Missouri Compromise Flag

Whiteside County Sample Barn

36” x 16”

 

The twenty three star flag depicts a critical moment in the history of the Union. The incorporation of the new Western Territories into the United States made the future of slavery a central issue in national politics. From the inception of the federal government, at the Constitutional Convention in 1787, the rights of African Americans were sacrificed in favor of a stronger union among the States. The issue of the rights of African Americans exploded again when Missouri applies for admission to the United States as a slave state.

 

 

In 1819 the United States Senate admits Alabama to the Union bringing into Congressional balance the “Slave” and “Free” states. The admission of Missouri alone would throw that balance in favor of slave owners. The debate becomes extraordinarily bitter when Congressman James Tallmadge from New York proposes that slavery be prohibited in the proposed new state. The debate was a legal and moral quagmire because the defenders of slavery relied on the central principle of fairness that was critical in the development of our nation. How could Congress deny a new state the right to decide for itself whether or not to allow slavery? If Congress controls the decision, the new states would have fewer rights in Congress than the original states.

 

Henry Clay plays a significant role in brokering what will become known as the "Missouri Compromise". He proposes that Missouri be admitted as a slave state and Maine, long wanting to be independent of Massachusetts, be admitted as a Free State. In the future, no State in the Louisiana Purchase north of the southern boundary of Missouri (the latitude 36 degrees 30') will be allowed to have slavery.

 

On April 22, 1829 Thomas Jefferson writes a letter to his friend saying the proposed division of the country had this effect on him, “Like a fire bell in the night, it awakened and filled me with terror. I considered it at once the death knell of the Union."

 

While the 23 star flag represents the Missouri Compromise it does not becomes our official flag in recognition of Missouri's admission to the Union. The 23 star flag recognizes the admission of Alabama and Maine. Missouri statehood will be recognized in 1821 with the 24 star flag.

 

In 1831 the Potawatomi Indians cede their last lands in Illinois by signing the Treaty of Camp Tippecanoe, opening the land for government survey and homesteading. Lewis and Clark have described the vast, flat prairies with groves of trees and soil "so rich if you but add salt you can eat it with a fork." In 1853 the railroad is extended through central Illinois bringing a great migration of farmers from the East and Canada.

 

In 1820 a bill to admit Maine as a free state passes the House. But as the bill comes to the Senate floor the problem of equal representation for free and slave states in the Senate becomes paramount to the new Nation. Thomas Jefferson, after his Presidency, writes "The momentous question, like a fire bell in the night, awakened and filled me with terror." The first attempted solution is to pair the two bills admitting Maine as a Free State and Missouri as a slave state with a clause forbidding slavery in the remainder of the Louisiana Territory north of the southern border of Missouri. The House rejects the bill and the two bills are separated. In March, 1820, Maine was admitted to the Union as a Free State and Missouri was authorized to adopt a constitution having no restrictions on slavery.

 

Objections are raised to a provision in the proposed Missouri Constitution barring the entry of free blacks in to the state. Another compromise is reached and the Missouri legislature pledges to allow nothing in its constitution that could be interpreted as abridging the rights of citizens of the United States. Senator Jesse B. Thomas of Illinois is largely credited with authoring the first compromise and Henry Clay, at that time Speaker of the House, is largely credited with doing much to secure its passage. Finally in August of 1821 Missouri is admitted to the Union. The 24 star flag then becomes our official flag on July 4, 1822.

 

The 24 Star Flag

The first inhabitants of Missouri are Native Americans of the Mississippian Culture who are responsible for building the oldest city in the United States and the burial mounds at Cahokia. In the 1700's there is a large influx of French lead miners and fur traders and a second group of Native Americans moving west to avoid conflict with the European settlers who have taken over their lands. Settlers continue to arrive in The Missouri Territory, largely from Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia. Their plantations, as well as the French lead mines, are operated with slave labor. By 1818 the Territory has gained sufficient population to apply for statehood. A bill for statehood is brought before the House of Representatives. But James Tallmadge, a representative from New York, proposes an amendment that would forbid the importation of slaves and require the children of slaves already in the Territory to be set free at age 25, effectively ending slavery in the Territory. In 1819 the amendment passes the House but not the Senate.

 

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© 2014 Marie Roth.