By 1817 Missourians were lobbying for statehood. Petitions were circulated, and Congress began to consider the issue in 1818. Missouri’s request caused an extended debate over slavery. The institution had long been a sore point in Congress between politicians of the Northern states, who wanted to limit or abolish it, and those of the South, who wanted to preserve it. To maintain harmony, the issue had been avoided as much as possible. Now, however, the Northerners took a stand against extension of slavery into new territories. The Southerners were just as adamant because they wanted to preserve their power in the United States Senate. The seats were evenly divided between North and South, which meant that the South could block bills that threatened its system. However, if all new states were free states, the slave states would soon be a minority in the Senate. Missouri became the test case.
Congressman Henry Clay of Kentucky worked out a solution. Missouri would be allowed to enter the federal Union as a slave state, Maine (a territory that prohibited slavery) would be admitted as a free state, and slavery would be allowed elsewhere in the former Louisiana Territory below Missouri’s southern boundary, latitude 36°30’N. This was the Missouri Compromise of 1820. The admission of one free and one slave state preserved the free-versus-slave balance in Congress, and the demarcation line assured the South that more slave states could be admitted in the future. Although much more of the new territory was located north of the line than south of it, Southerners felt that few states could be formed from the northern part because explorers Zebulon Pike and Stephen Long had described the area—the Great Plains—as a “great desert.” "Missouri" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia
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