I wasn't expecting such an intriguing find when I wandered into the clearance section of a Barnes and Noble recently. I was there so my wife could pick up the latest in a paranormal romance series that she's been reading, and I wasn't planning on picking anything up for myself. I should have known better than to think I could wander into a bookstore and leave empty-handed. The clearance section is usually where they get me. This time, I happened upon Lost States, an anecdotal geography book on states that were proposed at different points in U.S. history, but didn't make the cut.
I'm a bit of an anecdotal history buff. I don't read the big, thick tomes that would help me to truly understand the Civil War, Teddy Roosevelt, or the Great Depression. I don't have the attention span for them. But give me a book with 100 stories about little known facts and events that changed the course of American history and I'm on it. Lost States is that kind of book. As author Michael Trinklein states in the introduction, "This book isn't meant to offer exhaustive detail on every unsuccessful statehood proposal; rather, the goal is to pique your curiosity, instill a sense of wonder, and enjoy a laugh or two." If that's not a winning sales pitch, I don't know what is.
So that's how I've spent the week after Easter, reading about states and republics that almost were, but didn't quite make the cut. There are a lot of interesting stories connected to failed statehood proposals. A few of my favorites are Adelsverein, the German colony in Texas that never came to be even after the Germans managed to strike a deal with the Comanche that lived in the area; Forgottonia, the western portion of Illinois that only really wanted an interstate to pass through so they could generate some local business; and Nickajack, the secessionists that tried to secede from their own states before they were forced into joining the Confederate States of America.
There are plenty of other stories that I found interesting in here as well. Popham, Franklin, and North Slope were equally deserving of a mention, as were many others, but that's something you'll have to find out by reading. The book does highlight a few concepts again and again.
- Rural populations and urban populations from the same state often have different interests, and in a lot of cases one of them feels like they're being misrepresented and mistreated by the other.
- While the U.S. Government has always had a profound interest in strategically locating military bases and military supply lines in such a way as to prevent the other world powers from endangering U.S. soil, they are happier to claim land as a U.S. territory than to grant it statehood.
- Native Americans and the country of Mexico have never been treated very well when it came to statehood matters. Canada has made out pretty well by comparison. Basically, racism has played a role in the failure of many statehood proposals.
- No one has ever known what to do with the American Midwest. It has been sliced up like a misshapen land pizza so many times, it's a wonder cartographers didn't just give up on the whole thing. The land between the Rocky Mountains, the Great Lakes, the Appalachian Mountains, and the Gulf of Mexico is a mess of strange borders, and it could have been a lot better.