to THE MAKING OF A NATION – American history in VOA Special English.
In the spring of eighteen twenty,
President James Monroe was coming to the end of his first four years as
president. He wanted to be elected again. But he faced a difficult decision.
Congress, after much debate between the North and
the South, had approved a bill giving statehood to Missouri. Missouri was part
of the Louisiana territory. Southern lawmakers wanted Missouri to permit
slavery. Northerners wanted no slaves in Missouri. A compromise was reached.
Missouri could have slaves. But nowhere else in the northern part of the
Louisiana territory would slavery be permitted.
Now, Sarah Long and Steve Ember continue our story
of the presidency of James Monroe.
Many southerners were not satisfied. The compromise
closed the door against slavery entering large new areas of land. Southerners
-- like all other Americans -- had a right to settle in the new territory.
President Monroe was a slave-owner. He understood the feelings of the South.
His friends urged him to veto the compromise bill, because it limited slavery
in the territory.
Monroe believed the compromise was wrong -- but not
because it kept slaves out of the territory. The president did not believe the
Constitution gave Congress the right to make such conditions.
Monroe even wrote a veto message explaining why he
could not approve the compromise. But he did not use the veto. He also
understood the strong feelings of those opposed to slavery.
He believed there might be civil war if he rejected
the compromise. So Monroe signed the bill. Missouri had permission to enter the
union as a slave state.
The crisis seemed ended. But a few months later, a
new problem developed. Missouri wrote a state constitution that it sent to
Congress for approval. One part of this constitution did not permit free black
men to enter the state. The constitution was immediately opposed by a number of
congressmen. They charged that it violated the United States constitution.
The United States Constitution said citizens of
each state had the rights of citizens of each of the other states. And since
free black men were citizens of some states, they should have the right to be
citizens of Missouri. The debate over this lasted several months.
Former House speaker Henry Clay finally proposed a
compromise that both sides accepted. Missouri could become a state if its
legislature would make this promise: it would never pass any law that would
violate the rights of any citizen of another state. This second compromise
ended the dispute over slavery in Missouri and the Louisiana territory.
The compromise of eighteen twenty settled the
crisis of slavery for more than twenty years. But everyone knew that the
settlement was only temporary.
[Former President] Thomas Jefferson used these
words to explain his feelings about the compromise: "This question -- like a fire bell in the night -- awakened
and filled me with terror. I understood it at once as the threat of death to
the union. It is hushed, indeed, for the moment.
"But," said Jefferson, "this is a
reprieve only. Not a final settlement."
Monroe's decision to approve the compromise did not
hurt his election chances in eighteen twenty. There was at this time really
only one party -- the Republican -- and he was its leader. The opposition
Federalist Party was dead. It was no longer an election threat.
Monroe was the only presidential candidate in the
election of eighteen twenty. He received the vote of every elector, but one.
William Plumer of New Hampshire voted for John Quincy Adams. He explained later
that George Washington had been the only president to get all the electoral
votes. Plumer said he did not want anyone to share this honor given to
Monroe's first four years as president had been
successful. He had increased the size of the United States. Florida now was
part of the country. And the problem of slavery had been temporarily settled.
There had been economic problems -- some of the worst in the nation's history.
But the situation was getting better.
The nation was growing. As it grew, new problems
developed between its different sections. There were really three separate
areas with very different interests. The northeastern states had become the
industrial center of the nation. The southern states were agricultural with
large farms that produced cotton, rice and tobacco. Much of the work on these
farms was done by slave labor.
The western states were areas of small farms where
grain was produced with free labor. It was a place where a man could make a new
start. Could build a new life. The land did not cost much. And the fruits of a
man's labor were his own.
This division of the nation into
different sections with opposing interests ended the one-party system of
Monroe's administration. The industrial Northeast wanted high taxes on imported
products to protect its industry from foreign competition. This part of the
country also believed the national government should pay for roads and
waterways to get their products to markets.
The South did not agree to high import
taxes. These taxes raised the prices on all goods. And import taxes on foreign
goods might cause foreign nations to raise import taxes on southern cotton and
tobacco. The South also opposed spending federal money for roads and canals.
The mountains through the southern Atlantic states would make road-building
difficult and canals impossible.
The western states supported government
aid in the building of roads and canals. The Ohio and Mississippi rivers were
the only inexpensive transportation systems for moving their products to
markets. The westerners also supported high taxes on imports, because they
believed such taxes would raise the prices of their agricultural products.
The separate interests of these different sections
produced an exciting presidential election campaign in eighteen twenty-four.
Each section had at least one candidate. Several had more than one. The
campaign began almost as soon as Monroe was elected for the second time.
At one time, as many as sixteen men thought of
themselves as presidential possibilities. By eighteen twenty-two, the number
had been reduced to six men. Three of them were members of Monroe's cabinet:
Secretary of State John Quincy Adams, Treasury Secretary William Crawford, and
Secretary of War John C. Calhoun.
Adams was the only northern candidate. He was an
extremely able man. There were few jobs in government he could not do, and do
well. But he was not the kind of man that people liked. He was cold,
questioning, and had a sharp tongue. His father was John Adams, the second
president of the United States.
Treasury Secretary Crawford was a southerner --
born in Virginia -- and a large landowner in Georgia. Crawford had received
some votes when the Republicans chose Monroe as their presidential candidate in
eighteen sixteen. He was a good politician and supported by most southern
War Secretary Calhoun also was a southern
candidate. But he had much less support than Crawford. His home state -- South
Carolina -- first named another man as its candidate. When that man died, they
The West had two candidates in the election of
eighteen twenty-four. One was Henry Clay of Kentucky -- "Harry of the
West" -- a great lawyer, congressman, speaker of the House and senator.
The other was Andrew Jackson -- "Old Hickory" -- the hero of New
Orleans [the Battle of New Orleans during the war of 1812]. Jackson was poorly
educated, knew little about government, and had a terrible temper. He was a
fighter, a man of the people.
The sixth candidate was Dewitt Clinton of New York.
He was governor of that state and leader of the commission that built the Erie
Canal. But New York presidential electors were chosen by the legislature, which
was controlled by Clinton's enemies. So Clinton's chances were poor.
Treasury Secretary Crawford was clearly
the leading candidate two years before the election. But he had a serious
illness in the autumn of eighteen twenty-three. He could not meet with the
cabinet for months. He could not sign official papers.
Crawford did go back to work. But he
was only a shadow of the man he had been. "He walks slowly, like a blind
man," wrote one reporter. So that took secretary Crawford out as a
possible candidate for the coming election.
Our program was written by Frank
Beardsley. The narrators were Steve Ember and Sarah Long. To learn more about
American history, go to voaspecialenglish.com. We have transcripts, MP3s and
podcasts of our programs as well as historical images. Join us again next week
for THE MAKING OF A NATION – an American history series in VOA Special English.
This is program #52 of THE
MAKING OF A NATION