Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Happy Birthday, Missouri!

Posted By on Tue, Aug 10, 2010 at 12:21 PM

click to enlarge IMAGE VIA

Today marks the 189th anniversary of Missouri's statehood. It's not really an auspicious number, so there aren't many celebrations going on. The closest one appears to be a concert at the First Missouri State Capitol Historical Site in St. Charles at 7 p.m.

We were going to complain that if the state's wise founding fathers had intended statehood day to be a celebratory occasion, they should have arranged for it to happen at a more temperate time of year. (The historical record is silent on the weather for August 10, 1821, but it's likely it wasn't pleasant.) But then we learned that provisions had already been made: the third Wednesday in October is Missouri Day, a chance for us all to celebrate Missouri's Missouri-ness (or something like that).

It takes a long time to become a state. Missouri's campaign for statehood actually began way back in January of 1818, though it took nearly a year for it to reach the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives. Statehood was delayed even further by the now-infamous Missouri Compromise, wherein, in order to appease those pesky abolitionists, Missouri would be admitted as a slave state but Maine would become a new free state, to keep the numbers even.

But did you know (alert: Interesting Historical Fact ahead!) that Missouri was almost the subject of the nation's first slavery abolition and emancipation bill? Yes, it's true! Back in 1819, Representative James Tallmadge of New York introduced a bill that would have required Missouri to stop importing slaves and to gradually free the slaves already within its borders.

The House actually voted to approve Tallmadge's bill, but it died when it reached the Senate. (Or, more accurately, it never even came up for a vote.) A year later, it was superseded by the Missouri Compromise. Without which Mark Twain, arguably the state's greatest writer, never would have had the raw material to write The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, his greatest book.

In honor of Statehood Day, here are a few of Missouri's more obscure, but still cherished, state symbols:

State Grape: Norton/Cynthiana grape (source of most Missouri wine) State Tree Nut: black walnut State Invertebrate: crawfish (or crawdaddy) State Reptile: three-toed box turtle, which is distinguished from the State Dinosaur: Hadrosaur State Horse: Missouri fox trotting horse, which is distinguished from the State Animal: Missouri mule State American Folk Dance: the square dance (presumably the Virginia Reel and the Hustle, the only other two American folk dances we could think of, were already taken)

And now, a moment from the Greatest Thing That Ever Happened in the State of Missouri. We refer, of course, to the 1904 World's Fair. (The 1804 Lewis and Clark expedition doesn't count since Missouri was not yet a state.) This category is not actually certified by the Secretary of State's office, but it should be.

Presenting, courtesy of the U.S. Library of Congress, the multi-talented belly dancer, Princess Rajah.

NB: Princess Rajah actually has no direct bearing on Statehood Day, though it's likely she performed on August 10, 1904. We just thought her act was interesting.

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