“…the dollar may be our currency, but it’s your problem…”
–Treasury Secretary John Connolly (Nitchter 2015)
Nixon’s announcement upended the international monetary system (Burns 2010), and caused mayhem in the currency markets. Countries that chose to hold their reserves in U.S. dollars suffered heavy losses and faced widespread economic turmoil. By mid-1973 the U.S. dollar had fallen by 25 percent on average, relative to the major Western currencies (Hammes and Wills 2005).“Shock waves from Washington’s decision to break the link with gold have rippled down the decades. The creation of the euro, the hollowing out of US manufacturing, the arrival of cryptocurrencies and the ability of central banks to print seemingly unlimited quantities of money can all be traced back to August 1971” (Elliott 2021).
I’m really very concerned about the way that things are shaping up politically in every one of these countries. Italy has a recession […] Germany has a recession […] we’re going to Moscow, but Japan is a mess. Western Europe is in a mess. We’ve given up our friends to our enemies.
—National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger, November 16, 1971 (Nichter 2015)
In December 1971, after months of negotiations, the Group of Ten (G-10) industrialized democracies agreed to a new set of fixed exchange rates in the Smithsonian Agreement. U. S. dollar was devalued by 8.5% against gold to $38 per ounce. Europeans revalued their currencies by a similar amount and Japan agreed to revalue Yen by 16.9%.
Dubbed “the most significant monetary agreement in the history of the world,” by president Nixon, the agreement was doomed from the start. On February 12, 1973, U. S. dollar devalued by another 10% to $42 per ounce of gold. Speculation against the dollar pushed other major currencies to float against the dollar and rang the death knell for the fixed rate exchange regime. Gold rose to $90 an ounce in mid-1972 and reached $195 by the end of 1974.
Inflation, stagflation, and Price control
Having talked until recently about the evils of wage and price controls, I knew I had opened myself to the charge that I had either betrayed my own principles or concealed my real intentions. Philosophically, however, I was still against wage-price controls, even though I was convinced that the objective reality of the economic situation forced me to impose them. …
What did America reap from its brief fling with economic controls? The August 15, 1971, decision to impose them was politically necessary and immensely popular in the short run. But in the long run I believe that it was wrong. The piper must always be paid, and there was an unquestionably high price for tampering with the orthodox economic mechanisms.
–President Richard Nixon, RN: The Memoirs of Richard Nixon
By all accounts, “Nixon’s economic package was a short-term success. Throughout 1972, the United States enjoyed the largest real growth (5.7 percent) and the lowest rise in consumer prices (3.3 percent) since the Johnson administration. Unemployment declined to 5.1 percent, and the American balance of payments deficit shrunk drastically from $29.8 billion in 1971 to $10.4 billion in 1972” (Nitchter 2015).
The 90-day wage and price control sought to “shield” the American people from the monetary shock and solve the inflation-employment dilemma. Such policy was supposed to allow the administration to maintain a loose fiscal policy without fanning inflation. However, inflation soon reignited after the election. In 1973 another round wage and price freeze failed to curb the inflation and was followed by stagflation.
When mandatory wage and price controls came to a complete end in 1974, the aftermath was far from pleasant. Energy shortages and high food costs contributed to an increase in inflation and to recession, and the pressure that built up after the period of controls lead into the destructive double-digit inflation that plagued the early months of the Ford administration. Three years after controls had complete [sic] ended, both unemployment and inflation hovered around 7 percent, and there was even nostalgia for the “good old days” in 1971 when we had only 4 percent inflation and 6 percent unemployment.
–President Nixon, RN: The Memoirs of Richard Nixon
Unemployment hit 9% in May of 1975. Inflation reached double-digit in 1974 and 1979. The U.S. dollar price for a barrel of oil rose from $3.35 in January 1970 to $32.50 by the end of the 1970s. The U.S. consumer price index rose by 106 percent during the 1970s. The high interest-rate that followed brought on the recession in the early 1980s.
“The U.S. and other western countries struggled to cope with the inflationary shock. Corporate profitability suffered, encouraging firms to move their production plants to parts of the world where labour costs were cheaper. By the time the US started to take draconian steps to curb inflation at the end of the 1970s, Deng Xiaoping was launching the reforms that would turn China from an economic backwater into an industrial superpower. Fifty years after the collapse of the Bretton Woods system, China has emerged as a bigger threat to the US than the Soviet Union ever was”. (Elliott 2021)
The current official price for gold stock on Fed balance sheet is at $42.22 per ounce (as of October, 2022, source https://www.federalreserve.gov/data/intlsumm/current.htm). By the end of the 1970s, gold had risen 1200% to more than $455. The open market price in 2022 is between $2091 and $1621 (as of November 25, 2022).
THE CANTILLON EFFECT
Income inequality has significantly increased since the late 1960s, coinciding with the onset of the great inflation and welfare expansion. Since the Nixon presidency, richest Americans has experienced the fastest income growth while the real household income stagnated.
One often-downplayed consequence of monetary expansion is recognized by Irish economist Charles Cantillon (1680-1734). Cantillon observed that when money supply expands, those closest to the source of new money benefits the most, because they can purchase assets before the inflation occur. Those farthermost from the source of new money suffer the most, because they will bear the burden of inflation before their wages catch up with the price increase.
In other words, when massive amount of new money is created, not only does it lead to inflation but also chooses winners and losers. In our modern economy, the money expansion by central banks favors government,large corporations (that lobby the congress), and investors of these corporations. The accumulated effect leads to Plutocracy (government by the wealthy, of the wealthy, and for the wealthy) and Plutonomy (concentration of wealth), and threatens democracy. This effect is demonstrated by the stagnant real median household income over the past decades while asset price soared with the cost of living. When politicians advocate the “multiplier effect” of loose monetary policy “for the poor,” they conveniently leave out the fact that such policy exacerbates income inequality and worsens economic conditions for savers, people on fixed incomes, and wage earners, whose income increase persistently fall behind the inflation.
Consider the following recent headlines that demonstrate the Cantillon Effect in action, and how it bestows power and spreads corruption through central bankers, government insiders, and investment firms:
IS THIS TIME DIFFERENT?
There are two leading causes of inflation we’re seeing today. The first cause of inflation is a once-in-a-century pandemic. Not only did it shut down our global economy, it threw the supply chain and demand completely out of whack… And this year we have a second cause — a second cause: Mr. Putin’s war in Ukraine. You saw — we saw in March that 60 percent of inflation that month was due to price increases at the pump for gasoline. Putin’s war has raised food prices as well, because Ukraine and Russia are two of the world’s major breadbaskets of — for wheat and corn — …
Normally — normally, we’d have already begun to export them into the market. … But it’s difficult because, again, of Putin and the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
– President Joe Biden, May 10, 2022
At the time of writing, the third and final conjunction of U.S. Pluto return is fast approaching. The difference between a Pluto trine in the 1970s and current Pluto return is that this time around, the transiting Pluto is both working for and against the U.S. The outward destruction and inner transformation –both constructive and destructive –work as one. The corruption (Pluto) in value (2nd house) is more intensified; so is the downfall and resurrection.
Pluto energy is both intensifying and transformative. Collectively, this energy rarely acts under freewill. What we’re presently witnessing (as of December 2022) is a strong and self-destructive force that will not quit until both fundamental change and significant collateral damage occur.
U.S.’s second house Pluto historically triggers money, currency and trade issue during important transits, this time is no different. Economists and market observers have come to the realization that the inflation/stagflation is resurfacing. This time, the Fed, caught between high inflation and high interest rate, is out of arsenals. “If the Fed runs down the SOMA (System Open Market Account. Fed’s asset portfolio containing the assets acquired and to be sold during open market operations) portfolio too much, they will break something in the market. If they don’t, we are stuck with inflation.” (Chavez-Dreyfuss 2022). Currently, the National debt to GDP ratio is at the highest since World War II. The debt servicing cost is at a steady up trend, and the treasury market liquidity is at crisis-level low.
Reminiscent of the great inflation of the 1970s, we are facing social and geopolitical tensions, overreaching government, volatile financial markets, and high inflation. In addition, we have unsustainable level of government and private debt, and a formidable geopolitical opponent to whom we continue to transfer funding, data, and advanced technology. In Nixon’s words: “the most formidable enemy that has ever existed in the history of the world” –China.
We won’t know to what extent and how this Pluto Return will manifest until the dust settles. If history is any guide, the inflation will not be transitory and the recession will not be shallow. Whatever temporary fix for structural problems will have long-lasting impact and unintended consequences.
It would be prudent to review major legislation and executive orders during the crucial Pluto return period (between March 2021 to December 2023). The policies that aim to solve long-term problems with political compromises –or worse, outright corruption –will not work as intended, and will likely carry perniciousconsequences. It’s not too late to recognize the folly of our experts and officials, and the destruction the political class can inflict on our lives. The least we can do is to insulate ourselves as much as possible in the wake of their short-sighted and disastrous policies.
Conservatives are always at a disadvantage when speaking about economics because their belief that some pain may be necessary now to save the patient later is conventionally interpreted by liberal politicians and commentators as “heartlessness” or “callous indifference to human suffering.”
It is unfortunate that the politics of economics has come to dictate action more than the economics of economics. Not surprisingly, when prudence clashes with political reality, the latter sometimes triumphs.
—President Richard Nixon, RN: The Memoirs of Richard Nixon
Bordo, Michael D. 2018. “The Imbalances of the Bretton Woods System 1965 to 1973: U.S. Inflation, The Elephant in the Room.” NBER. National Bureau of Economic Research. December 2018. http://www.nber.org/papers/w25409.
Few days in modern economic history are remembered as a day of infamy like August 15, 1971, when President Richard Nixon suspended U.S. dollar’s convertibility to gold. The “Nixon Shock” permanently and fundamentally transformed U.S.’s economy and governance, its impact reshaped international trade and geopolitics.
Taking place during the Pluto trine (when transiting Pluto formed a 120° angle to the U.S. Pluto), this series of events played out along the path of political expediency and betrayal of principles, which were followed by pernicious effects. The result was the corruption of core values (Pluto in 2nd house): currency devaluation, economic recession, a tectonic shift of socioeconomic landscape, and the government’s increased control over personal freedom and prosperity – all signatures of U.S. Pluto transits.
The trine between two planets indicates both energies working in sync and in harmony. The influences materialize swiftly. Due to the lack of conflict, the natives can be careless and unaware. In the case of U.S. Pluto, the trine with transiting Pluto means the powerful, corruptive forces –both within and without—are working as one, unobstructed. What we observed was the compromise of core beliefs, broken promises, deceptions, and secrecy.
Policies made during U.S. Pluto transits often corresponded with the destruction of status quo and the expansion of federal government. The quick-and-dirty solution frequently leads to unintended consequences that work the opposite of the original intention, since Pluto’s pattern is also to ensnare and complicate. The impact of these policies does not fully materialize until years, even decades later. This episode is a cautionary tale of a politicized economy and its aftermath.
Transit Pluto trine U.S. Pluto (120-degree angle)
November 4, 1969 – February 26, 1970
September 2, 1970 – October 27, 1970
March 12, 1971 – August 26, 1971
Exact dates: September 29, 1970; April 20, 1971; July 24, 1971
Compromise of principle for political expediency
Financial crisis, inflation, and currency devaluation
Plutonomy (Wealth redistribution, disparity, and concentration)
Plutocracy (Expansion of government control. Government by the wealthy, of the wealthy, and for the wealthy.)
Trade wars and currency wars
THE BRETTON WOODS SYSTEM
In July 1944, near the end of World War II, delegates from 44 nations gathered at the Bretton Woods Conference to rebuild the international monetary system. United States dominated the post-war economy and its dollar emerged as the world’s reserve currency. The U.S. government agreed to back every dollar overseas with its gold reserve at $35 per ounce, and all other countries pegged their currencies to the dollar.
The Bretton Woods system became functional in 1958. Since U.S. owned over half of the world’s gold reserve, the system was stable for a time. Foreign countries continued to acquire dollars and spend on American industrial exports, and their U.S. dollars were saved in interest-bearing accounts rather than converted to gold (Lowenstein 2011).
THE LONDON GOLD POOL
In order to provide dollars for international trade, U.S. ran a persistent balance of payment deficit (expenditure exceeding income) and redeemed overseas dollars in gold upon request. In 1961, the amount of outstanding dollar claims began to exceed the U.S. government’s gold reserve. The London Gold Pool was established to shoulder the burden of gold outflow with member nations and defend the $35 gold price.
The stabilization mechanism was not to last. The Federal Reserve shifted to an inflationary policy in 1965, violating the rules of the Bretton Woods System (Bordo, Monnet, and Naef 2017). In the same year, French president Charles De Gaulle led the charge to repatriate gold and subsequently withdrew from the London Gold Pool. Other countries followed suit and the gold run accelerated.
Unfazed, the U.S. government carried on its “benign neglect” policy, running ever-larger balance of payments deficits and increased spending on Great Society program and the Vietnam war. The Johnson administration (1963-1969)doubled the national deficit and flooded the world with dollars.
As the U.S. dollar became further overvalued and oversupplied, foreign central banks and traders accelerated their dollar-to-gold conversion. In 1966, foreign central banks and governments held over 14 billion U.S. dollars. The United States had $13.2 billion in its gold reserve, only $3.2 billion of which was available to cover foreign dollar holdings.
On March 14, 1968, the United States requested the London gold markets to halt trading amidst overwhelming demand; the two-week closure spelled the official collapse of the London Gold Pool. On March 18, the congress voted to eliminate the gold reserve requirement for Federal Reserve Notes –namely, the U. S. Dollar. The measure exacerbated the devaluation and damaged the U.S.’s credibility. (Bordo 2018)
A two-tiered gold system emerged in effort to shore up the U. S. dollar and contain gold’s surging price. Foreign central-banks pledged to stop trading gold on the open market and reaffirmed the $35 price among central banks. Gold price in the open market was left to float freely. Incidentally, American citizens had been barred from owning monetary gold since 1933. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled the gold confiscation was constitutional during U.S. Pluto and transiting Pluto opposition (forming a 180-degree angle) in 1935.
THE DOLLAR CRISIS OF 1971
What’s our immediate problem? We are meeting here today because we are in trouble overseas. The British came in today to ask us to cover $3 billion, all their dollar reserves. Anyone can topple us – anytime they want – we have left ourselves completely exposed.
—John Connally, Secretary of the Treasury (1971-1972), August 1971
The fiscal and monetary tightening in 1968 brought some relief to the gold outflow; it also caused the recession in 1970. Despite inflation nearing a two-decade high, Nixon was more worried about persistent high unemployment rates, fearing it would threaten his re-election victory. He relentlessly harassed and pressured Burns –through whisper campaigns, blackmailing and mixed messages –to accelerate money supply “vigorously and aggressively”. Starting in early 1971, Burns forwent his cautious stance and repeatedly slashed the Fed discount rate. Inflation and the run on the dollar resumed. In June 1971, gold in the open market rose above $40 per ounce.
In early August of 1971, United States lost $850 million in gold reserves in just one week. The French had called in over $1 billion in reserves in the a few weeks prior (after an $191 million purchase); the Germans and the Dutch were looking to call in some $200 – 250 million more. (Ohlmacher 2009)
The last draw came on August 12, when the British ambassador appeared before the United States Treasury and asked that $3 billion be converted into gold. That amounted to one quarter of the remaining U. S. gold reserves.
With the run on the dollar at an all-time high and Nixon administration unwilling to tighten, the Bretton Woods framework reached a breaking point. Nixon had wanted to hold off a decision until after the 1972 election, but was advised that doing so would risk hemorrhaging billions more from the gold reserves. To put an immediate stop to market speculation, Nixon’s advisors impressed upon him that the announcement must be made before the markets’ open on the next Monday, which meant broadcasting during the Sunday prime time.
SECRET CAMP DAVID MEETING
On the afternoon of Friday, August 13, 1971, President Nixon holed up with fifteen advisers and staff members at Camp David to confront the economic crisis. The course of action was set: all that was needed was a united front within the administration. Nixon was preoccupied with the short-term economic outcomes and how it would impact of his re-election in 1972 (Ohlmacher 2009); more time was spent discussing the timing and the presentation of the speech than how the economic program would work (Yergin and Stanislaw 1997). Despite of the policy’s enormous impact on international relations and global trade, no foreign policy advisors were invited. Federal Reserve chair Arthur Burns vehemently opposed the closing of the gold window, but he was marginalized and overruled.
Secretary of Treasury John Connally played to the president’s insecurity and advocated dramatic display of leadership. Having infamously said “foreigners are out to screw us … our job is to screw them first,” Connally convinced the president to bypass the Congress and plan in secret ahead of the European finance ministers’ meeting, which would release a joint statement on the United States’ role in the international financial crisis (Ohlmacher 2009).
We can stop convertibility very easily – by just saying so…The next thing is that you probably ought to float this exchange rate with the other currencies of the world. …We have a floating currency… We can take these steps without revaluing gold.
—John Connally, Secretary of the Treasury, August 1971 (Ohlmacher 2009)
Connally assured Nixon that he did not have to be the president who devalued the dollar, and advised him to conflate the closing of the gold window with a domestic policy package: “Whatever we do in the international field – it seems to me – ought to be coupled with action on the domestic front so that they tend to shield each other”. “Posture it as being competitive,” such action would have “no political downsides. At all. And a great deal of upsides”. (Ohlmacher 2009)
THE NIXON SHOCK (& LIES)
On the evening of August 15, 1971 president Nixon delivered a live, prime-time speech to outline his sweeping economic reform. In a broad stroke, Nixon proposed a 10 percent tax credit for business investment, repeal of the 7-percent excise on automobiles, and speeding up income tax exemption. He also ordered a cut in Federal spending and foreign aid, pay freeze, and downsizing government personnel.
By executive order, Nixon imposed a 90-day wage and price control to counteract inflation expectations. As his dramatic announcement seemingly drew to a close, Nixon segued into blaming international currency traders for unemployment and inflation, arguing for a strong dollar, trade competitiveness, decoupling from gold, and monetary stability in the same breath:
The third indispensable element in building the new prosperity is closely related to creating new jobs and halting inflation. We must protect the position of the American dollar as a pillar of monetary stability around the world.
In the past 7 years, there has been an average of one international monetary crisis every year. Now who gains from these crises? Not the workingman; not the investor; not the real producers of wealth. The gainers are the international money speculators. Because they thrive on crises, they help to create them.
In recent weeks, the speculators have been waging an all-out war on the American dollar. The strength of a nation’s currency is based on the strength of that nation’s economy, and the American economy is by far the strongest in the world. Accordingly, I have directed the Secretary of the Treasury to take the action necessary to defend the dollar against the speculators. I have directed Secretary Connally to suspend temporarily the convertibility of the dollar into gold or other reserve assets, except in amounts and conditions determined to be in the interest of monetary stability and in the best interest of the United States.
Now, what is this action which is very technical? What does it mean for you? Let me lay to rest the bugaboo of what is called devaluation.If you want to buy a foreign car or take a trip abroad, market conditions may cause your dollar to buy slightly less. But if you are among the overwhelming majority of Americans who buy American-made products in America, your dollar will be worth just as much tomorrow as it is today….
I am determined that the American dollar must never again be a hostage in the hands of international speculators.
I am taking one further step to protect the dollar, to improve our balance of payments, and to increase jobs for Americans. As a temporary measure, I am today imposing an additional tax of 10 percent on goods imported into the United States. …
As a result of these actions, the product of American labor will be more competitive, and the unfair edge that some of our foreign competition has will be removed. This is a major reason why our trade balance has eroded over the past 15 years.
–President Richard Nixon, August 15, 1971
With this announcement, U.S. unilaterally suspend the dollar’s convertibility into gold, effectively dissolved its international obligations and ended the Bretton Wood system. Nixon blamed “international speculators” for U.S. losing competitiveness and imposed a 10% tariff on all imported goods until a new international monetary agreement was made.
President Nixon has moved with startling decisiveness to stabilize the dollar and spur economic growth. … (He) has now provided the leadership which is even more essential than any specific proposal for turning the economy around and starting it back on the road to full employment, price stability and competitiveness in an open world market.
–The New York Times, August 16, 1971
The new policy was well-received by the media as well as Wall Street, with the S&P 500 booking the largest one-day gain of the year.
… between now and the election in November , there must be one paramount consideration. And that paramount consideration is not the responsibility of the U.S. in the world, it isn’t outgoing policy, it isn’t the fact that in foreign [policy] we’ve done this, that, or the other thing, the main thing is that we have to create the impression that the president of the United States, finally, at long last, after 25 years with blood, sweat and tears, is […] looking after its interests.
–President Richard Nixon, September 11, 1972
Back in 1968, Nixon campaigned on the promise to roll back President Johnson’s liberal agenda and expansionist policies. He presented himself as a free-market proponent in pursuit of gradual money contraction, inflation reduction, full employment, and balanced budgets. (Bordo 2018)
Believing that high unemployment rates had costed him his first presidential bid in 1960, Nixon’s mandate for the incoming Fed Chairman Arthur Burns was “no recessions”. (Bordo 2018) After the mild recession in 1970, Nixon declared “now I am a Keynesian,” abandoning his free-market stance and fiscal discipline. A loose monetary policy not only supported the domestic welfare programs and the Vietnam war, but also supported economic expansion resulting in an upward revision of economic indicators through the election season.
Instead of correcting the monetary and fiscal policies, President Nixon successfully convinced the American people that the rest of the world was the problem: The surplus countries were blamed for devaluing their currencies and hurting the dollar’s competitiveness; currency speculators were blamed for the pressure to devalue the dollar. There was an unwillingness to recognize that the key source of the problem: U.S. inflation. (Bordo 2018)
By re-framing policy failure as a triumph and fresh start, Nixon succeeded in playing the role of a strong and decisive leader. He won the re-election in a landslide in 1972.
This is the shabby secret of the welfare statists’ tirades against gold. Deficit spending is simply a scheme for the “hidden” confiscation of wealth. Gold stands in the way of this insidious process. It stands as a protector of property rights. If one grasps this, one has no difficulty in understanding the statists’ antagonism toward the gold standard.
Part 3 is a survey of the crucial points of the U.S. Pluto cycle. These dates are determined by aspects formed between the transiting Pluto and the U.S. Pluto. Only major aspects – 60, 90, 120, and 180 degree – are included. As mentioned in part 2, for the sake of precision, I use an 1-degree orb, i.e. only events that took place when the transiting and natal Pluto are within 1-degree of forming an exact aspect are included. –Author
Dubbed “America’s first great depression,” the financial crisis in 1819 was a result of contraction of demand and money supply at the end of Anglo-French war in 1815.
The Panic was precipitated by the need for the Bank of the United States to save itself by reversing its credit expansion and contracting its loan sharply. This sudden contraction, precipitated in the summer and fall of 1818, forced the state banks to contract their loans as well. It brought an unpleasant day of reckoning to those over-inflated banks, which were now called upon to meet their unfulfillable promise to redeem their banknotes in specie. The result was a run of bank failures, and a severe contraction of banknotes throughout the country.
Murray N. Rothbard, “The Frankfort Resolutions And The Panic Of 1819.”
U.S. prospered during the European conflict as the neutral exporter to the warring countries. Owing to the disruption in European agriculture production, American agriculture imports were in high demand. U.S. domestic inflation further elevated the price of produce such cotton, tobacco, and wheat. Farmers and investors, anticipating sustained price increase, rushed to expand their land holding, creating the “land boom.”
The land rush was also promoted by the U.S. government, who incurred massive national debt during the Louisiana Purchase and The War of 1812. In anticipation of a revenue boost, millions of acres of western land were released to the public with generous purchasing terms. Buyers with insufficient funds were allowed to purchase with credit.
After the termination of First Bank of the United States in 1811, U.S. government, citizens and enterprises had relied on unregulated and under-capitalized “wildcat” state banks for funding. The suspension of specie (gold and silver coins) conversion in 1814 allowed these banks to freely issue banknotes with minimal reserve, subsequently greatly expanded the money supply. Between 1811 and 1815, the number of state banks in the U.S. rose from 88 to 208 while the national money supply doubled (Rothbard, 2007).
Money, or what passed for money, was the only cheap thing to be had…. The State banks were issuing their bills by the sheet, like a patent steam printing press its issues; and no other showing was asked of the applicant for the loan than an authentication of his great distress for money. …They generously loaned all the directors could not use themselves, and were not choice whether Bardolph was the endorser for Falstaff, or Falstaff borrowed on his own proper credit, or the funds advanced him by Shallow.
Joseph G. Baldwin. The Flush Times of Alabama and Mississippi.
The money supply exploded, wildly variable discount rates among banks began to cause chaos in the financial system. Premiums for redeeming specie were common place. Some banks even resorted to intimidation and lawsuits when customers attempted to convert their banknotes for specie. (Rothbard, 2002). The Second Bank of the United States was chartered in 1816 to establish uniformed convertibility among banknotes and restore trust in banks.
The largest corporation in its time, the national bank was owned by the federal government as well as foreign and domestic shareholders. The bank was entrusted with conducting all fiscal transactions for the U.S. Government, and paradoxically, according to secretary of the treasury William Crawford (1816-1825): “The first duty of the Board is to the stockholders; the second is to the nation.” (Browning, 2019).
With this conflict of interests in mind, perhaps it was not astonishing that the bank not only caved in to the financial and political interests of its shareholders, drastically amplifying the money supply and inflation, it was also derelict in reinforcement of the specie conversion, “outright fraud abounded” (Rothbard, 2002).
On the eve of the crisis, the explosion of money and credit spilled into infrastructure construction and international trade. Inflation was rampant. An outflow of specie drained the bank reserves across the country. Vicious dumping of cheap British imports devastated the once-burgeoning domestic manufacturing, an urban depression was underway. Since Britain’s conditional ban on imported grain in 1815, Europe has recovered from previous crop failure and resumed post-war agriculture production, which lead to reduced demand and production of American agriculture imports. The sudden collapse in price was precipitated by Britain’s switch to cheap Indian cotton in 1818. Farmers’ and investors’ profit plummeted, defaulted on their loans, setting off bank failures.
It was not until mid-1818, when U.S. must repay foreign debtor in gold or silver, did the national bank abruptly restricted loans and demanded immediate specie redemption from state banks. These high-flying banks, unable to meet the requirement, in turn recalled loans and demand immediate payment from their stressed borrowers. Mass default and bankruptcy ensued, triggering a banking crisis and the Panic of 1819. The money supply contracted 50% between the spring of 1818 and summer of 1819. The price of staples fell by 51% between November 1818 and June 1819 (Rothbard, 1963). Farmers and investors saw the price of their land dropped as much as 75%. In once thriving urban manufacturing centers, employment and income plummeted. Unemployment reached 50% in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia (Browning, 2019). Poverty was widespread and middle class crowded the debtors’ prison.
All the flourishing cities of the West are mortgaged to this money power. They may be devoured by it at any moment. They are in the jaws of the monster! A lump of butter in the mouth of a dog! One gulp, one swallow, and all is gone.
Missouri Senator Thomas Hart Benton (1821-1851)
The banking crisis lasted from 1818 to 1819. The depression was lifted in 1821, but its impact persisted into mid-1820s. The national bank, through increasing reserve requirement, quickly brought the financial crisis under control — at the cost of exacerbating and prolonging the depression. Distressed assets from borrowers were seized by the national bank and sold cheaply to those with means. State governments were powerless to restrain the federal bank.
In 1820, congress reduced the size and price of public land and banned the purchase of public land on credit installments. Subsequent relief programs for earlier buyers (1821) included interest forgiveness, price reduction, extended loan terms and return options. These relief measures set the precedent for controversial government interventions during future crisis.
This crisis was regarded as the start of modern boom-bust economic cycle. The corruption of banks and government were on full display throughout the first nationwide crisis. It became apparent that banks served their shareholders at the expense of their customers, and the wealthy and well-connected was able to ride out, even profited from the financial devastation. Predictably, the distressed asset price paved way for future consolidation. It also deepened the riff between states and federal government, the industrialized North and export-dependent South, the conservative East and expansionist West. The nationwide hatred toward the banks would last for decades and the bitterness toward the federal government would feed Southern sectionalism and sow the seed of civil war. The heated debate between sound money vs. debasement persisted to this day.
Browning, Andrew H. The Panic of 1819 the First Great Depression. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2019.
Evidently, a narrative that negates all traces of a matter as massive as slavery must inevitably distort the rest of the story as well. From the meaning of freedom to the understanding of human nature, to the perception of God’s Providence, all elements of Americans’ understanding of their great national experiment were warped and reshaped to conform to the demands of a version of the tale in which the enslavement and dehumanization of millions of their fellow creatures could be deemed compatible with the values of the republic.
Robert Pierce Forbes. The Missouri Compromise and Its Aftermath.
Reason, justice, equity never had weight enough on the face of the earth to govern the councils of men; it is interest alone which does it, and it is interest alone which can be trusted.
Thomas Jefferson, “12 July, 1776” in Jefferson Autobiography
Coincided with the Panic of 1819, unprecedented threats of disunion and civil war erupted over the future of slavery.
The anti-slavery language was left out in the Declaration of Independence for the sake of unanimity. At Constitutional Convention of 1778, the delegates again faced the same quandary: a union with slavery vs. no slavery, no union.
Great as the evil is, a dismemberment of the Union would be worse. If those states should disunite from the other states for not indulging them in the temporary continuance of this (slave) traffic, they might solicit and obtain aid from foreign powers.
James Madison, Debate in Virginia Ratifying Convention, June 15, 1788
The political evil was inherent in the constitution itself, which brought States slaveholding and non-slaveholding into indissoluble bonds, providing no radical means for assimilating their condition. The anti-slavery spirit of 1776 had died out, or rather had exhausted its power of persuading States to emancipate…
James Schouler, History of the United States, Volume IV
Northern delegates conceded again, acquiescent in the belief that slavery will eventually become economically unsustainable and die out. With no foreseeable increase in demand of slave labor, the delegates prohibit the restriction of –thus continuing – Atlantic slave trade for the next twenty years, and left the thorny issue to individual states in the Tenth Amendment (1791): “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”
After the “Act Prohibiting the Importation of Slaves” took effect in 1808, the nation settled on the future decline of slavery, yet domestic slave trade remained. The entire U.S. population continued to participate in trading and consuming goods produced by domestic and oversea slave labor. The invention of cotton gin in 1793 had revolutionized cotton processing, vastly increased the productivity and profit of cotton production, which almost entirely the product of slave labor. The “cotton boom” after the War of 1812 sent the production and worldwide demand for American cotton soaring. U.S. cotton export grew from $5,700,000 to $20,000,000 between 1800 and 1820, and the value of slaves was said to have increased three-fold in the same period. (Woodburn, 1894) Slavery became profitable and vital to the national economy once more.
The Tallmadge Amendment
In 1812, Louisiana territory –the first from the Louisiana Purchase – entered the union as a slave state. Missouri territory was expected to follow suit in 1818. In the course of debate, New York Representative James Tallmadge Jr. and Charles Baumgardner submitted two amendments to Missouri’s admission to the union:
“… that the further introduction of slavery or involuntary servitude be prohibited, except for the punishment of crimes, whereof the party shall have been fully convicted; and that all children born within the said State, after the admission thereof into the Union, shall be free at the age of twenty-five years.”
The Tallmadge Amendment was the first serious challenge to the southern status quo, an uneasy balance of power based on the joint evasion of morality of human bondage and servitude. The debate largely focused on the interpretation of the constitution. The discourse on morals was considered offensive by the southerners as it violates the state sovereignty and the long-standing understanding between the two sides of the slavery issue.
The debate on Tallmadge’s amendment was inconceivably intense and hostile, and involved open threats of disunion and civil war:
“If a dissolution of the Union must take place, let it be so! If civil war, which gentlemen so much threaten, must come, I can only say, let it come!”
Representative James Tallmadge Jr. of New York
The measure passed the house but failed in the Senate. Missouri’s statehood was in limbo at the close the 15th session of Congress. Over the recess, bitter resentment, and indignation raged across the country in town hall meetings, pamphlets, petitions, and newspaper essays. Northern antislavery force demanded that Missouri abandons slavery and the prohibition extended to all future territories. Missourians and their southern supporters decried the unwarranted delay and unfair restriction.
…we have the wolf by the ear, and we can neither hold him, nor safely let him go. justice is in one scale, and self-preservation in the other.
Letter from Thomas Jefferson to John Holmes (April 22, 1820)
Southerners did not trust the North’s humanitarian anti-slavery argument. Rather, they viewed Northern restrictionists’ effort as a plot to revive the Federalist party and return to an era of a strong national government. The call for Revolutionary ideal of liberty and equality was perceived as encroachment on state sovereignty and dreaded incitement to slave riots.
The crux of the pro-slavery argument was the Southern slave holders’ prosperity and political dominance. Virginian planter class, and by extension, Southern slaveholders, have served almost consecutively in the White House and held high offices since the founding of the nation. The nation’s capital, border on Virginia and Maryland, was the center of domestic slave trade. Virginia held almost 1/3 of the nation’s slave population and was eager to push the surplus to the new territories.
Southern Founding Fathers, James Madison and Charles Pinckney stressed that the Constitutional Convention had not authorized any extraordinary congressional control over slavery. Thomas Jefferson, likewise, recoiled against all the northern constitutional innovations spawned by the Missouri crisis. Jefferson adopted the argument that “diffusion” of the institution in the West would not increase the total number of slaves and “would make them individually happier and facilitate their eventual emancipation.”
Don E. Fehrenbacher. The Slaveholding Republic.
Since the industrialization of cotton production and the upsurge of cotton export, slavery not only became enormously profitable but made its westward expansion. Up against the enormous economic incentive, Southern antislavery sentiment wavered, and the Revolutionary philosophy became irrelevant and inconvenient history.
Most southern representatives in the Congress continued to denounce slavery, but their words had become increasingly hollow. Apathy and resignation gradually set in. It was accepted that nothing –nonthreatening to the slaveholding class, at least –could be done. Many simply set the date of eventual abolition to the infinite future.
Charles Pinckney – founding father, signer of the Constitution, three-term South Carolina governor, ambassador, and two-term congressman –defended slavery. Citing historical precedents in ancient civilization and indigenous slavery in Africa, he asserted that slavery was human nature, and implied that the institution was common good of slaves and slaveholders:
A free black can only be happy where he has some share of education and has been bred to a trade or some kind of business. The great body of slaves are happier in their present situation than they could be in any other, and the man or men who would attempt to give them freedom, would be their greatest enemies.
Charles Pinckney’s Speech to Congress, 1820.
The South also extended their legal argument against the Tallmadge amendment on the sovereignty and equality of the of the state (Woodburn, 1894). Quoting the second half Article, 4 Section 3, Clause 2 of the U.S. Constitution: “…nothing in this Constitution shall be so construed as to Prejudice any Claims of the United States, or of any particular State”, along with the Tenth Amendment, they argued that the Constitution, by intentional omitting the slavery issue, has relinquished its claim to restriction. Slavery is an issue to be decided by individual states. Tallmadge amendment was unconstitutional because it placed the constraint on the admission of Missouri alone. Besides, since slaves were treated as property, banning slavery would amount to illegal seizure of personal property, prohibited by the Fifth Amendment.
Morals and Principles
I was aware of the delicacy of the subject and that I had learned from Southern gentlemen the difficulties and the dangers of having free blacks intermingling with slaves;… While we deprecate and mourn over the evil of slavery, humanity and good morals require us to wish its abolition, under circumstances consistent with the safety of the white population. Willingly, therefore, will I submit to an evil which we cannot safely remedy… But, sir, all these reasons cease when we cross the banks of the Mississippi, a newly acquired territory, never contemplated in the formation of our Government, not included within the compromise or mutual pledge in the adoption of our Constitution, a new territory acquired by our common fund, and ought justly to be subject to our common legislation.
Tallmadge’s Speech to Congress, 1819
The North did not see any attempt to end the slavery on the South’s part. Instead, they saw a revival and the intention to extend and expand. For the Northern restrictionists, the future of slavery was at stake –not only in Missouri, but in all new states and territories. They sought to implement the Northern Ordinance to the regions west of Mississippi River and Florida, and put an end to the expansion of slavery for good.
They argued on humanitarian ground and maintained that the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution provided the ground for abolition. While some claimed that Article I Section 8 would suffice to restrict all slave trades, the most eloquent proponent of Tallmadge Amendment, New York Senator Rufus King, cites first part of Article, 4 Section 3, Clause 2: “The Congress shall have Power to dispose of and make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting the Territory or other Property belonging to the United States” and contend that the Congress was granted the power to dictate the condition of admission of each state. Slavery was an evil disgrace forced upon the colonies. This wickedness was only tolerated for the sake of the Union and should be restricted at the earliest expediency.
Almost all debates surrounding Missouri Crisis could be boiled down to the balance of powder, however. Despite dominating the House, North’s demographic lead did not translate into their political sway. Equal number of Senators from each state gave the less populated South an unfair advantage. Maintaining the power balance depends on equal number of free and slave states.
The North had been pained by the three-fifth clause, which adds 60% of the slave population to the slave states’ free population for calculating taxation and assigning House representative seats. Originally meant as a compromise to discourage the growth of slavery, the three-fifth clause gave southern states more congressional representatives and more electoral votes for president than their white population entitled.
At the time of Missouri’s request of statehood, the nation contained 11 free states and 11 slave states at the time. Missouri’s entry as a slave state would have tipped balance of power in South’s favor; with the Tallmadge Amendment approved the antislavery stance would gain strength going forward. Aggravated by the dominance of “Slave Power,” North feared that if Missouri’s slave state status would solidify South’s dominance. Worse still, it could lead to more slave states and perpetuate their reign in national politics.
Missouri renewed its request after the Congress reconvened; Maine also applied to join the union. The Senate amended the Maine admission with the unconditional acceptance of a slaveholding Missouri but the coercion was called out by Northern House representatives. Seeking incentivize the bill passage, Senator Jesse Thomas of Illinois added a proviso that allows slavery in Missouri, but “forever prohibits” slavery in all remaining areas of the Louisiana Purchase north of the 36° 30′ parallel, an area mostly uninhabited at the time. The bill passed the Senate and again rejected by the House.
In respond to the Senate’s strong-arming, the House passed its own bill admitting Missouri with the antislavery Tallmadge Amendment. The bill was rejected by the Senate and the Congress came to a deadlock.
A sullen gloom hung over the nation. All felt that the rejection of Missouri, was equivalent to a dissolution of the Union: because those states which already had, what Missouri was rejected for refusing to relinquish, would go with Missouri.
Abraham Lincoln, Eulogy of Henry Clay
The Senate called for a committee of conference thenext day. Kentucky Senator Henry Clay, then Speaker of the House, also known as “The Great Compromiser,” spearheaded the compromise effort. A slave owner himself, Clay had argued for “the inviolability of this species of property” granted by the Constitution and advocated “diffusion” and “colonization” as the ultimate and humane solution to slavery. He, along with Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and then-President James Monroe claimed that it was only humane to disperse South’s surplus slave population westward, and expatriate them when free labor is plenty and slave-holding becomes unaffordable in time. This would defuse the tension among the dense and restless southern slave population and lessen the threat and stress of the slaveholders –while profiting through the domestic slave trade.
Clay’s optimism about the compromise was soon threatened by the building momentum of the antislavery force. Fearing an impending all-out restriction on slavery, Clay rushed to forge a compromising majority by instilling the fear of disunion and accusing the Federalists of instigating and exploiting the Missouri issue to divide the nation.
We have been told by the Speaker that the people of Missouri are ready to shoulder their muskets, to march en masse, and force their way into this hall, Sir, if this be indeed so, it is time to barricade the doors. If it be an enemy that is advancing, let us bar our gates, and prepare for our defence;…
… But not only will Missouri revolt from our authority: the slave-holding states will join with her, and, if this restriction passes, the Union will be dissolved. Such, sir, is the language which I have heard, with infinite regret, upon this floor, not from two or three members merely, but from all those who have spoken against this amendment…
…respecting the motives of the friends of this restriction; and an appeal has been made to vulgar prejudices, by calling it a Federal measure; …it is well known that it originated with Republicans; that it is supported by the Republicans throughout the free states; and that the Federalists of the south are its warm opponents: The question then is not between Federalists and Republicans, but between slave-holders and those who hold no slaves. It is a knowledge of this fact, which has induced the free states, usually so much divided among themselves, to advance on this occasion with so much ardor and unanimity to the attainment of their object.
Speech of Mr. Plumer, of New-Hampshire, on the Missouri question, delivered in the House of Representatives of the United States, February 21, 1820
Clay successfully convinced some Southern pro-slavery House representatives to accept the Thomas proviso and wrangled several Northern representatives to absent or support Missouri as a slave state. By dividing the Compromise into three bills, Henry Clay prevented the North and Southern opponents to join force to defeat the Senate bill.
On the same day, March 2, 1820, the joint committee, carefully chosen by Clay, returned with an endorsement of the original Senate compromise bill, now in three separate parts. Missouri was admitted as a slave state by a margin of three votes, Maine entered as a free state the day before its application expires, and slavery was prohibited north of 36° 30´ parallel, the so-called “Compromise Line. The Missouri Compromise was thus achieved. Clay sneaked the bill to the Senate while blocking the House’s reconsideration. President Monroe signed the bill on March 6, 1820.
He did not confine himself to speeches addressed to the House, but he went from man to man, expostulating, beseeching, persuading, in his most winning way… What helped in him gaining over the number of votes necessary to form a majority was the growing fear that this quarrel would break up the ruling party, and lead to the forming of new divisions.
Carl Schurz, Life of Henry Clay
President Monroe’s Role
President James Monroe was instrumental in fostering the compromise. “Monroe’s endorsement of the Missouri Compromise was a last-ditch effort to defeat a budding antislavery movement that stood a few congressional votes shy of enacting the most meaningful national restrictions on slavery in a generation.” (Hammand, 2019)
A Virginia slaveholder himself, he regarded the nation’s interests aligned with the prosperity of the South, and concerned himself with maintaining the privilege and security of Virginia’s planter class. Monroe deemed Virginia’s former anti-slavery stance as idealistic and naïve, as the planter class previously had not faced the menacing danger of an ever-increasing and rebellious slave population. Anti-slavery sentiment had become a luxury the Planter Class could no longer afford. He helped promote the idea that the Northerners are ignorant of the South’s peculiar condition and that the expansion of slavery was not only necessary but humane. He and other Republicans, along with Thomas Jefferson, worked to detract and re-frame the antislavery argument by claiming the Federalists and their alleged sympathizers of plotting the Missouri crisis to consolidate the antislavery front, spoil his reelection, and dictate the future of the union.
The Second Missouri Compromise
Missouri adopted a constitution for the new state on July 19, 1820. Bitter and defiant about the delay and insults, Missouri delegates inserted a provision that not only prohibited free blacks from migrating to the state, but also forbade the legislative emancipation of slaves without the slave owners’ consent. This clause was considered in direct violation of the Article IV, Section 2, of the US Constitution: “The Citizens of each State shall be entitled to all Privileges and Immunities of Citizens in the several States.”
The Missouri crisis was revived. Northern representative who unwillingly compromised were disgusted by the clause and withdrew their support. The antislavery faction, seeing their hope renewed, seized the last chance to keep a slave-holding Missouri out of the union while the representatives from Missouri waited for their admission at the Congress door.
The debate centered around the citizenship of free blacks and by extension, their rights under the Constitution. A compromise Proviso by Tennessee Senator John Eaton passed the Senate: “That nothing herein contained shall be so construed as to give the assent of Congress to any provision in the Constitution of Missouri, if any such there be, which contravenes the clause in the Constitution of the United States that ‘the citizen of each state shall be entitled to all the privileges and immunities of citizens in the several states.’”
The House rejected this and several subsequent proposals for Missouri’s admission, leaving the Congress in deadlock and Missouri without a legal status. On February 2, 1821, a joint committee was formed, focusing solely on forming an amendment to guard “against the violation of the privileges and immunities of citizens of other states in Missouri.” The House rejected the bill by a vote of 88 to 82.
South Carolina senator and Constitution’s framer Charles Pinckney proclaimed that the oppositions’ rejection was trivial, and accused them of breaching of faith and deception:
The article of the Constitution on which now so much stress is laid—‘the citizens in each State shall be entitled to all the privileges and immunities in every State.’—having been made by me, it is supposed that I must know, or perfectly recollect, what I meant by it. In answer, I say that, at the time I drew that article, I perfectly knew that there did not then exist such a thing as a black or color citizen of the United States, and knowing that all the Southern and Western States had for many years passed laws to the same effect, which laws are well known to Congress, being at this moment in their library and within the walls of the Capitol, and which were never before objected to by them or their courts, they (the people of Missouri) were no doubt warranted in supposing they had the same right…
On February 21, 1821, Kentucky Senator William Brown demanded the Missouri enabling act repealed, claiming that “The plighted path of Congress for the admission of Missouri has been violated… the course of the majority can be justified by no principle of reason or sound policy, but must rest for its support on pious fraud”. On the next day, Clay assembled a congressional committee with his chosen candidates. The elected committee members agreed that Missouri to be admitted with the original condition and the controversial clause (fourth clause of the twenty-sixth section of the third article of the constitution) “shall never be construed to authorize the passage of any laws, and that no law should ever be passed, by which any citizen, of either of the states in Union, shall be excluded from the enjoyment of any of the privileges and immunities to which such citizen is entitled under the constitution of the United States; that the legislature of said State, by a solemn public act, shall declare the assent of said State to the said fundamental condition.” The Senate passed the measure by a four-vote margin.
By applying circular logic, the provision suggested that the Missouri’s constitution was in fact unconstitutional, and deftly circumvented the question of whether free blacks were U.S. citizens and equally protected by the constitution. This purposely obstruse provision is known as the Second Missouri Compromise.
President Monroe proceeded to proclaim Missouri’s contingent statehood on March 2, 1821. Missouri subsequently denied the Congress’s right to demand such a statement and openly declared “A Solemn Public Act” a farce:
…this general assembly are of opinion that the congress of the United States have no constitutional power to annex any condition to the admission of this state into the federal Union, and that this general assembly have no power to change the operation of the constitution of this state…
the Solemn Pubic Act passed the Missouri by overwhelming margin, possibly owing to the fact that the incorrect clause was cited in the congressional resolution. The clause the Congress objected to, “free negroes and mulattoes were to be prevented from coming to and settling in the State” was actually the first clause –not the fourth – of the controversial passage. Therefore “the assent given to it by the Legislature of Missouri was without binding force, moral or legal, upon any human being whatsoever.” (Carr, 1900)
President Monroe received a copy of the Act and on August 30, 1821, declared that the condition had been complied and the Missouri’s admission to the Union was complete. The Solemn Public Act was overturned on March 14, 1835, when free Blacks must meet onerous conditions to obtain a “freedom license” to legally remain in Missouri.
National Suicide and the Prelude to Civil War
I have favored this Missouri compromise, believing it to be all that could be effected under the present Constitution, and from extreme unwillingness to put the Union at hazard. But perhaps it would have been wiser as well as a bolder course, to have persisted in a restriction upon Missouri, till it should have terminated in a convention of the States to revise and amend the Constitution. This would have produced a new Union of thirteen or fourteen States unpolluted with slavery, with a great and glorious object to effect, namely, that of rallying to their standard the other States by the universal emancipation of their slaves. If the Union must be dissolved, slavery is precisely thequestion upon which it ought to break. For the present, however, this contest is laid asleep.
The Memoirs of John Quincy Adams
The compromise had another sinister feature. The anti-slavery sentiment in the North, invoked by the Missouri controversy, was no doubt strong and sincere. The South threatened the dissolution of the Union; and, frightened by that threat a sufficient number of Northern men were found willing to acquiesce, substantially in the demands of the South. Thus the slave power learned the weak spot in the anti-slavery armor. It was likely to avail itself of that knowledge, to carry further point by similar threats, and to familiarize itself more and more with the idea that the dissolution of the Union would really be a royal remedy for all its complaints.
Carl Schurz, Life of Henry Clay
To this day, the Missouri Compromise is still seen as a brilliant effort to preserve the balance of power in the U.S. congress, as if the moral dimension of the compromise was beyond the scope of discussion. From http://www.senate.gov:
(the Missouri Compromise) maintained a delicate balance between free and slave states…. Ironically, it was the astute maneuvering of Speaker Henry Clay that helped bring about this new era of Senate debate, creating a legislative forum in which Senator Henry Clay would soon forge other Union-saving compromises.
The confounding inconsistency of the founding fathers and congressional leaders during the Missouri crisis baffled historians. E.g., Thomas Jefferson’s characterization of emancipation as “an abstract principle” and asserted that the abolitionist zeal was destructive, suicidal, and treasonous:
I regret that I am now to die in the belief that the useless sacrifice of themselves, by the generation of ’76. to acquire self government and happiness to their country, is to be thrown away by the unwise and unworthy passions of their sons, and that my only consolation is to be that I live not to weep over it. if they would but dispassionately weigh the blessings they will throw away against an abstract principle more likely to be effected by union than by scission, they would pause before they would perpetrate this act of suicide on themselves and of treason against the hopes of the world.
Jefferson, Letter to John Holmes, 1820
Some historians have concluded that our founders were self-deluding hypocrites and liars, while others rationalized their comments and actions. In any case, it appeared that the revolutionary spirit had all but dissipated within one generation and the pursuit of equal rights and liberty was only intended for the white men all along. “Americans subscribed in a new understanding that ‘the Declaration of Independence did not in fact proclaim universal human rights, but rather applied to whites alone.’” (Fehrenbacher, 2002)
An uneasy silence dawned in the aftermath of the Missouri Compromise, for discussion on such dedicate subject had been deemed inherently dangerous for the Planter class. The frightened slaveholders were convinced that these prolonged and intense debates incited slave riots, the Demark Vesey uprising of 1822 was a case in point.
Another certain casualty was the “Era of Good Feelings.” The post-war nationalistic sentiment and aligned national interests under one-party rule with was no longer. The crisis precipitously fractured the Democratic Republican Party along the sectional line and caused irreparable damage without warning. “Disunion” and “civil war” were repeated nonchalantly during congressional sessions and presidential meetings. The animosity sown would ultimately lead to the devastating Civil War.
Despite some anti-slavery representatives mourned the intolerable defeat, both sides proclaimed victory Initially. The heated debates forged a unified Southern identity, geographically separated, and forever identified with slavery. Over time, the Compromise Line evolved into both the unbreachable boundary and confinement of slavery expansion. When the Southern interest was cornered a few decades later, their repeal of the Compromise Line led to a full-blown Civil War.
Then Secretary of State John Quincy Adams prophesied the beginning of Southern decline in his personal diary:
(Missouri Compromise was) terrible to the whole Union, but portentously terrible to the South – threatening in its progress the emancipation of all their slaves, threatening in its immediate effect that Southern domination which has swayed the Union for the last twenty years, and threatening that political ascendancy of Virginia, upon which Clay and Crawford had fastened their principal hope of personal aggrandizement.
The two-year congressional battle had exhausted the antislavery movement, re-legitimized slavery, reversed the emancipation momentum, adding insult and injury to free black people nationwide.
In late 1821, Attorney General William Wirt, in response to Secretary of the Treasure William H. Crawford’s inquiry whether free blacks are citizens of the United States, replies: “No person is included in the description of citizen of the United States who has not the full rights of a citizen in the United States.” This statement effective excludes all free black persons living in any states that does not grant full rights to them, which was at least 95% of the free black population of the country at the time (Fehrenbacher, 2002). In the same year, New Jersey Supreme Court rules that all Black men were prima facie slaves. The citizenship and rights of free black people hang in balance and suffered further degradation in the coming decades.
The forced political deal satisfied neither the anti-slavery advocates nor the pro-slavery force. South opposed the bill because it cordoned off too much of the West; North objected to it because it opened the gate for slavery expansion. The uneasy truce was sustained until 1850 by alternating the admission of slave and free states.
U.S. political leadership had hoped the Missouri Compromise would settle the slavery debate once and for all, yet the peace was not to last. The Missouri Compromise was repealed in 1854 and ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court three years later in a move that lead the nation closer to the Civil War.
THE ASTROLOGY PERSPECTIVE
Astrologers consider sextile (60-degree) is one of the “easy” or “soft” transits that offers a window of opportunity to prepare for the challenging square transit. In retrospective, the Missouri Compromise was a missed opportunity to right the ship before the union head into the abyss.
By default, the U.S. Sagittarius ascendant will always seek and rationalize easy-and-quick fixes. It is effortless to imagine the Congressional representatives being persuaded to “look at the big picture” and vote for union-saving measures, while overlooking the grander scheme –our founding principles. A judicious study of the U.S. history reveals that time and again, the decision to defuse crises with temporary solutions –from the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the earliest major point of the U.S.’s Pluto cycle, to all the economic and political crises we face today –were the cause of future destruction. The answer to our past and present oppressive burden would have been, and still is to break away from the consensus of compromisers. It is apparent that our political class do not solve problems; they delay and evade, while simultaneously create disabling, contradictory complexities that entrench us into such a gridlock that we either compromise once more or beg for draconian interventions.
A Capricorn Pluto is desperately fearful of chaos and disgrace, and would pay any price to maintain its status and respectability. Its antiscion places its secret shadow deep in the shapeless zone of the twelfth house, subjects itself to self-delusion and secretive, underhanded ploys. We as individuals, therefore, are tasked with the mission of acute awareness, to work ourselves out of this collective illusion and paralysis while our nation transforms for better or worse.
During the Pluto return, we could expect that our national founding principles challenged again by commercial interest and matters of national survival. If history is our guide, more compromises could be expected to delay our day of reckoning and the extract a still greater price when the differences of our most fundamental values and principles become irreconcilable.
Schouler, James. 1889. History of the United States of America Under the Constitution: 1831-1847.
Wilentz, Sean. 2004. “Jeffersonian Democracy and the Origins of Political Antislavery in the United States: The Missouri Crisis Revisited.” The Journal of the Historical Society, no. 3 (September): 375–401.
Wilentz, Sean. 2016. The Politicians & the Egalitarians: The Hidden History of American Politics, New York: W.W. Norton & Company.
Woodburn, James Albert. 1894. The Historical Significance of the Missouri Compromise.