MISSOURI COMPROMISE Called the "title page to a great tragic volume" by John Quincy Adams, the Missouri Compromise of 1820 was an attempt to preserve the sectional balance of power between northern free states and southern slave states.
When the Missouri Territory petitioned for statehood in 1818, the Senate of the United States was equally divided (eleven free states and eleven slave states) between the two sections. To admit Missouri as a slave state in accordance with the wishes of its inhabitants would clearly upset this balance of senatorial power and, in the process, heighten sectional animosity. A crisis was averted, however, when the people of Maine (then part of Massachusetts) petitioned for statehood as well. A compromise was accordingly worked out which provided that Missouri be allowed to enter the Union as a slave state while Maine would enter as a free state, thus preserving the balance of power. In order to secure northern support for the measure, the Missouri Compromise also included the provision that slavery would forever be prohibited in the remainder of the Louisiana Territory north of the line thirty-six degrees and thirty minutes.
Although a sectional confrontation of crisis proportions was avoided as the result of the Missouri Compromise, most people realized that the compromise itself involved a temporary "truce" at best. Agreeing with John Quincy Adams, Thomas C. Cobb of Georgia lamented that "we have kindled a fire which all the waters of the ocean cannot put out, which seas of blood can only extinguish."