The House of Representatives, 1822  by Samuel F. B. Morse. Courtesy of the National Gallery of Art.



By 1819, across a wide swath of the republic, slavery was seen as an evil of the past that the country needed to move beyond. The New England states and Pennsylvania had all abolished or phased out slavery during or shortly after the American Revolution. The Mid-Atlantic states of New York and New Jersey passed gradual emancipation laws in 1799 and 1804, respectively. Thousands of free African Americans became voters. Furthermore, the abolition of the international slave trade in 1808 helped to propel an antislavery movement. Northern politicians took notice and were motivated to act.

When Congress convened in 1819, the debate over Missouri and the expansion of slavery renewed. The House eventually passed a bill authorizing the people of Missouri to form a constitution and a state government; however, the next day, Rep. James Tallmadge, Jr. of New York amended the bill to restrict slavery in Missouri.

But this momentous question, like a fire bell in the night, awakened and filled me with terror. I considered it at once as the knell of the Union.

~ Thomas Jefferson

The Tallmadge Amendment

The Tallmadge Amendment placed conditions on Missouri statehood, allowing existing slaveholders to retain their property but providing for the gradual elimination of slavery in Missouri over several decades, similar to the approach taken in the gradual emancipation statutes that had been enacted throughout the North. The amendment prohibited the further importation of slaves and freed all slave children born in Missouri (after admission as a state) when they turned twenty-five.

James Tallmadge, Jr.

Rep. Tallmadge narrowly won election in New York with the support of black and other antislavery voters. Thus, when the bill for Missouri statehood was considered again, Tallmadge introduced an amendment to prohibit the “future introduction of slavery” in the new state.

“James Tallmadge, Jr.” from Hunt’s Merchants’ Magazine and Commercial Review, 1849.

A Deadlocked Vote



The House of Representatives, whose membership is determined by population, responded to the new antislavery currents in the country. The House sent an electric shock through the country by passing the Tallmadge Amendment, 87-76, banning slavery in Missouri.

Yet when the bill reached the Senate, with equal representation by the states, and thus more slaveholders, the Tallmadge Amendment met a different fate, struck altogether. The Senate passed its own bill with no restriction on slavery in Missouri, but that was narrowly rejected by the House, 78–76. On March 3, 1819, Congress adjourned, firmly deadlocked on the question of Missouri’s statehood.


Early Emancipation in the North created by Pea Pod Creative in partnership with Struggle for Statehood project team.

Did you know?

In the midst of the Missouri Crisis, the case McCulloch v. Maryland was decided by the U.S. Supreme Court. The court ruled that the Constitution gives Congress “implied powers,” not specifically stated, but necessary to carry out its other powers. The landmark decision established sovereignty of the federal government over the states.