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Chapter 20: Missouri

In his interesting, though rather melodramatic, romance, The Crisis, Winston Churchill tells the imaginary story of a young lawyer who went from New England to St. Louis, and settled there shortly before the outbreak of the Civil War. Having an abundance of leisure, and being an Abolitionist, he devoted a portion of the time that was not absorbed by his profession to writing articles on slavery for the Missouri Democrat, which, notwithstanding its name, was the organ of the Missouri emancipationists, and lived in part on the money he received as compensation for that work. That in part describes the author's experience. He was at that time a young lawyer in St. Louis, to which place he had come from the North, and those who have read the earlier chapters of this work are aware that he was an Abolitionist. Having a good deal of time that was not taken up by his professional employments, he occupied a portion of it in writing Anti-Slavery contributions to the Democrat, and, so far as he knows, he was the only person who to any extent did so. A collection was made of a portion of his articles, and with money contributed by friends of the cause, they were published in [158] pamphlet form under the title of Hints toward Emancipation in Missouri, and distributed throughout the State.

There the parallelism of the cases ceases. The writer got no pecuniary compensation for his labor. He asked for none and expected none. The Democrat was then in no condition to pay for volunteer services, having a hard struggle for existence. He was able to do it a service that, possibly, saved it from at least a temporary suspension. One of its chief difficulties was in getting printing paper, the manufacturer it had been patronizing declining to furnish it except for cash, while the Democrat needed partial credit. At that time Louis Snyder, of Hamilton, Ohio, a large paper-maker, visited St. Louis on business that called for legal assistance, and I was employed by him. When the work in hand was finished, I remarked that there was something else he might do in St. Louis that would pay him. I explained the situation of the Democrat, and assured him that, in my opinion, he would be perfectly safe in giving trust to its proprietors, who were honest men.

“Will you indorse their paper?” he asked. Mr. Snyder was a crafty as well as a thrifty German.

I replied that, as I was not a wealthy man, the question did not seem to be pertinent.

“Will you indorse their paper for one thousand dollars?” was his next question.

Being by this time somewhat “spunked up,” I replied that I would.

“Then I shall be pleased to meet your friends,” said Mr. Snyder. [159]

The result of the interview that followed was such that the Democrat was materially assisted in continuing its publication.

It is hardly necessary to state that I never heard anything more of the one-thousand-dollar indorsement, the sole purpose of which was, doubtless, to test my sincerity.

Soon afterwards I was offered the political editorship of the Democrat, which I accepted on the one condition that there was to be “no let — up on emancipation.” I held the position until Missouri was a free State.

In a surprisingly short time after the question of Missouri's status in reference to the Union was decided, the issue between Pro-Slaveryism and Anti-Slaveryism came up. Political parties ranged themselves upon it. Those who favored slavery's immediate or speedy abolishment became known as Radicals, while those advocating its prolongation were called Conservatives. Those descriptives, however, were too mild for such a time, and they were quickly superseded by a more expressive local nomenclature. The Radicals, because of their alleged sympathy with the negro, were branded as “Charcoals,” and their opponents, made up of Republicans, Democrats, and Semi-Unionists, because of the variegated complexion of the mixture, were set down as “Claybanks.” Mulattoes are Claybanks.

The Claybanks, or Conservatives, at the outset enjoyed a decided advantage in having the State government on their side. This was not the regularly elected administration, which was driven out [160] because of its open support of secession, but its provisional successor. In trying to take the State out of the Union with a show of legality, the lawful Governor and his official associates made provision for a State convention to be chosen by the people, which they expected to control, but which, having a Unionist majority, played the boomerang on them by sending them adrift and taking the affairs of the State into its own hands. In this it had opposition. The most progressive men of the State insisted that, after it had settled the question of Missouri's relations to the Union, with reference to which it was specially chosen, it was functus officio. They held that there should be a new and up-to-date convention, especially as the old one, owing to the desertion of many of its treasonably inclined members, including General Sterling Price, of the Confederate Army, who was its first president, had become “a rump,” and so there were old-conventionists and new-conventionists. The old-convention men, however, were in the saddle. They had the governmental machinery, and were resolved to hold on to it. In that spirit the convention proceeded to fill the vacant offices. It was in sentiment strongly pro-slavery, as was shown by the fact that a proposal looking to the very gradual extinguishment of slavery was rejected by it in an almost unanimous vote, a circumstance that led the leading pro-slavery journal of the State to boast that the convention had killed emancipation “at the first pop.” Very naturally such a body selected pro-slavery officials. Hamilton R. Gamble, whom it made Governor, was a bigoted supporter of “the [161] institution.” He had not long before been mixed up in the proceedings that compelled Elijah P. Lovejoy to leave Missouri for Alton, Illinois, where he was murdered by a pro-slavery mob. Gamble was an able and ambitious man.

The Conservatives, likewise, had the backing of the Federal Administration — a statement that to a good many people nowadays will be surprising. There were reasons why such should be the case. Judge Bates, of Missouri, who was Attorney-General in Lincoln's Cabinet, had long been Gamble's law partner and most intimate friend. He never was more than nominally a Republican. Another member of the Cabinet was Montgomery Blair, of Maryland, who had been a resident of Missouri, and was a brother of General Francis P. Blair, Jr., of St. Louis. General Blair had been the leader of the Missouri emancipationists, but had turned against them. For his face — about there were, at least, two intelligible reasons. One was that in the quarrel between him and Fremont the most of his former followers had sided with Fremont. That was enough to sour him against them. The other was a very natural desire to be solid with the administration at Washington, which, as elsewhere shown, was not then actively Anti-Slavery. It did not want the question of slavery agitated, especially in the border slave States.

The Blairs were a clan as well as a family. The quarrel of one was the quarrel of all, and the Missouri Radicals had no more effective antagonist than the old Washington editor and politician, Francis P. Blair, Sr., the family's head, who was so intimate [162] with the President that it was understood he could at any time enter the White House by the kitchen door.

The writer was once a member of a delegation of Missouri “Charcoals” that went to Washington to see the President. An hour was set for the interview, and we were promptly at the door of the President's chamber, where we were kept waiting for a considerable time. At last the door opened, but before we could enter, out stepped a little old man who tripped away very lightly for one of his years. That little old man was Francis P. Blair, Sr., and we knew that we had been forestalled. The President received us politely and patiently listened to what we had to say, but our mission was fruitless.

The Radicals of Missouri sent deputation after deputation to the White House, and got nothing they wanted. The Conservatives never sent a deputation, and got all they wanted. They had advocates at the President's elbows all the time.

With both State and Federal administrations against them, the Missouri Charcoals may be regarded as foolhardy in persisting in the fight they made for the deliverance of their State from slavery. They did persist, however, and with such success in propagating their views that Governor Gamble and the other Conservative leaders decided that heroic measures to hold them in check were necessary. He undertook to cut the ground from under their feet. The old convention that had killed emancipation “at the first pop,” or as much of it as was in existence, was called together by the Governor, who appealed to it to take such action as would [163] quiet agitation on the slavery question. Accordingly, it proceeded to enact what was called an emancipation ordinance. The trouble with it was that it emancipated nobody. It provided for the liberation of part of the slaves at a distant future day, allowing the rest to remain as they were. The Radicals simply laughed at the measure. They pronounced it a snare and a fraud, and went right on with their work for unconditional freedom, and the slave-owners continued to hold their human property the same as before.

The Conservatives, however, had not exhausted their resources. They sought to secure the military as well as the civil control. On the assurance that he could maintain peace and order, Governor Gamble was given authority by the President to recruit an army of State troops, which, although equipped and paid out of the national treasury, he was to officer and direct. The organization was entrusted to General John M. Scofield, a resident of Missouri, and one of the Governor's friends.

The political advantage to the Conservatives of exercising military control at such a time is obvious enough. But at first there was an obstruction in the person of General Samuel R. Curtis, the Federal commander of the district, who was not a man to waive his superior prerogative at a time when martial law prevailed, and who was, besides, openly in sympathy with the Radicals. They got not only protection from him, but about all the patronage he had to give. Pretty soon it was discovered that active efforts for the removal of Curtis were in progress. Charges of irregularities-afterwards shown [164] to be without any foundation-were circulated against him. Indignant because of such injustice to their friend, the Radicals were further incensed when they learned that the scheme was to make Scofield his successor.

Against General Scofield, as a gentleman and soldier, they had nothing to say; but his affiliation with their opponents made him obnoxious to them, and they sent a vigorous protest against his appointment to the President. The proposed change, however, was made, and the inevitable disagreement between the new commander and the Radicals quickly developed.

Scofield's administration was not successful. The principal cause of failure was the adoption of Governor Gamble's policy of trying to run the State without the help of Federal troops. They were pretty much all sent away, and an elaborate plan for substituting an “enrolled militia” was put in operation. Here was an opportunity of which the Rebels were quick to take advantage. They had a wholesome regard for United States soldiers, particularly under Curtis, who at Pea Ridge had given them the worst drubbing they ever received west of the Mississippi, but they cared little for “Gamble's militia,” into which a good many of their friends were mustered, and when the pressure of Curtis's strong hand was removed they at once aroused to pernicious activity.

At this time it can be safely said that nowhere, outside of hell, was there such a horrible condition as prevailed in Missouri. Singly and in squads a good many of Price's men returned from the South, and [165] with local sympathizers forming guerrilla bands under such leaders as “Bill” Anderson, Poindexter, Jackson, and Quantrell, soon had practical possession of the greater part of the State. The Radicals were the principal sufferers. Conservatives, except by the occasional loss of property, were rarely molested. Between them and the Rebels there was often an agreement for mutual protection — in fact, it was not always easy to draw the line between them,--but the Charcoals, especially if they were “Dutchmen,” could look for no compassion. They were shot down in their fields. They were called to their doors at night and there dispatched. Their houses were burned and their stock stolen. Many families of comparative wealth and refinement, including women and children, because of the insecurity of their homes, slept in the woods for weeks and months. The Radicals were not always fortunate enough to escape bodily torture. Having captured one of the best known among them, an old man and a civilian, some of “Bill” Anderson's men set him up against the wall of his house as a target for pistol practice. Their play consisted in seeing how near they could put their shots without hitting, and this amusement they kept up while his wife was running about in an effort to raise the amount of money that was demanded for his ransom.

So successful were the Rebel bands at this time that Missouri was not large enough to hold them. One of them, led by Quantrell, crossed the Kansas line, captured the city of Lawrence, and butchered two hundred of its peaceable inhabitants, while the [166] border towns and cities of Iowa and Illinois were greatly alarmed for their safety.

So intolerable did the situation become, that the Radicals from all parts of the State met in conference and decided to send a delegation to ask Mr. Lincoln to change the department commander, in the hope that it would bring a change of policy.

It is to be presumed that no President was ever confronted with such a motley crowd of visitors as the members of that delegation-between seventy and eighty in number — as they formed in line around three sides of the East Room in the White House. Their garments were a sight! Some of the men were in full military dress and some in civilian clothes, but the costumes of a majority were a mixture of both kinds, just as accident had arranged it, and pretty much all showed evidences of hard usage. One of the most forward of the delegates had neither cuffs nor collar, and his shirt had manifestly not been near a laundry for a long time. He apologized to the President for his appearance, saying that he had been sleeping in the woods where toilet accommodations were very indifferent. Two or three of the men bore marks of battle with the guerrillas, in patched — up faces, and one of them carried an arm that had been disabled by a gun shot in a red handkerchief sling. In speaking of these visitors, the President afterwards jocularly referred to them as “those crackerjacks from Missouri.”

A formal address was presented, the principal point being that, as the Missouri Unionists had furnished many thousand recruits to the Federal Army, they had a right to look to the Government for [167] soldiers to assist in protecting their families and their property. And here it will do no harm to state that, notwithstanding the heavy drain made by the Confederacy, Missouri, during the war, furnished Io9,000 men to the national army.

After their formal address had been presented to the President, the members of the delegation tackled him, one after the other, as the spirit moved them, and — it can truthfully be said that in some of the bouts that ensued he did not come out “first best.” He admitted as much when, afterwards referring to this meeting, he spoke of the Missouri Radicals as “the unhandiest fellows in the world to deal with in a discussion.”

The conclusion of the interview was attended with an unexpected incident. The recognized leading spokesman of the Missourians was the Hon. Charles D. Drake, of St. Louis, who was made Chief Justice of the Court of Claims at Washington by Grant, when he became President. He was a very forcible speaker. As Mr. Lincoln indicated by rising from his seat that the conference was at an end, Mr. Drake stepped forward and in well-chosen words thanked him for the lengthy and courteous hearing he had given his visitors, and in their names bade him good-by. Then he started for the door, but something seemed to arrest him. Turning sharply to Mr. Lincoln, he said: “Mr. President, we are about to return to our homes. Many of these men before you live where rebel sentiments prevail and where they are surrounded by deadly enemies. They return at the risk of their lives, and let me tell you that if any of their lives are sacrificed by reason of [168] the military administration you maintain in Missouri, their blood will be upon your garments and not upon ours.”

The President, evidently greatly surprised, made no oral reply. Instead of speaking he raised his handkerchief to his eyes. Seeing that he was weeping, the delegates quietly and quickly filed out, leaving Mr. Lincoln with his face still concealed.

The President denied the delegation's request, although his formal decision was not announced for several days, and its members returned to their homes, when fortunate enough to have them, sorely disappointed.

It is here well enough to state that two or three months later the President relieved Scofield from his Missouri command and sent him to the front in the South, much to the betterment of his military reputation, and doubtless to his own personal gratification. Rosecrans was made his successor. Among the earliest things he did was the bringing into the State of a considerable force of Federal troops under Generals Pleasanton and A. J. Smith. These were sent through the State. The effect was almost magical. Some of the guerrilla bands went South to join Price, but the most of them dissolved and disappeared. Their members, doubtless, went back to their former occupations, and that was the last of them. Missouri was pacified.

But were the Missouri Radicals so far disheartened by their rebuffs from the President that they gave up the fight? Not a bit of it. There was a tribunal in some respects higher than the President, and to that they resolved to go. The National Republican [169] Convention to nominate a successor to Mr. Lincoln was approaching, and they decided to appeal to it in a way that would compel a decision between them and the President. They appointed a delegation to the convention, which they instructed for General Grant. The Claybanks also appointed a delegation, which they instructed for Mr. Lincoln, and thus the issue was made. The convention, although nominating Mr. Lincoln by a vote that, outside of Missouri's, was unanimous, admitted the Charcoals and excluded the Claybanks by the remarkable vote of four hundred and forty to four.

While of no special consequence, some rather humorous experiences in connection with the events just spoken of may not be lacking in interest or altogether out of place in a work like this.

Before leaving Missouri for the National Republican Convention, which was held in Baltimore, June 8, 1864, the Radical delegates, including the writer, decided to go by way of Washington and call upon the President, thinking that, as there was a contest ahead with his professed Missouri supporters, a better understanding with him might be of advantage. As they were pledged to vote for another man, such a proceeding on their part was certainly somewhat audacious; nevertheless, Mr. Lincoln received us graciously and listened patiently to what we had to say.

Mr. President,” said one of the delegates, “if you were to go out to Missouri you would find your best friends as well as practically all the good Republicans of the State on our side of the dividing line.” [170]

“Well,” remarked the President very deliberately, “in speaking of dividing lines, the situation in Missouri recalls the story of the old man who had an unruly sow and pigs. One day, when they escaped from their enclosure and disappeared, he called his boys and started out to hunt the runaways. Up one side of the creek they went; but while they discovered plenty of tracks and rootings, they found no hogs. ‘Now let us go over to the other side of the creek,’ said the old gentleman; but the result was the same-many signs but no pigs. ‘Confound those swine!’ exclaimed the old man, ‘they root and root on both sides, but it's mighty hard to find them on either.’ ”

We, of course, were left to make the application to ourselves, and that was all the satisfaction we got.

Being greatly elated over our victory in the convention, and thinking it settled some, if not all, disputed points, we decided to return by way of Washington and again call on the President. We wanted to come to some sort of understanding with him. As we had just voted against his nomination such a step may have been more audacious than our previous action. But, for all that, a pretty late hour on the night of the convention found us at the door of the President's room, seeking an interview that had been promised us in answer to a telegram.

Now, we had in our delegation a gentleman who was accustomed to imbibe somewhat freely on occasions like that. He had pushed himself to the front, and, when the door opened for us, in he rushed shouting: “Mr. President! Mr. President! [171] Mr. President! we have found that old sow and pigs for you!”

The President, who was standing on the opposite side of the room, looked somewhat startled at first; but as he evidently recalled the illustration he had given to us, and which was being returned to him, a broad grin went over his face, although nothing further was said about the swine. But the incident was disastrous to our business. We were relying on a prominent St. Louis lawyer, who was with us, to present our case in a calm and impressive way; but he, taking offense at being so unceremoniously forestalled, kept his intended speech to himself. His dignity was hurt, and he had nothing to say. In fact, he walked away and left us. The result was that our claims were rather lamely presented, except by the first speaker, and we left the official presence not a little chagrined and with no favorable assurance having been obtained.

By all recognized party rules, when the nominating convention had given the Missouri Radicals the stamp of regularity, the President was bound to prefer them in the bestowal of patronage. He did nothing of the kind. At his death, practically all of the offices in Missouri that were under his control were held by Claybanks. These men became enthusiastic supporters of Andrew Johnson, and, at the end of his term, to a man went over to the Democratic party, of which their leader, General Blair, was soon made, on the ticket with Horatio Seymour, the Vice-Presidential candidate. At Lincoln's death, the Claybanks, as an organization, went out of business. [172]

Very different was the treatment the Charcoals received at the hands of General Grant when he became President. He made the leader of the anti-Scofield delegation to Washington Chief Justice of the Court of Claims. He made two or three other leading Missouri Radicals foreign ministers and officially remembered many of the rest of them. He had been a Missourian, and it was well known that he was in sympathy with the Radicals in their fight with Lincoln.

Although the Missouri Radicals did not favor Mr. Lincoln's candidature, with the exception of a few supporters of Fremont, they gave him their loyal support at the polls, and through this a large majority in the State. They acted towards him much more cordially than he ever acted toward them.

That Mr. Lincoln, in antagonizing the Missouri Free Soilers, acted otherwise than from the most conscientious impulses the writer does not for a moment believe. He opposed them because he disapproved of their views and policy. He said so most distinctly on one occasion. Certain German societies of St. Louis, having adopted a set of resolutions, entrusted them to James Taussig, a leading lawyer of that city, to present to the President in person. Mr. Taussig's report of the results of a two hours interview can be found in several of Mr. Lincoln's biographies. One passage from the report is here given because it clearly shows Mr. Lincoln's attitude toward the Missouri problem.

“The President,” says Mr. Taussig, “said that the Union men in Missouri who are in favor of gradual [173] emancipation, represented his views better than those who are in favor of immediate emancipation. In explanation of his views on this subject the President said that in his speeches he had frequently used as an illustration the case of a man who had an excrescence on the back of his neck, the removal of which in one operation would result in the death of the patient, while tinkering it off by degrees would preserve life.”

“Although sorely tempted,” continues Mr. Taussig, “I did not reply with the illustration of the dog whose tail was amputated by inches, but confined myself to arguments. The President announced clearly that, so far as he was at present advised, the Radicals in Missouri had no right to consider themselves the representatives of his views on the subject of emancipation in that State.”

The foregoing interview, it is well enough to state, was long after the issuance of Mr. Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation.

In addition to carrying the State for Mr. Lincoln, the Missouri Radicals carried it for themselves. They elected a constitutional convention that promptly passed an unconditional freedom ordinance. And thus terminated what is certainly one of the most notable contests in our political history, bringing about, as it did, the triumph of a reform of unquestionable value to civilization and humanity, which was accomplished by men working without patronage or other outside help, with no pecuniary interest at stake, and no incentive beyond the principle involved.

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June 8th, 1864 AD (1)
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