Reprinted from the Farmington News, Sept. 26, 1968
The election of Abraham Lincoln to the Presidency of the United States in 1860 brought about chaotic conditions. Southern states, led by South Carolina, began seceding from the Union. Thus, the eyes of the nation looked toward the all-important border states — Maryland, Delaware, Kentucky, Tennessee and Missouri. The importance of these states was realized by both sides and consequently both sides wooed them for their support. It was realized also by these border states that they were potential battlegrounds in the event civil war came to the nation.
Missouri, a slave state with Southern leanings, found herself in a difficult position. Surrounded on three sided by “free” states, she was quite vulnerable. Missouri’s governor, Claiborne Fox Jackson, was attempting to lead Missouri into the Confederacy while an equally powerful force led by pro-union elements in St. Louis supported Lincoln.
The sentiments of most Missourians were somewhere in between the two extreme views. Missourians had indicated a desire for neutrality or a middle-of-the-road position in the 1860 Presidential elections. The national election of 1860 was a four-sided race.
The two moderates, Democrat Stephen Douglas and Constitutional Unionist John Bell, received the majority of votes. Douglas won the state’s electoral votes (the only state won by Douglas) by a few hundred votes over Bell. The Southern Democrat, John Breckenridge, finished third, and Lincoln, the Republican finished a poor fourth.
The sentiments of the people of Missouri were also revealed in the election of delegates to a special convention called by Governor Jackson:
“…to consider the then existing relations between the government of the United States, the people and governments of the different states and the government and people of the State of Missouri; and to adopt such measures for vindicating the sovereignty of the State and the protection of its institutions, as shall appear to them to be demanded.”
This resolution passed the General Assembly the 18th of January 1861, and the election of the 99 delegates was held in February. Of the 140,000 votes cast, only 30,000 favored secession and not one secessionist candidate was elected. Some who were elected, Sterling Price for example, did favor secession if a compromise could not be worked out. Thus, the majority of people in Missouri favored remaining in the Union hoping that a compromise could still be arranged between the Union and the seceding states.
St. Francois County was represented in the convention by Milton P. Cayce. Hope ended in April of 1861 with the firing on Fort Sumter. With the beginning of open warfare, Missouri was forced to choose sides.
In most Missouri communities, demonstrations were held by both Unionist and pro-Southern factions. On April 15, 1861, Lincoln asked for 75,000 state militia troops to enforce federal law. Missouri’s quota was to be 3,123 soldiers and officers. Secretary of War Simon Cameron forwarded the request to Governor Jackson who replied:
“Your requisition in my judgment, is illegal, unconstitutional and revolutionary in its object, inhuman and diabolical, and cannot be complied with. No one man will the State of Missouri furnish to carry on such an unholy crusade.”
This reply brought about a great deal of support for Governor Jackson from Missouri factions. Many still hoped for a compromise or for neutrality; all realized that if Missouri sent troops, she would be committed to war. On April 17, 1861, a 15-gun salute was fired in Jefferson City to honor the governor for his position.
On this very same day, the governor had forwarded a message to Judge David Walker, president of the Arkansas Secession Convention, stating that Missouri was waiting for Arkansas to secede so that Missouri could follow her. Governor Jackson stated that Missouri would be ready to secede in 30 days.
The ‘Tri Weekly Missouri Republican’ of St. Louis reported many meetings in support of or against the Union. It was reported that on April 20 the secessionists of Clay and Jackson counties seized the Union Arsenal at Liberty. In St. Joseph and in Jefferson City the secessionist flag was paraded through the streets. It was reported also that a great Union meeting was held in Hillsboro and that in Farmington, a small-town south of St. Louis,” the pro-Southern element had raised the Southern flag.
Farmington was not unique. St. Francois County had voted as the state had voted in the 1860 election; Douglas had received 592 votes, Bell 421, Breckenridge 141 and Lincoln received only 19 votes — less than two percent of the county’s vote.
According to the 1860 census, the county had a white population of 6,292 with 877 slaves and 80 “free colored.” Farmington had more “free colored” than any of the other 50 Missouri counties except for St. Louis and Ste. Genevieve.
In a letter dated April 20, 1861, Dr. H.T. Brown described the activities in Farmington. Dr. Brown believed that the people of Farmington wanted immediate secession. In the 15 star “Southern” flag raised in Farmington that day, a star represented Missouri as well as the other border states.
Dr. Brown spoke of a plan to destroy the Ironton Furnace, a free soil paper that had moved to Ironton from Fredericktown in 1858. The editor, James Lindsay, was a strong supporter of Lincoln and the Union. Lindsay had been the Republican candidate for Lt. Governor in 1860.
Dr. Brown referred to a plan of some Farmingtonians to hang Lindsay after destroying his press. This was not done, as on May 7, a letter from Lindsay appeared in the Missouri Democrat. Lindsay reported that he had not been asked to leave Ironton.
The Ironton Furnace did go out of existence in 1861. Dr. Brown stated in his letter that he would send a copy of the events that took place in Farmington that day as covered by the Farmington Missouri Argus, but no later letter has been found. (The Missouri Argus later became the Farmington Herald which moved to DeSoto in 1872.)
Copies of the Missouri Argus published in 1861 are not in existence today as far as the writer can find. Yet reaction to the situation can be found in other local papers. The Fredericktown Journal was critical of Lincoln as was the Potosi Miner which in April of 1861 wrote:
“We answer emphatically, they should denounce and fight against the war policy of Abe Lincoln and his party. It is a sectional war. The North against the South; or in other words, the abolition fanatics of the North are opposing right and justice.”
The Missouri Republican of St. Louis answered the question somewhat more dramatically on April 29, 1861:
“Will she help her enemies butcher her friends? Will she help Northern Abolitionists to destroy her sisters of the South? Will she help the infernal creatures that have kept her own borders in alarm, to subdue the south and thus render them able to subdue her when they desire it? Will she stand idly by and see the torch applied to the lovely homes of her Southern brothers their beautiful wives and daughters given up to the brutal lusts of Abe Lincoln’s mongrel hirelings? Their happy smiling land blackened all over with the ravages of war?”
Thus, Farmington, like most of Missouri, was demonstrating. Governor Jackson, after the Camp Jackson affair in which members of the Missouri militia were surrounded and captured by Nathaniel Lyon and federal troops on May 10 was eventually forced to leave the state. With federal troops in control of Jefferson City, Governor Jackson called the General to meet on Oct. 21, 1861 in Neosho. On the 28th of October the assembly “officially” joined the Confederacy. The exact number of elected officials present is unknown.
The pro-Union element recalled the convention authorized in February to determine Missouri’s role. This convention then did an extraordinary thing. It reorganized the Missouri government into a Provisional Government, appointing Hamilton Gamble as governor. This was done without the consent of the people. Yet this government which lasted four years seemingly did a respectable job in attempting to govern Missouri. With federal troops now in Missouri, Farmington never again had an opportunity to sing “Dixie” and parade for Jeff Davis.