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.