MISSOURI IN THE CIVIL WAR
Vol. 9, Chapter II
Confederate Military History
THE LEGISLATURE MEETS--GOVERNOR STEWART'S FAREWELL MESSAGE--GOVERNOR JACKSON'S INAUGURAL--BILLS TO CALL A STATE CONVENTION AND TO ORGANIZE THE STATE MILITIA--THE CONVENTION BILL PASSED--VEST'S RESOLUTION--ELECTION OF DELEGATES TO THE STATE CONVENTION--FATE OF THE BILL TO ARM THE STATE.
THE general assembly of Missouri met at Jefferson City on the 2d of January, 1861, and the Southern element organized both houses with scarcely a show of opposition. There was but one Republican in the senate, and in the house there were 83 Democrats, 37 Bell men and 12 Republicans. It was conceded that the Secessionists controlled the legislative branch of the government. All that was required to put. the State in line with the other Southern States was prompt and decisive action. The people of the State expected such action would be taken and were prepared to uphold the legislature in taking it.
The message of the retiring governor, Robert M. Stewart, was sent to the two houses on January 3d. Governor Stewart was a Northern man--a native of New York--and a fair type of a Northern Democrat. He sympathized with the South but held to the Union. No one, therefore, was surprised that, while he admitted the wrongs the South had suffered at the hands of the North, and the dangers that threatened the country from the intolerant and aggressive spirit of the party about to come into power, he opposed secession on the ground that it was without warrant of law, and the secession of Missouri in particular on the special ground that it had no power to withdraw from the Union, because it belonged to the United States by the right of purchase, having been formed from a part of the territory bought from France by the Federal government. In addition to denying generally and specially the right of the State to secede, he dwelt with emphasis on the division and conflict of sentiment among the people of the State and its exposed situation, surrounded as it was on three sides by States loyal to the Union, the citizens of which were already organizing and arming, and the great danger it would incur if it attempted to secede. "Regarding as I do the American Confederacy," he said, in closing, "as the source of a thousand blessings, pecuniary, social and moral, and its destruction as fraught with incalculable loss, suffering and crime, I would here, in my last official act as governor of Missouri, record my solemn protest against such unwise and hasty action, and my unalterable devotion to the Union so long as it can be made the protector of equal rights."
The same day the newly elected State officers took the oath of office, and Gov. Claiborne F. Jackson sent his inaugural address to the two houses. Governor Jackson was a Kentuckian of Virginian descent. He was a middle-aged man of dignified and impressive bearing, a farmer of independent fortune, and had been a citizen of the State for forty years. He was a forcible speaker, a debater rather than an orator, a politician of experience, and a man of positive opinions on public questions, upon which he generally had the courage to act. He had been connected with the politics of the State, off and on, for twenty-five years in a legislative capacity, and was chairman of the senate committee on Federal relations in 1848-49, and as such reported the resolutions instructing Senator Benton and his colleague to co-operate with the representatives of the Southern States in any policy of protection they might adopt. In the contest which ensued, when Benton refused to obey the instructions and appealed from the legislature to the people, he had taken a prominent part and became recognized as one of the most positive and active of Southern leaders.
In his address Governor Jackson traced the origin and growth of the anti-slavery party, and showed that it was in violation of the letter and spirit of the Constitution, sectional, inimical to the rights and interests of the State, and a menace to the perpetuity of the Union. He reviewed in detail the situation, as far as Missouri was concerned, and declared that safety and honor alike demanded that the State should make common cause with the other Southern States. "The destiny of the slave-holding States of the Union is one and the same," he said. "The identity rather than the similarity of their domestic institutions; their political principles and party usages; their common origin, pursuits, tastes, manners, and customs; their territorial contiguity and commercial relations--all contribute to combine them together in one sisterhood. And Missouri will, in my opinion, best consult her own interests and the interests of the whole country by a timely declaration of her determination to stand by her sister slaveholding States, in whose wrongs she participates and with whose institution and people she sympathizes." He objected to a congressional compromise of existing difficulties as temporary and ineffective, as had been demonstrated by experience, and advocated additional constitutional guarantees. In conclusion he recommended the calling of a State convention and a thorough re-organization of the State militia.
In popular estimation the governor's address was not a strong document. It lacked in nerve and decision. It did not meet the requirements of the times. The people were intensely excited, and knew intuitively that the impending danger was great and the time for preparation to meet it short. The address went too far for a peace document, and not far enough for a call on the part of the chief executive of the State for the people to prepare for war, or even to put the State in a position to defend itself, if necessary, from encroachment and invasion. It had too much politics and not enough war in it to suit the secession element, and too much war and not enough politics to suit the Union element. Under other conditions it might have been considered an evidence of political shrewdness on the part of the governor, but, as it was, it was a damper on the enthusiasm of his partisans. The fact is, the Crittenden compromise measures and other propositions looking to a restoration of tranquillity were pending, and the governor, true to his political training, did not think it judicious to commit himself too far either way. Nobody doubted the integrity of his motives or his loyalty to the State and its institutions, but a great many, and those mostly his own partisans, doubted whether he was the man for the crisis.
The most accomplished, the clearest-headed and the strongest man connected with the State government undoubtedly was Lieut.-Gov. Thomas C. Reynolds. He was a South Carolinian by birth, but his family was Virginian. He was at once a student, a cavalier and a man of the world. He was a classical, as well as a.modern, scholar, and, as the result of considerable experience as secretary of legation in Spain, was an adept in the mysteries of diplomacy and the courtesy of courts. At the same time he was learned in the law, a good speaker, and had acquitted himself well in several affairs of honor, in one of which he had wounded B. Gratz Brown, a violent leader on the Union side.
In the organization of the senate, the lieutenant-gover-nor, who was ex-officio president of that body, so arranged the committees that they could be depended on, under all circumstances, to act when action was required. But before the meeting of the legislature, or rather before his induction into office, he prepared and published a letter in which he expressed his views in regard to the course Missouri should pursue in the crisis which was at hand. The substance of it was that the State should adopt decisive measures at once. As a consequence, bills were immediately introduced to call a State convention, to organize, arm and equip the militia, and to take from the Republican mayor of St. Louis the power to call out the Wide-awakes--a Republican semi-military organiza-tion-in case of political disturbances in the city. In the state of feeling that existed, all of these bills could have been passed at once if they had been pushed with vigor and determination. The senate acted promptly, but the house, which was larger and more unwieldy, was disposed to discuss at length everything that came before it, thus causing delay in the first place, and producing division and antagonism among those who should have acted together, in the next place. The bill to provide for calling a State convention was passed, and also the bill for curtailing the power of the Republican mayor of St. Louis, but the bill for organizing, arming and equipping the militia--which was by far the most important of the three--met with opposition and was not passed until the State was plunged into war.
In the meantime, the Southern and least exposed States were going out of the Union and taking possession of the forts and arsenals within their limits as they went--some of them, indeed, before they had formally withdrawn from the Union. Governor Brown, of Georgia, set the example in prompt action by seizing Fort pulaski and garrisoning it with State troops before his State had adopted an ordinance of secession. Governor Moore, of Alabama, seized the arsenal at Mount Vernon, and Forts Morgan and Gaines, which commanded the approach to Mobile. The governor of Florida seized the arsenal at Apalachicola, and Fort Marion at St. Augustine. The governor of Louisiana took possession of Fort St. Philip and Fort Jackson, which commanded the entrance to the Mississippi river, and seized the arsenal at Baton Rouge. President Buchanan officially informed Congress of these things, and declared that the country was in the midst of a great revolution.
In Missouri there were two arsenals--one at Liberty, in Clay county, on the western border of the State, and the other in the southern suburb of St. Louis. The first was a small affair, of no great importance under any circumstances. The second contained about 60,000 stand of arms, cannon of every size, and a large supply of the munitions of war. It could have been taken at any time for months, with the tacit consent of its commandant, if the State authorities had possessed the courage to take it. But they not only would not authorize its seizure, but would not consent that unauthorized parties--volunteers who were ready to act on an hour's notice--should take possession of it. In fact, the State authorities practically stood guard over it and protected it for the benefit of the Federal authorities until they were ready to guard it themselves and use the material ft contained for the overthrow of the State government and the subjugation of the people of the State.
But interest centered on the general assembly rather than the arsenal. When it met it was strongly Southern in its sentiment, as has been said, if it were not in favor of the immediate secession of the State. But it was slow in getting to work, and in a short time there were signs of disaffection in the house. It was composed of Douglas Democrats, Breckinridge Democrats, Bell men and Republicans. The Republicans, an insignificant minority, stood alone and were content to pursue an aggravating policy of obstruction. The other elements did not work together in harmony. Out of the exigencies of the times new party alignments arose. They took the form of Secessionists, Conditional Union men, and Unconditional Union men. The positions and purposes of the Secessionists and Unconditional Union men were clear and distinct. All men knew what they meant and what their leaders were determined to accomplish at the risk of their lives. The Conditional Union men were an unknown quantity. They sometimes acted with the Secessionists and sometimes with the Unconditional Union men, but were not true to either for any considerable length of time. They represented the wealth and the commercial and manufacturing interests of St. Louis and the larger towns of the State, and changed their tactics constantly to suit their interests. On account of the wealth and high character of their leaders, their Southern birth and associations, and the weak and hesitating policy of the Southern leaders, they had great influence, which a majority of them used to do the Southern cause all the harm they could. In no quarter were they more active and successful than in the demoralizing influence they brought to bear on the legislature.
A week after the legislature met it passed the bill to call a convention to consider the question of secession and the adoption of measures to vindicate the sovereignty of the State. The bill passed both houses by a large majority. In the senate there were only two votes against it. In the house 105 members voted for it and 18 against it. It was considered that the vote against it represented the full strength of the Unconditional Union men, and its passage by such a large majority was regarded as a triumph for the Southern Rights men. After this the legislature did not do anything of importance for nearly three weeks, when George G. Vest introduced a resolution in the house in the nature of a reply to resolutions adopted by the legislatures of New York and other Northern States tendering men and money to the President for the purpose of coercing the seceding States. Vest's resolution said: "We regard with the utmost abhorrence the doctrine of coercion as indicated by the action of the States aforesaid, believing, that the same would end in civil war and forever destroy the hope of reconstructing the Federal Union. So believing, we deem it our duty to declare that if there is any invasion of the slavehold-ing States for the purpose of carrying such doctrine into effect, it is the opinion of this general assembly that the people of Missouri will constantly rally on the side of their Southern brethren to resist the invader at all hazards and to the last extremity." The resolution was supported by Geo. G. Vest, Thomas A. Harris and J. F. Cunningham. in impassioned speeches, and opposed by Geo. Partridge and James Peckham, Unconditional Union men, with equal fervor. It was adopted in the house by a vote of 89 to 14, and in the senate with only one dissenting vote. The Secessionists were jubilant, for they considered that the State was solemnly pledged, as far as the legislature could pledge it, to resist coercion and stand with the South to the last extremity.
The act calling a State convention provided that the delegates should be elected on the 18th of February, and that the convention should meet and organize at Jefferson City on the last day of February. Men and parties at once addressed themselves to the work of electing delegates. An alliance, the terms which no body but the leaders of the respective parties knew, was formed between the Conditional and Unconditional Union men. It was the work of Frank Blair. The more radical, or rather the more blatant of the Unconditional Union men opposed it. But they were speedily suppressed by Blair and made to understand that their duty was to follow, without question, wherever he chose to lead. The Unconditional Union leaders did most of the talking, and appeared most prominently before the public. They were strong in wealth, in social position, and in reputation as conservative citizens. Almost to a man they had been in times past representatives of Southern sentiment. They now brought all the power of their wealth, respectability and social position to bear to control the election and determine the complexion of the convention. They were good Union men in St. Louis and the larger towns of the State, and good Southern men in the country districts. They dwelt upon the danger that would result from secession and pleaded for delay, conciliation and compromise.
They were successful. When the convention met the most remarkable thing about it was that there was not an avowed Secessionist among its members. When the campaign opened Frank Blair's Wide-awakes in St. Louis were rapidly augmented in numbers--Eastern men supplying Blair with money to organize and arm them--and assumed such an arrogant and threatening demeanor that Governor Jackson was appealed to by quiet citizens for protection. He had no authority to call out the militia when the legislature was in session, and referred the matter to that body. The senate promptly, by a vote of 18 to 4, authorized him to call out the militia, but the house, notwithstanding the appeals of Vest, Claiborne and Freeman, refused to concur, and St. Louis was terrorized into giving the combined Unconditional and Constitutional Union ticket a majority of 5,000. Through the policy of violence and fraud in the larger towns, and of promises and false pretenses in the country districts, the State declared against secession by a majority of 80,000.
Nor was this all. The showing made by the unholy combination overthrew the secession majority in the lower house of the legislature, and blocked all legislation for putting the State in a condition to protect herself. The bill for organizing, arming and equipping the militia was under discussion in the house on the day of the election, and its advocates were confident of securing its passage, but the next day a number of members who had been clamorous for arming the State refused to support the bill, claiming that the people had declared they did not want it to pass, and that in obedience to the wishes of their constituents they were constrained to oppose it.
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