The Battle of Westport, October 23, 1864, mural by Newell Convers Wyeth, ca.1921, mural in the Missouri State Capitol. Courtesy of the Missouri State Archives and the Missouri Capitol Commission.



After nearly two years of debate, Missouri was officially recognized as the 24th state on August 10, 1821. Geographically, the Missouri Compromise was an awkward solution to the sectional crisis over slavery. The new state’s growing slavery-based economy was surrounded on almost all sides by free states and territories. Consequently, the new state was the setting for a series of national events that inflamed the sectional conflict again and again. Missouri became a powder keg helping to ignite the Civil War.


Dred Scott

Following statehood, nearly 300 African American Missourians filed for their freedom. Most notably was Dred Scott of St. Louis. In 1846, Scott sued for his freedom after his master had taken him to live in the free territory of Wisconsin, today Minnesota, before returning to Missouri. He initially won his suit only to have the ruling overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court. The landmark decision by a proslavery majority in the Supreme Court invalidated all laws and precedents that limited slavery, including the Missouri Compromise.

“Portrait of Dred Scott" by Louis Schultze. Courtesy of the Missouri Historical Society.

The Murder of Lovejoy


“Proslavery rioters burn the printshop of abolitionist Elijah P. Lovejoy in Alton, Illinois,"1835. Courtesy of North Wind Picture Archives / Alamy Stock Photo.

In 1837, St. Louis editor Elijah P. Lovejoy became “the first martyr” to the cause of abolitionism when he was shot down by a mob in Alton, Illinois. Lovejoy had moved his antislavery newspaper across the river to get away from violent threats in Missouri. Abraham Lincoln, John Brown, and many others cited the Lovejoy case as the moment they realized that northerners needed to fight back against slavery.

Bleeding Kansas

In 1854, the Nebraska Territory was opened to popular sovereignty, repealing the Missouri Compromise. The Kansas-Nebraska Act triggered a land rush in the Kansas Territory as proslavery forces from Missouri and “Free Staters” clashed in bloody violence. The conflict became known as “Bleeding Kansas.”


"Bleeding Kansas Free Soil versus slave
territory confrontation at Fort Scott, Kansas, 1850s.” Courtesy of North Wind Picture Archives / Alamy Stock Photo

The Caning of Senator Charles Sumner

The violence committed along the Missouri border following the Kansas-Nebraska Act spawned chaos in Washington, D.C. In Congress, Senator Charles Sumner from Massachusetts was nearly beaten to death on the Senate floor by Representative Preston Brooks from South Carolina for a speech protesting Missouri’s “Crime against Kansas.”

Brooks caning Sumner, in color.jpg

“Preston Brooks of SC Assaulting Senator Charles Sumner of MA During an Antislavery Debate, 1856.” Courtesy of North Wind Picture Archives / Alamy Stock Photo.

Did you know?

Sixty percent of Missouri's eligible men served in the Civil War. Nearly three-fourths of them fought for the Union, although the state was claimed by both the Union and the Confederacy.