MISSOURI STATE ARCHIVES
Before Dred Scott:
Freedom Suits in Antebellum Missouri
Missouri became the twenty-fourth state on August 10, 1821. The petition for statehood asked that Missouri enter the Union as a slave state. This request created explosive debates in the United States Congress. Some people did not want to allow slavery in the American territory west of the Mississippi River. Finally, Congress passed an Act that allowed Missouri to enter as a slave state, and Maine as a free state, therefore keeping the balance of free and slave states equal in Congress. This act also required that slavery not be allowed in any additional lands north of the geographic line known as 36'30° (Missouri's southern border). This was known as the Missouri Compromise.
To maintain control of the state's slave population, the Missouri legislature passed a "black code." These laws in this code governed the movement and activity of slaves in the state. The code also controlled interaction between slaves and white citizens or free blacks.
Under the laws of territorial Missouri, a person of any race illegally held as a slave could sue for freedom. This statute was first passed in 1807. The Missouri legislature continued to include it in the laws created after statehood.