Fire Bell in the Night

Missouri's application for statehood threatened to upset the equilibrium of power in the Senate between free and slave states. The 1820 Missouri Compromise attempted to retain the balance. With characteristic eloquence, Thomas Jefferson expressed alarm at this decision, which he perceived as a trespass on states' rights by the federal government. He predicted that the compromise set the United States on the road to inevitable civil conflict. The slave owners of the South, he wrote, held "a wolf by the ear." In his opinion, only the eventual emancipation of African Americans and their expatriation to Africa could resolve the dilemma peacefully.

view large image

Letter from Thomas Jefferson, Albemarle County, Virginia, to John Holmes, Senator from Maine, Washington, D.C., 22 April 1820.

Gift of the Paul Mellon Estate (MSS 11619)