Missouri Bicentennial Minutes: Missouri's First Constitution

Jul 23, 2020

Welcome to the Missouri Bicentennial Minute from the State Historical Society of Missouri. The first Missouri Constitution, drafted mainly by David Barton, was adopted by the convention and not submitted to the voters for approval. Some historians praise the document as “a marvel of moderation and political sagacity,” and it remained in effect until after the Civil War.

Unique provisions in the document included regulation of slavery, notably a requirement that the General Assembly enact legislation preventing free people of color from moving into the state. Most people of the time viewed political preaching negatively, which is probably why a provision that “no bishop, priest, clergyman, or teacher of any religious persuasion, denomination, society or sect” could serve in the General Assembly, or in any paid office except justice of the peace.

Local officials were to establish public schools as soon as possible in each township, which were to be free for the poor. The constitution authorized “one banking company” with up to five branches, with no more than one branch established in any one session of the General Assembly.

The voters chose the Governor and Lieutenant Governor, and the General Assembly chose the Treasurer. The Governor appointed all other offices. The Supreme Court, a Chancellor, and Circuit Courts comprised the judiciary, with inferior courts to be established. The Governor appointed judges, who served on good behavior but had to be aged 30-59.

One unique provision was a declaration of rights, including those in the U. S. Bill of Rights, but adding others. This section has survived in all versions of Missouri’s Constitution. The state forwarded the completed constitution to Congress for approval, and prepared for its first elections. We’ll discuss that next time. I’m Bill Eddleman.