During the 1860s the Planters’ House on Fourth and Pine was not only St. Louis’ premier hotel. It was also the social center of the town and a meeting place for the city’s movers and shakers. Planters’ House was the obvious choice for a conference of several powerful men who were vying for Missouri in the war that had just exploded in South Carolina and was rapidly engulfing the entire nation. Following the debacle of Camp Jackson, where Confederate sympathizers in the state militia tried to confiscate federal weapons from the St. Louis arsenal, four men from opposing sides of the conflict agreed to a meeting to discuss the delicate and dangerous situation.
Governor Claiborne Jackson was getting the state ready to enter the Confederacy, while General Sterling Price, commander of the southern-leaning Missouri Guard, was hoping for some kind of reconciliation. Unionists Frank Blair and General Nathaniel Lyon were committed to rescuing Missouri from the secessionists and willing to save the Union by any means possible. Seated at a magnificent mahogany table in one of the Planters’ House sumptuous meeting rooms, these men debated for four hours. Finally, so the story goes, the fiery Unionist Lyon declared: “I would see every man, woman, and child in Missouri under the sod before I consent that the State should dictate to the federal Government…”
With this ultimatum ringing in their ears, Governor Jackson and General Price decamped for Jefferson City, with General Lyon and his forces soon in pursuit. Lyon died in battle a few weeks later and Governor Jackson of cancer the following year; but the others would live through the devastation of this war that divided our nation and sundered families and erstwhile friends.
Planters’ House barely survived the war, but a new owner spruced it up and restored it to its former glory. The magnificent hotel reigned over Fourth and Pine until a fire destroyed it twenty years later. No trace of this grand hotel remains today.
We cannot say the same for the Civil War. Far too many traces of this tragic war remain. Like the men of that four-hour debate at the Planters’ House in 1861, we have contested and conflicting histories of the war. It has influenced discussions and decisions to this very day, and even now can make tempers flare and spirits sink. But, again like Price and Blair and Lyon and Jackson when they agreed to the meeting, we must make an attempt at reconciliation. We must learn to tell a story that includes all of us, with an effort to at least consider our neighbor’s perspective. Our future depends on it.
(The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of St. Louis Public Radio.)
Bob Archibald is the President of the Missouri Historical Society