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A look at Missouri’s first constitution

As Missouri prepares to celebrate the bicentennial of its entry as the 24th state in the U.S. in 2021, another important anniversary for the state comes this year: Missouri’s original constitution was adopted on July 19, 1820.

Missouri has had four constitutions over its two centuries of statehood, reflecting the changes that the nation as a whole has gone through over time. Here’s a look at the history of the original constitution and the way the state’s framework has evolved since its establishment. 

The Missouri Compromise

The territory of Missouri first applied for statehood in 1817 and was considered for the opportunity to become the 23rd state in the Union two years later. Congress considered a bill that would have allowed the territory to frame a state constitution, and a representative from New York added an amendment to disallow the introduction of slavery in Missouri beyond what was already present and emancipate those slaves already in the territory at age 25.

The amendment failed in the Senate after extensive debate across the aisle over the issue of slavery, and Congress adjourned without resolving the question of Missouri’s statehood.

When they reconvened later that year, Congress also had a request for statehood from Maine, at the time a territory of Massachusetts. The Senate passed what would become known as the Missouri Compromise in order to appease both sides of the aisle, allowing Maine to enter as a free state and Missouri as a slave state in order to keep the divide between the two sides of the issue even.     

The Missouri territory was given the authority to create a constitution the following year, and on June 12, 1820, the first Missouri Constitutional Convention assembled in St. Louis.  

The first Constitutional Convention

The first convention was made up of 40 men from 15 Missouri counties. The delegation met in the Mansion House Hotel in St. Louis beginning on June 12. The assembly elected David Barton, one of eight delegates representing St. Louis County, as president of the convention on the first day, according to the convention’s official record. William Pettus of St. Charles County, who would go on to serve as Missouri’s secretary of state from 1821 to 1824, oversaw the proceedings as the convention’s secretary. 

The convention met over the next 38 days to establish the foundation of Missouri’s government before approving the document on July 19. 

The first constitution began with a preamble mirroring that of the country’s, written 33 years before:

“We, the people of Missouri, inhabiting the limits hereinafter designated, by our representatives in convention assembled, at St. Louis, on Monday the 12th day of June, 1820, do mutually agree to form and establish a free and independent republic, by the name of ‘the State of Missouri;’ and for the government thereof, do ordain and establish this constitution.”

This original constitution included 13 articles, establishing the boundaries of the future state, the system of government, the Missouri militia, the education system, and the amendment process. 

Missouri was admitted as the 24th state of the union on Aug. 10 of the following year. 

Missouri’s other constitutions

Missouri’s second constitution was ratified in 1865 following the end of the Civil War. As Missouri was not included in the Emancipation Proclamation due to its status as both a border state and part of the Union during the war, the second constitution ended the institution of slavery for the state. The 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution did so for the country as a whole later that year.

A third version was adopted in 1875 during the Reconstruction Era, during which the U.S dealt with the fallout of the Civil War. This draft included a provision establishing the segregation of Missouri’s school system and the appropriation of 25 percent of the state’s general revenue for education. 

Missouri’s fourth constitution was ratified in 1945 after the sixth Constitutional Convention wrote and approved it over the course of a year. This latest version has been amended numerous times and remains the state’s current constitution. 

Missourians have been given the option to vote in favor of a referendum to call another constitutional convention every 20 years as part of Article XII, which established the amendment process; thus far, the measure has never passed. The next option to do so is set for the November 2022 ballot.