Friday, April 18, 2008

Missouri's journey from slavery to freedom

In 1821, Missouri is admitted to the Union and gives its name to the Missouri Compromise. To maintain the balance among the 10 slave and 10 free states, Missouri and Maine (1820) are admitted as a package. More importantly, Missouri’s southern boundary is set as slavery’s northernmost border. As history shows, Missouri becomes a region surrounded by free territory and hence a continual fount of controversy and turmoil.

Unlike cotton-based slavery in much of the south, Missouri’s 'peculiar institution’ concentrates in the market crops of livestock, grains, hemp and tobacco. Many slaves work as teamsters and boat hands. Their numbers are concentrated in the counties along the Mississippi and Missouri rivers.

In 1825, the legislature declares blacks ‘invalid’ witnesses in any case involving whites. In 1847, the education of blacks is banned as well.

Elijah P. Lovejoy is a prominent abolitionist newspaper editor and publisher in St Louis where he prints editorials critical of slavery. Run out of town in 1836 he moves to Alton, Illinois in 1837, where his printing presses are destroyed 3 times by pro-slavery mobs from Missouri. In November 1837, he is gunned down by a mob seeking to destroy his fourth press.

The Missouri compromise is repealed, in effect, by the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854. Almost as an afterthought, the concept of ‘popular sovereignty’ is written into the law, allowing settlers to determine if slavery is allowed in new territories. Pro-slavery settlers, mostly from Missouri, go to Kansas and local elections are influenced by the votes of Missouri ‘border ruffians’. Abolitionist settlers from the north come to Kansas and the clashes now named ‘bleeding Kansas’ are inevitable.

After ten years of appeals and reversals, the Supreme Court’s Dred Scott v. Sandford decision in 1857 rules that Congress’ forbidding of slavery in the territories is unconstitutional. It also further states that blacks are not citizens and have no rights that whites must recognize. Many persons believe the decision will lead to the legalization of slavery in all the states. Lincoln says,

"what Dred Scott's master might lawfully do with Dred Scott, in the free state of Illinois, every other master may lawfully do with any other one, or one thousand slaves, in Illinois, or in any other free state."

In 1860, there are 3,572 free blacks in the state of Missouri and 114,931 slaves.

Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation of January 1, 1863 has no effect in Missouri, which has not seceded from the Union. Governor Thomas C. Fletcher proclaims emancipation on January 11, 1865 by executive fiat. Just under a year later, the Thirteenth Amendment forever bans slavery in the United States.

In 1866, the Legislature passes laws stating that separate schools should be provided for black children where they number more than 20 in a district.

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