The Great Heart of the Republic: St. Louis and the Cultural Civil War

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Overview

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.

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Editorial Reviews

History News Network

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

St. Louis Post-Dispatch

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

American Historical Review

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

Stephen Aron
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.
Michael A. Morrison
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.
Aaron Sachs
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.
Louis S. Gerteis
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.
Ann Fabian
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.
Iver Bernstein
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.
William Deverell
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.
History News Network - Andre M. Fleche
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.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch - Jane Henderson
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.
American Historical Review - Stephen D. Engle
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.
History News Network
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. Fiche
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674052888
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 1/3/2011
  • Pages: 352
  • Sales rank: 1,016,885
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Adam Arenson is Assistant Professor of History, University of Texas at El Paso.
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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted February 27, 2011

    A groundbreaking book about the Civil War

    This is a truly remarkable--even game changing--book about the Civil War. It doesn't focus at all on the military aspects of the Civil War; barely a shot was fired in St. Louis. Instead, it zeros in on the social, cultural and ideological aspects of the most important war in our nation's history. The place where the battle for the nation's hearts and minds played out was, surprisingly, St. Louis. In fact, on the eve of the Civil War, it was the fourth largest city in the United States and the border between North and South, and, also pivotally, the gateway to the American West.

    You may know of Missouri as a border state and even now a bell weather state in presidential elections. But if you want to know about the place that was the epicenter of the Civil War conflict--not just between North and South but also to control the American West--- you must read this book. Beautifully written and researched, reading like a novel and just 200 pages long, this book will change the way you view the most important war in American history.

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