Two major compromises marked the sectional relations of the first half of the nineteenth century, the 1820 Missouri Compromise and the Compromise of 1850. The Missouri Compromise settled a controversy arising from the petition of Missouri, a part of the Louisiana Purchase, to be admitted to the Union as a slave state. The slave state of Louisiana had already been formed out of the Louisiana Purchase, but slavery had existed there before U.S. ownership. Missouri represented an area settled largely by Americans, and Northerners were loath to see slavery following the flag to areas where it was previously unknown. Anxious to see some limit placed on the spread of slavery, they moved to admit Missouri on the condition that it emancipate its slaves within a generation.
Southerners were outraged at this not only because it would have assured their section the minority status in the Senate that it already had in the House, but also because they considered it an insult. The compromise that resolved this crisis stipulated that Missouri be admitted as a slave state but that the remaining Louisiana Territory be divided along latitude 36°30´, the area south of the line reserved for slavery, north of it, forever free.
Here the charge of "sectional sellout" is partially true. Southerners obtained Missouri as a slave state, and though the division of the remaining territory seemed favorable to the North, it actually gave the South at least half and probably two-thirds of the area suitable for the establishment of slavery in the first place. Yet the North did at least win the principle that slavery could be excluded in some of the territories, and a small area of land that might have been suitable for slavery was reserved for freedom.
The Compromise of 1850 quieted the uproar over the status of slavery in the lands acquired through the Mexican War. Sectional tempers had heated over the past quarter century, and many Northerners were prepa...