Missouri Votes Against Secession
On March 18, 1861, delegates to Missouri’s secession convention, demonstrating a remarkable defiance of their elected representatives in Washington, voted almost unanimously against secession. Two months earlier, Missouri’s U.S. Senator Trusten Polk had delivered a lengthy speech on the floor of the Senate recounting the grievances the South had suffered at the hands of the North and enumerating the concerns
and fears Missouri and the other slave-holding states had about the election of a Republican president:
“. . . the action of the Government affecting the institution of slavery has been prejudicial to the South, and violative of its constitutional rights….the admission of California destroyed the equilibrium in the Senate between the slaveholding and the non-slaveholding States forever, and put the South at the mercy of the North….the [North’s] constitutional obligation for the rendition of the fugitive from service is violated….The candidate just elected to the Presidency was the first man of his party to enunciate the dogma that there is an irrepressible conflict between the slaveholding and non-slaveholding States….Moreover, Mr. Lincoln has announced the dangerous dogma that, in point of political rights, the negro is the equal of the white man.
What, then, could the slaveholding States expect, after the election of such a candidate upon such a platform, but that all the patronage and all the power of the Federal Government, in all its departments, would be brought to bear upon the Institution [of slavery] in the South, in order to compass its destruction?… A political party has been organized upon the one central idea of hostility to slavery, and its ultimate and certain abolition in every section and State of our broad republic; and it has triumphed.
[H]as the South no cause for alarm for the safety of her institutions, and the security of her rights? Is not her very existence at stake? How long could she retain the institution of slavery after the whole power of the Federal Government shall have been brought to bear upon her for its destruction? Think what could be effected by the Federal legislation. Abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia; abolition in the [Federal] arsenals, dock-yards, and forts [throughout the country]; outlawry of it on the high seas, and wherever the flag of the Union floats; exclusion of it from the common Territories belonging equally to all the States; circumscribing it as with a wall of fire within the States.
Back in Missouri, however, the secession convention delegates endorsed a strong Unionist position. In its majority report, the Committee on Federal Relations observed:
The fact that a sectional party avowing opposition to the admission of slavery into the Territories of the United States has been organized, and has for the present obtained possession of the Government, is to be deeply regretted, because it opens before us all the dangers against which the Father of his Country [George Washington] so earnestly warned us [the tyranny of the majority] ….But the history of our country for a very few years back, instructs us in the truth that political parties, even when coming into power with over-whelming popularity, soon melt away under the influence of internal jealousies, and disappointments, and the attacks of vigilant opponents.
Under the state of facts now existing, it would seem almost needless to speak of the propriety of the state of Missouri in a revolution against the Federal Government. Secession is the word commonly employed when the revolution now in progress is mentioned; but as the Constitution of the United States recognizes no power in any State to destroy the government, the word “secession,” when used in this paper, is to be understood as equivalent to revolution.
On March 19, the convention voted on seven resolutions recommended by the Committee. The first and most important stated:
“Resolved, That at present there is no adequate cause to impel Missouri to dissolve her connection with the Federal Union, but on the contrary she will labor for such an adjustment of existing troubles as will secure the peace as well as the rights and equality of all the States.
The resolution was adopted, 89-1. George Y. Bast, a forty-eight year-old farmer from Rhineland, along the Missouri River just west of St. Louis, was the lone dissenter.
Journal and Proceeding of the Missouri State Convention, Held at Jefferson City and St. Louis, March, 1861 (St. Louis: George Knapp & Co., Printers and Binders, 1861), 55-57, 216
– Submitted by Dwight T. Pitcaithley, New Mexico State University