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A nation divided

Slavery in the territories

View of covered wagons pulled by oxen (Western History/Genealogy Department, Denver Public Library)

When settlers arrived in a territory, Congress appointed a governor. The people could elect a legislature, and when its population reached 60,000, a territory could apply to Congress to become a state. As America expanded, the idea of slavery went with it. The Northern states wanted to see all new states entered as free states, while the Southerners wanted slave states. The overwhelming question of the time period was whether or not to extend slavery into the territories.

The Northwest Ordinance of 1787 was the first time the United States had expanded beyond its original 13 colonies. The Northwest Ordinance banned slavery, so the Northern states of Ohio, Indiana and Illinois became free states, while the states south of the Northwest Territory (south of the Ohio River) allowed slavery. Kentucky, Tennessee, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama became slave states.

After the Louisiana Purchase, the line between Northern and Southern states was unclear. In the early 1800s, the line between free state and slave state was the Mason Dixon line in the original 13 colonies and the Ohio River in the Ohio River Valley. This began to change after the Louisiana Purchase expanded America's boundaries west of the Mississippi River. New territories were formed, which led to states wanting to enter the Union. As new states entered the United States, Congress tried to maintain the balance between free states and slave states, so there was equal representation in Congress.

This resulted in a fierce debate when the Missouri Territory asked to join as a slave state, but it lay half in the North and half in the South. Both sides did not want the other to gain the advantage. They would solve the problem with the Missouri Compromise.

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The story

1. A Nation Divided

2. Events and Battles

3. Leaders

4. Daily Life

5. Aftermath


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