Apr 212008

I’ve been reading Peter S. Onuf’s, “Statehood and Union : a history of the northwest ordinance” (1987). I’ve also been listening to Andro Linklater’s, “The Fabric of America : how our borders and boundaries shaped the country and forged our national identity” (2007).

The latter is a good listen, but I’m somewhat disappointed that it isn’t living up to its title. The first part of the book does, e.g. the part about settling the boundary between Virginia and Pennsylvania. But boundaries and borders lose their central position (ha!) in the telling of much of the rest of it. In much of the book Linklater conflates boundaries with the frontier. The “frontier” topic allows him to talk about the expansion of the United States without minimal discussion of borders. Then towards the end he points out that the border and the frontier are two different things. I wish he had stuck with boundary/border issues throughout. It’s an interesting book — even when wandering from the main topic it contains a lot of interesting nuggets of history I had not known before. But it’s too bad his publisher put that title on it, because it would be a great one for a book on the topic.

Onuf’s book contains some interesting information about boundaries that ought to have been a topic of Linklater’s book, too. He tells how there was a sensitivity that if Congress could arbitrarily set and changes the boundafies of the new states, the states would be mere creatures of Congress and not have the degree of independence the original states had. The argument came about during the ambiguous period of state formation. What I found interesting was a sensitivity among the people to what I call the “federal aid = federal control” principle that I remember being argued about somewhat during the 60s and 70s.

Onuf also gives serious consideration to the dispute known as the Toledo War. It’s often treated in history books as somewhat of a farce and comedy. But there were some important principles about states’ rights at stake.

I may have more to say about this, and I’m also thinking about the bicycling possibilities for The Spokesrider.

Back to my statement about boundaries and borders losing their central position in Linklater’s book. Well, I see that I haven’t yet posted a photo of the place where there was confusion over whether a boundary line was the edge or the center. I’ll do that later, at The Spokesrider.