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In the dark period of the commercial crisis of 1819, while Congress was considering the admission of Missouri, the slavery issue flamed out, and revealed with startling distinctness the political significance of the institution, fateful and ominous for the nation, transcending in importance the temporary financial and industrial ills.


The advance of settlement in the United States made the slavery contest a struggle for power between sections, marching in parallel columns into the west, each carrying its own system of labor. [Footnote: For previous questions of slavery, see Channing, Jeffersonian System (Am. Nation, XII.), chap. viii.] By 1819 the various states of the north, under favorable conditions of climate and industrial life, had either completely extinguished slavery or were in the process of emancipation [Footnote: See map, p. 6.] and by the Ordinance of 1787 the old Congress had excluded the institution in the territory north of the Ohio River. Thus Mason and Dixon's line and the Ohio made a boundary between the slave-holding and the free streams of population that flowed into the Mississippi Valley. Not that this line was a complete barrier: the Ordinance of 1787 was not construed to free the slaves already in the old French towns of the territory; and many southern masters brought their slaves into Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois by virtue of laws which provided for them under the fiction of indented servants. [Footnote: Harris, Negro Servitude in Ill., 10; Durm, Indiana, chaps. ix., x.] Indeed, several efforts were made in the territory of Indiana at the beginning of the nineteenth century to rescind the prohibition of 1787; but to this petition Congress, under the strange leadership of John Randolph, gave a negative; [Footnote: Ibid., chap, xii.; Hinsdale, Old Northwest, chap, xviii.] and, after a struggle between the southern slavery and antislavery elements by which the state had been settled, Indiana entered the Union in 1816 as a free state, under an agreement not to violate the Ordinance of 1787.

Illinois, on her admission in 1818, also guaranteed the provisions of the Ordinance of 1787, and, not without a contest, included in her constitution an article preventing the introduction of slavery, but so worded that the system of indenture of Negro servants was continued in a modified form. The issue of slavery still continued to influence Illinois elections, and, as the inhabitants saw well-to-do planters pass with their slaves across the state to recruit the property and population of Missouri, a movement (1823-1824) in favor of revising their constitution so as to admit slavery required the most vigorous opposition to hold the state to freedom. The leader of the antislavery forces in Illinois was a Virginian, Governor Coles (once private secretary to President Madison), who had migrated to free his slaves after he became convinced that it was hopeless to make the fight which Jefferson advised him to carry on in favor of gradual emancipation in his native state. [Footnote: Harris, Negro Servitude in III., chap. iv.; Washburne, Coles, chaps, iii., v.] In both Indiana and Illinois, the strength of the opposition to slavery and indented servitude came from the poorer whites, particularly from the Quaker and Baptist elements of the southern stock, and from the northern settlers.

In Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina, ever since the decline of the tobacco culture, a strong opposition to slavery had existed, shown in the votes of those states on the Ordinance of 1787, and in the fact that as late as 1827 the great majority of the abolition societies of the United States were to be found in this region. [Footnote: Dunn, Indiana, 190; Bassettin Johns Hopkins Univ. Studies, XVI., No. vi.; cf. Hart, Slavery and Abolition (Am. Nation, XVI.), chap. xi.] But the problem of dealing with the free Negro weighed upon the south. Even in the north these people were unwelcome. They frequently became a charge upon the community, and they were placed under numerous disabilities. [Footnote: McMaster, United States, IV., 558; Gordy, Political Hist, of U. S., II., 405.]