Wednesday, February 22, 2006

"We are less divisive than you"

The artificiality of sectionalism under the dynamic conditions of the early republic ... was most apparent in the rapid development of the Ohio Valley. Settlers of this region were the first self-conscious, avowed sectionalists in American history. What was distinctive about these Westerners, or so they claimed, was that they had shed the habits and prejudices of their natal states. “take the Virginian from his plantation, or the Yankee from his boat and harpoon, or from his snug cottage” and settle him in the West, asserted Cincinnati editor James Hall, and each would soon become “a different man; his national character will burst the chains of local habit.” Westerners, including settlers on both sides of the Ohio, and beyond, portrayed themselves as quintessential Americans, and their “section” as a place where sectional distinctions were resolved and transcended. In this self-congratulatory rhetoric, sectional identity merged with a vaulting sense of the nation’s glorious future and a patriotic devotion to union.

Yet minimizing differences among Westerners themselves, differences that would become increasingly conspicuous as controversy over the future of slaver in the territories polarized American politics, meant that Western polemicists would emphasize and exaggerate sectional distinctions elsewhere. Thus, just as Western boosters were the most authentic legatees of the Federalists’ expansive, developmental rhetoric, they also emphasized the reality, if only implicitly the dangers, of sectional differences. Union and section thus were inextricably linked: positively, as boosters identified the West with the nation’s destiny; negatively, as they juxtaposed the harmony of interests that supposed characterized their bustling region with the conflicts and jealousies of mutually antagonistic section in the East.

From “Federalism, Republicanism, and the Origins of American Sectionalism” by Peter S. Onuf, in All over the map: Rethinking American Regions

I have found that regionalists often claims or uses patriotism in order to promote itself: the Rhineland was the birthplace of medieval German culture, or Alsatians embodied the democratic, constitutional elements that would become France. Sometimes such arguments could be used in order to take control of a political issue, especially those related to governmental and administrative structures, but all with regard to foreign policy and economic planning.


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