Why Did Missouri Become a Slave State and California a Free state? | HistoryNet MENU

Why Did Missouri Become a Slave State and California a Free state?

By Mr. History
5/31/2016 • America's Civil War, Ask Mr. History

Mr. History,

I’m Mikasa and I wanted to know, why did Missouri want to become a slave state and why did California want to become a free state?

Mikasa Ackerman



Dear Mikasa,

Missouri originally favored slavery because its original settlers came mostly from the south via the Mississippi and Missouri rivers. The Missouri Compromise of 1820 had declared it a slave state (while Maine was created to counterbalance it as a free state). Over the next few decades, however, a new wave of settlers came in, mainly German and Irish immigrants who were opposed to slavery, leaving the state divided by the time a census was taken in 1860—of 1,182,012 Missourians, 475,246 (only 40 percent) had been born there and 114,931 (9.7 percent) were black slaves, mostly in rural areas. At first hoping to remain neutral as war was breaking out, Missouri’s government favored secession when President Abraham Lincoln began raising an army to coerce seceding states back into the Union, but Union Army forces ultimately forced Missouri to remain officially in the Union. Even so, Missouri “orphan” regiments (as well as Major General Sterling Price) fought for the Confederacy in the Frontier Theater of Operations, and itself Missouri was ravaged by a brutal internecine guerrilla conflict between irregular forces—the pro-Union “Red Legs” and “Jayhawkers,” and the secessionist “Bushwhackers” under William Quantrill and Bloody Hill Anderson.

California, with a bulk of its economy focused on either gold in the central regions or mining, shipping and commerce in the north, never viewed slavery as worthwhile when it entered the Union as a free state in 1850. As war clouds gathered some southern settlers and Californios (who rankled at what they considered inequitable tax and land laws) in southern California made tentative attempts at secession and even formed a militia unit, the Los Angeles Mounted Rifles, but they were too few to amount to anything—California voted for Abraham Lincoln by a slim plurality and stayed in the Union when war broke out. Many of the Los Angeles Mounted Rifles rode east to be assimilated into Texas regiments, while Brevet Brigadier General Albert Sidney Johnson, after resigning his commission on April 9, 1861, journeyed even farther east to be made a full general in command of the Confederate Western Military Department (the Mississippi River region) until his death at Shiloh on April 6, 1862.



Jon Guttman

Research Director

World History


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