After the War of 1812, the nation was enjoying its first real sense of nationhood.

After the War of 1812, the nation was enjoying its first real sense of nationhood. It is ironic, then, that in those years a situation would be created that seemed to permanently split the nation in two. Slavery had been a contentious issue ever since the founding of the nation. The importance of slavery to the agrarian economies of the southern states had been “the firebell in the night” that had so worried a slaveholding Thomas Jefferson, who also publicly disapproved of slavery. But as southern land was depleted, southerners moved to new regions and brought slavery with them. If those territories became states, as was expected, slave states would outnumber free states, and that prospect unleashed a fury of emotion on both sides. Forty years before the Civil War, it was the Missouri Compromise of 1820 that prevented the southern states from seceding from the Union over the issue. From the Missouri Territory westward, any new state above the 36° 30’th parallel would not be open to slavery, and any new states below that latitude line would be. While the regions of the young United States were developing in very different ways, everyone agreed that forging this awkward and, in some ways, principle-bending compromise was essential to maintaining a Union.



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Document 1 is an interactive map that highlights the Missouri Compromise.

Document 2 offers John Quincy Adams’s reflections on the debates surrounding the Missouri question, give giving insight into that the deep desire and care for the union of the states of North America.


1. Read Chapter 11 through 13.

2. Use the interactive features of the attached map of the United States at the time of the Missouri Compromise, 1820, to learn about the status of the slave-fueled economic system that existed in the south South and was pushing westward. Read Document 2, from the journals of John Quincy Adams, regarding the Congressional congressional debates over the “Missouri Question,” as it was called.

3. Answer the questions that follow below (Questions to Answer in the Discussion Board) by Saturday by 11:59pm. You can post your comments to other students until Sunday by 11:59pm. Review the Welcome Message for more info on discussion requirements. Be sure to label your answers.

4. The discussion should reflect your own words. I use software to detect plagiarism, so do your own work and if you use ANY information from the internet it is better to be safe than sorry, so cite it. If you use the internet for help, with few exceptions like, questionable sources can be avoided by searching on reputable websites, especially those that end in .edu, .org or .gov. All other websites should be carefully considered and the information critically evaluated and questioned.


1. What were the issues and ideas that promoted sectional conflict in this era?

2. What law did the Missouri State state legislature enact that threatened to derail its admittance to the Union and the entire Missouri Compromise?

3. At the time of Missouri’s entrance into the United States, which states had the highest percentage of enslaved men and women living within their borders? 

4 How does the Missouri Compromise reflect the strong sense of nationalism Americans felt for their country in the early 1800s? What details can we learn from John Quincy Adams’s diary entry?

Document 1

The Missouri Compromise  (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.

Source: From

Document 2

John Quincy Adams, The Diary of John Quincy Adams, February 23, 1820, [Slavery Is a Stain], February 24, 1820, and [Slavery Is the Question upon which the Union Will Break], March 3, 1820.

February 23. A. Livermore and W. Plumer, Junr, members of the House of Representatives from New Hampshire, called upon me, and, conversing on the Missouri slave question, which at this time agitates Congress and the Nation, asked my opinion of the propriety of agreeing to a compromise. The division in Congress and the nation is nearly equal on both sides. The argument on the free side is, the moral and political duty of preventing the extension of slavery in the immense country from the Mississippi River to the South Sea. The argument on the slave side is, that Congress have no power by the Constitution to prohibit slavery in any State, and, the zealots say, not in any Territory. The proposed compromise is to admit Missouri, and hereafter Arkansas, as States, without any restriction upon them regarding slavery, but to prohibit the future introduction of slaves in all Territories of the United States north of 36° 30′ latitude. I told these gentlemen that my opinion was, the question could be settled no otherwise than by a compromise.

Feb. 24. I had some conversation with Calhoun on the slave question pending in Congress. He said he did not think it would produce a dissolution of the Union, but, if it should, the South would be from necessity compelled to form an alliance, offensive and defensive, with Great Britain.

I said that would be returning to the colonial state.

He said, yes, pretty much, but it would be forced upon them. I asked him whether he thought, if by the effect of this alliance, offensive and defensive, the population of the North should be cut off from its natural outlet upon the ocean, it would fall back upon its rocks bound hand and foot, to starve, or whether it would not retain its powers of locomotion to move southward by land. Then, he said, they would find it necessary to make their communities all military. I pressed the conversation no further: but if the dissolution of the Union should result from the slave question, it is as obvious as anything that can be foreseen of futurity, that it must shortly afterwards be followed by the universal emancipation of the slaves. A more remote but perhaps not less certain consequence would be the extirpation of the African race on this continent, by the gradually bleaching process of intermixture, where the white portion is already so predominant, and by the destructive progress of emancipation, which, like all great religious and political reformations, is terrible in its means though happy and glorious in its end. Slavery is the great and foul stain upon the North American Union, and it is a contemplation worthy of the most exalted soul whether its total abolition is or is not practicable: if practicable, by what it may be effected, and if a choice of means be within the scope of the object, what means would accomplish it at the smallest cost of human suffering. A dissolution, at least temporary, of the Union, as now constituted, would be certainly necessary . . . The Union might then be reorganized on the fundamental principle of emancipation. This object is vast in its compass, awful in its prospects, sublime and beautiful in its issue.

March 3. When I came this day to my office, I found there a note requesting me to call at one o’clock at the President’s house. It was then one, and I immediately went over. He expected that the two bills, for the admission of Maine, and to enable Missouri to make a Constitution, would have been brought to him for his signature, and he had summoned all the members of the Administration to ask their opinions in writing, to be deposited in the Department of State, upon two questions: 1, Whether Congress had a Constitutional right to prohibit slavery in a Territory: and 2, Whether the eighth section of the Missouri bill (which interdicts slavery forever in the Territory north of thirty-six and a half latitude) was applicable only to the Territorial State, or could extend to it after it should become a State.

As to the first question, it was unanimously agreed that Congress have the power to prohibit slavery in the Territories. . . I had no doubt of the right of Congress to interdict slavery in the Territories, and urged that the power contained in the term “dispose of” included the authority to do everything that could be done with it as mere property, and that the additional words, authorizing needful rules and regulations respecting it, must have reference to persons connected with it, or could have no meaning at all. As to the force of the term needful, I observed, it was relative, and must always be supposed to have reference to some end. Needful to what end? Needful in the Constitution of the United States to any of the ends for which that compact was formed. Those ends are declared in its preamble: to establish justice, for example. What can be more needful for the establishment of justice than the interdiction of slavery where it does not exist?

After this meeting, I walked home with Calhoun, who said that the principles which I had avowed were just and noble: but that in the Southern country, whenever they were mentioned, they were always understood as applying only to white men. Domestic labor was confined to the blacks, and such was the prejudice, that if he, who was the most popular man in his district, were to keep a white servant in his house, his character and reputation would be irretrievably ruined.

I said that this confounding of the ideas of servitude and labor was one of the bad effects of slavery: but he thought it attended with many excellent consequences. It did not apply to all kinds of labor-not, for example, to farming. He himself had often held the plough: so had his father. Manufacturing and mechanical labor was not degrading. It was only manual labor-the proper work of slaves. No white person could descend to that. And it was the best guarantee to equality among the whites. It produced an unvarying level among them. It not only did not excite, but did not even admit of inequalities, by which one white man could domineer over another.

I told Calhoun I could not see things in the same light. It is, in truth, all perverted sentiment-mistaking labor for slavery and dominion for freedom. The discussion of this Missouri question has betrayed the secret of their souls. In the abstract they admit that slavery is an evil, they disclaim all participation in the introduction of it, and cast it all upon the shoulders of our old Grandam Britain. But when probed to the quick upon it, they show at the bottom of their souls pride and vainglory in their condition of masterdom. They fancy themselves more generous and noble-hearted than the plain freemen who labor for subsistence. They look down upon the simplicity of a Yankee’s manners, because he has no habits of overbearing like theirs and cannot treat negroes like dogs. It is among the evils of slavery that it taints the very sources of moral principle. It establishes false estimates of virtue and vice: for what can be more false and heartless than this doctrine which makes the first and holiest rights of humanity to depend upon the color of the skin?…

I have favored this Missouri compromise, believing it to be all that could be effected under the present Constitution, and from extreme unwillingness to put the Union at hazard. But perhaps it would have been a wiser as well as a bolder course to have persisted in the restriction upon Missouri, till it should have terminated in a convention of the States to revise and amend the Constitution. This would have produced a new Union of thirteen or fourteen States unpolluted with slavery, with a great and glorious object to effect, namely, that of rallying to their standard the other States by the universal emancipation of their slaves. If the Union must be dissolved, slavery is precisely the question upon which it ought to break. For the present, however, this contest is laid asleep.


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