Missouri Senate Journal

Missouri became a political battleground with her admission into the Union as a slave state in 1821. Missouri’s petition to join the Union threatened the equal balance of free and slave states in the United State Senate. The Missouri Compromise of 1820 promised to repair the cracks in the Union, but in reality laid the foundation for future strife. Under the compromise, Missouri became a slave state while Maine entered the Union as a free state. To prevent future conflicts, new states south of Missouri’s southern border would be slave, those north of it would be free states. The passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854 however, eliminated the Missouri Compromise in favor of Popular Sovereignty, or letting the settlers decide. Settlers flocked into the Kansas Territory and violence erupted along the border.

Abraham Lincoln’s victory in the 1860 presidential election created even more sectional tensions. With Southern state already leaving the Union, Missouri held a secessionist convention three weeks after his inauguration. The convention, however, was dominated by Missouri Unionists who elected to remain in the Union. Missouri’s pro-Confederate Governor Claiborne Fox Jackson was disappointed with the result of the convention, but did not give up hope of secession. His goal was merely postponed.

After the attack on Fort Sumter, President Lincoln called for 75,000 militia volunteers to confront the rebellion. Missouri was asked to supply just over 3,000 men. Governor Jackson, famously replied, “Sir – Your requisition is illegal, unconstitutional and revolutionary; in its object inhuman & diabolical. Not one man will Missouri furnish to carry on any such unholy crusade against her Southern sisters.”1

Jackson declared Missouri in a state of armed neutrality, committed to the Union, but ready to defend itself against federal abuse. He authorized 669 militia men to train in Lindell Grove outside of St. Louis. This gathering of pro-Confederate militia, named their camp after the honorable Missouri Governor. St. Louis was the home of the largest arsenal west of the Mississippi River, storing approximately 36,000 muskets.2 Union Capt. Nathaniel Lyon, aware of the potential threat to the arsenal, relocated the arms to Illinois and strengthened the arsenal’s defenses. He then marched his command of 6,500 mostly German troops to Lindell Grove and demanded the militia’s surrender on the morning of May 10.

An angry crowd gathered as Lyon marched his prisoners through the streets of St. Louis and back to the arsenal, which instigated a riot. The Union men failed to restore order to the crowd, and shots were exchanged between both civilians and soldiers. Twenty-eight civilians were killed, another seventy-five wounded in the melee. Two Union soldiers and three militiamen also died.

Lyon’s rash actions and unfortunate loss of life was precisely the event Governor Jackson had been waiting for. Jackson left St. Louis immediately for Jefferson City, where the legislature was debating a military bill that would prepare Missouri for war. The bill had encountered heavy opposition, but news of Camp Jackson broke the legislative standoff and it passed in fifteen minutes. The bill reorganized the state militia into the Missouri State Guard. Sterling Price, a former governor and president of the secession convention took command of the new force. The legislature even gave Jackson control of the state’s railroads and telegraphs.

Lyon’s federal forces advanced on Jefferson City, causing Jackson and legislators to flee south. A provisional pro-union government was established, as Jackson’s administration seemed to have abandoned their position. Jackson left the state seeking support for Missouri’s admission into the Confederacy. He met with Arkansas’s Governor, Confederate General Leonidas Polk, Confederate President Jefferson Davis and the Confederate Congress. Jackson returned to Missouri in early August 1861. In New Madrid, Jackson issued a “Proclamation of Independence,” on August 5, which declared Missouri a sovereign and independent state. He argued Union forces had repeatedly violated Missouri’s rights and liberties. Two weeks later, the Confederate Congress passed a resolution admitting Missouri, but technically she had not seceded from the Union.

After victories at Wilson’s Creek and Lexington, the Confederates had built a large support base and gained the political momentum. In September, Jackson issued another proclamation, which called the General Assembly into session. Legislators were asked to gather at the Newton County Courthouse in Neosho on October 21. There they would solidify Missouri’s future with the Confederacy, by formally seceding from the Union.

The gathering at Neosho was surrounded with controversy. The legality of the assembly, and thus, its resolutions, hinges on the presence of a quorum. The debate cannot be resolved conclusively with the conflicting evidence available. Only this Senate Journal survives, and it does not include a roll of members present. On October 21, M. C. Goodlett, Senator representing the 15th District (Jefferson, St. Genevieve and St. Francois Counties) and later Colonel in the Missouri State Guard, motioned to dispense with the call of roll. Furthermore, the only motions the following day were to fill vacancies in committees. Certainly it is unlikely a quorum was present on October 21. The legislature spent a full week organizing itself, no doubt trying to assemble enough members to make their proceedings legal while failing to record the call of roll. Their success; or failure remains unknown, depending on one’s sympathies.

John W. Fisher, a soldier in Price’s Missouri State Guard at Neosho wrote in his diary the legislators had a quorum on October 25. Confederate Military History declared, in 1899, “In every particular it [the legislature] complied with the forms of law . . . There was a quorum of each house present . . . The ordinance [secession] was passed strictly in accordance with law and parliamentary usage . . .”3 In the eyes of the United States government, the Neosho legislature was a non-issue. The legislature had been dissolved and the governor removed from office. They had no legal standing and could pass any resolutions they pleased, though it must be remembered the Confederate Congress ultimately accepted its authority.4 Noticeably absent of course, was a vote of the people. Neither the Provisional Government, nor the Neosho Secession Ordinance was approved by Missourians at the ballot box.

The most important task facing the legislature was passing an ordinance of secession. This was accomplished on October 28. The senate listed many constitutional violations committed by Union authorities which made secession necessary:

Men, women and children, in open day and in the public thoroughfares, were shot down and murdered by a brutal soldiery with the connivance of Government officers. Our citizen soldiers were arrested and imprisoned, State property was seized and confiscated without warrant of law, private citizens were insecure in there persons and property; the writ of Habeas Corpus had been nullified and the brave Judges who had attempted to protect by it, the liberties of the citizens had been insulted and threatened and a tyrant president revealing in unencumbered powers had crowned all these acts of unconstitutional aggression by declaring war against a number of the States comprising the former Union.
Claiborne Fox Jackson – October 28, 1861

Union actions made reconciliation impossible, but the legislators were determined to take Missouri into the Confederacy. Jackson declared, “It is in vain to hope for a restoration of amicable relations between Missouri and the other United States of America under the same government, and it is not desirable if it could be accomplished.” By the end of the evening, both the House and Senate passed a bill entitled, “An Act to declaring the political ties heretofore existing between the State of Missouri and the United States of America dissolved.”

They also passed “An Act to provide for the defense of the State of Missouri,” and “An Act ratifying the Constitution for the Provisional Government of the Confederate States of America.” The legislature also elected representatives to the Confederate Congress before it adjourned. The paperwork was quickly sent to Richmond, and on November 28, Missouri formally became the twelfth state to enter the Confederacy. Jackson’s efforts had paid off and upon he hearing the news he declared, “God be praised. This is the happiest moment of my life.”5

Contributed by Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield

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  1. Christopher Phillips, Missouri’s Confederate: Claiborne Fox Jackson and the Creation of Southern Identity in the Border West (Columbia: University of Missouri, 2000), 245.
  2. Randy R. McGuire, “Solving The Mystery of the Arsenal Guns,” http://www.civilwarstlouis.com/arsenal/index.htm.
  3. Clement A. Evans, ed., Confederate Military History: a Library of Confederate States History, written by Distinguished Men of the South, Vol. IX (Atlanta, Georgia: Confederate Publishing Company, 1899), 69.
  4. Arthur Roy Kirkpatrick, “The Admission of Missouri to the Confederacy,” Missouri Historical Review 55 (July 1961): 383-84.
  5. Phillips, Missouri’s Confederate, 269.