The enabling act passed by Congress directed Missouri to draft a constitution. The acrimonious debates in Congress in which northern interests proposed to dictate terms of the state constitution alienated even some Missourians who favored restriction of slavery.
The enabling act delineated the number of delegates by county, with 41 total delegates. Delegate election occurred on the first Monday and two succeeding days of May, 1820. While both parties presented candidates to the voters, restrictionists were in the minority. Thus, voters elected strong pro-slavery men.
In 1820, Southeast Missouri had five counties: Ste. Genevieve, Madison, Wayne, Cape Girardeau, and New Madrid. Delegates elected from these counties included R. F. Brown, H. Dodge, John D. Cook, and John Scott from Ste. Genevieve; Nathaniel Cook from Madison; Dr. Elijah Bettis from Wayne; Stephen Byrd, James Evans, Richard S. Thomas, Alexander Buckner, and Joseph McFerron from the most populous Cape Girardeau; and Robert D. Dawson and Christopher G. Houts from New Madrid.
All delegates were prominent citizens. John D. Cook, as one example, was younger brother of Nathaniel Cook. He practiced law in Ste. Genevieve County, and became a justice of the Missouri Supreme Court after statehood. He resigned and became judge of the 10th Judicial Circuit in Southeast Missouri for over 20 years.
The convention convened in June 1820 in St. Louis at the “Mansion House,” at the corner of Third and Vine. Delegates chose David Barton president, and William G. Pettus secretary. Only 38 days later, on July 19, and at a cost of $26.25 for stationery and supplies, the convention completed its task. Exactly what was in the first Missouri Constitution? Tune in for the next Missouri Bicentennial Minute. I’m Bill Eddleman.