Freedom comes to Missouri

On January 1, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation would take effect, and the formerly enslaved would literally dance in the street. Not in Missouri though. Lincoln’s Proclamation did not free those enslaved in border states that had not seceded from the Union. It would be two more years before those enslaved in Missouri would be free. That would require a Constitutional Convention, of the elected officials of the State of Missouri, with a representative from each county to amend the State’s Constitution. When Missouri was formed, the “Missouri Compromise” allowed entry as a state where slavery was legal, as many of its residents were formerly from the states of Virginia, and the upper south states of Kentucky and Tennessee. They had brought them with them as they migrated to Missouri between 1800 and 1830.

However, the decades of the 1830s to 1850s saw a huge influx of German immigrants, escaping the tyranny of rulers and their taxation. Military oppression of its youth would lead to revolutions that would fail. The beautiful valleys of the far west and Missouri would cause thousands to flee in search of the freedoms they saw promised in America. And when they arrived, it would not be long before they realized the hypocrisy, called slavery. Many would take on the challenge and work for change as abolitionists, Union soldiers, and friends on the Underground railroad.

When the Civil War began, Claiborne Fox Jackson had been elected as the 15th Governor of Missouri, serving from January 3, 1861, until July 31, 1861, when he was forced out by the Unionist majority in the legislature, after planning to force secession of the state. Hamilton Rowan Gamble would be appointed as the temporary Governor, where he served until his death on January 31, 1864. Gamble had served as Chief Justice of the Missouri Supreme Court and had written the dissenting opinion in the Dred Scott case in 1852. Thomas Clement Fletcher, Missouri’s first native-born Governor was sworn in on January 2, 1865. By that date, a Constitutional Convention had been called to deal with the issue of Emancipation. The Convention convened on January 6, 1865, in the City of St. Louis on the corner of Fourth and Pine. On opening day, the first order of business would be to elect a President to preside over this history-making event. That would be a German-born immigrant named Arnold Krekel. Charles Drake was elected Vice Chairman. By the 10th of January, the new Ordinance had been written and laid upon the table to be read before the proceedings the next day.

On January 11, 1865, the Convention dispensed with the rule that the new Ordinance had to be read and voted on three separate days and allowed for all three readings to be done at once. The first reading was held, and the vote was 60-4. With three members not present. Some discussion followed, and a few words were substituted but the essence of the motion remained the same. The second reading was then held and a highly respected Unitarian minister, Dr. William Greenleaf Eliot offered a prayer for the Convention’s proceedings. Then the Vice-President of the Convention, Charles D. Drake asked that the 44th Rule be suspended and that the Constitutional Amendment be adopted. And with the third and final reading, the issue was thereby adopted and from that moment forward, all of those who had ever been enslaved in Missouri would be considered forever free! Governor Fletcher would sign it into law on January 14, 1865.

All men are born free and independent and have certain inherent rights; among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It is therefore, declared, that slavery and involuntary servitude shall cease to exist in Missouri, on the fourteenth day of January, A.D. eighteen hundred and sixty-five, otherwise than for the punishment of crime, whereof the party shall have been duly convicted. And all slaves within this State on that day are hereby declared to be free.*

*Journal of the Missouri State Convention Held at the City of St. Louis, Missouri Democrat, Corner Fourth and Pine Sts, St. Louis, 1865