Today is Missouri’s birthday. We entered the Union as a slave state on this date in n1821, along with Maine as a free state, under the compromise that we all learned about in sixth grade civics that bears the state’s name.
The area that would become the state of Missouri was acquired in 1803 as part of the Louisiana purchase, and most of the white people who lived here then were French trappers and traders. The names of the towns along our big rivers reflect this heritage…St. Genevieve, St. Charles, St. Louis. Missouri was a wild cornucopia of lush forests, bountiful prairies, navigable rivers and plentiful game. The lowlands of the south were suitable for growing rice and cotton, and the alluvial plain of the Missouri River Valley and the glacial plains of the northern tier were rich and arrable. It was the sort of place that any man with a little gumption could make something of himself.
After the War of 1812, settlers poured into the area and communities grew up around water supplies and grist mills. That is my families history, anyway. One of my grandfathers way back then fought in that war and when he lived through it he left Pennsylvania and headed west for Missouri, where he staked out 40 acres, built a cabin, got himself a mule and a wife and made a life that still carries on to this day on the ridges of the northern tier.
My husband’s family has a similar story, except they came from Virginia about the same time.
That compromise that let us enter the Union settled precious little. Missouri itself was a slave-state, but slavery was prohibited in the Louisiana territory north of our southern border. Thirty years later, the Compromise of 1850 as passed by Congress, as well as a series of laws that amended the Fugitive Slave Act set the stage for conflict. The final ingredient in the recipe for bloodshed was the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, that allowed Kansas and Nebraska to enter the Union as free states. Eastern abolitionists flooded the area with supporters – educated easterners who looked down on the “rough stock” that had already been here for a generation or two by the time the Johnny-Come-Latelys showed up on the scene after the trails were blazed and the roads were built. Of course, it wasn’t just abolitionists who poured into Kansas. Pro-southern factions did, too. They were just as pissed off that the other side thought of it, too, as they were at the fact they were on opposite sides of an existential debate.
This led to the rise of Bushwhackers and Jayhawkers, and for the better part of a decade before the rebs fired on Fort Sumter, there was the Border War. There was Bleeding Kansas and Quantrill’s Raiders and the burning of Osceola by Lane’s Kansas Brigade.
It was an ugly, brutal conflict between mostly-eastern educated elites who poured into the area to tilt the balance of power away from Missouri’s pro-slavery leanings, and the Missourians who had been born and raised in this part of the country. Even the Missourians who opposed slavery resented what they viewed as an assault on their sovreignty by the influx of newcomers from back east.
In some ways, the animosities of the Civil War live on in the border region between Missouri and Kansas to a greater degree than they do even in South Carolina, the home of the “Forget, Hell!” mudflap – although these days we tend not to kill one another…we just fight it out once a year in the annual KU/MU football game.