"A Western Ordinance: A Missed Opportunity to Confine Slavery in the East"

By the Missouri Crisis of 1820, Southern congressmen showed a united front supporting slavery. Forty years later, the stain would be cleansed by the bloodiest American conflict. While four rebellious states existed at the United States' founding, the remainder began as territories that gradually joined the Union. However, the question exists, could slavery have been prevented from expanding westward into the territories? Was there a time when such a measure was politically, economically, and socially feasible? This paper argues that slavery's expansion westward could have been criminalized before 1804 through the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 or by an act of Congress during the presidencies of John Adams or Thomas Jefferson. Such legislation could confine slavery before the economic incentives of cotton and the social fears from the Haitian Revolution made such legislation impossible. The firm precedent established could have prevented "slave power" from becoming the dominant force in national politics.

- Brad Singer '24