Saturday, May 23, 2009

The Missouri Compromise: Maine Admitted, Missouri Not So Much

As you probably know, the Missouri crisis of 1819-1821 actually involved two distinct controversies and settlements. Most entries on the Missouri Compromise will tell you this, but they often don’t do a good job explaining the details.

The second crisis and compromise arose out the way in which the first phase was resolved. The first settlement was reflected in two acts passed by Congress and signed into law by President Monroe at the beginning of March 1820.

The first act, entitled An Act for the admission of the state of Maine into the Union, provided, as the title suggests, for the actual admission of Maine as a state on a date certain – March 15, 1820. As the Wherefore clause of the Act recited, the people of Maine, previously a “district” of the State of Massachusetts, had already, with Massachusetts’ consent, formed a de facto independent state government and established a state constitution. Therefore, once the president signed the bill into law, no further action by Congress or anyone else was necessary:
WHEREAS, by an act of the state of Massachusetts, passed on [June 19, 1819], entitled “An act relating to the separation of the district of Maine from Massachusetts proper, and forming the same into a separate and independent state,” the people of that part of Massachusetts heretofore known as the district of Maine, did, with the consent of the legislature of said state of Massachusetts, form themselves into an independent state, and did establish a constitution for the government of the same, agreeably to the provisions of the said act – Therefore,

Be it enacted by the Senate and the House of Representatives of the United States of America, in Congress assembled, That from and after [March 15, 1820], the state of Maine is hereby declared to be one of the United States of America, and admitted into the Union on an equal footing with the original states, in all respects whatever.

In short, Maine was a done deal.

Missouri, however, was not. Unlike the people of Maine, the people of Missouri had not already established a proposed constitution. The statute that addressed the Missouri issue (and which also contained the proviso concerning the the status of the remainder of the Louisiana Purchase north of 36 degrees 30 minutes north) did not exactly itself admit Missouri as a state. The Missouri Act sort of fudged the issue. As the title of the Act indicates – An Act to authorize the people of the Missouri territory to form a constitution and state government, and for the admission of such state into the Union on an equal footing with the original states, and to prohibit slavery in certain territories – the Act authorized the people of Missouri to establish a constitution and state government:
Be it enacted by the Senate and the House of Representatives of the United States of America, in Congress assembled, That the inhabitants of that portion of the Missouri territory included within the boundaries hereinafter designated, be, and they are hereby, authorized to form for themselves a constitution and state government, and to assume such name as they shall deem proper . . .

The Act also suggested that, once the people of Missouri had performed these acts, admission would follow more or less automatically. Indeed, the Act did not even state in so many words that further action by Congress would be required:
. . . and the said state, when formed, shall be admitted into the Union, upon an equal footing with the original states, in all respects whatsoever.

Even so, it is probably fair to infer that some ministerial declaration by Congress would be necessary. First, Section 4 contained a proviso that suggested that Congress retained the right to insure that the people of Missouri had complied with the requirements of the statute and the Constitution:
Provided, That the same [the state constitution and government], whenever formed, shall be republican, and not repugnant to the constitution of the United States; and the legislature of said state shall never interfere with the primary disposal of the soil by the United States, nor with any regulations Congress may find necessary for securing the title in such soil to the bona fide purchasers; and that no tax shall be imposed on lands the property of the United States; and in no case shall non-resident proprietors be taxed higher than residents.

Second, Section 7 of the Act provided that a copy of the constitution needed to be transmitted to Congress, presumably for final approval:
And be it further enacted, That in case a constitution and state government shall be formed for the people of the said territory of Missouri, the said convention or representatives, as soon thereafter as may be, shall cause a true and attested copy of such constitution, or frame of state government, as shall be formed or provided, to be transmitted to Congress.

David M. Currie views Section 7 as clinching the argument that a subsequent congressional declaration was required to effect Missouri's formal admission:
Congress took no chances that Missouri might fail to meet the conditions of statehood laid down in its enabling act. Like Louisiana, and unlike any of the Northern states previously admitted, Missouri was expressly required to submit its constitution to Congress [citing Section 7].

This imbalance – Maine had been admitted as a state; Missouri had not – gave opponents of slavery expansion a second bite at the apple.

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