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American Economic History

Professor Jennifer Roback

The Anatomy of Compromise: Missouri's Platte Purchase

and the Statehood of Michigan

Tendered 30 April 1991

Clyde Wayne Crews, Jr.



Knowledge of property rights and gains from trade provides

a unique vantage point for the economist when overstepping his
own territory and imposing upon that of historians.


perspectives lead economists to view questions of the expansion

of a territorial franchise, like that of nineteenth century
America, in a different manner from that of historians.1


course of events in the 19th century culminating in the Civil

War illustrates both successes and failures in the efforts of
one nation to peacefully tame a vast continent by allocating its
changing territorial expanses among citizens and states with
non-harmonious interests.

All economists are familiar with the

notion that where property rights are not well defined or where
common ownership exists, open access can lead to a tragedy of
the commons.

These ideas have been developed and explored by

Arthur Bestor2 and more recently by Jennifer Roback3 as they


historians do emphasize economic issues in the coming of

the Civil War, the issues are frequently intertwined with an
industrial versus agrarian class struggle [Charles and Mary Beard,
Others emphasize ethnicity and perhaps religion [Joel
Silbey, 1964], or race [Eric Foner, 1974]. These methods, even if
believed to be dead wrong, have a theoretical underpinning or
guiding principle and are therefore preferred by the economist to
any sort of "great man" theory of history, which rules out theory

Bestor, "The American Civil War as a Constitutional

Crisis," American Historical Review, 69, 1964, pp. 327-352.



Roback, "The Coming of the Civil War Part 1:

the Commons," Center for Study of Public Choice

relate to the coming of the Civil War.

Studies that emphasize the potential negative impact of
common property reveal that lawful specific allocation of former
common property, especially when carried out by constitutional
provisions but sometimes when accomplished by mere legislative
decree, tends to mitigate the disruptive forces that animate and
stir opposing interests.

An explanation that economists offer

[particularly Roback, 1988] is that a type of unanimous consent,

brought about by the existence of gains from trade, has made a
harmonious resolution possible in these instances.

In the

American experience, such bargains materialized in the Northwest

Ordinance and in the Missouri Compromise, each of which
allocated recently acquired common property for at least a
generation into the future by creating a package acceptable to
the relevant interests.
According to traditional analysis, maintaining peace
between the northern and southern interests depended upon the
sanctity and observance of these national contracts.


sectional rifts emerged following perceived incursions upon

these agreements:

By introducing the principle of popular

sovereignty, the Kansas-Nebraska Act would have permitted

slavery in territory that the Missouri Compromise had declared
free, obviously agitating the north.

manuscript, 1988.

Ultimately, both the

Compromise and the principle of popular sovereignty itself were

declared invalid by the Dred Scott decision's provision that
slavery could not be excluded from any territory, effectively
eliminating even the modest tool that popular sovereignty
afforded the north as a way of slowing the spread of slavery.
The Wilmot Proviso, though never enacted, would have excluded
slavery from any of the territory acquired as a consequence of
the Mexican War, effectively wiping out any gains from trade
that may have been present in that region.
The force with which opposing factions were excited by
these transgressions makes it almost inconceivable that either
pact could have been violated peacefully, yet this did indeed

The fact that these infringements occurred, however, is

not fatal to an economic approach.

On the contrary, gains from

trade can also explain a willingness to overlook these "sacred

arrangements" when a mutual interest exists in the same way that
it explains the power of those very agreements over the common
property problem.

Through the examination of a little-studied

episode in which explicit simultaneous violations occurred of

two laws that had achieved almost sacred status in the minds of
many, the Missouri Compromise and the Northwest Ordinance, this
essay will apply economic analysis, specifically a case study in
gains from trade, to help explain why an "illegal" annexation of
free territory to slave territory was peacefully effected within
the very region that had generated explosive debate in Congress

in 1819, and that led to bloodshed on adjacent ground in 1854.



The web of negotiations and settlements that led to the

formation of the United States resulted in agreements that were
of value to each state.

The agreements had to be unanimous

because the states had options other than joining the American

Staughton Lynd illustrated the plausible workings of an

intricate mechanism in which the contemporaneously drafted

Constitution and Northwest Ordinance served to harmonize the
interests of the several states even though one sanctioned and
officially recognized slavery, while the other expressly
prohibited it.4

David Potter points out that the Northwest

Ordinance carried particular force since it was almost

immediately reaffirmed by the new Congress on August 2, 17895 but
as territorial parameters changed over time, some states began
to rethink their original decision to become a part of the
Nevertheless, despite agitation and grumbling, these
agreements did carry significant weight in the political realm
as long as the territorial parameters were not shifting.



Lynd, "The Compromise of 1787," Political Science Quarterly, Vol.

LXXXI, June 1966, No. 2, p. 225.

Potter, The Impending Crisis:

1976, p. 54.

1988, p. 10.


Harper & Row:

New York,

attitude that the agreement should not be tampered with seemed

to prevail.

For example, when the territories subsumed by the

Northwest Ordinance were erected over a period of 47 years Indiana (1800), Michigan (1805), Illinois (1809), and Wisconsin
(1836) - all five Presidents assented to the principle that a
right to exclude slavery from the territories existed.7
Conflict typically emerged following the acquisition of a new
endowment of common property, for instance in the first official
attempts to organize the Louisiana purchase which resulted in
the Missouri Compromise, and in the question of how to allocate
the new territories acquired from Mexico.

Conflict also ensued

when the rules of territorial allocation changed in the middle

of the game, for instance when popular sovereignty was
introduced in the Kansas and Nebraska territory where the
question of slavery had previously settled by the Missouri


The admission of the Show Me state was an occasion of great

consequence for the union.

The Missouri Compromise itself has

been extensively studied and documented many times, and so is

not our focus here.

The settlement or Compromise was to pair

the admission of Missouri, which stretches far north of the


1976, p. 54. This paper will demonstrate that a condition of the

Northwest Ordinance, though unrelated to questions of slavery, was violated with
the admission of Michigan as a state, however.

southernmost bend of the Ohio River and the free Northwestern

states that it bordered, as a slave state with the admission of
Maine as a free state, and to fix the terms of the admission of
states in the remainder of the territory of the Louisiana

States carved out of the area north of 36 degrees 30'

would enter as free states, while those south would permit, but
not require, slavery.
The Platte Purchase was an addition of territory to the
northwest corner of the slave state of Missouri in 1836, taken
from what had been and was to remain free territory according to
the terms of the Missouri Compromise.

The addition forms the

triangular region adjacent to the Missouri River on the western

side of the state, and was subsequently divided into six
counties; one of these, Buchanan, is the home of the Missouri's
third largest city, St. Joseph.

The total area of the purchase

was about two million acres, and represents an annexation larger

in size than the states of Delaware and Vermont.


received this addition of prime territory in spite of the

Compromise and in spite of the fact that it already was the
largest state in the union.

The Platte Purchase clearly

embodied an expansion of slavery.

Given that acquisitions of

territory by the United States and changes in the rules of the

game were so obviously explosive at this stage of history, this
paper seeks to investigate how such an annexation was carried
out peacefully, when later infringements upon the same law, the

Missouri Compromise, proved so deadly.



A plausible economic explanation for the volatility of the

aforementioned violations of agreements regarding the
territories or acquisitions of new territory is that one side
stands to lose wealth, or to be shut out from trades that would
have been resolved peaceably in the absence of the change in

Textbook and article accounts, if they mention

the Platte Purchase at all, typically gloss over it without

recognizing its significance as a violation of the Missouri

The fact that the transaction was executed

peacefully demands an explanation in the same sense that nonpeaceful territorial acquisitions require an explanation.


made the outcome of such physically similar operations (the

annexation of territory) so painfully different?

In attempting

to study the coming of the Civil War, perhaps there is a lesson

to be learned not simply from a one-sided study of those cases
which proved conducive to sectional strife, but also from
studying examples in which those sectional forces were kept in

Economics can provide a "Coaseian" gains-from-trade

approach to peaceful resolutions like the Platte agreement, so

perhaps there is a lesson to be learned.

The thrust of that

approach is that if transaction costs are low and property

rights defined, an optimal allocation will result.8

This implies

that unanimity, or something that approximated it closely

enough, was reached in regard to the Northwest Ordinance, and
the Missouri Compromise.

Though the Platte Purchase was

different because it involved the violation of existing laws

rather than the creation of new ones, it still may have entailed
a certain brand of unanimity.
The Platte region had always been desirable to those living
in the territory of Missouri.

The claims of the Missouri

petitioners for statehood had actually been more ambitious in

1819, when they asked for admission with a boundary that
included the eastern portion of what is now Kansas in addition
to most of the Platte region.9

Floyd Shoemaker quotes a

citizen's editorial in the Missouri Intelligencer of December

31, 1819 who said "It is impossible for our government to keep
our frontier settlers from crossing the western Indian line to
the fertile lands of the Little Platte.

These lands must be

purchased in a short time, and if annexed to our state would

save Congress the expense of a territorial government for a long


Coase, "The Problem of Social Cost," Journal of Law and Economics.

October 1960, 3, pp. 1-44.

and Resolutions of the Legislature of the Missouri Territory and a

Copy of the Census of the Fall of 1817: Amounting to 19,218 males. December 8,
1819. Washington: Printed by Gales and Seaton. Reprinted in Floyd Shoemaker,
Missouri's Struggle for Statehood: 1804-1821. New York: Russell & Russell,
1916, Appendix II, p. 324.

time - perhaps for one hundred years."10

This forecast proved

accurate as the lands were indeed purchased in a relatively

short time.
The United States had long pursued a vigorous policy of
locating Indians within existing territory, and this policy had
been offered as an explanation for Platte's exclusion from
Missouri's original boundaries.11

The strife that thereby

resulted between Indians and white inhabitants led to a policy

under President Jackson of moving Indians in existing states to
territory west of the Mississippi.

At Prairie du Chien, on July

15, 1830, a treaty was enacted with a number of tribes in which

a large territory, including the Platte region, was ceded by the
Indians to the United States government, with the understanding
that the President would then allocate these lands among the

But this enactment caused tremendous excitement on the

frontier, the settlers of which saw such acts to secure the

lands to the Indians in perpetuity as a frustration of their
efforts to create new western states.

The claims also were that

white settlers would lose convenient access to Missouri River

steamboat transportation if blocked from the Indian grounds,12



Calvin Shoemaker, Missouri's Struggle for Statehood:

Russell & Russell, 1916, p. 58.



I. McKee, "The Platte Purchase," Missouri Historical Review.

XXXII, January 1938, No. 2, p. 180.

I. McKee, p. 131 and 133.




since Missouri's upper northwest corner at this time was

separated from the Missouri River by the triangle that was to
become the Platte Purchase.
No sooner had these enactments taken place than Missouri
statesmen began looking for ways to extinguish the newly-created
Indian titles.

Claims were made by Missouri senators Thomas

Hart Benton and Lewis Linn and Congressman A. G. Harrison that

the "strip" of land in question was actually much smaller than
supposed, and would have been included in the state initially if
geographic knowledge had been more accurate.

Maps published in

1822 and 1824 were quite accurate, however, which casts some
doubt upon this claim.
Thomas Benton, the more prominent senator from Missouri,
gave most of the ultimate credit for successfully obtaining the
annexation to his colleague, senator Lewis Linn13

A memorial

from the Missouri state legislature urging the federal Congress

that the boundary be extended and that Jackson not locate
Indians in the area until Congress and Missouri could come to an
agreement regarding the final disposition was adopted as early
as December 1830.14

Benton presented this memorial in slightly

revised state to the U.S. Senate on February 28, 1831.


Carr, Missouri:
Company, 1888, p.186

A Bone of Contention.


It was

Houghton Mifflin

I. McKee, p. 135, as reported in the Senate Journal, 6th Missouri

General Assembly, 1st Session, 1830-31, p. 103 and the House Journal, 6th Missouri
General Assembly, 1st Session, 1830-31, p. 156.


presented to Congress on the same day, and immediately referred

to the committee on Indian affairs.

Agitation continued in the

state of Missouri from the general assembly and from the state's



A new memorial from Missouri emphasizing the bad

relationships among whites and Indians along the border and thus
the desirability of an extension for reasons of safety15 was
submitted by the senators of Missouri, Benton and Linn, to the
senate committee on territories, which reported in July 1832 and
presented a bill to extend the northwestern boundary.


administration proceeded with its policy of removing Indians to

the area despite these developments, however, inducing Linn on
January 23, 1834 to introduce a resolution requiring the
committee on Indian affairs to investigate the desirability of
extending the Missouri boundary.

Senator Hugh Lawson White of

Tennessee, from the committee on Indian affairs reported

favorably on Linn's request in April 1834, arguing that the
Missouri River would make a convenient and safe natural boundary
to the state.

The senate subsequently refused to ratify a

treaty concluded in Chicago that would move Indians from the


I. McKee, p. 136, as reported in the House Journal, 7th Missouri

General Assembly, 1st Session, 1832-33, pp. 119-20.
A major portion of this
report was dedicated to making provisions for amendment of the state's
constitution to allow the new boundary.


Great Lakes region and locate them in areas including the Platte
country, but instead amended the treaty to exclude Platte from
that area to be assigned to the Indians.
of the credit

Senator Linn took much

for the senate's rejection, and continued his

efforts of assessing the desirability of assigning the Platte

region to Missouri.16
Lewis Cass, Secretary of War under President Jackson, after
corresponding with Missouri congressmen approved of the
annexation to Missouri.

Mr. White from the senate committee, on

March 16, 1835, resubmitted the report of 1984,17 in which he

clearly shifted the burden of ensuring the annexation to
President Jackson, claiming that "he may allot it to the
Indians, or not, at his pleasure."

By February 1836, the house

committee on Indian affairs had also approved the annexation.

Cass, in February, 1836 indicated Jackson's willingness to
secure a release of the land in question from the Indians.18
The committee of Indian affairs from both houses of
Congress and the Secretary of War approved a resolution to
request the President to instruct American agents to secure
title releases from the Indians.


I. McKee, p.137.


I. McKee, p. 138.


I. McKee, p. 140.

Without waiting for the


consummation of these treaties,19 Delaware Senator John M.

Clayton of the judiciary committee presented the bill to extend
Missouri's boundary to the Missouri river upon the extinguishing
of the Indian titles.

The bill was read on May 9 1836 and

ordered to a second reading, and on May 14 was approved by the


The house approved the bill on June 3.21

The bill was

enacted on June 7 1836 when it was signed by President Jackson22,

and the annexation was formally complete when the Indian land
titles were declared to be extinguished by the newly inaugurated
Martin Van Buren on March 28, 1837.23


Historians may perhaps be content to explain the failure of

anti-slavery interests in Congress to strongly oppose the
measure with the fact that the Platte Purchase offered no
further representation in the senate for the state of Missouri,
but only additional representation in the house where the north
had a significant majority24.


This may actually be an adequate

I. McKee, p. 140.


Globe, 24th Congress, 1st Session, p. 372.


Globe, 24th Congress, 1st Session, p. 421.


States Statutes at Large, Vol. V, p. 34.


and Papers of the Presidents, Bureau of National Literature:

York, Vol. IV., 1897, p. 1538.


Directory of the United States Congress:

1774-1889, (24th
Congress), United States Government Printing Office, 1989, pp. 118-121.



The problem from a cynical economic perspective,

however, is to explain how the state of Missouri in particular,

and the south in general, got "something for nothing" from the

Though the Missouri Compromise was "mere legislation,"25

it nevertheless wielded tremendous psychological might as a

rallying point.

If territorial acquisition in this manner was

truly such an unobjectionable venture, a problem exists for

historians to explain why more such efforts did not manifest

The remaining expanses afforded countless

opportunities for states merely to annex new territory as an

alternative to creating new states, in a manner similar to
Other than the fact that committee leaders White and
Clayton were from slave states, there appears to be no real
indication that the Platte addition was part of a slave state
conspiracy as some had argued,26 evidenced by the lack of
northern protest over so undisguised a maneuver when it actually
came to a vote.

Indeed, John C. Calhoun of South Carolina had

been alarmed at the fact that the balance of power favored the
north and had called for an immediate annexation of the newly
independent republic of Texas, hardly characteristic of a


point emphasized in lectures by Professor Roback, referring to the fact

that simple legislation was passed at what was actually a "Constitutional moment."

was argued in Dorothy A. Neuhoff, The Platte Purchase.

University Studies, Vol. II, Humanistic Series No. 2.



clandestine conspiracy.

Another blow to such a conspiracy

theory was that the Texas annexation was opposed by many


Calhoun's alarm may have been unjustified given

apparent northern tolerance for slavery in the Platte Purchase

and in the expansion of the area for slavery in Florida by the
senate's approval of Jackson's treaty for the removal of the
Southern Indians.27

But the fact that an agreement was broken

that was important to both sides of the slavery question

suggests that something took place to make the issue agreeable
to both sides, and mere tolerance on the part of the north was
not the operative cause.

This is precisely the argument of the

remainder of the paper.



Aside from the fact that the negotiations for the Platte
Purchase took several years to accomplish their end, the
concrete fact of an illegal annexation appears to have caused
only the slightest disturbance in Congress.

Debate at its

actual passage in the senate seemed totally non-existent

according to the Congressional Globe:

"The bill to extend the

western boundary of Missouri was read and passed" is the only

mention of the matter in that day's business,28 and no mention of
it is made in the Register of Debates in Congress.

Given the

B. Smith. Magnificent Missourian: The Life of Thomas Hart Benton.

J. B. Lippincott Company: Philadelphia, 1958, pp. 160-61.

Globe, 24th Congress, 1st Session, p. 372.


sectional tensions raised by any other extension of territory

prior to the Civil War, it is especially remarkable that such a
bill seemingly breezed through the legislature, because it was
clearly a direct contradiction of the Missouri Compromise which
had been so central to calming tensions and restoring sectional
balance merely sixteen years before.
A precedent for expanding southern slavery in violation of
the Missouri Compromise would appear to be an intolerable
circumstance for the north unless something surrounding and
bound up with the circumstances of the Platte Purchase made
acquiescence in an important agreement acceptable to the north.
At the same time that the Platte negotiations were taking place,
the territories of Michigan and Arkansas were petitioning for
admission to statehood.

This pairing of a northern (free) state

and a southern (slave) state upon admission was certainly not

unusual, and would appear to have no implications for the
seemingly separate issue of the Platte Purchase.

In fact

however, Michigan's admission was fraught with territorial

disputes with three existing northern states; territory that,
according to the Ordinance of 1787, these states were not
entitled to.

In 1836, the Northwest Ordinance was violated to

favor these existing northern states at the same time that the
Missouri Compromise was violated in a manner that favored the
In those rare instances when the Platte Purchase has been


mentioned, it had been regarded in isolation, with no

consideration made of any other events taking place in the
country at the time.

I can make no claim with certainty that

the Platte Purchase was not merely a device to placate the South
in the north's lack of enthusiasm for annexing Texas, but I am
skeptical because this position offers the north nothing in

Another problem with this position is that, as

mentioned, many southerners as well as northerners were opposed

to the annexation of Texas.

But aside from the agitation for

Texas, in which no concrete acquisition transpired, another

important matter faced the Congress during the second of
Jackson's two terms.

The territory of Michigan, growing in

population due to immigration from other states, began jockeying

for admission to the Union early in 1832,29 at a time when
interest in the Platte region was well under way in Missouri.
A census was ordered in Michigan in 1834 which showed that
the region possessed far more than the required number of
inhabitants necessary to form a state.

There was no enabling

act by Congress, but the territory took matters into its own
hands and enabled itself.30

In April, 1835 an election was held

to choose delegates to a state constitutional convention to be

29 Thomas

McIntyre Cooley, Michigan:

Houghton Mifflin Company, 1885, p. 211.

A History of Governments, Boston:

L. Paxson, History of the American Frontier:

Mifflin Company: New York, 1924, p. 298.




held in May.

The people of the territory approved the newly

formed constitution in October of 1835.

Upon this approval by the citizens of Michigan, a boundary
controversy with Ohio was ignited that had its roots in the
Northwest Ordinance of 1787.

According to the Ordinance, the

territory to become the state of Michigan was guaranteed a

southern boundary drawn due east from the southern extreme of
Lake Michigan since it was clear that Congress intended to form
five, rather than three, states out of the Northwest Territory.31
Ohio was in guilty possession of a tract of land, including the
town of Toledo, that had actually been assigned to Michigan by
the Ordinance.

Likewise, Indiana had been granted a ten-mile-

wide strip north of the Ordinance line.32

The boundary of

Illinois lay considerably north of the Ordinance line as well.33

The militia of both Ohio and Michigan were called to enforce
claims in the disputed Ohio territory, and with an armed
conflict on the horizon, President Jackson called upon the
Attorney General to offer an opinion.

According to the Attorney

General the disputed territory rightfully belonged to Michigan,

and he recommended that Jackson should protect Michigan's rights
by force if necessary.


McIntyre Cooley, p. 215.


Jackson sent negotiators to arrange the

L. Paxson, p. 299.

McIntyre Cooley, p. 217.


settlement, to no avail, but he refused to take a military stand

against Ohio, because as a great state, it could easily swing
the balance of power in the impending presidential election,
which he desired to secure for Martin Van Buren.

Jackson was

also reluctant to take a stand against Indiana and Illinois,

which were also opposed to the Michigan claim.34

As historians

see the circumstances, Jackson's political maneuvering turned

out to be in vain, for in the election of 1836, Ohio's William
Henry Harrison (the 1840 winner) carried his home state by a
majority of over eight thousand.35
If Ohio's population recognized no obligation to the
President for securing the disputed region, had it already paid
its "debt" to the Democrats?

A plausible case can be made that

it had, and that its failure to vote Democratic in the 1936 was
not a prisoner's dilemma outcome unexpected by the Democratic
Party, particularly the southern wing, in which Ohio had reneged
on returning a favor.

President Jackson laid the petition from

Michigan before Congress on Thursday, December 10, 1835, and

Senator Thomas Benton of Missouri took an immediate central and
aggressive role in securing the admission of Michigan on terms
that were favorable to the three northern states, particularly

Benton immediately moved that the petition be printed and


McIntyre Cooley, p. 218-219.


L. Paxson, p. 299.


referred to a select committee of five members.

Benton then

moved that seats be assigned to the senators from the Territory

of Michigan who had been elected in March.

A motion to table

for consideration was made by Senator Thomas Ewing of Ohio, and

Benton bundled the admission of Michigan, which had been
jockeying for statehood since 1832, with a bill for the
settlement of the Ohio boundary allowing Ohio to retain all of
the disputed region, including Toledo.

On Tuesday, March 29,

1836, Benton moved that the "bill to establish the northern

boundary line of Ohio, and for the admission of Michigan into
the Union" be taken up.37

After debating over voting rights

within the state for several sessions, the bill to admit

Michigan was passed in the Senate on April 2, 1836.

Of the

relevant northern states, Senators Ewing and Robinson of

Illinois, Hendricks and Tipton of Indiana, and Morris of Ohio
voted in favor of the Benton arrangement at its final passage in
a rather close senate vote of 24 to 18.

Senator Ewing of Ohio

voted nay, apparently still holding out in an effort to have the

bill amended to limit the right of alien suffrage within

The senators of Indiana, Illinois, and Ohio




of the Debates in Congress from 1789 to 1856, D. Appleton &

New York (sixteen volumes), Vol. XII, 1859, p. 701-702.


of the Debates in Congress, Vol. XII, p. 749.

in The Congressional Globe of April 4, 1836, p. 277.


apparently were overwhelmingly satisfied with Benton's

protection of their interests.39

The bill passed the House on

the 9th of June by a vote of 153 to 45.40

Only one of Ohio's 19

representatives, and one of Indiana's six representatives

opposed the package, and none of Illinois's three were opposed.
The senators and representatives of these three states appeared
more willing to overlook the question of alien voting in
Michigan than their counterparts in other states because of the
nature of the specific gains available to them.
The timing of the passages of the bill authorizing the
Platte Purchase and of the bill admitting Michigan as a state
with Ohio's border preferences is remarkable.

The separate

issues were alive in their respective states in 1832, and were

drawn out for the next four years with no resolution as
described in this and previous sections.

After Benton's efforts

to secure the admission of Michigan paid off in the Senate on

April 2, the Platte Purchase was passed on May 14.

The House

then approved the Platte agreement on June 3, and Michigan's

admission on the 9th.

Despite the fact that much of the

evidence is circumstantial, the disproportionate approval of


a compensation for Michigan's loss of territory that it was legally

entitled to, Benton's package included the addition to Michigan of what is now
known as the Upper Peninsula, the vast tract of land northwest of Lake Michigan
and bordering Wisconsin, a region apparently rich in copper and iron mines.
Thomas McIntyre Cooley, p. 222.

Globe, June 13, 1836, p. 442.


Benton's package by the senators of Illinois, Indiana and Ohio

is quite good evidence that his efforts were geared toward them.
As a counterfactual consideration he may not have absolutely
needed their approval to obtain the Platte region, but his
actions behalf of these northern states guaranteed a favorable
majority when the matter came to a vote, since the south,
equally balanced in the Senate, would probably favor the
expansion of slave territory.41
In his reflections, Benton called the alteration of the
Missouri Compromise line "an almost impossible undertaking" and
attributes its success to "a generous co-operation from the
members of the free States...all at a time when Congress was
inflamed with angry debates upon abolitionist petitions,
transmission of incendiary publications (and) imputed designs to
abolish slavery."42

Benton attributes the success of the Platte

Purchase entirely to "magnanimous assistance" and generosity on

the part of non-slaveholders, but his actions suggest he was not
content to rely on such generosity exclusively.
Recognizing that there were reasons enough for northern

a mean amount of jealousy existed over the fact that after the Compromise
slave states had little more room to expand in the Louisiana Territory relative
to northern interests. Letter by Missouri Senator David published in Missouri
Intelligencer, January 29, 1821, reprinted in Frank Heywood Hodder, "Side Lights
on the Missouri Compromises," American Historical Association Annual Report, 1909,
p. 158.

Hart Benton, Thirty Years' View; or, A History of the Working of the
American Government for Thirty Years, from 1820 to 1850. two volumes, New York:
Greenwood Press, 1854-1856, p. 626.


states to oppose, Benton's actions on behalf of some northern

states clearly placed them in his debt.

Benton's sponsorship of

Michigan did more than merely secure territory for these three
states in exchange for territory in his own.

What was also

exchanged was the right for each side to sidestep without

political backlash the constraints and temporary nuisance of
respective laws governing important adjacent territory that were
preventing them from obtaining (or retaining) something they

The clarity of the gain available to each side led to

a willingness to overlook a technically illegal territorial

grasp by the other, leading to the only known instance in which
these laws were violated without violent political consequences.


Prior studies have shown how gains from trade can explain
the willingness of opposing sides of the slavery issue to accept
restrictions on what institutions are permitted within territory
that does not, but will in the future qualify for statehood.
The contracts, whether constitutional or not, attained an almost
sacred aura in particular cases, and adherence to them was
critical to long periods of relative calm.

The odd fact that

one of these agreements, the Missouri Compromise, had been

violated given the weight such agreements were known to have for
peaceful coexistence should prompt one using the methodology of
economics to look for a trade of some kind, rather than to
assume mere "northern tolerance" is operative.

While I can't


rule out such tolerance, being unable to probe the minds of

those involved, I think it unlikely.

This paper has illustrated

that a plausible reason why the Compromise may have been

violated without significant outcry is that specific northern
and southern interests gained from a logroll.

At the same time

that the Missouri Compromise was violated to favor the proslavery side, the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 was also violated,
under the leadership of a not-uninterested southern senator, in
a manner that favored three then-existing powerful northern

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