Digital History
The Missouri Crisis
Digital History ID 272



During the Missouri crisis, northeastern reformers, for the first time, sought to mobilize public opinion against the westward expansion of slavery. The vehemence of anti-Missouri feeling is apparent in an editorial that appeared in the New York Advertiser: "THIS QUESTION INVOLVES NOT ONLY THE FUTURE CHARACTER OF OUR NATION, BUT THE FUTURE WEIGHT AND INFLUENCE OF THE FREE STATES. IF NOW LOST--IT IS LOST FOREVER."

Compromise was possible in 1820 because most Northerners were apathetic about the exclusion of slavery from Missouri and opponents of slavery were disunited. The Panic of 1819 consumed public attention. Congregationalist and Presbyterian church members from the Northeast led the drive to restrict slavery in Missouri, provoking widespread hostility from an anticlerical and anti-Federalist opposition.

The Pennsylvania Abolition Society had been the first organization in world history committed to the cause of eradicating human slavery. Though traditionally conservative in approach, the Society now cautiously threatens to join in a movement of national disunion if Congress continues to sanction the expansion of slavery.


This Society views with deep concern, the result of the late proceedings of Congress in respect to the formation of a new state in the territory of Missouri.

A solemn and deliberate sanction seems to be thereby given to the continuance of domestic slavery, within the limits of a nation, whose original separation from Great Britain, was, professedly, founded on the abhorrence of slavery in every form, and whose toleration of it in their general constitution, was only excused by an imperious state necessity.

At a period when such a plea cannot be urged; when the Christian powers of Europe are actively cooperating in preventing the continuance of the slave trade from Africa; when almost every other public act, and profession of public opinion, emanating from our own government, conveys the impression of abhorrence of its existence, to open a new mart for this unnatural traffic, and with facilities of transfer not restrained but indirectly invited and protected, to stamp a constitutional perpetuity on its principles appears to us equally inconsistent and unjust.

Yet the power to form a state, without a restriction in these respects by Congress, has been declared, and however it may be regretted, must be submitted to, until some constitutional remedy shall be obtained.

It remains to be seen, whether the virtue of the inhabitants, when collected to form their constitution as a state, will not supply what Congress has decided not to require as a preliminary condition to the formation of their constitution; whether their own sense of justice, their own attachment to the sound principles of political and civil liberty, their own perception of the real interests of their country, will not lead them to present to Congress a constitution, from whose face this odious feature shall be expressly and forever excluded, and thus establish by voluntary and honourable compact, what they might from other motives reject as a condition imposed on them.

If this hope should fail, another remains. It will rest with the legislature of the United States, whether they will receive into their bosom a new member, who has neglected or disclaimed the opportunity and the honour of approaching the Union with a constitution truly republican, unstained by the infusion of a principle inconsistent with the purity and freedom that can alone consolidate, ennoble and perpetuate our country; and to this we earnestly and respectfully invite the future attention of our representatives....

We deem this a proper occasion to declare, that with a deep conviction that slavery is inconsistent with moral principle, national interest, and above all, with the Christian dispensation; we never have sought to raise our opposition to it above the constitutional barriers intended to surround and protect our country. To the constitutional powers of the Legislature of the United States, to avert and to remove evils, we have always looked with confidence and satisfaction. Holding, as we do, the union of the states, as the great basis of their prosperity and happiness, we shall be among the last of the members of this free nation to abandon it; and we shall wait until the heavy pressure of the evils which might have been prevented or remedied, by the due and proper exercise of those powers, shall compel us to submit to its termination. That period will we cordially hope never arrive.

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