National Constitution CenterCenturies of Citizenship: A Constitutional Timeline Exhibit
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1791-1824: We forge a nation where the people rule

March 3, 1820
A compromise on Missouri gives us 12 slave states and 12 free

Map of the Missouri Territory

“If you persist, the Union will be dissolved. You have kindled a fire which all the waters of the ocean cannot put out, which seas of blood can only extinguish.”
—Thomas W. Cobb, Georgia Congressman

For years, we let each state choose its own course on the matter of slavery. Some states ended slavery; in others it’s grown stronger.

Then Missouri asked to join the Union as a slave state. The first territory west of the Mississippi to apply, Missouri exposed the limits of our delicate consensus. Should new lands be slave or free? Who should decide?

After long and bitter debate, Congress reached a compromise today. Slavery is barred north of latitude 36°30´, except for Missouri.

The free state of Maine will be admitted, too, leaving America with 12 free and 12 slave states—balanced, for now.

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