Missouri Governor Claiborne Fox: Secessionist or Peacemaker?

Most mainstream history accounts of Missouri Governor Claiborne Fox Jackson describe him as having a secessionist agenda. Lately I’ve been digging through newspaper archives of the era and what I’ve found is that they paint a different picture of Governor Jackson than contemporary accounts describe.

First Governor Jackson was elected in 1860 as a Douglas Democrat. Using Wikipedia (for reasons of convenience) the Douglas wing of the Democratic Party:

“The Northern Democratic Party was a leg of the Democratic Party during the 1860 presidential election. It was when the party split in two due to problems with slavery. Stephen A. Douglas was the nominee and lost to Abraham Lincoln. They held two conventions before the election, in Charleston and Baltimore, where they established their platform…

  • They resolved that the party will obey the decisions of the supreme court on the questions of constitutional law.
  • That the United States has a duty to provide protection to all citizens, at home and abroad, whether they are native or foreign.
  • That the Democratic party will insure the construction of a railroad to the Pacific coast as soon as possible, to facilitate fast communication between Atlantic and Pacific states,
  • That they support the acquisition of Cuba, as long as the terms are agreeably to the United States and Spain.
  • That the attempts to defeat the execution of the Fugitive Slave Law, are hostile, undermine the Constitution, and revolutionary in their effect.
  • That while Territorial Governments are in existence, the measure of restriction imposed by the Federal Constitution on the power of the Territorial Legislature over the subject of the domestic relations shall be respected and enforced by every branch of the General Government.”

In short the reasons Governor Jackson aligned himself with the Douglas Democrat’s is because it satisfied the Unionists the slave holders.

Missouri’s Governor Claiborne Fox Jackson had consistently stated that he would pursue peace if the Federal Government did not make war upon the South but as stated previously, Lincoln had held his cards close to his vest on the Fort Sumter matter, feigning peace, while secretly contacting the fort’s commander Major Anderson planning to resupply the fort by force and when a dispatch was intercepted by General P.G T. Beauregard’s men in Charleston, revealing the plan, the general was forced to act. 

Even as tensions were rising, Missouri’s government was dedicated to peace and the best way to ensure the peace was “Armed Neutrality”. 

Armed Neutrality was meant to keep Missouri from being taken over by the Federal Government and forcing the State to supply troops to wage war on its sister Southern states. In addition, “beefing up” Missouri’s defensive posture would also act as a deterrent to any plans the Federal Government might have to subjugate the state. 

On May 3, 1861 the Daily Milwaukee News published the following news from Missouri: 

“The Sentiment in Missouri: 

The announcement on the street and in business circles yesterday, that Governor Jackson had emphatically declared his opposition to the secession of Missouri, and avowed himself in favor of this state occupying a position of neutrality and created a general feeling of relief in all quarters except among those who think the course Missouri is the mad one of withdrawal of the Confederacy. 

Governor Jackson has been regarded as an open and avowed secessionist (though to do him justice, we have never seen a positive declaration of secessionist views of him.)” 

The May 6, 1861 edition of the Baltimore Sun carried the details of Governor Jackson’s address to the Missouri Legislature. Again, Jackson’s message was peace and self-defense to protect from invasion: 

“St. Louis, May 3- The Legislature of Missouri was organized today. Governor Jackson, in his message says: 

“The President in calling out troops to subdue the seceded states, has threatened civil war, and his act is unconstitutional, and illegal, and tending towards a consolidated despotism.” 

While the Governor justifies the action of the Confederate States in seceding, he does not recommend immediate secession, but uses the following language: 

“Our interests and sympathies are identical with the those of the other slaveholding States, and necessarily unite our destiny with theirs, the similarity of our social and political institutions, our industrial interests, our sympathies, habits and tastes, our common origin, and our territorial contiguity, all concur in pointing to our duty in regard to the separation now taking place between the states of the old federal Union.”, He adds: 

“Missouri has, at this time, no war to prosecute. It is not her policy to make aggressions on any state or people. But in the present state of the country, she would be faithless to her honor and recreant to her duty were she hesitate a moment in making the most ample preparations for the protection of her people against the aggressions of all assailants. I therefore recommend the appropriation of a sufficient sum of money to place the State at the earliest practicable moment, in a complete state of defense.” 

In conclusion he says: Permit me to appeal to you and through you to the whole people of the State, to whom we are responsible, to do nothing imprudently or precipitately. We have a most solemn duty to perform; let us calmly reason one with the other; avoid all passion, all tendency to tumult, and disorder, and obey implicitly the constituted authorities, and endeavor ultimately, to unite all of our citizens in a cordial cooperation for the preservation of our honor, the security of our property, and the performance of all those high duties imposed upon us by our obligation to our Family, our country, and our God.” 

Even Vermont’s St. Albans Daily Messenger, in its May 8, 1861 issue, praised Governor Jackson for his efforts to keep the peace writing: 

“The Governor is doing all in his power to stay the secession tide. He tells the people, and tells the truly, that it is for the interest and welfare of the people of Missouri to stand by the Stars and Stripes and that it would be the height of folly and madness for her to follow in the footsteps of the seceded states.” 

One could say that Governor Jackson was eventually forced into action and eventually secession.

The state militia had been ordered to encamp in St. Louis for drill. Some accusations from contemporary historians state the purpose was to take the arsenal at St. Louis, this however, is a flawed theory.

On April 29, 1861 The Daily Exchange [Baltimore, Md.] published:

“April 26- A Chicago dispatch, published in the Evening Post, says that last night a strong force of Illinois troops entered St. Louis and took from the arsenal 21,000 stand of arms, and a park of artillery, and an immense quantity of ammunition etc. There was no fighting.” 

There was no reason to take the arsenal because Illinois troops had invaded the state and took the weapons back to their state.

On May 10, 1861 Captain [later General] Nathaniel Lyon ordered the camp surrounded at which time the camp was surrendered. Lyon’s soldiers were made up of mostly Germans and when these men were seen marching the native Missourians through St. Louis at gunpoint, the citizens became enraged and the German’s fired upon them. The event lasted two days and resulted in the deaths of 28 civilians, including one infant.

St. Louis Unionist, Francis P. Blair’s brother Montgomery Blair was the United States Postmaster General and it was through this connection that Blair and Lyon conspired to have the level headed General William S. Harney removed from his position of heading up the U. S. Army’s Department of the West. Blair and Lyon then used this same connection to give Harney’s position to the erratic, hot- head, Nathaniel Lyon.

Following the removal of Harney, Lyon was made a general, which worried Governor Jackson and former Governor Sterling Price.

Information found at The Civil War Muse states:

“The removal of Harney was disturbing to Governor Claiborne Jackson and Major-General Sterling Price. The Missouri State Guard was still poorly organized and equipped. The Federals had over 10,000 armed troops. They realized they needed more time. Moderates in Jefferson City thought Lyon was radical and rash and they were still interesting in preserving the peace. They convinced the Governor that he needed to meet with Lyon and Blair. Similarly, moderates in St. Louis convinced Lyon and Blair that a meeting was necessary. Brigadier General Nathaniel Lyon issued a safe conduct pass to Jackson and Price for their visit to St. Louis. 

On June 10th, Governor Jackson and Major-General Price boarded a private train and traveled to St. Louis, registering at the Planter’s House Hotel. On June 11th Brigadier-General Nathaniel Lyon, Colonel Frank Blair and an aide Major Horace Conant left the Saint Louis Arsenal and arrived at the Planter’s House around 11 a.m. They met with Jackson, Price and the Governor’s aide, Thomas L. Snead. 

When the meeting began, Lyon said he was going to let Colonel Blair conduct the meeting. During the ensuing discussion Price emphasized that the Price-Harney Agreement was still in effect and that Price planned to keep to his side of the agreement. Lyon was quiet for the first 30 minutes or so, but then proceeded to take over the meeting. It became clear that the degree of distrust on each side was too much to overcome. After four or five hours, Lyon said upon rising to leave: 

Rather than concede to the State of Missouri the right to demand that my government shall not enlist troops within her limits, or bring troops into the State whenever it pleases, or move troops at its own will into, out of, or through the State; rather than concede to the State of Missouri for one single instant the right to dictate to my government in any matter, however unimportant, I would see you, and you, and you, and you, [pointing to each man in the room] and every man, woman, and child in the State dead and buried. This means war. In an hour one of my officers will call for you and conduct you out of my lines.

Jackson, Price and Snead did not wait for Lyon’s officers, but hurried to the Pacific Railroad depot and commandeered a train to take them to Jefferson City. They arrived there around 2:00 A.M. on June 12th. Along the way Jackson and Snead worked on a proclamation to be issued when they arrived in Jefferson City. Price also sent orders to burn the railroad bridges over the Gasconade and Osage Rivers behind them. Price also ensured the telegraph wires were cut. On June 12th, Snead issued the proclamation while Jackson directed the evacuation of the state government from Jefferson City. In conjunction with the Governor’s proclamation, Major General Sterling Price issued orders to each military district commander of the Missouri State Guard to assemble their forces and have them ready for service. Price had convinced Jackson that Jefferson City was lost and their first line of defense should be in Boonville, Missouri, about 50 miles upriver. “

On June 11th Brigadier-General Nathaniel Lyon, Colonel Frank Blair and an aide Major Horace Conant left the Saint Louis Arsenal and arrived at the Planter’s House around 11 a.m. They met with Jackson, Price and the Governor’s aide, Thomas L. Snead.

On June 12, 1861 Governor Jackson issued the following proclamation:

A series of unprovoked and unparalleled outrages have been inflicted upon the peace and dignity of this Commonwealth and upon the rights and liberties of its people by wicked and unprincipled men, professing to act under the authority of the United States Government . . . I, Claiborne F. Jackson, Governor of the State of Missouri, do . . . issue this my proclamation, calling the militia of the State to the number of fifty thousand into the active service of the State, for the purpose of repelling [the Federal] invasion, and for the protection of the lives, liberties, and property of the citizens of this State.

With Federal forces closing in on Jefferson City, the capital was evacuated with the legislatures taking the State seal with them and the Unionists soon claimed the legislature was vacated, held a convention , enacted a provisional government and made Hamilton Gamble the “new” Governor.

Following the battles at Boonville, Oak Hill [Wilson’s Creek] and Lexington, Missouri, the elected State Government who were forced to abandon Jefferson City (at gunpoint), reconvened at Neosho, in Missouri’s southwest corner, and passed an ordinance of secession on August 31,’st, 1861. Missouri was then accepted into the Confederacy (by the Confederate Congress) on November 28, 1861.

Governor Claiborne Fox Jackson died in 1862 and was succeeded by Lt. Governor Thomas Reynolds. The Missouri government eventually set up shop in Marshall, Tx., which, for the rest of the war was the Capital of Missouri.

Governor Claiborne Fox Jackson became a secessionist, only when he had no other choice and should be remembered as a Governor who tried to keep Missouri out of the war.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s