36 MISSOURI HISTORICAL REVIEW.
Missouri in 1820.
BY JONAS VILES.
In 1820, the year of the first Missouri Compromise and
of the organization of the state government, Missouri, constituting as she did the extreme western outpost of settlement, was essentially a frontier community. But the institution of slavery, which had existed here since the earliest
French settlements, made the social and economic conditions
resemble more particularly those of Kentucky and Tennessee
at an earlier time and, to some degree, those of Alabama and
Mississippi of the same date. In this brief paper the general
aspects of a western state will be largely taken for granted
and attention devoted for the most part to what was more
particularly and exclusively Missourian.
The advantages of the new state in geographical location,
important as they were in its later history, or even the variety
of resources within its boundaries, are too well known to
demand extended description. Located opposite the mouth
of the Ohio, in 1820 still the great highway for the westward
movement of population, fronting on the Mississippi, the main
artery of the central valley, and including the lower course
of the Missouri, the gateway for years to come to the Northwest and even the Southwest, the economic future of the state
was assured. In Missouri itself the most noticeable topographical feature was the great dome-like Ozark uplift. With
its deeply eroded flanks and relatively smooth central portion of thin and poor soils it formed an obstacle around which
settlement flowed. In the rest of the state, except in the lead
district, settlement was as yet determined by accessibility
(which in 1820 meant waterways and river valleys), smoothness or roughness of the surface, and variations in the soil.
Of very slight importance, as yet, was the distinction, so
vital in a state like Illinois, between wooded area and prairie;
practically all the settled area was well timbered.