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.

The Bollinger County Light Horse Cavalry

Flag of the Bollinger County [Missouri] Light Horse Cavalry

Cletis Ellinghouse, wrote in his book “Old Wayne”:

“Southeast Missouri’s renowned and railroader, Louis Houck, in his memoirs noted Judge Jackson at the outbreak of the war raised the U.S. flag at the courthouse at Greenville, in defiance of popular sentiment, which strongly favored the Confederacy. It created what Houck called, “a local war.”

It may be significant to note that the Bollinger County Light Horse Cavalry was the first Confederate unit organized in this neighborhood, in mid-March of 1861, which was nearly a month before the South attacked Fort Sumter in South Carolina on April 12, 1861. It attracted a good number from Wayne [County] including Rufus and Christopher Holmes, respectively a sergeant and second lieutenant, sons of long-time Justice of the Peace John B. Holmes, as well as their cousins in Bollinger County, Joseph and Henry Bennett, privates, sons of Alexander Bennett and his first wife the former Debby Dennis , believed the eldest daughter of early settler John Dennis Sr.”

Glenn Dedmondt in his book “Flags of Civil War Missouri” writes:

“One unusual flag captured by the Freemont Rangers in the fall of 1861, the ensign of a company of the 1’st Cavalry Battalion of General M. Jeff Thompson’s 1’st Division, was made of black silk with a red cross on it.”

A Desperate Plea (And Warning) From A Friend

The St. Louis Massacre (also known as the Camp Jackson Affair ) which occurred on Friday May 10, 1861, in St. Louis, saw members of the Missouri State Guard taken prisoner by Union troops (the majority of which were German immigrants). As the troops were marching the Missourians through the streets, the crowd became enraged and the Union troops began to fire into it, killing 28 civilians, including an infant.

This was Missouri’s “Fort Sumter” and citizens who were once “on the fence” began to quickly choose sides. After the event Germans were looked upon with great suspicion.

The August 31, 1861 issue of Louisville, Kentucky’s “Courier Journal” carried a story on the conditions of Bollinger & Madison counties in Missouri. It also contains a letter from I.R. Hidod, of Company G, Missouri State Guard to his friend, Francis Williams. The letter was a plea from Hidod to Williams to reconsider his position as a Union man and enlist in the ranks of the South. The letter was also a warning as to what would happen if he didn’t.

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In Defense of South Carolina

The Saturday October 13, 1860 issue of The Emporia News (Emporia, Ks) contained the contents of a speech of New York born William Seward. At the time Seward was a Republican candidate for President of the United States. The speech detailed his hatred for the State of Missouri and those who lived within its borders. The speech, in part stated: 

“There is population enough in Kansas now to make Missouri a great State. But Missouri does not want to be a great State. She prefers to wait and be a Slave State [Laughter]. She has no affection for the people of the North, but a great affection for the people of the South. She has no affection for free labor, but a great affection for slave labor. She has no free speech; she is satisfied to have what she may say, or may not, controlled by the Slave Power This is a sad case for Missouri, but not hopeless. She must look for deliverance to Kansas, which Missouri refused to let come into the Union, but which is drawing emigration through Missouri, and opening the way, and marking out the very course and inviting Missouri on, and calling upon Eastern capitalists to open a national highway to Pike’s Peak and California. Missouri is richer by millions by the settlement of Kansas by freemen. All her hopes of competition with the free Northern States are based upon what you are doing, and can do, and will do, to make a Pacific Railroad. Never was policy of any State more suicidal; for either she is to be forever a Slave State, as she desires to be, or she had better have been free from the beginning.”

In one sense we can dismiss Seward’s words as merely coming from a politician who was running for president and stoking the fires. In another one could come to the conclusion that his words were a threat of what would happen if Missouri did not bend to the will of the Kansans across its western border and the political power brokers from the northeastern states. It was a bold and dangerous speech to be making, especially considering the fact that the “Border War” fires between the two states were barely extinguished and still smoldering.

Seward was not interested in peace, he wanted power and he wanted the power to make the people he despised the most (Southerners) punished. We all know that Seward did not win the election of 1860, which was a brokered convention (See “Election Thieves” By Clint Lacy and Victor Thorn , Barnes Review Magazine, July / August 2016), but he did manage to land the position of Secretary of State in the Lincoln administration where he was able to use his talents of inflammatory language and deception to lure the Confederates to fire on Fort Sumter first.

A close examination of the facts will prove that South Carolina and the Confederate government desperately attempted to avoid war with the Federal government in Washington. My facts come from newspaper reports from the era.

As late as March 26, 1861 the Union garrison at Fort Sumter commanded by Major Robert Anderson was allowed to purchase supplies from nearby Charleston. It had been this way since the secession of the State on December 20, 1860 and the Lincoln administration was buying time with delaying tactics and news of false hope to the people there. The March 26, 1861 issue of the Montgomery [Alabama] Weekly Mail reported:

“ There is nothing publicly reliable in relation to the status of Fort Sumter. Vague reports of a contradictory nature are believed, and then discredited. We feel satisfied that Fox’s visit here and Lamon’s also, were for the purpose of making arrangements for the evacuation of the fort, but the time when Sumter is to be given up as far as the public are informed. Vague reports of a contradictory nature circulate, are believed then discredited. We feel satisfied that Fox’s visit here, and Lamon’s also, were for the purpose of making arrangements for the evacuation of the fort; but the time when Sumter is to be given up has not been determined, so far as the public are informed.”

By April 9th the papers still had an air of optimism in their coverage. Everything hinged on what action / inaction President Lincoln would take regarding the fort off of the Charleston, S.C. coast. However; the Memphis Daily Argus on April 9, 1861 published the following: 

“No Blockade Intended- Excitement at Washington-The Southern Commissioners- Another Messenger.- A special dispatch to the Charleston Courier, dated Washington, April 5th , says: “Information of a decided character are given out in official quarters that the administration does not intend to blockade the ports of the confederated States in order to collect the revenue, though the endeavors are made to keep every movement a secret. Much excitement exists here today in relation to matters of the South and thousands of flying rumors keep people on the qui vive. Many are of the opinion that the crisis has culminated, and dispatches from the South are looked for with great interest. The confederate commissioners are still of the opinion that Fort Sumter will be evacuated and say they have the best reason to believe that the administration yet means peace.” 

By April 10th the news was not so optimistic. The Fall River [Massachusetts] Daily Mail reported that President Abraham Lincoln had rejected a meeting with the Confederate Peace Commissioners stating: 

“Washington, April 9  

The Commissioners appointed by the Southern Confederacy to treat with the President for a peaceful settlement of existing troubles by acknowledgement of the new government were refused a formal interview by the Administration this morning.” 

The same issue of the paper, in another published article, also reported: 

“A special dispatch from Charleston to the Herald says that authorities of that city have received official notification [from the Lincoln administration] that supplies will be furnished to Major Anderson [Federal commander at Fort Sumter] at all hazard.” 

Even after allowing the Federal garrison at Fort Sumter to purchase supplies from Charleston and sending a Peace Commission to meet with President Lincoln Confederate President Jefferson Davis’ resolve war was immense as reported by the April 11, 1861 edition if the Cincinnati Daily Press:

“President Davis has telegraphed to Charleston not to fire on any vessels entering Charleston harbor to supply Fort Sumter with provisions.”

On April 12, 1861 Baltimore, Maryland’s “Daily Exchange” reported that Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard was to meet the Maj. Anderson in another attempt to negotiate a peaceful surrender of Fort Sumter.  

April 12, 1861 the Baltimore Sun reported: 

“Washington, April 11- The Southern Commissioners left for Montgomery today in their letter to the Hon. Wm. Seward, Secretary of State, they say their mission, having been unsuccessful, they return to an outraged people, and express their conviction that war is inevitable. They insist that on the heads of the administration must rest the responsibility.” 

The April 13, 1861 edition of The Times- Picayune [New Orleans] carried the following news of the events preceding the firing on Fort Sumter by Confederate forces at Charleston: 

From L. Pope Walker, Confederate Secretary of War to General P.G.T. Beauregard, April 10, 1861: 

“If you have no doubt of the authorized character of the agent who communicated to you the intention of the Government at Washington to supply Fort Sumter by force, you will at once demand its evacuation. 

If this is refused, proceed in such a manner as you determine, to reduce it.” 

From General P.G.T. Beauregard to Confederate Secretary of War L. Pope Walker April 11, 1861: 

“Major Anderson has replied as follows to my summons to evacuate Fort Sumter… 

Sir- I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your communication, demanding the evacuation of this fort, and to say in reply thereto, that it is a demand that I regret that my sense of honor and my obligation to my government prevent my compliance. 

Major Anderson adds verbally: 

I will await the first shot and if you do not batter us to pieces, we will be starved out in a few days.” 

From Confederate Secretary of War L. Pope Walker to General P.G.T. Beauregard, April 11, 1861: 

“Do not desire needlessly to bomb Fort Sumter. 

If Mayor Anderson will state the time at which, as indicated by him, he will evacuate, and agree in the meantime that he will not use his guns against us, unless ours should be employed against Fort Sumter, you are authorized thus to avoid the effusion of blood. 

 If this or its equivalent be refused, reduce the fort in the manner, in which you in your judgement, decide to be the most practicable.” 

From General P.G.T. Beauregard to Confederate Secretary of War L. Pope Walker, April 11, 1861: 

“Major Anderson will not consent to enter into the engagement you propose. I write to you today.” 

From Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard to Confederate Secretary of War L. Pope Walker, April 12, 1861:

“We opened fire on Fort Sumter at half-past four o’clock this morning. 


I have intercepted a dispatch, which will disclose the fact that Mr. Fox, who had been allowed to visit Major Anderson, on the pledge that his purpose was pacific, employed his opportunity to devise for supplying the fort by force. 

This plan was adopted by the Government at Washington, and was in progress of execution, when the demand was made on Major Anderson.”

The Lincoln administration deceived, delayed and deliberately misinformed the people of Charleston, South Carolina, Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard and the Confederate government, despite the attempts by the Confederate government to avoid war, actively seek a peaceful solution and act in good faith. It was only after  General Beauregard intercepted the Union dispatch that revealed the true plans of Lincoln’s administration that they fired the first shot, and the one time presidential candidate William S. Seward, who fanned the flames on the Missouri / Kansas border and was now acting as Secretary of State was instrumental in making the war come to fruition, despite the desires of the Southern people to maintain peace.

Did the Missouri Convention REALLY Rule Out Secession

The Daily Exchange [Baltimore, Md] newspaper’s March 25, 1861 issue carried news of the Missouri State Convention held on February 28th with the curious language that Missouri denied, “The legal right of secession” but recognized, “the right of revolution.”

It doesn’t feel like it has been seven days since my last post but I’m working on a new project, and it’s kept me busy. I won’t, at this time, divulge the nature of the project but I will say that the above newspaper clipping also serves as a hint of what the project is to be about.

Meanwhile feel free to check out my other books by visiting Our Products page.

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