Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

Wolf by the Ears: The Missouri Crisis, 1819-1821

Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

Wolf by the Ears: The Missouri Crisis, 1819-1821

Article excerpt

Wolf by the Ears: The Missouri Crisis, 1819-1821. By John R. Van Atta. Witness to History. (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2015. Pp. xiv, 199. Paper, $19.95, ISBN 978-1-4214-1653-3; cloth, $50.00, ISBN 978-1-4214-1652-6.)

Following the precedent established by Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, the territory of Missouri in 1819 petitioned Congress to become a slaveholding state without a second thought. There seemed little question that slavery would continue in the district once statehood was achieved. Indeed, the Louisiana Purchase treaty had guaranteed slavery's legality in the territory, and by 1819 Missouri's slave population had surpassed ten thousand. When New York congressman James Tallmadge presented an amendment to the Missouri statehood bill that would abolish slavery over the course of a few years, the southern delegation in Congress rebelled, beginning a three-year political battle that, according to John R. Van Atta, led to "a convergence of political, economic, and social disturbances--West, South, and North--that brought an end to the old order of American life and suggested the broad outlines of a new one" (p. 4). A united South vigorously came to Missouri's defense to secure slavery's place in the republic, articulating a new and powerful rhetorical stance that anticipated the proslavery, "positive good" rationale of the future. In reaction, antislavery northerners saw slavery's expansion coupled with its latest brazen defense as a threat to an emerging market economy in the North that was shedding its dependence on unfree labor for a free labor force of wage earners. Just as southerners during the crisis embraced a new ideology in slavery's defense, northerners proceeded to form their own innovative canon based on free labor principles. …

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