March 14, 1835 – Missouri General Assembly Passes Law Requiring Free Blacks to Obtain a License to Remain in the State

As Ebony Jenkins points out, writing for the National Park Service in “Freedom Licenses in St. Louis City and County 1835-1865,”

The State of Missouri, after the Missouri Compromise of 1820, was a slave state. However, it was also considered a ‘border state,’ for it was bordered to the east and the north by states in which slavery was illegal. The slave-owning power elite of Missouri wanted very badly to prevent free people of color from neighboring states from moving in and influencing the slaves living in the area. The slave owners believed that if free persons of color came to the area they would encourage the slaves to rebel against their owners or use tactics to encourage slaves to pressure their owners to emancipate them.”

To that end, on March 14, 1835, this day in history, the Missouri General Assembly passed a law that required free “negroes and mulattoes” to apply for a license to remain in the state. Black people who failed to do so faced fines up to $100, incarceration, and expulsion from Missouri.

Not only did they have to go to the court and possess the qualifications to apply for a freedom license, but, as Jenkins reports, the applicant also had to be either born in Missouri or prove that they ‘were residents of this state on the seventh day of January, in the year eighteen hundred and twenty-five, and continue to be such residents at the taking effect of this act’ and ‘produce satisfactory evidence that he is of the class of persons who may obtain such license, that he is of good character and behavior, and capable of supporting himself by lawful employment, [that] the court may grant him a license to reside with the state.’”

Although the act was approved on March 14, 1835, it was not enforced by St. Louis County until the County Court met in December of 1835. The initial application for and granting of freedom licenses went on for five days, from December 14, 1835 to December 19, 1835. This represented the largest number of free persons of color to receive freedom licenses in a single month, 142, all probably long-term residents of the city who complied with the new law so they could continue to reside in the state of Missouri, per Jenkins.

The licensing of free African Americans continued from December 1835 to May 1863. During that period 1,492 people were approved to receive a freedom license by the St. Louis County Court. A larger number of freedom license recipients were men, possibly heads of households; there were 806 male applicants and 686 female applicants.

But apparently that number was far too great for the good white citizens of Missouri. On February 23, 1843, the General Assembly of the State of Missouri enacted a law that was entitled “An Act more effectually to prevent free persons of color from entering into the State, and for other purposes.” The law stated:

The county courts of this State shall grant a license to any free negro or person of color, who may be a native of this State, or who may have continued to reside in this State since the first day of January eighteen hundred forty; provided, such free person of color shall enter into a bond to the State, with one or more securities, for his or her good behavior, in a penalty not exceeding one thousand dollars, conditioned that such free negro or person of color shall be of good behavior.”

After Missouri’s Emancipation Proclamation of January 1865, freedom licenses were no longer needed and were void.

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