In The Great Heart of the Republic Adam Arenson redirects attention from the North/South division that is common in Civil War history toward a cultural civil war involving three regions: North, South, and West. Arenson believes St. Louis, a slave-state metropolis and gateway to the Great West, to be an ideal location for viewing this cultural conflict. Arenson is not the first historian to examine the importance of the West to the Civil War; typically the historiography has concentrated on how slavery's expansion into the West brought on the conflict. Arenson instead argues that the West was the site of competing visions that reflected and shaped the national divisions.

An 1849 fire in St. Louis eradicated the city's pre-American past. The conflagration offered the chance...

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