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Missouri Confederate still making impact, author contends

Date: Jan. 10, 2001
By: Marianne Kunnen-Jones
Phone: (513) 556-1826
Photos: By Lisa Ventre
Archive: Research News

Claiborne Fox Jackson may not be a Civil War figure as familiar to you as Abraham Lincoln, Jefferson Davis or William Tecumseh Sherman, yet he's still a large influence on the course of U.S. history. His story may even help to explain the recent division in the presidential election.

Missouri's Confederate bookcover

That's the view of assistant professor of history Christopher Phillips, author of a new biography on this Civil War era governor of Missouri, who tried to get his state to secede from the Union and join the Confederacy in 1861. Phillips' book, "Missouri's Confederate: Claiborne Fox Jackson and the Creation of Southern Identity in the Border West" ($29.95), was published recently by University of Missouri Press in its Missouri Biography Series.

Among today's Neo-Confederates, Phillips said, Jackson stands as a symbol of anti-federalism and pro-individualism. He gained his place in history by gathering a rump assembly to draft an ordinance of Missouri secession in 1861 and then spearheading its acceptance by the Confederate Congress. As a result, the onfederate flag carries a star representing Missouri.

But Missouri's place in the Confederacy is debatable, Phillips notes. The majority of Missourians refused to recognize the secession. At the state's secession convention in March 1861, none of the 99 elected delegates was publicly in favor of separating from the Union. The state of Missouri, like Kentucky, officially remained neutral throughout the Civil War.

Neutral is hardly the correct word though. Phillips' book describes a state bitterly and decidedly divided in its own civil war within the larger one -- a struggle marked by the bloody violence of guerrilla warfare.

That division, believe it or not, echoes in the recent presidential election and the votes of some "big" government opponents, Phillips argues. The divergence in Civil War Missouri was not wholly over slavery, but also about differing ideas of liberty and democracy, he says. For many of the pro-Confederate Missourians, slavery was viewed as being consistent with American democracy. And the distant federal government had no right telling their democratic state of Missouri what to do, these people believed.

While Missouri's identity was Western before the war, by war's end and afterwards, much of its populace had adopted a southern identity, fed by anti-federalist sentiments that began to arise even before the Civil War. The bloody Kansas conflict, which lasted from 1854 to 1860, proved to be a "dress rehearsal" for the Civil War and left many Missourians believing that anti-slavery northerners and the federal government had robbed them of a neighboring state that would have allowed slavery if outsiders had not intervened.

Missouri's growing southern identity received further nourishment from federal occupation of its neutral state early in the Civil War. A catalyst was the Union capture of the Missouri State Guard's Camp Jackson, when an intensely pro-Union Army commander paraded about 800 "prisoners" through the streets of St. Louis, igniting days of riots. More fuel came in the aftermath of the 1862 Palmyra Massacre, in which 10 suspected Confederates were executed in retaliation for the disappearance of a loyal Unionist.

The biggest turning point in anti-Union sentiment and activities, however, came after the emancipation of slaves in 1862, Phillips notes. William Quantrill's 1863 "raid" on Lawrence, Kan., itself a response to emancipation and the largest civilian loss of the life during the Civil War, reflected and deepened southern identity when federalists responded to it by conducting manhunts and regularly executing captured Missouri Confederate guerrillas.

Christopher Phillips

This Southern strain of anti-federalism lives on today, Phillips believes, in modern-day presidential politics. He notes that in the recent election, even though both candidates were Southerners, presidential candidate George W. Bush received majority support in southern and southern border states like Missouri, Tennessee and Kentucky, which identify with his anti-big government message. "It shouldn't be a great surprise to learn today that Missouri is one of the states most identified with the modern citizens' militia movement," Phillips adds.

No monuments, except a gravesite in Missouri, stand in memoriam to Claiborne Jackson today. The former governor died of stomach cancer in exile in Arkansas just over a year after his move to get Missouri's secession approved. At one point, some Missourians hoped Jackson's visage would be included on Georgia's Stone Mountain, the southern version of Mt. Rushmore. It was not destined to be, however. The images of Stonewall Jackson, Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis were carved into the mountainside instead.

"I think it was mostly wishful thinking on Missourians' part, then and now," says Phillips. But Missouri often gets overlooked when it comes to Civil War, Confederate and even Southern history. Phillips hopes his book will at least help to correct that longstanding oversight, regardless of the debate over its place in the Confederacy.

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