THE MIDWEST AND THEIR NATIONAL EXPERIENCE

Our own individual history contributes to who we are, and our country’s past has defined who we are as a people.

The Midwest, like the South, has had its own history, that has helped to shape who they are. This helps us understand the people who live there today and it helps us understand their politics.

There is nothing wrong with Kansas; it is who they are.

With the 19th Century came movement, the movement of settlers over the mountains of western Virginia and other states westward. Caravans and wagon trains of people moved across the continent and into the Midwest, they came by keelboat and by steamboat down rivers. They came like rivers of wagons across the prairie in an ocean sized continent.

“Dangers made men travel together and stick together, forming communities as they went.” Daniel Boorstein, “The Americans , The National Experience.” They made their own laws and communities before any government came. They faced the unknown and moved to new places, continually moving west. They faced the unknown and sometimes cruel and deadly hardships with courage and tenacity.

Rugged Individualism is a myth, people moved west in groups. The mountainmen and lone explorers were rare, they were the exceptions. But for the organizers and boosters for these transients, Jim Bridges and Kit Carson, would never have made their mark.

People were organized under companies such as the Ohio company, organized under compacts. Leaders of wagon trains were like captains who combined a military type of authority with the rule of the majority.

Individuals who came west came later with the railroads and the steamboats. There was a spirit of paternalism where laws were simple and justice swift. Before Territories were formed and government came west, these organizations that put people together to move west in numbers ruled.

There were claim clubs to make sure the new settlers land would be theirs, because the movement of people was so swift, they arrived before the land had been surveyed; they came before the sod was turned over in places like Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin and Nebraska.

From the early 19th Century until the Civil War, club law was the law of the Midwest regarding ownership of the land. Vigilantism along with majority rule, filled the vacuum until government and the courts arrived.

Men valued the freedom to move, to move and hopefully arrive at a place first. If you arrived first, you and your family had a better chance of having the prosperity that they sought.

Now as we have moved forward into the 21st Century, the character of the region had been shaped by their past. They had survived without government and had created their own laws for survival. During the intervening years, agriculture has lost its heavy influence in the region but it still exists. Manufacturing in many of the states helped to start cities. But today towns are dying and cities are but mere echoes of their industrial past. The great appeal of the frontier, that there was always one more mountain to go over is gone.

Fear has replaced hope for many and with fear and with the echoes of the frontier past, the citizens who live in the country of the Midwestern states still maintain a spirit of independence that their forebears had. Thus, their past helps us understand who they are.

Unlike the South, where the Sunbelt states such as Florida, has attracted new urban areas of hope and opportunity, the Midwest faces its own challenges and their national experience helps us understand why they vote the way they do in the countryside of the Midwestern states. They face an unknown future just like their forebears. I believe that their history, just like the importance of the history of the South, helps explain why the parts of the country of those two regions remain red, with the exception of the cities.

Through a greater mutual understanding of our past it is hoped that we can find common ground and overcome the ugly partisanship that exists today. If we could only listen and really hear what each person has to say, our future as a people will undoubtedly be better.

What we have in common is that we are Americans.

 

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