Category Archives: Civil War

German Abolitionists

On January 1, 1863, President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation came into effect, freeing slaves in all Confederate-held territory. But Lincoln’s decree did not extend to Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Maryland, all of which were slave states that had remained loyal to the Union.

In 1864 some of the Missouri Germans backed an attempt to challenge Lincoln from the Left by nominating a Radical anti-slavery man for president. When Lincoln outflanked them by endorsing the 13th Amendment ending slavery, the Germans returned to the Republican fold and put their energies into revising the Missouri constitution to abolish slavery in their state

Legal freedom for all African Americans slaves in Missouri came by action of a state convention meeting in the Mercantile Library Hall in St. Louis. The convention convened slavessoldierson January 6, 1865 with German immigrant and abolitionist Judge Arnold Krekel serving as president. Radical Republicans, many of whom were also German-Americans, comprised two-thirds of the convention seats. A vote on the “emancipation ordinance” passed overwhelmingly 60 to 4 on January 11, 1865, with no compensation to slave owners. A month later the convention adopted the 13th amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which abolished slavery throughout the country.

Eight of the sixty-six delegates to the Missouri Constitutional Convention were born in Germany. One of the immigrants, Arnold Krekel, was elected Convention President. thWhile nearly all native-born Republicans believed that Missouri’s blacks should be freed, the status of blacks in freedom was contentious. Many thought that blacks, if they were free, should not be given the right to vote. Even among whites, women and young people under the age of 21 were not allowed to vote. One could be both a citizen and be deprived of the privilege of voting in 19th Century America.

The St. Louis Community College’s program THE GERMAN ABOLITIONISTS AND THE CIVIL WAR explores the relationships between the Germans and the enslaved community that they worked to emancipate. The program will be at the Missouri History Museum, on Tuesday, October 16, 2018 at 10:30 am in the Lee Auditorium will have speaker Dorris Keeven-Franke, Executive Director of Missouri Germans Consortium. The program is free as always and open to the public.

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New Years Day

On a frigid New Years day in 1861, in St. Louis, Missouri, a slave auction was halted when heated Germans crowded the sale block. Outraged, they kept the auction from going forward.  A slave named Jim was sold that day. But this was not the last slave sale by far. In fact, Jim’s former owners sold other slaves on a much warmer day, the fourth of May 1861.

In 1861, Missouri’s Governor Claiborne Fox Jackson, a secessionist, was determined to take the state out of the Union. He also wanted the muskets stored in the Federal Arsenal at St. Louis.  But when he attempted to gain those muskets by force he found a force that included  thousands of Germans, gathered from St. Louis, St. Charles and counties to the west.  Emigrants who had drilled in secret, with sawdust on the floors and windows covered for secrecy. Germans who had come to America, where “the sun of freedom” shone. Germans who had made America home and could not go back. Germans who understood the deprivations and hated slavery. They also knew that as long the slave holders held power over Missouri politics, their freedom from Nativism and other oppression, the lives they envisioned for their families was endangered.

When Jackson had attempted secession he failed. Germans had begun emigrating to Missouri in the early 1830s, settling along the Missouri River valley.  They had reached a position, small but respected in Missouri politics by the 1860s. The Convention had to recognize the German voice of Friedrich Muench and it failed in its attempt to secede. Jackson fled, exiled and powerless. But the Germans stayed and Missouri became a border State divided.

Two years later, on another New Years day in 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, declaring “that all persons held as slaves” within the rebellious states “are, and henceforward shall be free.”  These applied only to states that had seceded from the Union, leaving slavery untouched in the border state of Missouri.  It also announced that black men would be accepted into the Union Army. The proclamation changed the Civil War from a states rights issue, to the real issue of slavery vs. freedom. These were issues the Germans understood and took to heart. They would fight, in the field and in the Statehouse.