As Manifest Destiny and slavery politics collided, the dreams of St. Louis—a border-state metropolis that uniquely mirrored the nation's regional, political, and ethnic diversity—shaped the national debates. This study utilizes the methods of cultural history, urban studies, and postcolonial histories of empire to investigate how St. Louis and the nation were forever transformed in the decades before, during, and after the Civil War.
Connecting events previously understood as outside the realm of politics to the nation's cultural transformation, this project considers the wider impact of the Civil War and Reconstruction. Cultural civil war is my term for the all-encompassing battle over slavery within U.S. society, decades in coming and generations more in consequence. Conflicts over slavery, emancipation, and rights for African-Americans in St. Louis preceded national debates, re-periodizing the history of Civil War and Reconstruction, reframing the Chicago-St. Louis rivalry, and answering persistent questions in the city's public memory.
Seeking a philosophy of compromise and national continuity through moderation, St. Louis leaders embraced the promise of Manifest Destiny. This ideology is best understood in limited, specific terms, as an idea brought about by the land hunger of the 1840s and a cause extinguished in the societal collapse of the Civil War and the failures of Reconstruction. In this original, “classic” formulation, Manifest Destiny was invoked as much to unify the disparate states of the America nation as to justify geographical expansion.
Letters, diaries, court records, newspapers, paintings, engravings, and artifacts in English, German, and French reveal the rich history of St. Louis. Among the events that connect local events and national trends, chapters pair the Great Fire of 1849 with the “American 1848”; the St. Louis Mercantile Library and Thomas Hart Benton's defeats; Washington University and nativism; the 1855 Gasconade River railroad disaster and “Bleeding Kansas”; the Dred Scott decision and emancipation in Missouri; German immigration and Union victory; testing Confederate sympathizers and flexible neutrality; Lincoln University, an 1865 “funeral” for the President, and Radical Reconstruction; the 1869 capital removal campaign and Liberal Republicanism; and the 1876 dedication of Forest Park with the Democratic National Convention and the city-county split.