ABOUT THIS BOOK
The Civil War revealed what united as well as what divided Americans in the nineteenth century—not only in its deadly military conflict, but also in the broader battle of ideas, dueling moral systems, and competing national visions that preceded and followed. This cultural civil war was the clash among North, South, and West, as their leaders sought to shape Manifest Destiny and slavery politics.
No site embodied this struggle more completely than St. Louis, the largest city along the border of slavery and freedom. In this sweeping history, Adam Arenson reveals a city at the heart of the cultural civil war. St. Louisans heralded a new future, erasing old patterns as the United States stretched across the continent. They tried to reorient the nation’s political landscape, with westerners in the vanguard and St. Louis as the cultural, commercial, and national capital. John C. Calhoun, Frederick Douglass, Walt Whitman, and John Brown tracked the progress of the cultural contest by monitoring events in St. Louis, observing how the city’s leaders tried yet ultimately failed to control the national destiny.
The interplay of local ambitions and national meanings reveals the wider cultural transformation brought about by westward expansion, political strife, and emancipation in the era of the Civil War and Reconstruction. This vibrant and beautifully written story enriches our understanding of America at a crossroads.
An ambitious, innovative, and engaging look at the pivotal role St. Louis played in the cultural contest to determine the destiny of the United States.
-- Stephen Aron, author of American Confluence
A sweeping, illuminating work that offers a fresh perspective on the period from the Mexican War to the post-Reconstruction era. Adding a western dimension to the sectional crisis of the Civil War era, Arenson's narrative is revelatory.
-- Michael A. Morrison, author of Slavery and the American West
In compelling prose that balances brilliant analyses with rich narrative details and lively anecdotes, Arenson offers an important new argument about nineteenth-century U.S. history. His book combines the most thorough scholarship with the pleasures of a frontier romance.
-- Aaron Sachs, author of The Humboldt Current
From the Great Fire of 1849 to the completion of the Eads Bridge in 1874, Arenson examines the cultural civil war through a city that aspired to be the unifying center of the American continental empire. St. Louis' successes and failures richly illuminate national travails as the promise of Manifest Destiny succumbed to the politics of slavery.
-- Louis S. Gerteis, author of Civil War St. Louis
Arenson sets St. Louis at the center of nineteenth-century America's 'cultural civil wars' as dramas of competing visions of the nation played out on the city's streets and docks and in its courtrooms, churches, and classrooms. In this beautifully crafted book, the national stories we thought we knew take some surprising turns.
-- Ann Fabian, author of The Skull Collectors
Arenson's beautifully told story of the rise and fall of St. Louis's efforts to invent itself as a center of American enlightenment and empire in the long Civil War era shows Manifest Destiny as a lived reality, with intoxicating and toxic implications for ordinary Americans.
-- Iver Bernstein, author of The New York City Draft Riots: Their Significance for American Society and Politics in the Age of the Civil War
This is a superb book. Careful and bold all at once, it reminds us that the 'gateway to the West' played a major role not only in the coming of the Civil War but in the contests— cultural, social, and racial—it so tragically provoked.
-- William Deverell, Director, Huntington –USC Institute on California and the West
Arenson's The Great Heart of the Republic...reveals the fresh and complex insights that close study of Missouri can yield for our understanding of nineteenth-century American history...Arenson's book offers a much broader interpretation of the Civil War than a typical work of local history. Rather than provide a comprehensive account of St. Louis's past, he uses the city's story to reveal a "nuanced, intimate history of the Civil War era from the heart of the republic." The result is a beautifully written and strikingly original interpretation of the causes, conduct, and consequences of the war. Like the authors of several recent works, Arenson wishes to reorient the discussion of sectionalism and the Civil War by emphasizing the West's importance in shaping the conflict. In Arenson's recounting, the war looks less like a fight between North and South over slavery, and more like a messy struggle between northerners, southerners, and westerners from a variety of ethnic, racial, and religious backgrounds...Arenson's work is wide ranging and ambitious, covering art, architecture, and historical memory as well as the history of politics and policy...Readers will discover a creative history of mid-nineteenth-century America in microcosm.
-- Andre M. Fleche History News Network
In the elegantly written, extensively researched The Great Heart of the Republic Adam Arenson looks at Civil War St. Louis and tells how it was unable to set aside sectional differences to transform itself into a truly national city.
-- Jane Henderson St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Arenson has something new to add to the literature of the Civil War, and he does so with a wonderfully nuanced argument and deft pen. Sure to have an enduring impact, this book delivers on its promise.
-- Stephen D. Engle American Historical Review
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Introduction: The Three Sides of the American Civil War
1. The Destruction of the Past
2. Thomas Hart Benton’s Failed Compromise
3. Building the National Future in the West
4. Antislavery Derailed
5. The Limits of Dred Scott’s Emancipation
6. Germans and the Power of Wartime Union
7. Building Union from Neutrality
8. Abraham Lincoln’s Lost Legacies
9. The Capital Failures of Reconstruction
10. Separating the City, County, and Nation
Epilogue: The Forgotten Civil War