The Great Compromiser

As Speaker of the House in 1820 Henry Clay had engineered the Missouri Compromise, which stabilized sectional politics for a generation. Missouri and Maine would balance each other, entering the Union respectively as a new slave and a new free state. Under the compromise, Congress committed itself to keeping slavery forever out of the territories west and north of Missouri.

By 1844 many people expected that Henry Clay and former Democratic President Martin Van Buren would face each other in the presidential race. Both opposed the annexation of Texas, anticipating that the move would again make slavery a politically divisive issue. Although Clay won the Whig nomination, the Democrats put up James Polk, a relative unknown whose annexationist views proved popular.