The Civil War in Missouri

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Constitution of 1865 - Drake Constitution

Convention

Highlights

  • In 1863, the Missouri General Assembly passed a gradual emancipation order. Over the next two years the order became increasingly unpopular.
  • In 1865, in response to criticism of gradual emancipation, the General Assembly voted for a convention to be held to consider changes to the Missouri Constitution of 1820.
  • The delegates would eventually write a completely new Constitution.
  • Because Charles D. Drake was a vocal and uncompromising Radical Republican and an experienced lawyer, the mostly inexperienced delegates relied on him greatly in the formation of the new Constitution, which became known as the Drake Constitution.
  • The convention lasted from January 6 to April 10, 1865.

In-Depth

The gradual emancipation order of 1863 was unpopular because many Missourians came to believe that anything other than immediate and unconditional emancipation was an attempt by slave owners to maintain some form of slavery.

This distrust of slave owners helped Drake wield control of the convention. That does not mean that he encountered no opposition. In fact, the German community opposed, quite fervently, a great deal of what Drake sought to do because of his link to anti-immigrant sentiments.

Constitution

Highlights

  • The new Constitution banned the practice of slavery without exception.
  • In addition, it restricted the rights of former rebels and rebel sympathizers.
  • Part of the constitution was embodied in what became known as the “Ironclad” or “Kucklebur” Oath, which was contained in Article 2. It required teachers, lawyers, clergy, and all voters to promise that they had not committed a long list of disloyal acts. These groups were targeted for their influence over the general population.
  • In addition, with support of the rural delegates, Drake forced evacuation of the offices of all judges, lawyers, and sheriffs and restricted the right to vote to only those who had been loyal to Missouri and the Union. This ensured the election of Radicals to all the newly vacated positions.
  • The Drake Constitution, officially known as the Missouri Constitution of 1865, was adopted by the state legislature on April 8, 1865. It was then sent to the people for ratification.

In-Depth

The vote to ban slavery in the Constitution was almost unanimous. Only four members of the convention voted against it. William S. Holland of Henry County introduced a resolution that would become part of Article 4, which forbade the General Assembly from compensating slave owners for the loss of their “property.”

Another major part of the new Constitution, the “Ironclad Oath,” was so severe that many Unionist men, such as Frank Blair Jr., refused. The German community who had fiercely defended the Union opposed the draconian limitations imposed by the oath. However, the Radicals, many of whom suffered the cruelties of pro-South guerillas, made sure the oath became a part of the final Constitution.

The Constitution did more than emancipate slaves and restrict voting rights. In many ways it was very progressive. It created free public schools, although they were segregated. It also forbade the government to lend its credit to private individuals or corporations. The Constitution, for all of its benefits, failed to provide true equality for the African American population it freed. They would not receive the right to vote until the passage of the 17th Amendment in 1870.

The ratification of the Drake Constitution came down to just a few votes. The east and central parts of Missouri rejected it. But heavy support from the northwestern and southwestern regions where guerillas had terrorized loyal citizens and from Union soldiers who were on the battlefield gave the Constitution a narrow victory. Eventually, as war tensions cooled and Unionists entered into business contracts and political coalitions with former rebels, many of the draconian aspects of the Constitution like the restrictions on voting were eliminated.