“Historical View of the Missouri State Capitol in 1842.” Courtesy of the State Historical Society of Missouri.
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MISSOURI CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION
The first Missouri Compromise allowed Missouri to create a government, but it was not yet a state. To become an official state, Missouri was required to elect delegates to a convention who would then write a state constitution. Once Congress approved the state constitution, Missouri would be admitted to the Union.
Throughout the territory, Missourians overwhelmingly elected proslavery delegates to the constitutional convention who would ensure slavery was “kept safe” within the state.
The First Missouri Constitution
The proposed state constitution, drafted by the proslavery convention delegates, included two controversial clauses that, once again, put Missouri’s statehood in jeopardy.
1) The constitution made it illegal to free enslaved people in the state without the slave owner’s consent.
2) The constitution empowered the Missouri Legislature to pass laws preventing “Free Negros and mulattos from coming to and settling in the state.”
The second controversial clause meant that under Missouri state law, free African American citizens would be barred from migrating to and settling in the state. Northern representatives argued that this clause violated the United States Constitution, which guaranteed “the citizens of each state shall be entitled to all privileges and immunities of citizens in the several states.”
The Missouri Constitution deadlocked Congress in the summer of 1820, and Missouri’s quest for statehood stalled once again.
This painting in George Caleb Bingham’s Election Series shows a crowd of men gathered around a local polling place to cast their votes. In the 19th century, votes were given orally and recorded by a clerk. Candidates and their representatives were allowed to be present at the polling place and could continue to campaign as voters waited in line. The African-American man serving drinks is meant to remind viewers of those who were not allowed to vote.
The County Elections by George Caleb Bingham, 1852. Courtesy of the St. Louis Art Museum.
The Second Missouri Compromise
By January 1821, Congress was still deadlocked over Missouri. Henry Clay again came to Missouri’s aid and brokered a second compromise. A joint House and Senate committee led by Clay offered a resolution to admit Missouri as a state under the condition that the provision in the state constitution preventing free African Americans from entering the state could not be used to deprive any United States citizen of immunities and privileges granted to them by the United States Constitution.
Under the terms of the second compromise, the Missouri legislature did not have to change its constitution but was required to affirm the condition. After months of stalling, this was finally done in July 1821.
The affirmation was called the “Solemn Public Act,” but Missouri leaders did not take it seriously. Subsequent state legislatures ignored the oath repeatedly by passing laws discriminating against free African Americans.
“Admission of the State,”from the St. Louis Enquirer, September 1, 1821. Courtesy of the State Historical Society of Missouri
Moral Map of America
Moral Map of North America, 1854. Courtesy of Leeds Anti-Slavery Society, London.
Maps like this one were a common feature of abolitionist literature before the Civil War, and they were intended to show the growing threat to American values of freedom and liberty that slavery posed.
Did you know?
The members of Missouri’s first General Assembly have often been described as “rough characters.” Physical fights between members were common on the floor of the legislature. The new lawmakers enjoyed drinking more than they enjoyed paying their bills – bankrupting several taverns and boarding houses in St. Charles, the temporary state capitol.