Plague, politics, and printers: nativism and reactionary politics in St. Louis after the disasters of 1849
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[EMBARGOED UNTIL 6/1/2023] In 1849, St. Louis experienced two devastating events: a deadly cholera epidemic and a destructive fire. These two events had significant social, economic, and political consequences that would prefigure national trends towards nativism and organized political violence. Through the first half of the nineteenth century, St. Louis grew from a small French colonial outpost to a burgeoning metropolis on the Western frontier of the United States, and on the border of slavery and freedom. Its streets brought together diverse populations of native-born Americans and immigrants, Yankees and Southerners, slave-owners and those they enslaved. These groups vied for power in the city, sometimes resulting in political violence. The 1849 epidemic and fire decimated the city's population and scarred its economy. In this time of crisis, the city's Whig Party sensed an opportunity, cynically embraced nativism (reversing its previous stance), and fanned anti-German sentiment among voters to win political power for the first time in years. These flames grew into increasingly organized political violence, which had been present at smaller levels in the city for decades, culminating in an election day riot in 1852. These developments prefigured the nationwide lurch towards nativism embodied by the American (Know Nothing) Party later in the decade.