Summary of the Tallmadge Amendment

The Tallmadge amendment was a revision to a bill proposed by James Tallmadge Jr., which requested the prohibition of further enslavement in the territory of Missouri. Historyplex gives you a summary of this amendment proposal.
Historyplex Staff
"A fire bell in the night"
Thomas Jefferson called the Missouri debates "a fire bell in the night". These are also viewed as the beginning of the sectional conflict that led to the civil war.

The political boundaries of states in the United States of America were still in the early stage of formation during the 1800s. The admission of new states into the Union was carried out considering the balance between the number of free states and slave states. Thus, with a general agreement, states were admitted to the Union in pairs; like Vermont and Kentucky, Tennessee and Ohio, Louisiana and Indiana, or Mississippi and Illinois.


Background

Slavery existed as a part of the economic system of the British North American colonies between the 17th and mid-19th century. The 1787 constitution said that 'all men are created equal', but it did not abolish slavery, though it had banned it in the Northwest Territory (between Ohio and Mississippi). Slavery was rather recognized by a clause in the constitution known as the 'Three-fifths compromise'. The formula apportioning taxes and determining political representation in the House of Representatives was based on the sum of a state's free population and three-fifths of its slave population. However, this compromise formula became irrelevant later. Also, the first three censuses did not ask for any demographic characteristics of the slave population, thus hoping that slavery, as an institution, would wither away.
 
It is important to note that the population of the northern states was increasing at a faster rate than of the southern states. This created a concern for the balanced representation of Congress members in the Senate, as slaves did not count as a part of the populace. Around one-third of Missouri's population comprised slaves during its application for statehood. There were frequent discussions on the bill authorizing the people of Missouri to form a constitution and State government, and for the admission of the same into the Union.


What is the Tallmadge Amendment?

It was an amendment proposal made by the New York Congressman Mr. James Tallmadge Jr., on 13th February, 1819. The proposal asked to amend the Missouri admission bill by adding to it the following proviso:

"And provided, That the further introduction of slavery or involuntary servitude be prohibited, except for the punishment of crimes, whereof the party shall have been fully convicted; and that all children born within the said State, after the admission thereof into the Union, shall be free at the age of twenty-five years."


Summary

The amendment sought to check the spread of slavery as an institution by preventing any further importation of slaves into the territory of Missouri, a would-be state in the Union. It also aimed at the emancipation of slavery in future. The next generation of enslaved people (or children born to slave parents) were to be free at the age of twenty-five years. It did not thus, object to the existing slaves or slave children born before the amendment's passage. The amendment would have, however, led to the gradual removal of slavery and discouraged the masters to bring along their slaves in the new state of Missouri.


The Missouri Debates 

This amendment proposal generated strong reactions and guided many debates in the Congress. On one hand, it was argued that the Congress had no right to prescribe to any state, the details of its government. On the other hand, it was said that Congress could lay conditions on the admission of any new State into the Union.

The right of Congress to limit the further increase of slavery in Missouri was also argued upon the fact that Missouri was a purchased territory and not a state in the Union. The sovereignty of Congress in relation to the states was limited by specific grants, but it was unlimited in regard to the territories. Missouri was purchased, and so could also be sold until it is incorporated as a state, then why could a condition like prohibition of slavery in the territory not be justified?

The Tallmadge amendment was passed by the House of Representatives, but it was stuck with the Senate. It thus resulted into a deadlock. The Congress was adjourned on 4th March, 1819.


The Missouri Compromise

Later, in 1820, with the Missouri Compromise given by Henry Clay, Missouri was adopted to the Union without any restrictions on slavery. It did not include the Tallmadge amendment. This compromise was an opportunity seized after Maine broke away from Massachusetts and had applied for admission to the Union as a free state. The compromise also gave a fundamental guiding principle of prohibition of slavery in the territories beyond the 36ยบ30' parallel north.


Significance of the Tallmadge Amendment

The amendment proposal, although never ratified, gave rise to certain crucial debates over the constitutional authority of Congress, morality of holding slaves, the future of slavery in the west, and the probable conflict between the North and the South over slavery. James Tallmadge Jr. and supporters of this amendment opposed the extension of slavery into the new states of the west. They were also against "slave representation" in principle.

The Tallmadge amendment targeted the institution of slavery as it was a political and moral evil. However, the admission of people into the Union could not have been conditioned against a moral principle. So, maybe it is since decades that the states always have had a greater say in the federal structure of this nation.