The epic struggle between traditional, agrarian society and modern industrial capitalism was played out on the national stage as the War between the States. The same struggle between traditional and modern values split Illinois between "Egypt"--the southern region populated by yeoman farmers who came to Illinois from Kentucky, Virginia, Missouri, and other southern states--and the Yankee-dominated, urban north.
Richard J. Jensen treats Illinois as a microcosm of the nation, arguing that its history exhibits basic conflicts that had much to do with shaping American society in general. Northern reformers in Illinois were intent on remaking the state in their image: middle-class, egalitarian, urban, and progressive. These values clashed with the patriarchal supremacy and intense loyalty to kin and ken by which the people of southern Illinois, and the South, organized their lives.
When the Civil War broke out, sympathy for the Confederacy ran high in southern Illinois. Although the region officially supported the Union, guerrilla bands terrorized Unionists, and in Charleston a full-scale riot against Federal troops erupted in 1864. The Union victory decisively shifted both the nation and Illinois toward faster modernization. Violence became more bureaucratized, and localism eroded with the onslaught of chain franchises, consolidated schools, and homogenized suburbs. Jensen extends his discussion to the emergence of newer, postmodern conflicts that continue to occupy the people of Illinois.
Without neglecting the high-profile individuals and events that put the Prairie State on the map, Jensen offers an innovative, wide-angle view that expands our perspective on Illinois history.