Our 14th Governor, Robert Marcellus Stewart, is Born: March 12, 1815

Robert Marcellus Stewart Portrait
Missouri History Museum

Robert Marcellus Stewart was born on this date in 1815, in Truxton, New York. Shortly after his birth, his family relocated to Trigg County, Kentucky. He then moved to Missouri with his family in 1829 and settled in Buchanan County. Stewart pursued his education at Cumberland College in Kentucky and later studied law, being admitted to the Missouri bar in 1838. He made his fortune speculating on land involved in the Platte Purchase and opened a law practice in St. Joseph.

Stewart’s political career saw him serving in the state senate from 1846 to 1857. He was elected governor in a special election in 1857 because the governor who’d been elected in 1856 also received an appointment to the US Senate, which he opted to take. Stewart served as governor from 1857 to 1861. His tenure was marked by efforts to maintain peace and stability in the state during the turbulent years leading up to the Civil War. He was a proponent of states’ rights and sought to keep Missouri in a state of “armed neutrality” leading up to the outbreak of war. Here’s what he said in his final address as governor:

“As matters are at present Missouri will stand by her lot, and hold to the Union as long as it is worth an effort to preserve it… In the mean time Missouri will hold herself in readiness, at any moment, to defend her soil from pollution and her property from plunder by fanatics and marauders, come from what quarter they may… She is able to take care of herself, and will be neither forced nor flattered, driven nor coaxed, into a course of action that must end in her own destruction.”

After his term as governor, Robert Marcellus Stewart continued to be involved in politics and law. In September of 1861 a railroad bridge outside St. Joseph was sabotaged by Confederate-sympathizing bushwhackers, killing at least 17 passengers and injuring another 100. The assailants claimed that the sabotage was intended to kill Governor Stewart.

Robert Marcellus Stewart passed away on September 21, 1871, in St. Joseph, Missouri. His legacy as a governor and legal professional remains a part of Missouri’s rich history.