanics and craftsmen settling in different villages; but all tending to integrate in time, living as they were in close proximity now? All equally free to pursue happiness in their lives? This is a pipe dream, given the hard human realities of the time.

This is as much the human reality today, in 2020, as it was two hundred years ago, in 1820. In every city in America, today, the living space is divided into barricaded blocks of blacks here, whites there. Between these blocks and around them are blocks of Chinese, Koreans, Japanese, Mexicans, Hondurans, Guatemalans; each separated by a street that marks the understood boundary line. Beyond these, on the outskirts, pockets of Iraqi, Pakistani, Solmalis; more blocks of weird bearded desultory Muslim men, their women hidden in burkas and veils; and the weirder Jews with their bizzare hats and curls and gabardine. Multiple cultures, each with its own fervent brand of religion, peculiar social manners, customs, mysterious language, taste in food, habits, morals, viciousness; each group huddled in separate enclaves, uneasy venturing forth, unwilling to meld into a cohesive, intergrated community—with, perhaps, nothing connecting them emotionally to the idea of America than an abstraction declared by a twenty-seven year old Virginian slaveholder they can barely understand. But, still, the American principle of the equality of men has demonstrated, in the intervening two hundred years, a political energy capable of breaking the barriers down: for, once the Polacks, the Italians, the Irish, the Germans had their enclaves, and they are all Americans now.

The objective truth of human history makes it obvious John Taylor's idea of abolishing slavery in the reality of his time was impossible to directly achieve, but might it be done indirectly? His resolution rejected at every vote to which it was put, Taylor recast the idea as a condition that the "further introduction" of slavery into Missouri be prohibited. A good idea, as, without the African population being bolstered by the importation of more of them as slaves, economic realities would tend, in the long run, to squeeze the institition out. But this idea was squashed by the South's argument that, given the North's refusal to accept Africans into their communities, the social pressure created by the exploding African population in the Southern states could only be relieved by moving the excess into the Territory.

Note: The population of Missouri, in 1860, was 1.1 million, 100,000 of which were Africans held as slaves.

And this is where they failed finally, the white politicians of the time, to deal with the Africans as the Nation ought. As Washington created it, the Federal Government was politically responsible for the whole people of America. In the political situation, where the people were intractably conflicted on the question what policy to adopt, it was the responsibility of the Congress to chose that policy which was best for the nation to adopt; and in this case there can be no reasonable doubt what that policy was: it was to use the territory of the Union as the means of dispersing the Africans from their concentrated location in the South through the whole country, while at the same time blocking their migration as slaves. Which meant the Congress somehow had to make the Africans, free.

map of US 1861

Distribution of the Africans in the America of 1861

For us, in our time, standing as we are on the shoulders of our ancestors, looking back, we shake our head and wonder why they did not see where the folly of human racism was taking them; that, if the problem of slavery was not resolved in 1820, the tensions between the two economic systems could only be expected to increase to the explosion point—as certainly the astute politicians, Clay, Webster, Calhoun, Benton, were gazing then at the vast lands west of the Mississippi in the hands of the Mexicans; wondering. And so, as Madison foresaw, the catasphore came and six hundred thousand young Americans were called by their elders to sacrifice their lives in the fire of our great war, a war which devasted the Southland and left her cities and towns in ruins; and still they did not learn the lesson. Another one hundred years had to pass before we became the generation who reaped the social peace that has finally evolved from their human frailities, from their sacrifice of their fortunes and themslves. As Lincoln said in his last words: "The judgment of the Lord is true and righteous altogether."



Joe Ryan