Racists Were Properly Denied the Right to Vote by the 1865 Missouri State Constitution
by John Spritzler
December 13, 2019
The URL of this article for sharing it is https://www.pdrboston.org/1865-missouri-racists-can-t-vote
The Constitution of the state of Missouri was completely re-written in 1865 just after the Civil War. The new constitution was designed to prevent the substantial and often still-violent pro-slavery minority of the population from taking power and restoring slavery or its equivalent. The constitution "restricted the right to vote to only those who had been loyal to Missouri and the Union." Furthermore it "required teachers, lawyers, clergy, and all voters to promise that they had not committed a long list of disloyal acts. These groups were targeted for their influence over the general population." [The source for this here, and the handwritten constitution can be viewed here.]
Some people think that a genuine democracy means a democracy of ALL the people. People who believe this, even those who are totally opposed to slavery, think that it was wrong to deny people the right to vote because of their pro-slavery views. On the contrary, however, it was absolutely morally right to deny pro-slavery people the vote. Here's why.
When there is a fundamental conflict in society, such as whether to make slavery (or its equivalent) legal, a conflict in other words in which neither side will accept defeat merely because of some non-violent decision rule such as majority vote, and will only accept defeat when confronted with violent force or its credible threat, then there cannot be a "democracy of ALL the people." A "democracy of ALL the people" would mean, by definition, that the decision about the fundamental conflict would be decided WITHOUT FORCE, by some agreed-upon decision rule such as majority vote that gave ALL people an equal say in the outcome. In the case of a fundamental conflict such a "democracy of ALL the people" is clearly impossible.
The anti-slavery people in Missouri in 1865 understood perfectly that the pro-slavery people were going to fight violently to retain slavery (in one form or another) and that they would not stop fighting this way no matter how any vote went in some legislature. One of these pro-slavery people was the infamous outlaw, Jesse James. His violence was in large part pro-slavery violence, as one can read about in the book, Jesse James: the Last Rebel of the Civil War, by T. J. Stiles.
A democracy--meaning an agreement to resolve differences peaceably by using a non-violent decision rule that gives everybody an equal say--is only possible among people who share fundamental values. When there is a fundamental conflict, such as whether or not there should be slavery, and neither side would ever give up the fight until defeated by violent force or its credible threat, then there cannot be a democracy among all the people on both sides of the conflict.
Today there is a fundamental conflict over whether there should be class inequality or not. The rich upper class, especially the billionaire plutocracy, will never accept the abolition of class inequality (the abolition of their enormous wealth, power and privilege) just because they lost some vote in a legislature, any more than the pro-slavery people in the Confederacy accepted the abolition of slavery just because of some vote. That's why there was a Civil War!
And likewise, ordinary people today only grudgingly accept and tolerate class inequality because they know the rich will use violent police or even military force against them if they try to stop the rich from enjoying their enormous wealth, power and privilege. The rich today use their power to dominate and control the supposedly democratic process that exists. This is why even though the vast majority of people hate class inequality, our so-called "democracy of all the people" will never outlaw class inequality.
Our so-called "democracy of all the people" does not allow us to vote to abolish class inequality, and even if it did and a majority voted to end it, the ruling billionaire plutocracy would never say, "OK, you won the vote; we will let you abolish class inequality now." The ruling billionaire plutocracy would do what the slave owners in the American South did when they lost the presidential vote in 1860--use all the violence they could muster to defend slavery! What we actually have is a dictatorship of the rich, a fake democracy.
When the people who want to abolish class inequality have real power (a.k.a. an egalitarian revolution), they will no more allow people who want class inequality to have the vote than the people opposed to slavery allowed pro-slavery people to have the vote. This is morally right, and common sense. Governments are organizations for achieving a goal. Organizations do not admit members who clearly oppose the goal of the organization. Fire departments, for example, do not hire known arsonists. The decision-making bodies of fire departments do not debate WHETHER OR NOT to put out a fire; they debate HOW to put out a fire.
We need a government that has the goal of shaping society by the egalitarian values of no-rich-and-no-poor equality and mutual aid. People who are known to oppose that goal should be excluded from the government. If they are allowed to be part of the government (as voters or representatives) then the government will be forced to debate WHETHER OR NOT to shape society by egalitarian values, instead of properly debating HOW to shape society by egalitarian values.
This is not complicated. But what makes it seem complicated to many people is the fact that the rich have been deliberately confusing us with schooling and propaganda telling us that we have, and ought to have, a "democracy of ALL the people." The rich understand that this is a bogus concept, that there cannot be a "democracy of ALL the people" when some want class inequality and others don't. The rich understand that what they call a "democracy of ALL the people" today is really a fake democracy, a dictatorship of the rich. We need to understand this too, just as the anti-slavery people in Missouri did in 1865 when the violent Civil War removed illusions they may have had about the possibility of a "democracy of ALL the people" when some wanted slavery.