Happy Birthday to Maine
Knox County — I share my birthday month with my beloved State of Maine which became 193 on March 15. Let’s give a big cheer to our home state and welcome everyone else to come and enjoy the beautiful surroundings we’ve known all our lives. From ocean to woodlands, we have a natural wonderland which has something for everyone.
Most “Maineiacs” know that we wouldn’t be independent of Massachusetts, our big brother for so long, without the passing of the Missouri Compromise. They had us by the short hairs in 1820 because the passing of the compromise meant that Missouri would be a slave state and Maine a non-slave state. We were held hostage when it came to the question of slavery. We as New Englanders were anti-slavery and it went against our beliefs to give in to the demands of the Southern slaveholders.
The whole story of how Maine became a state is very well documented on the Maine Memory Network site. I invite you to read the complete history of our beginnings at this wonderful online resource. I will just give you the highlights here in honor of our 193rd brirthday.
The whole thing with Missouri began in 1818 when they could have entered the union as a pro-slave state to their “twin” anti-slave state, Maine. The northern congressmen, however, didn’t want to admit any more states with slavery as part of their constitutions and Missouri did lie north of the line known as the division between free and slave soil.
Congressman James Tallmadge of New York offered an amendment to Missouri’s statehood which would halt further introduction of slaves and would include emancipation for all slaves at age 25. The amendment didn’t pass, however, being declared unconstitutional.
John W. Taylor, also from New York, suggested a motion to fix the line between free and slave territory at parallel 36 degrees, 30 minutes, which was the southern boundary of Missouri.
Senator Jesse B. Thomas, of Illinois, pro-southern, by the way, added that slavery would be banned in territories lying north of the line, except for Missouri. He also included a provision that slaves who became fugitives could be re-enslaved when caught in free territory.
All Maine representatives were against slavery and only one Senator, John Holmes, was for the compromise. The House passed its own bill restricting slavery. However, a committee of House and Senate came up with an amended version—the Missouri Compromise—and won approval in Congress. Maine then became the 23rd state in the union on March 15, 1820.
There are two letters on the Maine Memory Network about the compromise and Maine becoming a state that are interesting.
In a letter written on December 25, 1820, from Joshua Cushman, a Democratic-Republican U.S. Representative from Winslow, Maine, Cushman supported the vote of Congress against the Missouri Compromise. It allowed Missouri to be a slave state, and Maine a free state while at the same time forbidding the spread of slavery to the west. He said the only member of Congress from Maine for the Compromise was Senator John Holmes. The letter was intended to prevent the re-election of Holmes after Maine became a state.
Another letter announcing Maine’s statehood was written by Prentiss Mellen of Portland, a U.S. Senator from Massachusetts, representing the district of Maine, who wrote to William King of Bath, a major supporter of Maine statehood. Mellen announced that the Senate had passed the amended statehood bill and the president had signed it. King became the state’s first governor and Mellen became the first chief justice of Maine’s state supreme court in 1820.
The Missouri Compromise still left a bad taste in the mouths of the anti-slavery backers. Rufus King believed that Missouri as a slave state would tip the scales so that all future presidents would hail from the South.
Others believed that allowing slavery in Missouri would spread the same number of slaves over a wider area, increasing their value and their harsh treatment to boot. The anti-slavery movement became a central issue in Maine politics between 1829-1861.
I hope this small taste of Maine’s history will whet your appetite to learn more. Besides the Maine Memory Network, check out Maine’s archives site for some great pictures of the Civil War era.
Thanks for listening.