The Spirit of Independence

By Barth, Linda | American Heritage, May 2000 | Go to article overview

The Spirit of Independence


Barth, Linda, American Heritage


It was a town where the trails started and the buck stopped. Home to a President and an outlaw, it made room for both.

AS YOU DRIVE IN FROM KANSAS CITY, INDEPENDENCE doesn't look as if it has much to offer. The two-lane highway rolls away from the interstate in gentle waves, but the landscape is littered with fast-food restaurants and discount stores. It isn't until you've reached downtown Independence that you notice the change. The neat blocks of glass-fronted two-story buildings, the streets that seem to trail off into the Missouri prairie, and the orderly calmness bring on a sudden sense of nostalgia. It's as if you've returned to a time when life revolved around the town square, which, as it happens, is the case with Independence.

The center of town looks much as it did around the turn of the century, when Harry S. Truman worked at the local drugstore. Back before the Civil War this was the spot where wagon trains would line up for their westward departure; it was also the site of the area's slave auctions. The square is dominated by the Jackson County Courthouse, built in 1836, and there you can visit the office where Truman made the transition from bankrupt haberdasher to public servant when he was elected county judge in 1922. According to legend, it was at the courthouse that he picked up from another local politician what later became his famous catchphrase about heat and kitchens.

Independence has a surprisingly rich history for a place with such a small-town feel. Founded in 1827, it soon became known as the Queen City of the Trails because of the throngs of people who arrived to join westward wagon trains. The National Frontier Trails Center, about a mile from downtown, stands on the site of the trailhead for three of the overland routes most vital to the settlement of the West: the Santa Fe, the Oregon, and the California. A short film gives a good overview of the history of the overland trails, and a comprehensive collection of period artifacts makes it all the more immediate. The exhibits quote extensively from trail diaries, offering modern visitors a chance to relive the arduous journey west through the words of those who made the trip.

Not everyone who went to Independence intended to keep moving. The founder of the Mormon Church, Joseph Smith, arrived in 1831 while proselytizing in the Midwest. He declared the town the new promised land and selected a spot that is today known as the Temple Lot as the site of a new church. His followers began migrating to the area in such numbers that by 1833 the local residents were beginning to resent their presence, forcing them to relocate just north of Independence and then burning their homes. In 1838 Missouri's governor, Lilburn Boggs, issued his "Extermination Order" mandating that Mormons be driven from the state or killed.

Today a small memorial on the Temple Lot commemorates the moment when Smith declared this patch of Independence promised land. In fact, some followers of the church still believe that at the moment of the Apocalypse, Jesus Christ will appear simultaneously in Jerusalem and Independence. The church headquarters are certainly worth a visit. Helpful tour guides give you a quick history lesson, but the real interest lies in the building itself. It sits on the edge of town, rising three hundred feet above the lush Missouri plains, a polished silver-colored spiraling dome that looks almost like the top of a soft ice-cream cone.

Mormons were not the only source of controversy in Independence. The battle over slavery hit here with particular force. Under the Missouri Compromise of 1820, Missouri was a slave state, but when Congress in 1854 decided to let Kansans vote on whether their state would be free or slave, many Missourians felt threatened. Pro-slavery forces rushed into Kansas from border towns like Independence to menace abolitionists and to elect a pro-slavery legislature. The 1859 Jail, Marshal's Home and Museum, just off Independence Square, examines this grim chapter of Independence history. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

The Spirit of Independence
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.