Monday, October 20, 2008

"Perhaps the most unlikely scenario"

The Midwest might have been very different. Francois Furstenburg considers what we might humorously call the "prehistory" of the Midwest in the June American Historical Review 113:647-677:

"Taking an Atlantic perspective on the continental interior, it appears that the Seven Years' War, which ostensibly ended in North America in 1760 and in Europe in 1763, in fact continued with only brief interruptions to 1815 -- in the form of the American Revolution of the 1770s, the Indian wars of the 1780s and 1790s, and the War of 1812. Call it a Long War for the West. During this Long War, as the action shifted among various 'hot spots' across the trans-Appalachian West, the great issue animating Native, imperial, and settler actors alike involved the fate of the region: would it become a permanent Native American country? Would it fall to some distant European power? Or, perhaps the most unlikely scenario of all, would it join with the United States? Only in the wake of the British defeat in the War of 1812 was the region's fate as part of the expanding United States settled once and for all."

If you were raised on the kind of predestinarian history of the US as I was, you may be surprised that anyone would think it unlikely for the Midwest to become American. But it was no gimme. Anthony Wayne got the second largest city in Indiana named after him because he succeeded against the natives where two previous generals had failed, and failed miserably. More strategically, as Fursternberg points out, the original colonies faced east, across the Atlantic. The Appalachians were a considerable barrier, and once across them settlers were naturally oriented toward the south and the Caribbean by the way the rivers flowed. "In seeking to control both sides of the Appalachians, U.S. policymakers were attempting something that no political entity, Native or European, had ever accomplished without rapidly disintegrating."

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