Missouri Compromise

Missouri Compromise

Explore the significance of the Missouri Compromise and how it served as a temporary measure to stop escalating tensions between states that allowed slavery and states that did not.


5 - 8


Geography, Human Geography, Social Studies, Civics, U.S. History

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Ideas for Use in the Classroom

Have your students begin by noting the information that is shown on the map. Remind them that the Missouri Compromise was created to maintain the balance between states that allowed slavery (slave states) and those that did not (free states) in Congress as a way to contain growing regional tensions. Ask students to describe what those tensions were. Have students look at the map and ask what is different about this map of the United States compared to one they might see of the modern-day United States. Ask them to identify the states and their locations. Ask students to identify free states and their locations.

Next have students look at the “imaginary” compromise line. Ask why the 36° 30’ boundary line was crucial to the compromise working. What would it mean, for example, if the Oregon Territory wanted to join the United States (Union) as a slave state?

As a class, review the box to the left of the map showing the breakdown of congressional seats. Based on the information, what can be inferred from the data shown? (The Senate needed to be equal, particularly, since in the House, free-state representatives outnumbered slave-state representatives.) Keeping that in mind, which area of the country would be the most problematic in terms of future congressional representation if the compromise were to work? (The West, as more free states would enter the United States than states that slavery.)

Read the following quote written by John Quincy Adams:

“I have favored this Missouri compromise, believing it to be all that could be effected under the present Constitution, and from extreme unwillingness to put the Union at hazard. ... If the Union must be dissolved, slavery is precisely the question upon which it ought to break. For the present, however, this contest is laid asleep.”

Have students write out a brief paragraph on what Adams’ view of the compromise suggests. (It suggests that under the circumstances, this was the best the nation could do while holding true to the Constitution, and that slavery is a huge problem for the government and, for the time being, the issue of slavery has been dealt with, suggesting that it will come up again.)

Media Credits

The audio, illustrations, photos, and videos are credited beneath the media asset, except for promotional images, which generally link to another page that contains the media credit. The Rights Holder for media is the person or group credited.

Tyson Brown, National Geographic Society
National Geographic Society
Production Managers
Gina Borgia, National Geographic Society
Jeanna Sullivan, National Geographic Society
Program Specialists
Sarah Appleton, National Geographic Society, National Geographic Society
Margot Willis, National Geographic Society
Clint Parks
Last Updated

May 17, 2022

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