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Missouri’s bad boys statute

So the genealogical world — or at least the United States contingent — descends in force on St. Charles, Missouri, this week for the 2015 conference of the National Genealogical Society.

badboysThere are preliminary events taking place tomorrow, like the BCG Education Workshop on Putting Skills to Work, and the full conference kicks off Wednesday morning with a keynote address by J. Mark Lowe telling The Tales of Pioneer Paths: Rivers, Roads, & Rails.

And in honor of this Show Me State conference, The Legal Genealogist was doing the usual poke-around-in-the-statutes research last night, and came across a statute that… well… it was a bit of a surprise.

You might call it the bad boys statute, though it was totally gender neutral. You might call it the parents’ statute or the parents’-and-masters’ statute.

But since Missouri is the Show Me State, maybe we should all call it the “I’ll show YOU” statute since, after all, we can all probably think of one time or another in our lives when we’ve stood in front of a disapproving parent, with the evidence showing something that we wish we hadn’t done… and we can all hear in our minds the voice of that parent: “Well, then I’ll show YOU what happens when you…”

The area of what became Missouri first became part of the United States as part of the Louisiana Purchase, ratified by the United States Senate in 1803.1 American governance of the area technically began with the creation of two districts, Orleans and Louisiana, out of the Louisiana Purchase lands,2 followed by the creation of the Louisiana Territory.3 In 1812, Louisiana was admitted as a state, and the territory north of the new state became the Missouri Territory.4

So Missouri was governed, first, by the Laws of the Louisiana Territory,5 and then the Laws of the Missouri Territory.6 And in those territorial laws, you will find this provision:

If any children or servants, shall contrary to the obedience due to their parents or masters, resist or refuse, to obey their lawful commands, upon complaint thereof to any justice of the peace, it shall be lawful for such justice, to send him or them so offending to the jail or house of correction there to remain, until he or they shall humble themselves to the said parent’s or master’s satisfaction. And if any child or servant shall contrary to his bouuden duty presume to assault and strike his parent or master, upon complaint and conviction thereof, before two or more justices of the peace, the offender shall be whipped not exceeding ten stripes.7

Wouldn’t you just love to have a court record of a case brought under that statute…?

And can’t you just hear the parent’s voice: “Oh yeah? Well, I’ll show YOU…”

And no, sorry, Missouri parents, it isn’t still part of Missouri law. It went by the wayside after Missouri was admitted as a state and passed its first revised code in 1825.8


  1. The Senate Approves the Louisiana Purchase Treaty,” History, U.S. Senate ( : accessed 10 May 2015).
  2. An Act erecting Louisiana into two territories, and providing for the temporary government thereof,” 2 Stat. 283 (1804); digital images, “A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774-1875,” Library of Congress, American Memory ( : accessed 10 May 2015).
  3. An Act further providing for the government of the district of Louisiana,” 2 Stat. 331 (1805).
  4. An act providing for the government of the territory of Missouri,” 2 Stat. 743 (1812).
  5. See The Laws of the Territory of Louisiana (St. Louis : Territorial Printer, 1808); digital images, HathiTrust Digital Library ( : accessed 10 May 2015).
  6. See Henry S. Geyer, A Digest of the Laws of Missouri Territory (St. Louis : Joseph Charles, 1818); digital images, Google Books ( : accessed 10 May 2015).
  7. The provision appears, identical word for word with only a minor difference in punctuation, in both §32 of “An Act for the punishment of certain crimes,” 4 November 1808, in The Laws of the Territory of Louisiana at 322, and in §27 of Crimes and Misdemeanors in A Digest of the Laws of Missouri Territory at 153.
  8. See Laws of the State of Missouri, 2 vols. (St. Louis : State Printer, 1825); digital images, Google Books ( : accessed 10 May 2015).
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