Missouri, the Heart of the Nation

By William E. Parrish; Charles T. Jones Jr. et al. | Go to book overview

SIX
Slavery in Missouri

As mentioned in an earlier chapter, the first black slaves were introduced into Missouri from Santo Domingo by the French in 1720 to work the lead mines. By the time of the statehood crisis, slavery had become an ingrained part of Missouri's economic and social life. It is impossible to defend the institution from the perspective of late twentieth century America, but most Missourians of 130 years ago simply accepted it with little question as an integral aspect of their lives. Given the French and Spanish background, which included slave labor and the migration of the bulk of Missouri's early American population from the southern states where slavery had already been long established as an economic and social "necessity," this is not too surprising.


Legal Basis for Slavery

Although some Indian slavery had existed under the French and the Spanish, the few vestiges that remained had pretty well died out during the territorial period. The state supreme court officially declared Indian slavery illegal in 1834. Hence to Missourians, slave and black became interchangeable terms. All blacks were presumed to be slaves unless they could prove otherwise. Missouri law defined a black as anyone whose grandfather or grandmother had been African; but to most whites, any black ancestry was sufficient to make any biracial person a suspected slave.

In accepting the fact of slavery, the Missouri Constitution of 1820 assumed that slaves were the personal property of their owners. It provided that no slave could be emancipated or set free without the express agreement of the owner and only with appropriate compensation for the loss. Slave owners might manumit or free a slave vol

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