Missouri abolishes slavery, January 11, 1865; later, black Missouri soldiers found Lincoln University


An Ordinance Abolishing Slavery in Missouri, 1865
From here: “This ink on vellum document signed by the members of Missouri’s 1865 Constitutional Convention enacted the immediate emancipation of all enslaved people in Missouri. It was signed on January 11, 1865, three weeks before the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which ended slavery, was even proposed.”
Image source: Missouri History Museum Archives, via the website “The Civil War in Missouri”

On January 1, 1863, Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. It stated that “all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free…” Of note was that the proclamation would only be effective for states in “rebellion against the United States,” namely, the Confederate States that had seceded from, and were fighting against, the Union during the American Civil War.

Not covered by the proclamation were several slave states – the so-called ‘Border States’ of Missouri, Maryland, Delaware, and Kentucky – which stayed loyal to the Union and had had not seceded. In those states, bondage remained unabated.

This was not for lack of effort by Abraham Lincoln to end slavery in the Border States. Lincoln believed that Border State slavery posed a risk for the Union. His fear was that their slaveholders might agitate for secession and alliance with the Confederacy, in order to protect their slave property. Lincoln hoped to eliminate this threat by having the Border States end slavery voluntarily. In March 1862, Lincoln asked Congress to pass a resolution to provide “pecuniary aid” to any Border State that would “adopt gradual abolishment of slavery.”

In July, 1862, President Lincoln met with congressman and senators from the Border States and personally asked them to implement a plan of gradual, compensated emancipation. He said at the meeting:

The incidents of the war can not be avoided. If the war continue long, as it must, if the object be not sooner attained, the institution (slavery) in your states will be extinguished by mere friction and abrasion–by the mere incidents of the war. It will be gone, and you will have nothing valuable in lieu of it. Much of its value is gone already.

How much better for you, and for your people, to take the step which, at once, shortens the war, and secures substantial compensation for that which is sure to be wholly lost in any other event. How much better to thus save the money which else we sink forever in the war. How much better to do it while we can, lest the war ere long render us pecuniarily unable to do it. How much better for you, as seller, and the nation as buyer, to sell out, and buy out, that without which the war could never have been, than to sink both the thing to be sold, and the price of it, in cutting one another’s throats.

Lincoln’s message to the Border States was clear: the Civil War was going to put pressure on the institution of slavery, and perhaps even lead to its demise. Why not end slavery in your states now, and get compensated for it, while the government still has the money to afford such a plan? If this plan is not accepted now, and the war does end slavery, you’ll lose everything and get noting in return.

Lincoln was right in his prediction. The “friction of war” did indeed destabilize bondage throughout all of the slave states, Union and Confederate. In Missouri, for example, thousands of slaves escaped their master as fighting raged throughout the state. At least 8,300, black Missourians – mostly former slaves – joined the Union army, gaining freedom for themselves in the process. (Slaves who joined the US army were given the status of freemen.)

The issue of gradual, compensated emancipation became a subject of discussion and debate within Missouri. In 1863, a state convention was held, and an ordinance for gradual emancipation, to begin in 1870, was passed. But for some Missourians, emancipation starting in 1870 wasn’t soon enough. The so-called “Radical Republicans” of the state – members of Lincoln’s political who party were ardent anti-slavery men – agitated for a policy of immediate emancipation.

As the war wore on, the Radicals gained increasing political power in Missouri, and they used it to finally end bondage in their state. In January 1865, another state convention was called to order. As noted here: “Led by Charles Drake, the Radical Republicans who made up the majority of the state convention’s delegates passed the vote for emancipation almost unanimously.” Although the convention abolished slavery effective January 11, 1865, it “did not give the right to vote to any of the more than 100,000 slaves freed in Missouri. Although the state convention’s delegates believed strongly in emancipation, they did not necessarily believe in equality.”

With freedom in hand, and despite efforts to limit their progress, African Americans pressed forward to take advantage of whatever opportunities they could. They recalled that in 1847 the Missouri General Assembly passed a law forbidding blacks, slave or free, to be taught to read or write. As noted in the book Missouri’s Black Heritage, the law “was a reflection of a slaveholder’s fear that literacy might lead to (a slave) rebellion.” This so-called “Black Code” prohibition taught Missouri blacks a lesson they would not forget: education was a force for their liberation and uplift.

Black soldiers and veterans were at the forefront of efforts to ensure that freedmen and freedwomen would receive the education and learning that were denied to the under slavery. Men from two regiments of black Union soldiers – the 62nd and 65th infantry regiments of United States Colored Troops – took an unprecedented action: in 1866, they pooled their money to fund the first and only school established by soldiers of African descent.

Located in Jefferson City, Missouri, that school stands as a legacy of African Americans’ efforts for improvement, progress, and full citizenship. Its name: Lincoln University of Missouri.


Main statue for the Soldiers’ Memorial at Lincoln University, Missouri
Source: Lincoln University, Missouri

Soldiers’ Memorial at Lincoln University, Missouri


Main statue for the Soldiers’ Memorial at Lincoln University, Missouri
Source: Lincoln University, Missouri

Deprived of freedom and citizenship rights, thousands of black men from Missouri joined the Union army, determined to fight for emancipation and equality. Deprived of an education, the Missouri men of the 62nd and 65th United States Colored Infantry took another determined, but unprecedented action: in 1866, they pooled their money to fund the first and only school established by soldiers of African descent.

Liberty and learning were indeed precious commodities for Missouri African Americans at the start of the Civil War. In 1860, 118,500 blacks lived in the state, with 115,000 in slavery, and just 3,500 free. In 1847 the Missouri General Assembly passed a law forbidding blacks, slave or free, to be taught to read or write. As noted in the book Missouri’s Black Heritage, “this was a reflection of a slaveholder’s fear that literacy might lead to (a slave) rebellion.” This “Black Code” prohibition taught Missouri blacks a lesson they would not forget: education was a force for their liberation and uplift.

The legacy institution of the 62nd and 65th United States Colored Infantry (USCI) – which is now called Lincoln University – commemorates those men in a monument that sits on the University’s campus. What follows is a brief summary of how this came to be.

Missouri African Americans and the Civil War

When the Civil War began, Missouri was a slave state that remained loyal to the Union. (Although it’s more correct to say that the state had large pro-Union and pro-seccession/Confederate factions, with the Union faction and military able to maintain control of the state government.) In order to keep the support of Missouri and other Border slave states (Delaware, Kentucky, and Maryland), the United States government initially declared that it would not disturb slavery where it stood. Of note: in August 1861, the abolitionist Union General John C. Frémont, as part of his martial law policy to defend the state, declared that bondsmen of disloyal slave-owners in Missouri were free. In September 1861, President Abraham Lincoln told Frémont to rescind the order, saying it lacked congressional and executive authorization.

But as the war wore on, military necessity determined that the Union would accept, and even seek, the support of African Americans, even in states with loyal slaveholders like Missouri. By 1864, Union enlistment and recruitment was expanded to include slaves in the Border states; army enlistment automatically freed the former slaves. As noted by Aaron Astor in his essay Black Soldiers and White Violence in Kentucky and Missouri (from the book The Great Task Remaining Before Us: Reconstruction as America’s Continuing Civil War),

By January 15, 1864, dozens of slaves enlisted in central Missouri’s slave-rich Howard County alone. By the end of February, more than 3,700 African Americans enlisted in Missouri, with central Missouri’s Little Dixie producing a significant portion… in Missouri, 39 percent (of military-age African Americans) joined the Union army… these numbers downplay the total of black recruits in the western border states, as many joined in neighboring free states. It is very likely that a significant percentage of the 2,080 African Americans credited to Kansas actually came from Missouri. (Editor’s note: Kansas had less than 700 African American residents in 1860, according to the US Census.)

In the rolls of the United States Colored Troops, Missouri is credited with providing 8,344 soldiers. As mentioned earlier, it’s very likely that many Missouri blacks enlisted in nearby Kansas, and some were probably members of the famous First Kansas Colored Infantry.

According to the site Missouri Digital Heritage, “the first black regiment from Missouri was recruited in June 1863 at Schofield Barracks in St. Louis. More than 300 men enlisted. The regiment was called the First Regiment of Missouri Colored Infantry. It later became the 62nd U.S. Regiment of Colored Infantry.” Sometime after, the 2nd Missouri Colored Infantry was formed; it was renamed the 65th Regiment, United States Colored Infantry. Other black Missouri regiments are noted in this post at The USCT Chronicle.

The History of Lincoln University, née Lincoln Institute

After the war, soldiers from the 62nd and 65th USCI raised over $5000 to found a school for Missouri’s freedmen. Established in 1866, the school was called Lincoln Institute. A key figure in the creation of the school was Richard Baxter Foster, an abolitionist white officer who became the Institute’s first principal, and whose image is featured in the Soldiers’ Memorial Monument. The history of the school, and the efforts to create a monument to the soldiers who founded it, is told in this video:

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