Southern History Series: Slavery In Missouri

The following excerpt on the relative weakness of slavery and demographic change in Missouri on the eve of the War Between the States comes from William E. Parrish’s book A History of Missouri: Volume III, 1860 to 1875:

“For all their concern with the protection of slavery property and the preservation of the rights of Southerners, the Jackson men had failed to adequately take into account the changing conditions in Missouri. The state’s overall population had climbed nearly 75 percent during the previous decade to 1,182,012, of whom 114,931 (1 in 9) were slaves. This was a vastly different ration from the 1 to 4 1/2 of thirty years earlier. Most of these Negroes lived in counties with borders that lay within fifty miles of Missouri’s two great rivers. With only 59 of the state’s 24,320 slaveholders owning more than 40 chattels, it can readily be seen that Missouri was not a land of large plantations. Twenty-five percent of these owned only one slave while more than 70 percent had less than five, which would indicate that most Missouri slaves were either household servants or worked as farm laborers in small groups.

By contrast with this decline of slavery in both percentage of population and economic importance, the state’s white population had nearly doubled in the 1850s – much of this due to immigration, which in increasing numbers came from the Northern states and abroad. Indeed, while the percentage of native Missourians had remained relatively stable at 44 percent and that of Southern-born had increased 44 percent, the population of those of Northern birth had jumped 180 percent while that of foreign birth rose 110 percent. By 1860 Northern- and foreign-born outnumbered the Southern born within the state’s population for the first time. Those emigrants from the North tended to settle in the southwest prairies and the more fertile of the Ozark regions, the upper tier of counties beyond the recently completed Hannibal and St. Joseph Railroad, and in and around St. Louis. The foreign-born concentrated almost entirely near St. Louis, although they spread out along the Missouri River as far west as Cole County. Marion County in the northeast, Buchanan and Lafayette counties in west-central Missouri had also absorbed a considerable influx of foreign-born settlers. The majority of these were German and Irish, with the former outnumbering the latter two to one. Both of these ethnic groups were antislavery and to a considerable extent anti-Negro. These newcomers had not yet emerged to a dominant position politically as illustrated by the makeup of the new convention, in which all but 17 of 99 members had Southern origins. Still, they had to be reckoned with. Another five years and a new convention would present a different story.”

Missouri was a slave state.

It was a “child of Kentucky” that had been settled by people from the Upper South who moved west like the pioneer Daniel Boone who died in St. Charles County. Boone’s Farm is still there today. These Kentuckians created hemp plantations along the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers.

Slavery in Missouri and Kentucky was a weak thing. The Border States were barely enslaved compared to the Deep South. They weren’t a part of the Cotton Kingdom. 70 percent of slaveowners in Missouri owned less than five slaves and 25 percent of slaveowners only owned one slave.

Henry Clay was right that slavery was rapidly becoming less and less important in Kentucky and Missouri because the White population was soaring, the railroads were integrating these states into the Northern regional economy and they were becoming more industrialized. By 1861, Southerners had even become a demographic minority in Missouri, which is why they lost control of the state.

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. He only won a plurality of the national popular vote.

If Douglas had won the election in 1860 and existing trends had continued, slavery would have faded in Missouri and Kentucky. The slaves would have been sold down the river to the Southwest. This is how the Northern states divested themselves of slavery in the antebellum era. Also, slavery was rapidly exhausting the soil in the eastern South, which is why so many slaveowners were perpetually moving south and west. The boll weevil would have eventually destroyed the Cotton Kingdom anyway.

What if there hadn’t been a devastating civil war no one wanted in Missouri, Oklahoma, Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia? What if those states had either been allowed to secede in peace or allowed to stay within the Union? Those states would unquestionably be far wealthier and less black today. The War Between the States took a horrendous toll on the Upper South while it developed the North.

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  1. Before Dred Scott lost his case in the US Supreme Court, he sued for his freedom in Missouri state court. The MIssouri Supreme Court ruled against him. The majority of the Missouri Supreme Court opines that although slavery is bad, we did them a favor by bringing them to America.

  2. At the onset of Lincoln’s war Missourians wanted to stay neutral and not fight against their fellow Southern States.

    Lincoln called for Missouri’s Governor, Claiborne Fox Jackson to supply the Union with it’s share of the 75,000 soldiers that Lincoln had called for. Fox refused and soon the Union sent it’s army to expel the elected government of Missouri and send it into exile.

    The government in exile later voted to secede from the Union while in Neosho , Missouri .

    Missouri is the 12th star of the Confederate Flag.

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