North and West
No one in the world has had as many chances as the American to
draw the boundaries of autonomous political jurisdictions with due
regard for geographical, economic, and cultural considerations. Most
of the chances were muffed. The shapes of the original thirteen
colonies were pointless enough. Compare Rhode Island with New
York. Too, New Jersey, Maryland and Delaware. There is hardly a
reasonable boundary line from North to South.
Of course, we know that there was already a perception that the
small states might be asked to rectify themselves out of existence if
they did not guard their borders; so they insisted upon inserting a
clause in the Constitution that forbade any change in state
boundaries without the consent of the states involved. On the
western side of the original Thirteen States, however, it may be said
that the ridges of the Alleghenies justify the lines in some cases.
Then begin the combinations of rectangles and rivers, and even these
become more meaningless when the rivers out West become less
influential. When Jefferson said that a revolution every
generation may be a good thing, he should explicitly have added that
a change of boundaries every generation might also be good. This
would allow for demographic and economic changes.
(But not until the age of computers -- actually not until after the traumatic
experience of bearing the info-behemoth through the year 2000 -
will we have been able to change all the millions of dependent
records to conform immediately to the new lines.)
The same absurdity is present in the boundaries of the several
thousand counties of the country. And the situation respecting cities
is as bad and has worse consequences because of the enormous
inefficiencies generated by the clash of dozens of jurisdictions within
a given metropolitan area. I say this as I look at the map of the
Northern and Western states, and, too, at the metropolitan regions
of the East and Midwest.
We know how the pieces were acquired. In fact, we now know how
all of the continental United States was acquired. Puerto Rico, Hawaii,
the little islands, and Alaska can be dealt with later. We know that five
early new states lined up along the Ohio River,
Kentucky (1792), Ohio (1803), Indiana (1816), Illinois (1818), and
Tennessee (1796), which wedged itself in to where the Ohio enters
the Mississippi River. The states of Alabama and Mississippi stand
up above the Gulf of Mexico. It is not at all clear why Florida
(1845) should have been left with its Panhandle running below
Georgia and Alabama (1819), although its history tells why.
Louisiana (1812) sits compactly in part below Mississippi (1817),
reasonably in view of the ecological and ethnic makeup of the huge
delta, but then shoots up to a straight line boundary with Arkansas
(1836). Why? No good reason.
All the way to Canada we find these straight lines, with Missouri
(1821), Iowa (1846), and Minnesota (1858). Back across the "Father
of Waters" we find straight lines separating Wisconsin (1848) from
Illinois, and Indiana and Ohio from Michigan (1847).
For no good reason, Michigan leaps across Lake Michigan to form an
enclave that distinguishes itself from Wisconsin by a squiggly
line. The business of this area is definitely to the South in Wisconsin
and Illinois, except where governmental decree forces it to cross the
Lake into the real Michigan to pay taxes and receive
state salaries and benefits.
A second tier of states is drawn about Texas (1845). The first block
has an unreasonable panhandle, and was designed to box in some
Indian tribes that had been conveyed on death marches from the East.
It became Oklahoma ultimately (1875) with shrunken Indian nations
included. Above Oklahoma, big trouble begins: Kansas territory (1854;
statehood 1861), where slavers occupy the South and Free Soilers the
North. A line is drawn and the solution seems to appear, Nebraska
Territory (1854, statehood 1867), that, said the Southerners,
could be made free, if Kansas were to be a slave state.
Never, said John Brown and many others.
Above Nebraska a straight line is drawn, and to the North the Dakota
territories (1861), soon to be sliced in half into North
Dakota (l889) and South Dakota (1889). Much of this is Indian
country, supposedly reserved for the Sioux nation and others.
We step to the West and we come upon the remaining eleven states,
all of them affected by rectangularism. The first tier from South to
North holds New Mexico (1863, statehood 1912), Colorado (1861,
statehood 1876), Wyoming (1863, statehood 1890) and Montana
(1864, statehood 1889). The second tier contains Arizona (1863,
statehood 1912), Utah (1868, statehood 1896) and Nevada (1864)
side by side, then Idaho (1863, statehood 1890), with its panhandle
pointing up to Canada). Only the Pacific Coast trio is left,
California (1850), Oregon (1859), and
Washington (1863, statehood 1889).
Territories, we note, waited varying lengths of time
before gaining statehood; California waited not at all,
Utah until 1896, Arizona for 60 years;
the time taken had nothing to do with preparation or tutelage,
but to national political issues, such as sectionalism, slavery, party
affiliation in the territory,the practice of polygamy (Utah),
ethnicism, jockeying for patronage
and command of resources.
The Old Northwest is the term used for the territory North of the Ohio
River and East of the Mississippi that was legally turned over to the
United States in 1783. It was larger than France. It was
mostly rolling prairie, heavily forested, with pine barrens in
Michigan and large flat grassy plains in Illinois. In 1785 the
Confederation Congress ordered it surveyed, and two years later
gave it governmental form. Squatters were ordered out; some left,
most did not. Veterans were awarded land. Speculative and
settlement companies bought large tracts.
Pioneers and settlers came, or were coaxed in. By 1810 Ohio held
230,000 people. By 1815, the number was 400,000. (The effect of
the 1812 War was small.) It was definitely a pluralist culture,
ranging from Kentuckians to New Englanders, and holding a great
many European newcomers. One commentator refers to "almost a
migratory furor" in New England in 1815. The Ohio migration
proceeded to Indiana and thence into Illinois. It would soon cross
the Mississippi River into Iowa.
Travelers give us a fair impression of rural Ohio: roads extremely
rough, land fertile but hilly, tall trees, log cabins, "ugly women," many
ragged, unschooled children, no sign of industry, ample grain, fat
horses, lots of whiskey, plums and peaches, deer, wild turkey, vicious
hogs, no building stone, no school, ague, sick milk, frequent flooding.
Settling fanned out from the river banks, ten miles, thirty, fifty, until it
met people fanning out from another river or a
Great Lake shore.
Conventions in the several new states to draw up constitutions
were hardly exertions of imagination and planning.
The federal constitution was the safe model,
which could readily win approval by Congress.
Snippets from older state constitutions were patched in,
if admired and necessary. Easier to amend than the
federal constitution, they became longer and longer
as the generations passed.
The Framers believed that they had solved the currency problem
by putting it in the hands of the Federal government. But not enough
species, banknotes and credit for expansion of the economy was
provided. Everyone wanted species, but the National Bank, until it was
closed down, and then after reconstitution in 1817, and the Eastern
banks, generally wanted it too, partly because their European
correspondents insisted upon cash. The relatively more secured banks
would not deal with the debtors and other banks
without receiving some species as least in any transaction. By 1818
all species was sucked out of the West. Gold and silver coins were
cut into pieces, into bits, which were used for smaller transactions.
The old as well as new states let individuals and syndicates set up
banks. Indiana and Michigan set up true State Banks. Indiana's system
consisted of ten branches of equal weight. Private banks multiplied. All
printed their own bank notes, containing promises to pay the bearer in
species or other bank notes. Someone said in 1816 that a bank would
be set up at every church, every smithy, every tavern. In retrospect,
the disastrous chaos of banking produced a great many people who
learned something about the role of money in the economy, a college
of hard knocks. It was, wrote one newspaper, "a jubilee of swindlers
and the Saturnalia of non-specie paying banks."
Early state government was simple, as were the people who
ran it. In Indiana's first year it borrowed $25,000 to pay off a small
debt left over from its territorial prior existence and pay its expenses.
By 1823 its treasury showed a balance of $33,661. It
levied a tax on non-residents that had to be cleverly contrived to
avoid the ban on discrimination against citizens of other states. A
smaller tax affected residents' land, at a minuscule flat rate, which
allowed the rich to pay hardly more than the poor.
There seemed to be nothing to spend money on, until an urge to help
counties improve roads was felt, and a means of constructing canals
came about. Soon, Illinois and the other states' finances were
complicated by schemes to sell land from here and there, to borrow
money here, lend money there, tax this one, toll that one, pay this
one in land, that one in concessions - all to get the hundreds of
thousands of dollars needed for the smaller and then larger waterways.
The counties were administrative agents of the state, and
were usually delinquent in handing over receipts on time.
Corruption was common in the Old Northwest, but, until the sums of
money and notes moving through the account books became large and
the public till could be robbed directly, the typical bribe
occurred in the exchange of favors, the lending of facilities to
legislators and officials, and the payment of cash purchases in notes
of wavering value. Differences existed among the States, some of it
attributable more to ethnic and religious differences. Corruption was
less common in areas where the German and Scandinavian Lutheran
presence was not only numerous in proportion to total inhabitants,
but also influential in the government. It was more common where
the Southern Protestant presence was heavy.
Scandinavians began to arrive in significant numbers in the 40's and
usually headed for jobs at large construction projects or into the
Northernmost regions of Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota,
whence they, like the Germans, wended westward from
one generation to the next.
Some of the people who were employed and kept ranches and cereal
fields in the far Midwest region stayed. Some of the farmers moved in
who had failed farther East, usually of Scandinavian and German
stock, but with a representation of settlers of Slavic culture. Inevitably
more farmers of the West failed, or endured incessant hardship, than
prospered. Land was cheap enough to suck in would-be farmers from
as far off as Latvia; but livestock, wagons, tools, horses, fences and
most other items were costly enough to bring failure, and when the
survivors or their replacements were confronted with the second wave
of technological invasion in the form of mechanical equipment of all
kinds, for pumping water, plowing, seeding, harvesting, threshing, and
transporting, the ranks of the farmers were once more
reduced to a few by their costs.
The gyrations of the commodities markets took their toll regularly,
also. As did natural disaster: tornadoes, wind and hail storms, early
freezes, floods, plagues of locusts, dust storms and drought. The vast
far Midwest and the high plains down to Texas have been among the
toughest farming and ranching regions of the world; and much of the
region has been damaged by excessive exploitation and poor
conservation practices. Luckily the surplus population could move
quickly elsewhere; in India and China, the millions died, because of
over-population without outlet for the reckless breeding, but basically
their soil and climate were superior to the American.
We might delineate the other subcultures of the West in relation to the
state boundaries, but we need say only a word of their substance.
From Montana down through Colorado a cattle and mining culture.
In New Mexico and Arizona, wherever possible,
Anglos especially, but also Hispanics, ran cattle.
The Southern part of New Mexico became culturally Texan;
Texans moved straight through, the Southern hill type especially,
until arriving in California, where they helped constitute,
with many Chicanos, Mexican-Americans, prairie Northerners,
and pluralist Easterners, a Southern Pacific Coast
Early Hispanic culture persisted with the Indians of Northern
New Mexico and Arizona, a high coolish area, fairly isolated, until
they were joined by a Northern chic crowd in considerable numbers
in the twentieth century. Nevada was virtually empty until some
Basque and Italian herders occupied the pastures and grazed
sheep; some large landholders introduced also the cowboy culture.
Mines were developed there of value, and the gambling industry
mined tourists, beginning in the 1920's, when Californians in
numbers would be able to visit.
There was no real break naturally between California and Oregon,
only an end to the Spanish claim. So Southern Oregon blends with
Northern California and then moves up into the Willamette valley, a
highly fertile region that invited early settlers from the Midwest,
who were in many cases descended from New England - Upper
New York Yankee culture.
To the North depends Washington State, that is not naturally
distinguishable from Oregon until it arrives at the Puget Sound
region. Moving Eastward, one encounters the interior Spokane
region, much drier, and South of this the Columbia River region of
Washington and Oregon. Fish, timber, and orcharding were
original major occupations, and remained important through
the industrialization that brought aircraft industry and frozen
foods processing industry to the region.
Commercial netting of fish began on the Columbia River in 1823,
well before most "pioneers" arrived. By 1883, Chinook salmon were
being taken and canned at 55 canneries.
By 1890, one memorial generation from the beginning,
and when the American frontier was said to have just ended,
the Chinook salmon had been practically extincted.
The catch and canning of other species continued apace
until the "New" Northwest became piscatorially exhausted.
A considerable dam for producing hydro-electric
power and controlling flooding was first built
in 1933, so dams did not cause depletion of fish stocks.
They simply assured that the species could not recover
even if all fishing were to halt.
We note how cleanly the ruler swept across all of these tiers West of
the Mississippi going from South to North, in all except a couple of
cases. Within the States, too, the rectangle shaped a thousand
counties. Does any human factor except the lazy measuring rod
correspond to such boundary lines? Did the Indian nations live
behind straight lines? Were not their territories more natural? Indeed
they were, and it took a lot of terrible pulling and stretching and
evicting and eradication to get them to where they would not cross
these mad lines of the White man. And the mythically rational man
of the Enlightenment, Thomas Jefferson, was responsible for the
straight lines more than anybody.
Montana and Wyoming were Indian country. They might have
remained so forever, so far as agriculture and industry were
concerned, but they had treasures in the ground that could
not be left to the diffident Indians. So the mining companies came
in, financed and directed from the East, using as miners whatever
poor men and new immigrant group came along when the mines
opened up. The process continued until the
mines, most of them, closed.
We are talking big deals politically, a few great mining companies had
the largest voice in these states, seconded by the railroad magnates;
and we can add Idaho and Nevada, South Dakota and North Dakota;
altogether they have twelve U.S. senators, six members of the House
of Representatives, and a total six-State population equivalent to one
Black congressional district of the city of Chicago, one of a number of
equally populous districts in the old city and
its heavily populated suburbs.
Imagine the attention to African-American problems that might
ensue if this one district could have Twelve U.S. Senators
representing it in Congress in addition to its modest influence on the
two Illinois Senators. There might seem to be a need for a second
Civil War in this situation, which is, of course, national, and not
confined to the example here.
It must be recalled, or rather, said in advance - that the U.S.
Senate, with its over-representation of the slave states, allowed the
slave controversy to persist and exhaust exorbitant amounts of civic
energy in America from the beginning, up to, and beyond the
Civil War, and even today.
But dutifully, the statesmen of America went ahead constructing
one state after another each with two senators and almost without
people while certain areas in a few states were assembling huge
populations. This grotesque over-representation of thinly populated
states has had uncounted effects, apart from
making the Civil War inevitable.
In the period of which we speak here, the decades
nearing mid-century when the territories and
their later shadows the states were being put
together, the infinitude of crimes against the Indian
nations evolved partly from the attitudes and policies of the
territorial-state governments toward their Indian populations.
A few half-educated and half-civilized Caucasian
males were given the vast powers of the American State,
originally intended for highly experienced historical units,
to govern their internal populations, and in addition,
as if to ensure that their internal policies would prevail,
they were given representation in the Senate equal to that of
Virginia or New York or Massachusetts.
Here is one more occasion to point to
the direct democratic ideology - Jacksonian democracy -
as a damaging feature of American history:
who would be so bold in the American democracy to assert
that "those courageous men who have conquered the wilderness and
prepared it for statehood" should be deemed incompetent
to write a constitution, gauge its problems,
set its course, and operate it from day to day.
Rarely had so ill-prepared and temperamentally ill-suited lot
of men been shouldered with such enormous capital resources
and the operating responsibilities of government.
It is highly ironic that the Utah people,
probably the best prepared of all territorial cadres
since those of the original thirteen states,
should have been kept waiting at the door almost half a century,
while a score of buffooneries passed through,
on the supposition that simultaneous polygyny
was a fatal evil, serial polygyny not.
The same incident gave the laugh to the theory that
states rights and states autonomy were especially creditable,
because they provided a means of conducting social experiments,
which, proven beneficial, might then be emulated by other states.
Indeed, the reason why populous States' representatives in
Congress did not do their best to block the admission of some of
these territories was that a number of them had their agents
in these territories wheeling and dealing
on their behalf for land, mining stocks, and other favors
which the mining companies and railroads might dispense.
The long term interest of their own constituencies
and of the nation hardly concerned them.
Furthermore, since the large interests holding these states in hand
were universally Eastern, these same representatives could say that
effectively the new states were acting in tandem with their own
states' (read "their own corporate and speculator clients' '") business.
By 1850 practically every religious sect
was well-represented in the Old Northwest.
There must have been a hundred at least.
There were more Methodist churches, 3,000,
than Baptist and Presbyterian (the next most numerous)
taken together. The other major denominations
tailed considerably behind, the Catholics and Lutherans,
for instance, with about 400 churches each.
There were some 200 Friends meeting houses,
3 Jewish temples (all in Ohio).
The New Northwest was not much different.
The Mormons of Utah were, unlike the Unitarians of
Massachusetts, a distinctively new religious
"made in America." Founder of Mormonism in
1830, amidst the universal excitement of the
Great Revival, was Joseph Smith, a farm
laborer from Vermont. Aged 14, he claimed a
confrontation with God, then at 17 with
an Angel named Moroni, who dictated to him from a
set of golden hieroglyph tablets,
later lost, and a section of the Bible, also
mislaid, announcing a new way of Christian
worship for the world. He composed numerous inspired
texts in his short lifetime. One need not believe him
any more than believe that his Puritan forbears had
a pipeline to God. Max Weber, dean of
Religionssoziologie, regarded him as a fraud;
this is a technical distinction that does not get one
very far in the comparative study of religions.
His calling to set up an Israel in the New World
was foreshadowed by the two-century old Puritan claim
to be the new Israel. The Pilgrims themselves were
regarded in England like the sect of Jehovah's Witnesses
of today, reason enough to abandon so unsympathetic a society.
The Mormons, soon numbering thousands,
were convinced of their moral superiority and
capacity to create a new moral order.
With their neighbors of Palmyra unconvinced,
and disturbed by the success of their new order,
they thought they should move along,
so they descended upon Kirtland, Ohio,
Independence, Missouri, then up to Nauvoo, Illinois
for five years, culminating in dissension,
betrayal, mob violence, and the mob killing
of Joseph and Hyrum Smith.
Brigham Young succeeded to the leadership and
promised the surrounding forces of evil that he would
get the sect out of their territory.
He read John Fremont's book of western exploration and
put his finger on a deserted impregnable area
with a good water supply.
It was the basin of the Great Salt Lake,
in Mexican territory.
They set up relief stations along the route,
with a major rendezvous at the junction of the Platte
and Missouri Rivers. About 15,000 pilgrims
succeeded in making the journey by 1848,
lucky ones with wagons, others with mules,
many with push-carts, and most in all or part on foot.
The land was no longer a Promised Land in Mexico;
it was part of the United States,
conceded upon the end of the Mexican War.
Had it not been, it would have become another Texas,
for the Mormons would not have served Mexico.
As it was, they did not want to serve the USA.
Brigham Young had to leave behind a wife, Emma.
She, with her sons and a few followers of Brigham,
settled in Independence, where Joseph Smith III
became Prophet, Seer, and Revelator. These
Reorganized Mormons joined Emma in denying that
Joseph I ever practiced polygyny,
taught poly-theism, baptized the dead, or
promised all would become gods.
Brigham Young did not suffer for lack of the
companionship of women. Married 27 times,
he was survived by 17 wives and 57 children.
He endorsed polygamy in 1852, which was
practiced from the first by Joseph Smith. The Mormon
establishment of Utah was more of New England than of
Middle Atlantic or Southern Culture. And from the
beginning, even while Mormons arrived ahead of
many frontiersmen at the frontier, theirs could not be
classified as a frontier culture.
It numbered many thousands of immigrants, mainly from
Great Britain, where Brigham Young had proselytized.
It remained patriarchal whereas all American cultures,
including the New England, replaced the father by the son
as the protagonist of America. Its mentality had also in it the
Yankee ability at keeping account books and merchandising.
(Joseph Smith's implication in a bank fraud in Kirtland, Ohio,
indicates a penchant for white-collar practices.)
A well-disciplined hierarchical structure
and secret proceedings out-did the Masonic order,
for there was nothing avocational about them;
Mormanism was practically totalitarian.
The Mormons got an effective irrigation system going,
a major achievement, and before long were selling
produce to the passing procession on the Oregon Trail.
Mormon culture and technology were forward-looking.
The thearchs saw to it that a proper
tithe was paid in to the treasury of the theocracy.
Bigamy was practiced, but within two fecund
biological generations was abandoned, save among extremists.
Some say that it became immoral,
some say it became needless,
others say that they had to quit as a condition
of Utah becoming a State. At any rate,
monogamy was enshrined in the Constitution.
It is doubtful that Utah could have been settled,
except as another Nevada or Montana,
were it left to the motley crowd that would have
happened in upon it in the absence of the Mormons.
Given that they were driven from New York,
and again from Missouri and Illinois by vigilantes and rioters
(the period we recall as employing the mob on
hundreds of occasions as the fourth branch of democratic
government), the hatred of Mormonism could have
aroused a holy crusade against heretics and bigamists that might
have marched upon them and exterminated them.
Perhaps the Mexican War and the Civil War
deflected the destructive energies of the paranoid and
socially atomized gun-toting population that might
otherwise have struck at them.
The Mormons, as fundamentalist people of the Book,
two Books, indeed, were paranoid to a fault,
redoubled by the persecution they suffered.
They bound themselves into a diligent tribe,
and built a civilization of true believers
in America's forbidding Great Basin,
intending to become a separate nation, not
American, but a new Israel.
A crisis occurred when President Buchanan, bowing to
media abusiveness, and hoping to divert attention from the
slavery and succession crisis, appointed in 1857 a
new Governor of the Territory of Utah to replace
Brigham Young. At signs that the Mormons would resist the
change, he despatched 2500 troops to
enforce Federal rule. The Mormons feared for their
lives and, worse, the destruction of their religion.
So they armed more heavily, cached food supplies in the
mountains, enlisted the support of Paiutes and other
Indian neighbors against the Americans,
sent a call to all Mormons everywhere to
return to Utah to repel the invaders,
declared a scorched earth policy, and figured how they might
carry on a prolonged resistance from mountain redoubts.
When a large double wagon train from Arkansas and Missouri
swung South to cross into California, and gave evidence of
scorn and hostility, local Mormon leaders made
false accusations and reports, and,
not without the knowledge of topmost Mormons,
organized with the Paiutes a treacherous massacre and
pillaging of the train, killing some 120
men, women and children mercilessly,
sparing only 18 children "too young to talk."
The Mountain Meadows Massacre was hushed up for a century,
except that a single man, prominently accused,
was brought to trial by federal authorities after
twenty years, convicted, brought to the scene of the
massacre, and shot by firing squad. He was widely
pronounced the scapegoat. He was later forgiven by the Church.
To the North and East, Mormon militia burned their own
new villages and farms on the frontier, marched out to
meet the Federal troops, captured more than
half of the supplies and animals of their foes, and left them to
suffer grievously from hunger and cold over the winter.
A ballet of politicking ensued, which ended with President Buchanan
pardoning the whole Church leadership, in a parade of
Federal troops (through deserted streets past blinded windows), and
in the admission of the designated Governor's
right to undertake the duties of his office.
Brigham Young and his Councillors now
ran the Territory from the wings of the stage.
The Mormons edged out beyond Utah into all five of their
neighboring states. They also established congregations in a
number of cities of the Americas. Its theocracy was
missionary as well, and began the practice of sending out the
young to proselytize around America and
in all world cultures that would admit them.
Many Europeans were converted in Europe and emigrated
directly to Utah. The Mormons were hardly more Christian than
Muslim, who adored Jesus but lived by the Prophet Mahomet,
counterpart to Joseph Smith. Yet, except to theologians,
they seemed later to be assuredly American,
cultural heroes in some ways.
Mormonism represented historically the
most successful agrarianism in the United States,
the most elegant transition to an age of science and technology.
Founded by poor men, they seemed instinctively to grasp
what was needed to prosper in a new age.
Universal education was foremost in their minds.
They combined the contradictory qualities of religious
fundamentalism and pragmatism in an
American schizotype. In a country of
extreme individualism, they displayed a complete
corporatism or communitarianism.
Religious, social, political and vocational participation was
asked of everyone, and almost universally loyally
granted to this successful utopia.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.