As soon as the United States won its independence from Britain, Mainers were advocating for the state’s secession from Massachusetts.
There were lots of reasons for Maine to be its own state — Maine and Massachusetts have never shared a border, their demographics were and remain different, and Maine’s then-booming fishing, shipbuilding, farming and lumbering industries were making the region its own economic powerhouse.
But it was an issue that continues to be central to the ongoing story of the United States — the enslavement of kidnapped African people — that is irrevocably tied to Maine’s independence, thanks to an 1820 federal agreement known as the Missouri Compromise.
The compromise was that Maine, then part of a free Massachusetts that would not allow slavery itself, would only become a state if Missouri were also allowed to become a state and be allowed to have slavery. The idea was that such an agreement would “maintain the balance” between the congressional representation of free and slave states.
The Missouri Compromise was among the first federal decisions that would lay the foundation for the issue the Civil War would be fought over more than 40 years later. It created lasting tensions between northern states, which generally viewed slavery as a barbaric and immoral institution, and southern states, which wished to maintain their rights to own human beings.
“The statehood question was debated for five decades before it actually happened, but when Congress gets caught up in the issue, it becomes as much about this fundamental issue in American politics as it does about our statehood,” said Liam Riordan, a professor of history at the University of Maine.
The road to statehood began as early as the 1780s, just a few years after the Treaty of Paris affirmed the country’s independence from England. Maine’s first newspaper, the Falmouth Gazette, was founded in 1785 for the main purpose of promoting statehood. It issued a call to action for a meeting on discussing statehood in one of its first editions Sept. 17, 1785.
Emily Burnham is a Maine native and proud Bangorian, covering business, the arts, restaurants and the culture and history of the Bangor region.
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