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Executive Director Steve Belko Announces New Book: “Contesting the Constitution: Congress Debates the Missouri Crisis, 1819-1821”

“William S. Belko’s worthy collection of timely and poignant essays dissects how various Constitutional clauses created the debates over slavery, westward expansion, and Missouri’s admission into the Union and ultimately paved the path toward Civil War. Antebellum slavery cannot be understood without articulating how the Missouri question defined it!”—Gene Allen Smith, Texas Christian University, author of In Harm’s Way: A History of the American Military Experience

The admission of Missouri to the Union quickly became a constitutional crisis of the first order, inciting an intensive reexamination of the U.S. Constitution by the U.S. Congress. The heart of the question in need of resolution was whether that body possessed the authority to place conditions on a territory—in this instance Missouri—regarding restrictions on slavery—before its admittance to the Union. The larger question with which the legislators grappled were the limits of the Constitution’s provisions granting Congress the authority to affect the institution of slavery—both where it already existed and where it could expand, severely testing the young republic. This timely collection of original essays thoughtfully engages the intersections of history and constitutional law, and is certain to find eager readers among historians, legal scholars, political scientists, as well as many who call Missouri home.

William S. Belko is the Executive Director of the Missouri Humanities Council and author of several books including, Philip Pendleton Barbour in Jacksonian America: An Old Republican in King Andrew’s Court and The Invincible Duff Green: Whig of the West. He lives in the St. Louis area. For more information, email

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