The Independence of the Declaration and Constitution
Disharmony and Divergence in the First Missouri Crisis
The first Missouri crisis represents an important and particularly contentious early instance of Americans coming to grips with constitutional disharmony, and the corresponding attempts to resolve tensions within the U.S. Constitution’s text generated dramatically different understandings of the American political order. I chart these diverging conceptions of American union by analyzing the congressional debate over Missouri’s statehoodas reported in theAnnals of Congress, focusing in particular on the different ways participants in the debate construed the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, and the relationship between those two documents. This lens offers one the clearest indications of the transformative nature of the debate and reveals how slavery became the primary prism through which participants interpreted America’s founding ideals and institutions. The Missouri crisis represented a revisitation of the American founding in toto, except this time slavery occupied a central role as participants attempted to (re)interpret America’s founding principles and the idea of American constitutional union.