Thursday, August 25, 2011

Missouri: The West Starts Here

Morals — all correct moral laws — derive from the instinct 
to survive. Moral behavior is survival behavior 
above the individual level.   
~ Sci-fi author and Missouri native, Robert Heinlein

1860: the first Pony Express left St. Joseph, MO for Sacramento
In 1821, the year of its statehood, Missouri was at the crossroads of a geographic and political revolution.

Part of the wild west territory culled from Spanish and French colonial rule, this was where the debate over slavery was held in a constant and contentious balance:

Geographically, Missouri was at the very juncture where a growing nation had to decide if its burgeoning borders would be a land of the free or the enslaved.  

Politically, the math of legislative and economic power had carefully balanced the number of free states against the number of slave states. This could easily be upended if or when Missouri was accepted as a state.

In 1820, the wheel of fortune turned again when Maine applied for statehood (as a free state) and the Missouri Compromise was reached (making Missouri slave territory).

1820 map showing the 36/30 Parallel and the free/ slave states (Map: PBS)
The Compromise was a patchwork attempt to appease both sides as it defined the territory on one side of the 36° 30' parallel (what would become Kansas) to be free and territory on the other side (Missouri) to be slave. The fact that Missouri was a borderland – of politics as well as geography – was evident in the many and often dramatic legislative proposals that were put forth prior to and after the Missouri Compromise.

In 1821, when Missouri again applied for statehood (for the 8th time), it was granted.
Missouri painter Thomas Hart Benton's Boy and Dog and Farm

Some thirty years later, the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 (the concept of popular sovereignty) overrode the Missouri Compromise. It allowed for the settlers in Kansas and Nebraska to decide (to vote) for themselves if they would or would not allow slavery within their territory. This seems simple enough but it was a political tinderbox that fired such far-reaching discussion as the 1858 Lincoln-Douglas debates in Illinois.
In short: either you were for a version of self-rule (which made room for slavery) or you found the expansion of slavery impossible to condone (which gave the federal government the right to override laws allowing slavery in the new territories).

Mr. Dred Scott (Missouri Historical Society)
The Dred Scott Decision (1857) underscored the chaos and the tragedy of these times. In their decision, the Supreme Court ruled that:

1. the Missouri Compromise (which prohibited slavery in some of the new territories) was unconstitutional. 
2. African Americans – slave or free – were not citizens (nor eligible for citizenship).
3. because African Americans were not citizens, they (including children born on free land) had no ability to seek any protection under the law (to sue). 
4. Slaves were to be treated as physical property under the law. Specifically, a law (like the Missouri Compromise) could not free a slave from his/ her owner, even if the "slave" was living in "free" territory.

In practical terms, this meant that if you were free in one territory, you might not be free in another territory. Likewise, if you were a slave in one territory but had been living in a "free" territory and had raised children in that territory, your former master could claim you and your children – and you could do nothing about it because you did not have any rights as a citizen.

As the West was settled in the boom decades between 1820 and 1860, a harvest of political unrest was being planted that eventually would grow into the Civil War.

The Missouri state flag with its grizzly bears and crescent moon.
A new flag ...

After the Civil War and at the turn of the 20th century, the country was taking stock. It was at this time that the Daughters of the American Revolution began to sponsor state flag contests. The Missouri state flag is the result of the 1908 flag contest.

The state flag of Missouri was designed by Mrs. Marie Elizabeth Oliver, the chairperson of the local DAR search committee and the wife of Senator Robert Burett Oliver

A second Missouri state flag, one designed by Dr. G. H. Holcomb, had been under consideration but Oliver's design ultimately was chosen. In 1913, the Oliver flag became the official Missouri state flag.

The Missouri state flag consists of three, wide, horizontal, red, white, and blue stripes – the colors of the national flag. In the center is the Missouri state seal. This juxtaposition underscores the union between the state and the nation. Placing the seal at the center of the Missouri state flag also emphasizes Missouri's place in the middle of the nation.

Within the Missouri state seal there are 24 stars as Missouri is the 24th state. The largest star is supposed to represent the fact that Missouri became a state after rising above significant challenges. The grizzly bears and helmet are symbols representing the strength and fortitude of Missouri.

The crescent moon on the Missouri state flag can be read two ways: Its two points can indicate that Missouri is the second state to "grow" out of the new territory (from the Latin, cresare, to grow). In traditional heraldry, however, a crescent moon facing up, as this one does, generally indicates that this is a branch of a larger family. This would indicate Missouri as growing out of the new territories as well as being a part of the United States.    

There are two mottoes on the Missouri state flag. One is in English: United We Stand. Divided We Fall. Again, this emphasizes the importance of unity. The Latin motto, Salus populi suprema lex esto translates to "Let the welfare of the people be the supreme law."

Let it fly!

To find find out how to fly the flag and other flag etiquette, see USFlagstore's  Flag Etiquette 101 and USFlagstore's How to Fly the Flag at Half-Staff.

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