Chapter 14

The New Calculus of Western Energies

Farmers in the fertile Northwest increased their cultivation rapidly and a surplus of grain and livestock quickly appeared. The growth of cities and the development of a technologically sophisticated transportation system soon took Western farmers out of the primitive economy of subsistence agriculture and placed them in the context of larger industrial and market forces. Steam power--in factories, steamboats, and railways--transformed the older western cities, created metropolises such as Cleveland and Chicago, and suggested that the yeoman farmer could no longer compete with urban industrialists and merchants. Western observers like Timothy Flint and Caleb Atwater marveled at Fulton's snorting steamboat and heralded it as an invention which would help to commercially unify the nation, but were slow to comprehend the implications of such technological change for the agrarian ideal. Writers for Eastern magazines surveyed the World' s Columbian Exposition at Chicago in 1893 and noted with surprise that the West had urbanized and industrialized practically overnight.

Between 1843 and 1861, Jessup W. Scott, editor of the Toledo Blade, wrote numerous articles for Hunts' Merchants' Magazine and DeBow's Review which focused on the forces of trade and industry--rather than agriculture--as the dominant influence in the development of the West. Scott suggested that steam transportation invalidated the old belief in maritime commerce (a vestige of the mercantilist ideal of the previous century) and pointed to an urbanized and industrialized West. The economic development of the Mississippi Valley represented for Scott the climactic epoch in American (even universal) history: it would integrate the country's commerce and unify its citizens.

National unity was certainly important to the theoretician of Manifest Destiny, and the Lincoln- Douglas debates of 1861 featured pleas by both men for the joint, technologically- driven development of the Interior Valley--the "body" of the Republic between the Alleghenies and the Rockies. Lincoln and Douglas both believed in the Mississippi Valley as a physical and transcendent fact which demanded union on behalf of the continent itself. It was this notion of a geographical imperative for union which informed Lincoln's address--more than a year into the Civil War--to the farmers of the agricultural Northwest: he urged them to oppose any negotiated peace for the independence of the Confederacy because it would likely obstruct their access to markets and subject them to strangling trade regulations.

Chapter 15