This 1817 petition pressed the US Congress to consider Missouri Territory for statehood status. This petition, which was circulated around Washington County, was one of many signed by Missouri residents in the fall of that year. This was a part of a first round of petitions that made their way to Congress in early 1818. Missourians believed Congressional approval was likely because Missouri was nearing the 60,000 person population threshold for statehood. Americans had poured into the newly-created Missouri Territory in the years following the end of the War of 1812. Most of those who moved to Missouri hailed from the Upper South, and, as the French colonists had earlier, many brought enslaved people with them.
As Congress considered the question of Missouri’s statehood, an issue arose over the status of slavery in the proposed state. Many were surprised when James Tallmadge, a congressman from New York, who had helped to secure that state’s emancipation act, proposed an amendment to the bill for statehood that would require a similar gradual emancipation scheme for Missouri. Southern politicians stridently opposed Tallmadge’s plan, however, due to concerns over constitutional limits on the expansion of slavery and balanced representation in Congress. Most white Missourians also resented Congressional attempts to limit slavery in the proposed state, considering the institution essential to the region’s growth and success.
The 1820 Missouri-Maine Compromise temporarily averted the national political crisis over the westward expansion of slavery. Maine entered the Union as a free state in 1820 and Missouri as a slave state in 1821. The Compromise also set the 36 30 parallel as the dividing line between slavery and freedom for future states. The Union was preserved for the next 25 years through this process of admitting a slave and a free state simultaneously.
Subject: United States--Territorial expansion; Statehood
Collection Name: The Missouri Collection (C3982)
Contributing Institution: State Historical Society of Missouri
Rights: Public Domain