The Missouri Compromise

A compromise is when two or more parties in disagreement reach an agreement that does not give all sides exactly what they want, but enough of what they want so that they can be happy. Compromise is the best possible solution to a conflict however it does not always work. One needs only to look at situations such as the Bosnia-Herzegovina to see that. During the events prior to the American Civil War, many different compromises were made in an attempt to impede the growing disagreements. However this merely prolonged the inevitable. The differences between North and South were far to great and compromise did not stand a chance at preventing the impending conflict. This was most clearly shown in the ways in which the three main compromises, the Missouri Compromise, the Compromise of 1850 and the Kansas-Nebraska Act, failed.

In 1820 Missouri wanted to join the Union as a slave state. As this would ruin the balance between Slave states and Free states in the Senate, Henry Clay proposed the Missouri compromise. This arranged it that while Missouri was admitted as a Slave state, Maine was also admitted as a free state. It also created an imaginary line along the 36o latitude, where slavery was allowed below it but prevented above it. However they limited themselves by only applying the Compromise to lands gained in the Louisiana purchase. This led to conflict after the Mexican war in which America gained new territories in the West. This doomed the Missouri Compromise, which was probably the most promising of the three. Had the Compromise been applied to all American lands then perhaps it could have succeeded. Instead the Missouri Compromise failed and only led to further conflict between north and south in the future.

In 1849 once again the Union was facing the same crises it had faced in 1820. California now wanted to be admitted as a free state. Once again Henry Clay came up with a compromise to resolve this conflict. California would indeed be admitted as free while the rest of the Southwest territories would decide the slavery issue by popular sovereignty. It would also abolish slavery altogether in Washington DC and initiate a stronger fugitive slave law to appease the South. This last concession angered people in the North however. Free blacks were concerned as now a Southerner could accuse any black person as being a runaway slave. The special commission set up to handle such issues also had a higher incentive to rule in favour of the South as it meant more money. This angered the free blacks and abolitionists in the North. This Compromise once again only prolonged the inevitable and intensified the conflict between North and South.

The third compromise which failed came in the form of the Kansas-Nebraska Act. The act came about when Senator Stephen Douglas wanted to build a transcontinental railway which had to pass through the Nebraska territory. He proposed that Nebraska become a free state but the idea was quickly defeated by the South. Douglas then suggested that the territory become two states, Nebraska entering as a free state and Kansas deciding by popular sovereignty. This nullified the Missouri Compromise entirely however the South agreed. However people in the North against the expansion of slavery paid for people to move to Kansas and vote against slavery. This angered the South and resulted in Southerners crossing the border on voting day to vote in favour of slavery. This just resulted in distrust between Northerners and Southerners and led to Northerners establishing their own illegal government. Violence erupted and a civil war broke out in 'bleeding Kansas' much earlier than the rest of the country. It was clear at this point that the two sides were far beyond Compromise as shown by their actions. This compromise did not even prolong the coming war as much as it pushed the country towards it.

It is obvious that these compromises could do nothing to prevent the oncoming violence. Indeed it could be argued that the constant attempts at compromise is what brought about the Civil War. This shows that although compromise is the preferable option it was not a viable option to prevent the American Civil War. The difference between North and South were far to numerous and significant to be satisfied by compromise. Sadly in human history it is often results so that it is only possible