Neither North nor South: sectionalism, St. Louis politics, and the coming of the Civil War, 1846-1861
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St. Louis played a central role in the sectional conflict that escalated in the United States in the years between the Mexican War and the Civil War. The acquisition of western territory placed St. Louis close to the geographical center of the United States. The city played the same role politically, as northern, southern, and eastern factions battled for its control. Most of Missouri remained loyal to the Democratic party and its proslavery southern leaders, but many St. Louis Democrats supported the Free Soil party, which later solidified into a base of Republican voters that helped keep Missouri in the Union in 1861. As residents of a state that owed its very existence to sectional compromise, Missourians hoped nationalism would prevail, and boosted plans for internal improvements, including a transcontinental railroad, in order to take attention away from the slavery issue. However, neutrality proved not to be an option in St. Louis. Leaders like Thomas Hart Benton, Frank Blair, and B. Gratz Brown emphasized the city’s ties to the West but could not ignore its ties to the North and South. St. Louis, with its ties to all sections of the country, became a political battleground as parties andsectional factions struggled to control the future. Missouri was the only state in the country to give all of its electoral votes in the 1860 presidential election to northern Democrat Stephen Douglas. Many voters in St. Louis cast their ballots for Republican Abraham Lincoln, who was not even on the ballot in most slave states. Missouri also was the only state to hold a secession convention and vote not to secede. The Civil War forced a North vs. South division on areas of the country that considered themselves part of neither section. As Missouri strove for compromise nationally, so didSt. Louis within the state. From the Mexican War to the Civil War St. Louis found itself consumed by a contest of sections; between 1846 and 1861 the city’s residents were forced to choose sides for a fight they were at the same time desperately trying to avoid.