Compromises and Decisions on the Slavery Issue


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Primary Source Readings

The Missouri Compromise (1820)

An Act to authorize the people of 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

Sec. 8

And be it further enacted. That in all territory ceded by France to the United States, under the name of Louisiana, which lies north of thirty-six degrees and thirty minutes north latitude, not included within the limits of the state, contemplated by this act, slavery and involuntary servitude…” shall be, and is hereby, forever prohibited…”


Compromise of 1850


Clay’s Resolutions January 29, 1850

“It being desired for the peace, concord, and harmony of the Union of these States to settle and adjust amicably all existing questions of controversy between them arising out of the institution of slavery upon a fair, equitable and just basis, therefore:

1. Resolved, that California, with suitable boundaries, ought, upon her application to be admitted as one of the States of this Union, without the imposition by Congress of any restriction in respect to the exclusion or introduction of slavery within those boundaries.”

2. And be it further enacted that when a person held to service or labor in any State or Territory of the United States, has (before or might later) escape into another State or Territory of the United States, the person or persons to whom such labor or service may be due…may pursue and reclaim such fugitive…

Kansas-Nebraska Act (1854)

Sec. 32

“…except the eighth section of the act preparatory to the admission of Missouri into the Union, approved March sixth, eighteen hundred and twenty, which, being inconsistent with the principle of non-intervention by Congress with slavery in the States and Territories, as recognized by the legislation of eighteen-hundred and fifty (Compromise of 1850)…is hereby declared inoperative and void; it being the true intent and meaning of this act not to legislate slavery into any Territory or State, nor to exclude it therefrom, but to leave the people thereof perfectly free to form and regulate their domestic institutions in their own way, subject only to the Constitution of the United States.”

Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857)

Sec.I, Number 4.

A free negro of the African race, whose ancestors were brought to this country and sold as slaves, is not a “citizen” within the meaning of the Constitution of the United States.”

“When the Constitution was adopted, they were not regarded in any of the States as members of the community which constituted the State, and were not numbered among its “people or citizen.” Consequently the special rights and immunities guaranteed to citizens do not apply to them. And not being “citizens” within the meaning of the Constitution, they are not entitled to sue in that character in a court of the United States…”


Sec.IV, Number 5.

“The Constitution of the United States recognizes slaves as property, and pledges the federal government to protect it. And Congress cannot exercise any more authority over property of that description than it may constitutionally exercise over property of any other kind.”

The act of Congress, therefore, prohibiting a citizen of the United States from taking with him as slaves when he removes to the Territory in question to reside, is an exercise of authority over private property which is not warranted by the Constitution—and the removal of the plaintiff, by his owner to that Territory, gave him no title to freedom.”

Lincoln-Douglass Debates (1858)

Lincoln’s “House Divided Speech”

“We are now in the fifth year, since a policy was initiated, with the avowed object, and confident promise, of putting an end to slavery agitation. Under the operation of that policy, that agitation has not only, not ceased, but has constantly augmented. In my opinion, it will not cease, until a crisis shall have been reached, and passed.”

“A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe that this government cannot endure permanently half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved—I do not expect the house to fall—but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing, or all the other.”