Monday, August 02, 2004

Statehood and Culture

Sometimes the internet fulfills its potential for exchange of ideas. Such was the case with my précis on A Wilderness so Immense. My interest was in the complex geography of America: how different paths of expansion existed and they would clash with one another.

Geitner Simmons of Regions of Mind has used his vast knowledge of the history of the South and its relationship to the rest of the country to add to my original comments (in ways I could not have myself). One of the most interesting issues that continued beyond the purchase was what to do with (what would become the state of) Louisiana:

I've written before about how the absorption into the United States of French-speaking Louisianans, with their French legal system and other non-English habits, raised unprecedented cultural, legal and political challenges for the United States:

[“]... The following year, Congress debated the accession of Louisiana into statehood. Congressman Josiah Quincy of Massachusetts ... voiced concern about absorbing what he termed “the mixed, though ... respectable race of Anglo-Hispano-Gallo-Americans who bask on the sands of the mouth of the Mississippi ... it would be but the first in a relentless sequence of such additions whose cumulative effect would be such a grotesque distortion of the original compact as to be the ‘death blow to the Constitution’ and force the dissolution of the Union.”

In 1811, Congress approved statehood with majorities of two-to-one in both houses. Not that the cultural collisions between the Anglo and French residents of Louisiana had been entirely resolved, of course.[”]
Looking over this post, I am reminded of how other territories achieved statehood for strategic reasons, most recently Alaska and Hawaii. In many cases, the state had not been “nationalized” in the sense that the residents had assimilated American culture. In New Mexico, language and culture could still be considered to be at odds with the norms of the rest of the nation. And there are people who would criticize Hawaiian statehood: only a year before admittance, the islands were a protectorate.

These American examples stand in opposition to German cases. In 1815 Prussia annexed the much of the Rhineland as part of the Congress of Europe. The Rhinelanders were closer to the Prussians than the “Anglo-Hispano-Gallo-Americans” of Louisiana were to the Americans of the original states. But Louisianans achieved statehood, gaining political rights (some groups excluded) within the nation. Four years later Rhinelanders were submerged within Prussia, becoming a province that had little direct influence over the central government, let alone administration of their own affairs. There was no constitution, and only a symbolic parliament. “Rhine-Prussia” would be further displaced when Germany was unified in 1871: other areas achieved the status as Laender (somewhat similar to states) whose status was comparable with Prussia; the Rhineland remained submerged within Prussia.

There were cultural differences. Prussia made war on the Catholics of the Rhineland in the Kulturkampf. Prussia tried to replace the Napoleon-inspired Rhenish Code with their own. And Prussian Junkers had to learn to tolerate the merchants, bankers, and steel and coal magnates.

I do not want to overstate my point. Many Rhenish leaders learned how to influence government. Many like David Hansemann and the Camphausen family would be named ministers in Berlin. But these paths to power were open only to a few. The German Kernland (land of national origin) had no direct political power; Louisiana did. It would appear that Americans, despite their reservations, felt that admittance to the union was a better way to preserve territory. Prussia would never allow the same to occur.


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