The issue of statehood for Missouri triggered a national controversy as Congress debated the future status of slavery in the land acquired through the Louisiana Purchase. The “Missouri Compromise” allowed Missouri to enter the Union as a slave state and Maine as a free state, thus keeping the balance of slave and free states equal in Congress.
In 1825, Missouri passed laws imposing various restrictions on both enslaved and free blacks. The General Assembly also endeavored to prevent abolitionist influence on Missouri slaves, and in 1837 passed an act to “prohibit the publication, circulation, and promulgation of the abolition doctrines” with hefty fines and/or imprisonment stipulated for violators.
By 1840, nearly 13 percent of Missouri’s population was composed of enslaved black people, while free black people made up less than one percent of the state’s residents. Still, the mood in the country was volatile, and the white people of the state feared a possible rebellion [of their allegedly happy slaves].
On this day in history, the Missouri General Assembly passed a law stating:
… [n]o person shall keep or teach any school for the instruction of negroes or mulattoes, in reading or writing, in this State.” ‖ Act of February 16, 1847, § 1, 1847 Mo. Laws 103.
As explained on the website of the Missouri State Government:
An uneducated black population made white citizens feel more secure against both abolitionists and slave uprisings, although it probably did little to suppress the desire for freedom.”
The act also forbade the migration of free blacks to the state. The penalty for anyone violating any of the law’s provisions was a fine not to exceed five thousand dollars, a jail term not to exceed six months, or a combination of fine and jail sentence.