Politics and Government


Kansas-Nebraska Act
Seeds of Discontent
The 12th Confederate State
Missouri’s Provisional Union Government
Post War Politics

Much of the bloodshed and conflict that existed in the Ozarks was a direct result of the political mayhem centered around Missouri in the 19th century. Missouri’s entrance as a slave state in 1821 was deeply rooted in controversy. Her petition to join the Union threatened the equal balance of free and slave states in the United State Senate. After much debate, Missouri was admitted as a slave state and Maine entered the Union as a free state. The Missouri Compromise of 1820 established the southern boundary of Missouri as the new dividing line for slavery. All new states entering the Union north of that line would be free, those south of that line would be slave states. With the equal representation of the states preserved, Congress believed they had settled the slavery issue once and for all.

The Mexican-American War, 1846-48, left America bitterly divided about slavery in the newly acquired southwestern territories. The doctrine of popular sovereignty was adopted, which allowed settlers in the new territories to decide for themselves if they would allow slavery in the state. The passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act triggered a land rush in Kansas, and in the fall of 1854, 1,700 armed Missourians poured into Kansas to elect a pro-slavery delegate to Congress.1 The violence that erupted between Missouri and Kansas became known as the Bleeding Kansas Era. Border Ruffians from Missouri and Jayhawkers from Kansas crossed the state line causing a bloody feud. After numerous elections and four constitutions, Kansas finally entered the Union as a free state in 1861.

By 1860, many Missourians lived the ideal agrarian life of Jeffersonian political thought.2 Most eloquently expressed by Thomas Jefferson, they were economic and political conservatives who believed America should be a nation of farmers. As staunch members of the Democratic Party, they had a great distrust of cities and industrialization, and argued that a virtuous life on the land was the true destiny of America. St. Louis boomed as her ports filled with incoming goods for distribution to Northern markets. As the city expanded and became more diverse, St. Louis became increasingly alien to rural Missourians. As streets filled with merchants, various minorities, and developing industries, St. Louis resembled nothing of the traditional Southern cities, and instead bore a striking resemblance to the industrial cities of the North.

The political barometer throughout the United States was ready to explode as Southerners threatened secession and issues of slavery, popular sovereignty, and state’s rights were hotly debated. South Carolina became the first state to take the momentous step when it passed an Ordinance of Secession on December 20, 1860. Six weeks later, another six Southern states voted to secede. Secession conventions were called across the border states, and Missouri’s was held three weeks after Lincoln’s inauguration.

A massive number of settlers from Northern states and German emigrants dwarfed the settlers from Southern states, and eventually Missouri’s strong southern political ties began to loosen. Unionists dominated Missouri’s Secession convention, perhaps the clearest indicator of political change in the heavily contested state. Missouri elected to remain in the Union. Her southern leaning Governor, Claiborne Fox Jackson, declared Missouri in a state of armed neutrality, and vowed to defend her border should war enter the state.

The hot-tempered Nathaniel Lyon may have personally vaulted Missouri into war as he captured 669 militiamen with Southern political ties outside of St. Louis. On June 11, 1861, Lyon declared war on Governor Jackson and Sterling Price, commander of the new Missouri State Guard, at the Planters House in St. Louis. Lyon then marched to Jefferson City, Missouri, only to find the State Capitol vacated. A Union provisional government, led by Hamilton R. Gamble, was established, and Governor Jackson fled the state for safety in Arkansas. Missouri had the unique distinction of having dual governments during the Civil War. In October of 1861, Governor Jackson and the elected Missouri State representatives, while fleeing federal forces, voted to secede from the Union.

Throughout the 1850s the Democrats never controlled less than 75 percent of the General Assembly in Arkansas, and by 1860 they controlled it almost completely.3 They saw the expansion of the federal government’s power as a threat to individual freedoms and property rights. Democratic Governor John S. Roane in 1850 declared, “The Union of the north with the general government on the slavery question presents a formidable alliance against us, requiring us to do battle not only for our rights of property, but for our very existence as a sovereign state.”4 The concern over protection of property was a common among most of the political parties in Arkansas. The Democrats’ opponents, the Wigs and Know-Nothings, argued that they could protect slavery while remaining in the Union. However, John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry in 1859 and the national election of 1860 showed Arkansas that slave property was no longer safe.5

On February 18, 1861, Arkansas voters chose to hold a state convention to discuss secession, but elected a Union majority of representatives. These Unionist, however, still believed that the Republican Party posed a serious threat the Southern way of life. The convention decided to hold a vote for secession the following August, but after the August 12th attack on Fort Sumter and President Lincoln’s call for militia support to suppress the secession, the convention reconvened on May 6th. During that first day, an ordinance of secession was introduce and passed. Arkansas believed secession was one of the only means to protect its state and property rights.

Political mayhem in Missouri did not subside once Jackson left the state. While Unionists had control over the Missouri government, they bickered over emancipation, disenfranchisement, the re-framing and rewriting of the state constitution, and negro suffrage. Years of political strife split parties and loyalties. Charles D. Drake emerged as a political leader in Missouri in 1863. His wavering political views caused many to distrust him and added to much of the problems that plagued politics in the post war years. Drake proposed a new Missouri constitution and an Iron Clad oath that would alienate anyone in Missouri with ties to the Confederacy. Confederates could not hold public offices, teach or preach in Missouri. These radical ideas, as well as opposition to negro suffrage, may have contributed to the return of the violence in post-war Missouri. On January 11, 1865, the Missouri state convention, meeting in St. Louis, passed an emancipation ordinance immediately freeing all slaves in Missouri.

In 1864, Arkansas government passed a law mandating that each elector take an oath declaring that they had not voluntarily borne arms against the United States or the State of Arkansas. Union officials clearly had control over the Arkansas Government, and enacted this law to ensure their control of power. Governor Isaac Murphy encouraged the end of slavery and reconciliation with the Federal Government. Arkansas also witnessed division among its population. Resentment between Unionists and Confederates grew and spawned an outbreak of violence. Murphy called for an election of Congressional representatives and urged voters to only select representatives adequately fit to rebuild Arkansas. Confederates were still disenfranchised, as many feared that they would threaten the recognition of Arkansas by the Federal Government. Small turnout for the election caused Congress to refuse recognition of the elected officials.

The failed congressional appointment weakened the Unionist political power, and started a Conservative movement across the state. Conservatives actively opposed the Murphy Government and accused them of being fiscally irresponsible. The 1866 election confirmed fears of many Unionists. Conservatives won a sweeping victory electing many ex-Confederate representatives. Concerns of a rebel insurgence grew. Legislators passed several bills helping Confederate soldiers and officials. One bill dedicated 10 percent to the state’s revenues to support wounded and disabled Confederate soldiers, and another granting amnesty to Confederate soldiers. Both bills passed over Governor Murphy’s veto.6

On March 2, 1867, Congress passed a bill that divided the Southern states into five military districts. Current political governments were considered provisional, and in order to be readmitted to Congress the states needed to hold a constitutional convention, write constitutions that included black suffrage, and ratify those constitutions and the Fourteenth Amendment. In January 1868, Arkansas delegates met in Little Rock. The convention gave African American males the right to vote, equality of all people before the law, forbade depriving any citizens of their rights based on race, and established a free public education system. With this new constitution and ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment, Arkansas was officially readmitted into the Union on June 22, 1868.

Browse all collections in Politics & Government

  1. James M. McPherson, Ordeal by Fire: The Civil War and Reconstruction (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2001),102.
  2. Christopher Phillips, Missouri’s Confederate: Claiborne Fox Jackson and the Creation of Southern Identity in the Border West (Columbia: University of Missouri, 2000), 28.
  3. Carl Moneyhon, The Impact of the Civil War and Reconstruction on Arkansas: Persistence in the Midst of Ruin (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1994), 76.
  4. Moneyhon, The Impact of the Civil War and Reconstruction on Arkansas, 81.
  5. Moneyhon, The Impact of the Civil War and Reconstruction on Arkansas, 92.
  6. Moneyhon, The Impact of the Civil War and Reconstruction on Arkansas, 202.