The Missouri Crisis
THE MISSOURI DEBATES of 1819–1821 convulsed the United States. When Missouri Territory applied for statehood in February 1819, legions of Americans joined in the contention sparked by an amendment to the statehood bill offered by CongressmanJames Tallmadge of New York. The Tallmadge Amendment framed the first round of the controversy, which lasted until February 1820. It would have restricted slavery in Missouri by halting the importation of slaves and gradually liberating those already in bondage there. This phase of the crisis passed with the first Missouri Compromise, which authorized Missouri to come in without a restriction on slavery, but also admitted the free state of Maine. It also drew a line through the rest of the Louisiana Purchase territories at Missouri's southern border, restricting slavery north ofthat line but allowing it below it. Thus authorized to draft a state constitution, Missourians proceeded to guarantee slavery and—most provocatively—bar free people of color from entering their state. These clauses revived the crisis in late 1820 and early 1821, as Congress and the nation debated the acceptability of the Missouri state constitution's exclusion of free blacks. Another congressional compromise ended the second round, and a presidential proclamation in August 1821 recognized Missouri's admission with the opprobrious clauses intact.
Though ending in compromises, these debates' shock waves reverberated throughout American politics. Missouri dominated the business of Congress for weeks at a time and followed congressmen to their places of lodging. Speaker of the House Henry Clay observed that the Missouri question “monopolizes all our conversation, all our thoughts and … all our time. No body seems to think or care about any thing else.”1 Clay also lamented that in congressional circles as in public speeches, “the topic of disunion is frequently discussed and with as little emotion as an ordinary piece of legislation.”2 Reading of the controversy