November 2, 1865: Blair and the Mass Convention

Francis P. Blair Jr.

The Cape Girardeau Argus of November 2, 1865 reports on the convention held in St. Louis to marshal opposition to Missouri’s 1865 Constitution. The star of the show was Gen. Frank Blair, scion of a politically powerful Missouri family, and standard-bearer of the Unionist Democrats in the region. Blair’s power base was threatened by the new constitution, which required voters (and teachers, etc.) to take the “ironclad oath” that they had not supported rebellion against the government. Excluding all the secessionists shifted the balance toward the Radical Republicans, who are the “usurpers” editorialized against in the second item below.

The convention didn’t really produce any immediate results, but it apparently helped to organize the Democratic opposition, which would eventually succeed in producing a Reconstruction constitution for the state in 1875.

The second resolution’s language claiming the right of the state to determine who could vote seems as much aimed at preventing black suffrage as in re-enfranchising former Confederates.

Resolution 9, opposing Thomas v. Mead, requires a little digging to understand. The Constitutional Convention of 1865 declared all state judgeships vacant, and empowered the Governor to fill such posts. A court clerk, Andrew Mead, was commanded to relinquish records to the new court. He refused and appealed to the state Supreme Court. That court held that the governor exercised the “sovereign executive power” of the state, and was acting legally in carrying out the orders of the Constitutional Convention. In the process, they were confirming their own positions as judges.

Resolution 10 seems to imply that anyone who disagrees with this group is not a law-abiding citizen, since the issues “stand above all mere party considerations”.

THE GREAT MASS CONVENTION

This monster gathering of the people assembled at Verandah Hall, in St. Louis, on Thursday, 26th ult. It is impossible for us to give the whole proceedings, and we therefore content ourselves with stating what was done in the shortest space possible.

When the Convention met, Barton Able was named temporary chairman, the customary committees on permanent organization, resolutions, &c., appointed, and after their retirement, Gen. Frank P. Blair was called for and for some three hours entertained the convention with the master speech of his life, after which an adjournment was had for dinner. On re-assembling, the Committee on Permanent Organization reported the name of Sam T. Glover as President, with a long list of Vice Presidents and Secretaries. Mr. Glover, on taking the chair, spoke for some two hours, reviewing the whole situation, and enchaining the vast audience by his eloquence. At its conclusion, the convention adjourned to Friday at 10 o’clock. On re-assembling, Mr. Foy, Chairman of the Committee on Resolutions, reported the following, which were taken up separately, and passed without a dissenting voice:

We, the people of Missouri, in Convention assembled, to pledge ourselves to the support of President Johnson in his arduous task of reorganizing the Southern States, and restoring the Union, and also to aid in restoring the principles of civil and religious liberty and equality in this State, which have been stricken down by the so-called New Constitution, resolve:

1. That we are grateful to Almighty God that peace is restored to our country, and that the result of the war has been to leave the union of these States unbroken; that the brave men who under the leadership of our great Generals and Admirals were instrumental in achieving that result, have an undying place in our affection and esteem.

2. That the States in our system of government have equal rights, and this equality is the corner stone of the Union; that no State can either secede or be expelled from the Union, or be degraded below the others, or be deprived of any Federal right, power or privilege which is exercised by any other; that among the equal rights of the States, none is clearer or more vital than that of each one to designate who shall vote within its limits; and that we applaud President Johnson for having recognized and acted upon this important principle in instituting his reorganization measures.

3. That as an obvious corollary from these elementary truths, Senators and Representatives elected to Congress who are duly accredited under the broad seal of their respective States, have an indisputable right to seats in that body, and to speak and vote therein on taking the Constitutional oath; that a refusal to admit them would be revolutionary and dangerous proceeding, and as much a violation of the bond of Union as the secession ordinances of the States lately in rebellion.

4. That peace being now restored, we regard with extreme dislike the exercise of judicial powers by military commanders or military commissioners, and we most respectfully entreat the President to curb the arbitrary power of the military subordinates in this respect, and to compel all executive officers of the Government to recognize the supremacy of the judicial tribunals, and the privileges of the writ of habeas corpus.

5. That the action of the late State Convention in attempting to disfranchise a large number of their own constituents, in trammeling the educational interests of the State, in restricting civil and religious liberty, by imposing retrospective test oaths, in taxing churches, seminaries, orphan asylums, graveyards and other species of property never before subjected to taxation, and in refusing to submit their said action to the vote of the people by whom they were elected, was in violation of republican liberty and the Constitution of the United States, and deserves the censure and condemnation of an outraged people; and that in view of these and other odious features of the so-called Constitution, we recommend the calling of a Convention with power to adopt a Constitution embodying the principles of civil and religious liberty, which shall be submitted to the people for ratification.

6. That the Registry Law provided by the so-called New Constitution of this state is subversive of the liberties of the people, and we appeal to our present General Assembly by every principle of justice not to attempt to force so great an outrage on this State.

7. That we accept as final and irrevocable the ordinance abolishing slavery in this State.

3[sic]. That it is the duty of all good citizens to use their best endeavors to allay all feelings of animosity resulting from the late rebellion, and that in this spirit we cordially approve, on the part of the President, a just and liberal exercise of the pardoning power.

9. That we reject as foreign to the principles of American institutions, the doctrine announced by the so-called judges of the Supreme Court in the case of Thomas vs. Mead, to wit: that “the Governor is sovereign in political power;” and that we condemn as dangerous and pernicious the practice, by them for the first time introduced into Missouri, of Judges deciding causes in which they are personally interested.

10. That the issues, State and Federal, now dividing the people of Missouri, are vital and fundamental, involving the stability of free institutions and the existence of civil and religious liberty, and stand above all mere party considerations; and we therefore appeal to all law-abiding citizens to cordially unite with us in redeeming the nation and the State from the perils that environ them.

11. That the speedy redemption of the national debt is a sacred duty, and for this purpose the necessary initiatory steps ought to be taken at the next session of Congress, and that the war debt of Missouri should be assumed by the Federal Government, and that Missouri, in this respect, should be placed on an equal footing with her loyal sister States.

12. That the conduct of Governor Fletcher, by his violent and unauthorized interference with the judiciary — a co-ordinate and independent department of the Government — by his tacit approval of the murder of citizens by militia, claiming to act under his authority; by his encouraging the prosecution of ministers, priests, teachers and harmless women, for their refusal to take a repulsive test oath; by his attempts to overawe civil tribunals, and subvert their privileges by the forcible installation into office of men whose claims present judicial questions, merits our severest censure, as dangerous violations of the principles of Republican Government.

A resolution was adopted inviting Edward Bates to a seat in the Convention.

A State Central Committee was appointed.

The balance of the time was consumed in addresses by different men of eminence.

On Thursday and Friday evenings immense concourses of people were addressed at the courthouse by Wm.A.Hall, Judge Hicks, Blair, Bogy, and others. Six bands of music were in attendance.

Cape Girardeau county was represented by Eugene Garaghty, J Burrough, H.H.M.Williams, David W. Shepperd, John R. Henderson, R.W.Harris, M.J. Hines, and W.M. Hamilton. From Scott County, Augustus J. Youngman, Levi S. Green, and John Sikes. New Madrid County, T.J. O’Morrison, John T. Scott, S.T. Davis, and F.C. Butler. Perry County, Hon. Thos. E. Noell, R.M Brewer, Felix Layton, J.H. Abernethy, Jos. Meyer, Wm. Allen, Leo Moore.

*****************************************

THE GREAT MASS CONVENTION

The great Mass Convention is over and Verandah Hall will from this time forth be to Missouri what Independence Hall is to the history of the nation. With great hope, yet with no small trepidation of heart, have we awaited the result. Its triumphant and glorious termination has more than realized our most sanguine expectations. Human liberty and the just rights of humanity have been vindicated.

When we surveyed that vast assemblage and studied the men of whom it was composed, our mind was carried back to that other assemblage whose wisdom, unshrinking courage, and daring patriotism gave birth to the liberties of which we are so justly proud. Frank, decorous and earnest, animated with but one object — the redemption from thraldom of their beloved state, the Reconstruction of the national government upon its primitive basis — were the men who made up this Convention. Ever fair in the discussion of deeply interesting questions, fearless in the manner in which they met the difficulties of the hour, and most admirable for the manly spirit of mutual concession — ever disregarding dead issues, and prompt to meet living ones — they moved on in harmonious unity, and proved themselves to be men of no common order. By their wisdom they have baffled their enemies, and by forgetting old party issues, associations and preferences, they have sadly disappointed their most malignant defamers. They did not meet for dissension and strife; they met to endorse and support the reconstruction policy of President Johnson and to free oppressed Missouri from thralldom — and right well and nobly have they performed their duty. In vain their enemies raved around them. The firm rock does not more easily dash the tempest driven wave into spray, than these men threw to the winds the many intrigues and subtle schemes devised by their enemies — by malevolent and apprehensive adversaries for their destruction. Truly were they confounded who sought their destruction. Truly were they turned backward and put to shame who sought evil to them, and all their malice was wasted. For these noble men recognized their enemy without an effort, and recognized also in their common opposition to the foe, the bond of an inevitable, unavoidable and cheerful friendship. This foe so monstrous in its proportions, so unscrupulous in its means, and who had so long rioted upon their plundered liberties, could only be subdued by unity; in union was their strength, and they were united. All the resolutions reported to the Convention were unanimously adopted — not one single member composing the Convention voting against them — a fact unparalleled in the history of Conventions.

In these resolutions the members pledge the State to support the policy of President Johnson; and to oppose by every legal means the new Constitution of Missouri. They accept as final and irrevocable the abolition of slavery — thus ending the question forever. In bold and unmistakeable language they denounced the New Constitution, and bigots who framed it, and the usurpers who are in office under it. They demand in most emphatic language a new constitution, and ask for no partial relief of a lingering amendment. To obtain this they mean war without quarter against the vile instrument, and most respectfully appeal to the Legislature to call a new Convention. They have made a plain, square and fair issue. They have marked out their battleground, and have retired to their homes, determined to fight it out if it takes a dozen summers. Of the enemy no favors are asked, and very few will be shown.

Those who maintain that infamous document, with its oaths and disabilities and disfranchisements, are fighting against the mightiest ideas of the age — against civil and religious liberty, the rights of conscience, the liberty of speech and freedom of worship — and if they wish to break their heads against a stone wall, let them do it. At too late an hour in the day do they become the champion of despotism bigotry and wrong — their graves were dug the last century. The right will triumph in the end, and the end is not far distant. War has been proclaimed against the dominant power in the State. The wishes and impulses of the people must and will be respected, and wo[e] to the man or body of men who dare oppose it.

This entry was posted in Democrats, Francis Preston Blair, Reconstruction, Republican. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *