Stephen Karlson (shkarlson) wrote in 50bookchallenge,
Stephen Karlson
shkarlson
50bookchallenge

COMMINGLED, YET SEPARATE.

Some state legislators would like to toss Chicago out of Illinois.
Under the lawmakers' proposal, the state would be telling Chicago and Cook County to get lost. Without the domineering, overly liberal and tax-hungry metropolis, [state representatives Bill] Mitchell and [Adam] Brown contend, Illinois could be more like GOP-run Indiana.

For some down south in the Land of Lincoln, their resentment toward Chicago is less about politics than values. They are generally more conservative, and more opposed to the state's recent income tax hike, civil unions law and abolishment of the death penalty.
There's more to this proposal than a way to make Northern Illinois University charge out-of-state tuition rates to Chicagoans.  The proposal is a consequence of migration patterns and political decisions that long ago created states that often require people with very different outlooks on life to agree on how to do government, or not.  And Chicago, as readers of How the States Got Their Shapes know, is part of Illinois in order that each of the states carved out of the territory ceded by Britain after Independence shall have a lake port.  The rationale for creating what became the Chicago area as part of Illinois was to allow farmers in Illinois to ship crops for export via the Great Lakes rather than along the Mississippi River, through slave-held territory.  Those Congresses never anticipated Chicago reversing the course of its river.

Colin Woodard's American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America, today's Book Review No. 34 (don't expect fifty by year's end) provides inter alia the origins of the spat between Chicago and Downstate (more specifically, central and southern Downstate) Illinois.  
He characterizes Chicago as a border city.  Joel Garreau, in The Nine Nations of North America, a book that has long been in the Cold Spring Shops research library, makes the same observation.  Mr Woodard proposes to go Mr Garreau a few analyses better, by providing the historical background missing from Nine Nations.  (The historian can find a research opportunity in calling a work "ahistorical."  The economist can find that opportunity in discovering an inconsistency with theory.)  He begins with the initial settlers on each coast (Spain to the south, France and England at several places, Netherlanders on Manhattan, and Inuit via Siberia in the north) and traces their migrations and political coalitions over the next 400 years.  Sometimes, as in his suggestion that the inclusive and diverse banking and port called New Amsterdam preordains the location of Wall Street and Harlem, I fear that he claimeth too much.  I enjoyed his analyses of migration (often entire families and communities) that extended the original nations inland.  That's certainly consistent with my own genealogical research (just compare the names in the Baptist cemetery in Carmel, N. Y. and the cemetery in Hingham, Wisconsin) and the migration patterns along the rivers and later the rail lines will reward careful study.

Taken as a broad perspective, however, American Nations gets the main ideas right.  There has never been anything resembling a national consensus on national affairs, whether we are thinking about independence (New Englanders had a Scottish Enlightenment vision of liberty; Tidewater aristocrats were Aristotelian; there were representatives of the same nations on both sides of the Canadian border) or the meaning of freedom (my choice of words in the previous parenthetical anticipates the Civil War) or the role of government or the purpose of the tax code.  It's dangerous, though, to take the analysis too literally: do not, for example, attribute the existence of Canada as a member of the British Commonwealth despite a separatist French nation in its east and substantial boreal forests for the aborigines solely to the absence of cotton-lands and plantation owners with experience in Barbados, or treat the red-state, blue-state or religious, secular dichotomies as immutable and bred into the North American character.  On the other hand, it is instructive to learn some survivals of medieval customs, including the arms of the House of Calvert on the Maryland flag, and the meaning of South Carolina's titled crescent.
 I marked up my book extensively and expect to consult parts of it again as the presidential election takes shape.

(Cross-posted to Cold Spring Shops.)
Tags: cultural studies, history, politics
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