William E. Parrish, A History of Missouri, Volume III: 1860-1875
As I have explained, I frequently travel to Missouri more than any other state because my wife is from there and her family still lives there. I’m often in the state and the last time I was there I grew interested in how this state became the way it is today. We were on our way to see the birthplace of Jesse James in western Missouri when our car broke down in Excelsior Springs.
While I was there, I ordered a bunch of books about Missouri history which were waiting for me when I got back home in May. The thing that I was most curious about was Little Dixie which is the area in which I had stayed. Little Dixie along the banks of the Missouri River was the heartland of slavery in antebellum Missouri. This part of Missouri was settled by Kentuckians and Virginians and had been a land of tobacco and hemp plantations worked by a handful of slaves before the War Between the States. Slavery in Missouri was never anything like it was in the Alabama Black Belt where I am from.
From what I had read, I got the sense that there was a vast demographic change in Missouri immediately before, during and after the War Between the States. Before the war, Missouri had been settled mainly by Southerners after the Missouri Compromise established the boundary between future free states and slave states in the Western territories. While Missouri was a slave state, it wasn’t a Slave Society like South Carolina. It was by far the least enslaved of all the Southern states.
I bought William E. Parrish’s book A History of Missouri (V3): Volume III, 1860 to 1875 to learn more about his period and why Missouri is so confused about whether it is a Southern or Midwestern state. It turns out that before the war it was neither of these things. In the antebellum era, the vast majority of Missourians still thought of themselves as a Western state with slavery. It was the border war with Kansas, the feeling of being surrounded on three sides by free states and especially being condemned by Yankees as their moral inferiors because of slavery that began the process of the Southernization of Missouri. It turns out that it was the brutal experience of the invasion and the Union occupation, the guerrilla warfare that went on inside Missouri and especially the burning resentment over Black Republicanism during Reconstruction that cemented Missouri’s identity as a Southern state.
If you look at a map of slavery in Missouri in 1861, you can see Little Dixie which was the most pro-Southern, the most pro-Confederate, the most pro-slavery and the most conservative part of Missouri. The heart of Little Dixie is Boone, Callaway, Howard, Monroe, Randolph and Audrain Counties in the center of the state on the Missouri River. William E. Parrish even remarks in the book that Callaway County was nicknamed the “Kingdom of Callaway” during the Reconstruction era because it was so conservative. Sen. Josh Hawley is from the little town of Lexington in Lafayette County which was 31.7 percent slave and which was so based that it hosted Quantrill’s Raiders.
The westernmost counties of Little Dixie included Jackson County, Platte County, Clay County and Cass County which is the today the Kansas City Metropolitan Area. Jesse James was from Clay County. Slavery was growing in the Kansas City area faster than it was anywhere else in the South in 1861. It was the “Border Ruffians” in this area who were determined to make Kansas a slave state who literally started the war fighting with the Jayhawkers in Bleeding Kansas in the 1850s. Slavery was secure in South Carolina and the Deep South. It was slavery in the western territories meaning primarily the future of slavery in the Missouri River valley following the repeal of the Missouri Compromise by the Dred Scott decision in 1857 that was being so bitterly contested.
The eastern part of Little Dixie is the area with which I am most familiar with in Missouri. My wife is from the St. Louis suburbs in St. Charles County and the Little Dixie Highway runs north from St. Peters to Hannibal. Lincoln County, Rawls County and Pike County were full of slave plantations back in the day along the banks of the Mississippi River. There is a quaint, sleepy little 90% White town up there called Louisiana, MO in Pike County which I frequently visit while I am in Missouri. The area is bounded to the north by Hannibal which was the home of Mark Twain.
By 1860, the demographic balance in Missouri had slightly tipped and the majority of the White population was either foreign born or were born in the Northern states. Yankees settled in northern Missouri in the counties along the border with Iowa and along the railroad that ran from Hannibal to St. Joseph. They also settled in St. Louis and in southwest Missouri around Springfield. St. Louis was full of German liberals who settled there after the Revolutions of 1848. It was this combination of Germans, Irish immigrants and Yankees in St. Louis that made it ethnically and culturally different than the “outstate” although there was a minority of “Secesh” in St. Louis who were driven underground by the Wide Awakes.
In 1860, Missouri voted for the “Little Giant” Stephen A. Douglas (58,801) in a tight race with Constitutional Unionist candidate John Bell who got nearly as many votes (58,372). Abraham Lincoln came in a distant fourth place with 17,028 votes. Lincoln’s voters were also overwhelmingly recent German immigrants in St. Louis who were anti-slavery mainly because they wanted the land for themselves. He only won a plurality of the national popular vote. The Republican Party had little support in Missouri. Neither did secession which was impractical because Missouri was surrounded by free states and was only lightly enslaved. Missourians saw themselves as a Western state with slavery and their interest in opening the western territories to slavery had been secured by the Dred Scott decision.
After the formation of the Confederacy in 1861, Missouri was sucked into the vortex of the conflict like all the other Upper South states and Border States. Slavery alone wasn’t an important enough institution in either Missouri or Kentucky to secede on that basis alone. Missouri and Kentucky were tobacco and hemp states, not cotton states. Slavery didn’t generate enough wealth in Missouri and Kentucky to totally dominate the politics and culture of those states. Missouri and Kentucky slaveowners were generally Southern small farmers who owned a handful of slaves and the institution was almost nonexistent in most of Missouri. Both Missouri and Kentucky wanted to remain neutral in the war.
Yankees would not allow Missouri to remain neutral in the war:
The War Between the States began in Missouri when this asshole General Nathaniel Lyon, a Connecticut Yankee who had massacred hundreds of Indians in California, launched a putsch against the Missouri state government with three steamboats and several thousand German Wide Awakes he had organized in St. Louis. He started the war by invading and occupying Jefferson City on June 15, 1861.
It was precisely this threat that caused Virginia to secede:
Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee and Arkansas only seceded after Lincoln called for troops and these states were forced to choose sides. They believed the Confederate states had the constitutional right to secede from the Union, but they were reluctant to do so themselves.
Missouri voted 89-1 to reject secession along with all the other Upper South states on March 19, 1861. The turning point came on April 15, 1861 when Lincoln called for 75,000 troops to invade the Confederacy. Two days later, Virginia seceded and Arkansas, Tennessee and North Carolina seceded in May 1861. Missouri’s state government which was overwhelmingly composed of Southerners froze and dithered, but resisted Lincoln’s call for troops. In St. Louis, Nathaniel Lyon’s troops massacred 28 civilians in a riot that broke out in St. Louis called the Camp Jackson Affair on May 10, 1861. Lyon forced the war on Missouri by invading and occupying Jefferson City in June a month later.
Missouri did not secede over slavery. It did not secede when forced to choose between the Union or the Confederacy. It seceded only after it was invaded by Union troops from three directions – from Kansas, Iowa, and Illinois – who toppled its sovereign state government. It seceded only after a Union general had shed the blood of dozens of its citizens in the streets of St. Louis. Missouri’s legitimate and elected state government led by Gov. Clairborne Fox Jackson evacuated to Boonville and from there to Neosho in southwest Missouri where it seceded from the Union on October 30, 1861.
“An act declaring the political ties heretofore existing between the State of Missouri and the United States of America dissolved.
Whereas the Government of the United States, in the possession and under the control of a sectional party, has wantonly violated the compact originally made between said Government and the State of Missouri, by invading with hostile armies the soil of the State, attacking and making prisoners the militia while legally assembled under the State laws, forcibly occupying the State capitol, and attempting through the instrumentality of domestic traitors to usurp the State government, seizing and destroying private property, and murdering with fiendish malignity peaceable citizens, men, women, and children, together with other acts of atrocity, indicating a deep-settled hostility toward the people of Missouri and their institutions; and
Whereas the present Administration of the Government of the United States has utterly ignored the Constitution, subverted the Government as constructed and intended by its makers, and established a despotic and arbitrary power instead thereof: Now, therefore,
Be it enacted by the general assembly of the State of Missouri, That all political ties of every character new existing between the Government of the United States of America and the people and government of the State of Missouri are hereby dissolved, and the State of Missouri, resuming the sovereignty granted by compact to the said United States upon admission of said State into the Federal Union, does again take its place as a free and independent republic amongst the nations of the earth.
This act to take effect and be in force from and after its passage.
Approved, October 31, 1861.
Source: Official Records, Ser. IV, vol. 1, pp. 752-53.
[This act was passed by a rump legislature called into session in Neosho, by Gov. C.F. Jackson (who had been removed from office by the State Convention)]”
Of all the Southern states, Missouri’s secession was by far the most justified as it had done nothing to justify being invaded by the Union. Northern historians dismiss Missouri’s secession by calling it the act of a “rump legislature.” If troops from Virginia invaded Pennsylvania, occupied Harrisburg, decapitated its sovereign elected government and used military force to set up a dictatorship cloaked by a puppet government controlled by a minority of its citizens, they would not be nearly as dismissive.
The Union occupation of Missouri was brutal. The “Provisional Government” was installed by military force which existed from 1861 until 1863 when new elections were held. It started when General
John C. Frémont issued the First Emancipation Proclamation on August 31, 1861, which Lincoln rescinded, which declared that the slaves of all rebels were free. General Henry Halleck declared that anyone found engaging in guerrilla activity in Missouri would be shot and that anyone accused of being a guerrilla would be put on a trial by a military tribunal and sentenced to death if found guilty.
Halleck ordered that all “city officials, business and educational leaders, attorneys, jurors, and railroad officers” would be required to take an oath to the Provisional Government. Also, he ordered that “all future voters would be required to take the oath before exercising their franchise.” He decreed that his subordinates could impress the slaves of “known secessionists” and he also ordered assessments against the property of “all Confederate sympathizers.” Thus began the arbitrary confiscation of private property (slaves or otherwise), the loss of civil rights, the arbitrary imprisonment and the disenfranchisement of the White Southern population in Union occupied Missouri.
This was only the beginning of the tyranny under martial law in Union occupied Missouri. Newspapers that were critical of the Lincoln administration were shut down. Books were censored. A Roman Catholic church in Hannibal was closed down because it refused to fly the Stars and Stripes. Protestant and Roman Catholic clergy were forced to take the test oath and swear allegiance to the illegal Provisional Government to perform marriages. Rev. Samuel B. McPheeters of the Pine Street Presbyterian Church in St. Louis was driven out of Missouri for being insufficiently pro-Lincoln.
Every able bodied White male of military age in Missouri was forced to take the test oath and serve in the state militia OR he could be placed on the assessment list as “disloyal” and have his property confiscated and be driven into exile. The mere accusation of being a Southern sympathizer was enough to be thrown into Union stockades which were often former slave pens. Assessments were ordered across the state to seize the property of Southern sympthatizers and to transfer their property to Unionists who had been wounded of the families of those who had been killed in battle.
During the war, the test oath was used to restrict voting rights to Unionists and the pro-Confederate population didn’t even bother to try voting in the elections held by the illegal Provisional Government. The disfranchisement of most of the White Southern population allowed Radical Republicans to gain a strong foothold in the Missouri state legislature. After the guerrilla warfare dramatically accelerated after Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, which didn’t apply to Missouri, but which exposed the lie that he was simply trying to “preserve the Union,” the Radicals triumphed in the 1864 election and slavery was abolished in Missouri after they took control of the state on January 11, 1865.
Missouri was under Radical Republican rule from 1865 until 1870. The so-called Drake Constitution was ratified on June 6, 1865. It required all Missouri voters to take the “Iron-Clad Test Oath” which 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 of Black Republicans based in St. Louis, the northern tier of counties along the Iowa border and southwest Missouri could rule – all the places that had been settled by Yankees and foreigners. Such was “democracy” in the Glorious Union which was limited to supporters of the Northern military dictatorship.
Black Republicanism had a long term problem in that Missouri couldn’t be ruled indefinitely by only the “loyal” White men. The solution to this problem, which was highly controversial even within Black Republican ranks, was to enfranchise the former slaves. This was done by the Fifteenth Amendment which was ratified in 1870. The Radical Union Party split in that election between its Liberal wing and Radical wing. The ex-Confederates got the right to vote back and a Liberal governor, Benjamin Gratz Brown, was elected with the support of Missouri Democrats who revived in that election and stormed back to power in the Missouri state legislature. The Republican Party itself was driven former power in the 1874 elected and the hated Drake Constitution was replaced by the 1875 Constitution.
For the next 35 years, Missouri was ruled by the Democratic Party after the conservative leaning majority triumphed over the Radical Party. Ex-Confederates came back to power in Missouri and ruled the state. The experience of the invasion, the occupation, persecution and disenfranchisement of the Southern population shaped the identity of the state for generations. As was the case in Kentucky, Missouri became more Southern after Reconstruction, but its economy went in the opposite direction.
Strangely enough, Parrish notes that a third of the population of Missouri left the state during the War Between the States. The vast majority of these people were undoubtedly Southerners who left Missouri to escape from the tyranny of the Union occupation. Many of them went to Texas, California and the Western territories. And yet, Missouri’s population in 1870 was 1,721,295, which was “a gain of 539,283 or 45.6 percent over 1860.” There was nearly a 100 percent increase in the population of St. Louis which had become the fourth largest city in the United States. A huge influx of new immigrants came into Missouri between 1860 and 1870 who had no roots in the state before the War Between the States.
Missouri was on its way to becoming the state that it is today which feels more Midwestern than Southern. It was quickly integrated into the Northern railroad network under the Radical government. Baseball got started in St. Louis and Kansas City started growing into the regional metropolis of the Great Plains. The mining industry took off in southeast Missouri and St. Louis became one of America’s great manufacturing cities and a regional competitor of Chicago. The first kindergarten in America was established in St. Louis too. Missouri made great strides in education during these years.
Compared to its parent states of Virginia and Kentucky, the roots of slavery were much more shallow in Missouri. The hemp industry never recovered in Little Dixie after the War Between the States. Even in northern Missouri though, the sheer number of Southern Baptists still there in the 2010 Census reveals that the bulk of the Southern population never left Missouri.
Is Missouri part of Middle America?
Is Missouri part of the Heartland?
No, even today Missouri and Oklahoma have more in common culturally with the South than either does with Iowa, Kansas or Nebraska. It is also still confused about its identity.
Note: The War Between the States in Missouri is such a vast and complex topic that it will be dealt with in separate articles.
The Outlaw Josey Wales is such a great movie. Hollywood doesn’t make movies like this anymore. It’s no longer interested in the complexities of the War Between the States which is now laughably presented as a simple morality tale of good vs. evil.