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A Review of The Emerging Midwest:
Upland Southerners and the Political
Culture of the Old Northwest, 1787-1861

by James E. Davis, Illinois College

This agile, ambitious, and complex work analyzes cultural and political dynamics of upland southerners (hailing from Maryland, piedmont Virginia, North Carolina, Kentucky, and Tennessee), who, in 1850, constituted over 90 percent of all southern-born Midwesterners in Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois. Only selectively and somewhat tenuously committed to southern slaveholders' values, they encountered Yankees north of the Ohio River, mixed and blended with them, and created a melded culture that was shaped by growing westernness and the emergence of the second party system. And during the 1850s, when northern onslaughts and inept southern defenses shattered existing structures, some upland southerners reaffirmed upland southern ties, but most rejected such appeals and demands and remained at least tepid Unionists. After the Civil War the sundered Yankee-uplander culture evolved and mended. Etcheson's narrative unfolds within the context of tariffs, internal improvements, banks, slavery, race, the second party system, and crucial concepts of fairness. Across decades, Etcheson notes, consensus that was grounded in commitments to republicanism, party, and westernness guided disputants.

The Emerging Midwest

This work encompasses untold numbers of participants in vast areas across scores of years. Tight focus and organization, however, save it from being thin or vacuous. Various themes receive a chapter each: statehood, manliness, interest, opportunity, rights, rekindled sectionalism, and disunion, and a conclusion traces the late-nineteenth-century evolution of personal characteristics perceived to be Midwestern into the dominant national identity. Within these topics Etcheson skillfully weaves a tapestry that is composed of varied and rich threads of primary evidence. Having for decades used some of the primary evidence that Etcheson employed, I laud her judicious choices. Moreover, her command of pertinent secondary literature is impressive. This work, born a dissertation, is jargon-free and generally sparkles with stellar writing.

Her understanding of midwestern uplanders' objections to the South's threatening slave society and to cutting Yankee attacks are thorough and insightful. Objections to Yankees, she demonstrates, went far beyond simple dislike of strident abolitionists and involved spats over diet, education, women's roles, concepts of masculinity, and other cultural differences. She ably analyzes uplanders' developing ambivalence toward volatile issues: efficacy of parties; elites; education; the Kansas-Nebraska Act; immigrants, slavery, slave owners, and blacks. Both the unfair Fugitive Slave Act and blacks repulsed uplanders.

Some blemishes surface, however. Did national parties truly emerge in the 1820s (p. 11)? Did uplanders, many of whom engaged in small-scale speculation, typically "hate speculators; the invidious land monopolists..." (p. 93)? Were governments in the Old Northwest really "colonial" (p. 16)? After which year did the southern half of Illinois have less manufacturing than the northern (p. 75)? In addition, the notion of the monopolist State Bank of Illinois needs elaboration, and uncertain and disjointed chronology occasionally jars. Finally, how does a person heading downriver end up forty miles upriver (p.6)?

Caveats aside, this work succeeds admirably; a paperback edition is a fervent wish.

Copies of Nicole Etcheson's The Emerging Midwest may be ordered from Indiana University Press, 601 North Morton Street, Bloomington, IN 47404-3797 or by calling 800/842-6796. The price is $39.95.

Copyright ©1997 by the Southern Historical Association. Reprinted with permission of the Managing Editor.


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