Reconstruction in Missouri

Charles Drake
Images courtesy of Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield

After four long grueling years of bitter conflict, Missourians were weary, and looking forward to new leadership and a peaceful future. Radicals swept the state election, and on January 2, 1865, Thomas C. Fletcher took his inaugural oath as Governor. With a host of serious economic and social issues facing the state, the Radicals won control of the house with promises of peace, progress, and tranquility. Governor Fletcher sought to unite the Twenty-third General Assembly with the message that now was the time for all to work together for the betterment of the state.

On January 11, 1865, the Missouri state convention, meeting in St. Louis, passed an emancipation ordinance immediately freeing all slaves in Missouri. With only four abstaining votes it became clear that Missouri had entered into a new era. Governor Fletcher proclaimed this as the first of many steps towards “radical policy” that would characterize the new Missouri. Charles D. Drake, a member of the Radical Party and spearhead of the emancipation ordinance, quickly became one of the most powerful figures at the St. Louis convention.

Drake proposed an “iron-clad oath” be added to the new state constitution. The oath required individuals to attest to his/her innocence of eighty-six acts of disloyalty against the state of Missouri and the Union. These acts ranged from providing money, goods, or intelligence to the enemy; to taking up arms; participating in guerrilla warfare, aiding or abetting guerrillas. Even expressing general sympathy for the South, or specific individuals that fought for the Southern cause, would be seen as acts of disloyalty. Failing to take this oath would prevent one from voting, holding a public office, and from holding professional licenses such as lawyers, teachers, clergy, and other influential positions.

Reaction to the Iron-Clad oath and opposition to Negro suffrage contributed to the return of the violence in the region. Both Missouri and Arkansas saw the emergence of guerrilla violence in the post-war years. Jesse James became the face of post-war violence. He and his gang robbed the Clay County Savings Association in Liberty, Missouri in broad daylight on February 13, 1866. They killed a young man in the street before their escaping with over $60,000. These bold acts shocked the public, as many civilians hoped to place the years of violence and depredation behind them.

While Governor Claiborne Jackson and the legally elected state representatives voted to secede from the Union in October of 1861. The United States Government did not acknowledge their authority. A provisional government, led by Hamilton Gamble, was given control of the state government. Thus, Missouri did not experience Congressional Reconstruction, since it did not officially secede from the Union. Instead Missouri’s, post-war years were spent alienating those with ties to the Confederacy, bickering between Radicals and Conservatives, and filing claims of retribution for depredation caused during the War. With the return of manpower and relative safety of the region, construction on the railroad renewed in 1866. By 1870, it had reached Springfield, Missouri, brining new economic wealth and opportunities to the Ozarks.

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