Title page for ETD etd-04032012-143710

Type of Document Master's Thesis
Author Varin, Vanessa
Author's Email Address Vvarin1@lsu.edu
URN etd-04032012-143710
Title “Pure Americanism": Building a Modern St. Louis and the Reign of Know Nothingism
Degree Master of Arts (M.A.)
Department History
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Cooper, William J. Committee Chair
Foster, Gaines Committee Member
Isenberg, Nancy Committee Member
  • American Party
  • Urbanism
  • Civil War
  • Nativism
Date of Defense 2012-02-29
Availability unrestricted
This thesis will explore the relationship between the rise of the Know Nothing Party and the modernization of St. Louis, the first Western metropolis. By the mid-1850s, two distinct visions of St. Louis existed. On one side of the ideological aisle, Democrats and conservative Whigs cautiously pursued an economic policy that advocated a slow but steady growth in St. Louis’ city infrastructure. But by 1850, a new faction of wealthy Yankee merchants, stirred by dreams of empire and western supremacy, challenged the traditional approach and strategically joined the national Know Nothing movement.

Influenced by the intellectual currents of the American Revolution, Nativists engendered a new form of republicanism termed “pure Americanism,” which incorporated notions of honor and civic virtue that served as a foundation for a myriad of intellectual and social systems they privately funded across the city. These institutions defined their vision of a modern city, where order and class distinctions were respected and private domains served as models for masculine conceptions of behavior and public propriety. Recasting the character of St. Louis ultimately moved beyond the borders of Missouri as Nativists explored how St. Louis and the pure Americanism paradigm could serve as a remedy for the rancorous spirit that had threatened national unity by 1857. The modern city, the group poignantly argued, would save the country.

Ultimately, this thesis will tell an altogether different story of St. Louis, through

the successes and dilemmas of the Know Nothing Party as it engineered contemporary social reform. Utilizing the interplay of class and republican ideology, I will demonstrate the relationship between conceptions of modernity and westward expansion in antebellum America.

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