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The American Civil War (1861-65) represented a confession that the system failed in finding a solution to the issue of slavery for political conflicts more important between the great North American regions, North and South. It was proof of that even in one of the oldest democracies, there was a time when only war could overcome political antagonisms. (Maria 1). Before the war, St. Louis had remained neutral to the North and South conflicts and was a thriving multi-diverse community. As Lanman (14) explains in his book "A Summer in the Wilderness embracing a canoe voyage up the Mississippi and around Lake Superior", the Mississippi River was of unique interest as it enabled trade among the population due to its strategic location. This essay explores the state of St. Louis before the war including the events that caused the war which still divides the population over a century since. The analysis and synthesis of various literary works indicate that Slavery due to greed significantly triggered an otherwise neutral city into the darkest corners of humanity with families fighting against each other and lots of bloodshed.
During the civil war, the federal navy imposed an economic blockade on the Confederacy, causing the suspension of the Mississippi River and the St. Louis economy to be hit hard. During the period, St. Louis also produced armored ships for the Federal Navy. After the civil war, the St. Louis economy quickly recovered and became the window of western development. The Eads Bridge was completed in 1874 and was the first public-use dual-use bridge across the middle and lower reaches of the Mississippi River. The Eads Bridge connects St. Louis, Missouri and East St. Louis, Illinois and replaces the ferry, connecting the railway networks on both sides. The Eads Bridge has been used to this day and has become one of the important symbols of the city of St. Louis. Thanks to improved transportation, various manufacturing plants are launched along the banks of the Mississippi River.
Saint Louis before the Civil War
Located at the confluence of the Missouri River and the Mississippi River, St. Louis was the largest city at the border of what represented slavery and freedom. It was also a transportation hub for the Midwestern United States. Before the war, St. Louis had a population of about 160,000 residents most of whom lived near the Mississippi River. Out of the 160,000, there were 60,000 German-born people while 40,000 had an Irish ancestry (Woods 7). As the city flourished there was a steady flow of Swiss and French immigrants including more free slaves majority of whom were black. Majority of the immigrants were from neighboring Kentucky, Virginia, and Tennessee accompanied by their slaves. Even though slavery was still being practiced, it was not as intense as other cities. The slaves were allowed to stay in decent farms and were smaller in number, about 20 slaves for a large owner. The diversity of the City was represented by the peaceful co-existence of the people with Mississippi being at the center on trade. Farmers used the rivers to grow hemp, used in making ropes. The hemp would be carried down Mississippi River to St. Louis and further South for use in packing bales of cotton.
From its foundation, the United States was divided among the North and the South. St, Louis was located at the border to the Southern states. The South was particularly known for its advocacy for slavery while the north questioned the idea that some Americans were enslaved in their own land against the principle of humanity. As a result, the north gave refuge to fugitive slaves from the South. In the end, America had to confront the issue of slavery as Southerners fought to keep their "property" while Northerners set them free. With the pressure from the south increasing, Congress set the Compromise of 1850 with the hope it would calm down the situation. This compromise meant that all fugitives had to return to their masters. As the authors Nagler, Jorg, Doyle, and Graser (20) asserts, instead of the Fugitive Slave Act uniting the country, it caused more divisions which set them to a civil war.
In the 1860 presidential elections, Abraham Lincoln led Republicans to advocate for the abolishment of slavery across all US territories, a plan that angered the Southern states which considered slavery as their constitutional right. After Lincoln's successful election as the first republican president, several of the Southern states with the highest proportion of slaves withdrew from the Union. In February 1861, seven southern states out of 34 states of the United States of America individually declared they had seceded from the US to form the Confederate States of America. Although the United States government did not diplomatically recognize the confederate, more states continued to secede increasing membership to eleven. Loyal States remained part of the US and were referred to as the North or the Union.
Although Lincoln advocated for the end of slavery, he insinuated that he had no intention of interfering with the practice in regions where it existed. However, members who had seceded the Union to form the Confederacy seized federal property within the areas they occupied setting the nation into the path of the civil war. During this time, St. Louis divided the confederate into two along the Mississippi River and was critical to both factions. Huge differences in opinions and ideology saw the city divided among the various ethnicities. People who once lived together now became enemies with each other in a civil war that saw the death of over 750,000 soldiers and civilians both from the Union and the Confederate (McPherson 37).
While St. Louis and the major part of Missouri State remained neutral in the prelude to the war, the events of 10th May 1961 put the city in a situation where people had to make a choice. Although Missouri was a slave state and was undecided on whether it was separated from the federal government before the civil war, and St. Louis was on the border between slave states and Free states, various political forces before the civil war clashed fiercely in St. Louis. In the civil war, St. Louis was controlled by forces loyal to the Union, but there were no shortages of extremists to create riots. On May 10, 1861, supporters of the Confederacy caused a riot causing federal troops to open fire on rioters killing 28 civilians in what came to be known as the Camp Jackson Affair (Rable 17). The events of the Camp Jackson Affair were caused by what the Union deemed resistance from the State of Missouri in joining the war. St. Louis had wanted to secede from the union and join the Confederacy.
Due to its strategic location, the city was intended to be the national capital, commercial and cultural center of the nation. Newly elected Missouri governor, Claiborne F. Jackson was a southern sympathizer but failed to garner enough support from delegates of a constitutional convention he had called to remove Missouri and hence St. Louis from the Union. As a reactionary move, Jackson planned on seizing St. Louis federal military arsenal with the help of the Confederate States. Informed of this plan, the Union's Captain Nathaniel Lyon arrived at St. Louis first and managed to stop the seizure before it happened. It is these events that caused a riot which ended with 28 civilian deaths thereby setting St. Louis on the warpath.
The legacy of fugitive slave provisions in the antebellum United States is often lost in contemporary retellings of the history of slavery. The analyzed literature details the complex and grim history of enslaved individuals' escapes from servitude and the legislation and politicians that prevented these attempts. This history is the most succinct account of the changing conditions in America leading to the Civil War, and a cautionary tale for those today who think they and their tribe have all the answers. This hardening of perceptions and positions has led to the present situation. On the one hand, militias and Oath Keepers, on the other, rebels. Compared with the public conversation in the first half of the Nineteenth Century, the talk today is largely vapid, empty and reckless. It is sad the friends are afraid to talk about public issues. Fear of anger or fear of free fact claims is rampant. Today, there is a real danger of institutional illegitimacy. Thus went the U.S. In 1861, Germany in 1932 and Russia in 1918. We have to get a grip and begin talking to each other without the rancor, without the fear, and without the umbrage.
Lanman, Charles. A Summer in the Wilderness: Embracing a Canoe Voyage Up the Mississippi and Around Lake Superior. No. 28. New York: D. Appleton, 1847.
Maria Altman. Missouri's Civil War tipping point: 150 years after The Camp Jackson Affair. Retrieved from < https://news.stlpublicradio.org/post/missouris-civil-war-tipping-point-150-years-after-camp-jackson-affair#stream/0>
McPherson, James M. The war that forged a nation: why the Civil War still matters. Oxford University Press, USA, 2015.
Nagler, Jorg, Don H. Doyle, and Marcus Graser, eds. The Transnational Significance of the American Civil War. Springer, 2016.
Rable, George C. "Index to Sherman's Civil War: Selected Correspondence of William T. Sherman, 1860-1865." (2018).
Sandweiss, Lee Ann, ed. Seeking St. Louis: voices from a river city, 1670-2000. Missouri History Museum, 2000.
Woods, Michael. Bleeding Kansas: Slavery, Sectionalism, and Civil War on the Missouri-Kansas Border. Routledge, 2016.
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