I enjoyed this lecture on the Road To Disunion in Missouri, the War Between the States, Reconstruction and Redemption and the impact it had on the identity of White Missourians.
Christopher W. Phillips argues that before the War Between the States the people of Missouri thought of themselves as “Westerners” like Kentuckians. This isn’t surprising since most of the original settlers were Kentuckians. Sen. Henry Clay’s nickname was “Harry of the West.”
As the War Between the States approached across the border in Bleeding Kansas in the 1850s, Missouri was at the epicenter of the conflict. Yankees condemned Missourians as morally beneath them because of slavery. Politically speaking, Missourians took offense at this and began to evolve from seeing themselves as “Westerners” in a state that was barely enslaved to identifying more as beleagured Southerners. The vast majority of the White population in Missouri opposed secession. It was the only state that gave its electoral votes in the 1860 election to the “Little Giant” Stephen Douglas.
In 1861, Gen. Nathaniel Lyon launched his putsch against the Missouri state government. In his words, “Rather than concede to the State of Missouri for one single instant the right to dictate to my Government in any matter however unimportant, I would see you, and you, and you, and every man, woman, and child in the State, dead and buried.” He arrived in Jefferson City with three steamboats and 2,000 soldiers and occupied the Missouri State Capitol. The War Between the States had begun in Missouri and the legitimate state government fled to southwest Missouri. Later that summer, Lyon became the first Yankee general to be shot dead by Confederate troops at the Battle of Wilson’s Creek.
The Union established a brutal dictatorship in occupied Missouri. Something like 28,000 people died in the guerrilla warfare that broke out in Missouri. Anyone suspected of being a Confederate guerrilla could be shot on sight. The property of anyone suspected of being a Confederate sympathizer was taxed and seized to support the Union war effort. Churches had to pledge allegiance to the Lincoln administration. During the war, a puppet Republican government was installed in power in Jefferson City and Missouri’s sitting U.S. Senators were expelled for supporting the Confederacy. The test oath was used to disenfranchise anyone in Missouri who was remotely connected to the Confederacy. The “ironclad oath” was written into Missouri’s 1865 Constitution to disenfranchise the White Southern population several years before it was imposed on the former Confederate states during Congressional Reconstruction.
From 1863 until 1870, Missouri was under the thumb of the Radical Party, and from 1865 to 1870 most White Southerners were disenfranchised under the Drake Constitution. There was a list of 86 acts of “treason” that barred anyone in Missouri from voting, holding office or even preaching from the pulpit. This was necessary to cull the electorate down the point where a tiny minority based in St. Louis could rule. Slavery was abolished and blacks were given the right to vote in 1870 by the Fifteenth Amendment. In effect, Missouri was essentially a Radical dictatorship backed by the Union Army. This was the context of the beginning of the James Gang after the war.
After the Radical Party split in 1870 over the issues of restoring voting rights to White Southerners and enfranchising blacks, ex-Confederates got back the right to vote. Missouri was redeemed in 1874 when the Democrats were restored to power. According to Christopher W. Phillips, they ruled Missouri for the next 35 years and the bitter experience of the war and even more so the Radical despotism that was Reconstruction made Missouri feel strongly pro-Southern into the 20th century. The same was true of Kentucky and West Virginia which had opposed secession and which were internally divided but later joined the Confederacy in sentiment as full members in the 1870s and 1880s.