The Slavery Debate

The Slavery Debate

In the 1850’s in the United States, the country was reeling from heated debates on slavery that affected almost every sphere of American life.

In Missouri in 1855, Missourians were engaged in a state-wide emotional debate about the status of slavery in their neighboring state of Kansas. 1 The country had faced this issue before in 1820, with the polarizing debate of slavery in the new state of Missouri.2 Ultimately a compromise was reached, Missouri would enter into the Union as a slave state and Maine as a free state, but this tenuous attempt at keeping the balance between pro-slavery interests and abolitionist interests was only a short term solution.3 In 1850 the volatile issue of slavery came up again. In order to maintain the tenuous political balance, law makers one again reached a compromise, the introduction of another free state, California and a harsh pro slavery law, the Fugitive slave law. 4 The fugitive slave law denied slaves’ rights to trial, criminalized the aiding of freeing slaves, and required all citizens to help in the capture or returning of the slave to its rightful master. 5

Before and throughout Missouri’s statehood, it had enacted laws that robbed slaves of agency, freedom of movement, employment and legal rights.6

Many of these laws were hard to enforce, but as it was the law, it was expected that it would be followed. 7 The laws became harsher and more far reaching as time went on, especially as the threat to slavery began emerging in the United States in the form of the abolitionist movement.8