(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Stephen Brice accepts the offer of Judge Whipple, his father’s friend, who promises Stephen an opportunity to enter his law firm. In 1858, he moves from Boston to St. Louis with his widowed mother. A personable young man, Stephen finds favor among the people of St. Louis, including Colonel Carvel, and the colonel’s daughter, Virginia. Stephen promptly falls in love with Virginia Carvel. He is not encouraged by the young woman at first because he is a New Englander.

One day, Judge Whipple sends Stephen to Springfield, Illinois, with a message for the man who is running for senator against Stephen A. Douglas. When Stephen finally finds his man, Abraham Lincoln, he is in time to hear the famous Freeport debate between Lincoln and Douglas. Lincoln makes a deep impression on Stephen, who goes back to St. Louis a confirmed Republican, as Judge Whipple hoped. Feeling that Stephen will someday be a great politician, the judge had sent him to Lincoln to catch some of Lincoln’s idealism and practical politics.

Convinced by Lincoln that no country can exist half slave and half free, Stephen becomes active in Missouri politics on behalf of the Republicans, a dangerous course to take in St. Louis because of the many Southerners living in the city. His antislavery views soon alienate Stephen from the woman he wants to marry, who then promises to marry Stephen’s rival, her cousin and fellow Southerner, Clarence Colfax.

Lincoln loses the election for the U.S. Senate, but in doing so he wins the presidency of the United States in 1860. During both campaigns, Stephen works for the Republican Party. An able orator, he becomes known as a rising young lawyer of exceptional abilities.

The guns at Fort Sumter reverberate loudly in St. Louis in 1861. The city is divided into two factions, proslavery Southerners and antislavery Northerners. Friends of long standing no longer speak to one another, and members of the same family find themselves at odds over the question of which side Missouri should favor, the Union or the Confederacy. It is a trying time for Stephen. With a widowed mother and his political activities to look after, he is unable to join the army. Judge Whipple convinces him that, for the time being, he can do more for his country as a civilian. It is hard for the young man to believe the judge when all of Stephen’s friends and acquaintances are going about the city in uniform.

When war is declared, Missouri has a little campaign of its own, as the state militia, under the direction of the governor, tries to seize the state. This attempt is defeated by the prompt action of federal forces in capturing the militia training camp without firing a shot. A spectator at that minor engagement, Stephen makes the acquaintance of a former army officer named William T. Sherman and of another shambling man who...

(The entire section is 1168 words.)