While the US has been facing yet another systemic crisis that has swept across the whole country and even reverberated throughout a number of countries in Western Europe, the issue of its integrity is once again relevant.
And since the interests of individual US states in gaining independence is deeply rooted in their traditions, this possible trend should be taken seriously. The federal system itself already involves a certain amount of autonomy for each state. Texas has the greatest powers, if sovereignty is to be considered from a legal perspective, since, historically, the accession of the Republic of Texas to the US differed from that of the other states. The Indian Territories also seem to be a constant subject for discussion from the standpoint of indigenous peoples controlling the sovereignty of these areas.
Therefore, enthusiasts in the US have long been raising the issue of revising the country’s current borders and the functions of the central government. In Texas, the 1990s saw the emergence of the Republic of Texas movement, which involves a number of organisations. This was later followed by the Texas Nationalist Movement. There is also the Calexit movement for the independence of California. There is even an interregional secessionist movement with elements of environmental activism – the people behind the idea, known as Cascadia, have united parts of Canada and the West Coast of the United States. And there are also those in favour of independence for Hawaii and Puerto Rico.
There are even broader views on the breakup of the United States, however, and these are being developed by Americans themselves. The first well-known work on the subject is The Nine Nations of North America by US journalist and scholar Joel Garreau, which was published in 1981. Its main argument is that all of the country’s national and state borders are artificial and not a reflection of reality (incidentally, similar borders exist in the Middle East and Africa and are a legacy of the colonial policies of European powers).
At the very beginning of his book, Garreau writes: “Forget the borders dividing the United States, Canada, and Mexico, those pale barriers so thoroughly porous to money, immigrants, and ideas. Forget the bilge you were taught in sixth-grade geography about East and West, North and South, faint echoes of glorious pasts that never really existed save in sanitized textbooks.
“Forget the maze of state and provincial boundaries, those historical accidents and surveyors’ mistakes. The reason no one except the trivia expert can name all fifty of the United States is that they hardly matter. Forget the political almanacs full of useless data on local elections rendered meaningless by strangely carved districts and precincts. Consider, instead, the way North America really works. It is Nine Nations. Each with its capital and distinctive web of power and influence…. These nations look different, feel different, and sound different from each other, and few of their boundaries match the political lines drawn on current maps.… Most importantly, each nation has a distinctive prism through which it views the world.”
Thus, nine nations. The largest of these is The Empty Quarter, which covers Alaska and most of Canada, but also states such as Nevada, Utah, Wyoming, Idaho, Montana, Colorado, and parts of California, Washington, Oregon, Arizona, and New Mexico. Denver is the capital of this landmass.
In the centre of the continent is Breadbasket, which is made up of the Great Plains states and part of the Prairie provinces – Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Nebraska, both Dakotas, Oklahoma, parts of Wisconsin, Colorado, New Mexico, Illinois, Indiana, and North Texas. Its capital is Kansas City.
New England includes Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and parts of Canada such as Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland, and Labrador.
Between Breadbasket and New England is The Foundry. Garreau doesn’t use the term “Rust Belt”, but his take on the region is linked to the industrial collapse of the northeastern states and the Great Lakes region. The area, which has Detroit as its capital, stretches from New York City to Milwaukee and includes Chicago, Illinois, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Toledo, Philadelphia, and Southern Ontario in Canada.
The fifth nation is Quebec, a French-speaking region in the Canadian province of Quebec. In fact, there have already been a couple of referenda on secession, but they were unsuccessful.
Dixie is made up of the former Confederate States centred on Atlanta. Southern Illinois and southern Indiana, Kentucky, West Virginia and most of Virginia, Oklahoma, and almost all of Florida make up this landmass, which overlooks the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico.
The strangest formation is Ecotopia, which stretches like a snake from the Gulf of Alaska to the well-known city of Santa Barbara in California. It includes only parts of the states of Alaska, Washington, Oregon and California, and the coast of British Columbia. Its capital city is San Francisco.
It sits on top of Mexamerica, which borders Empty Quarter, Breadbasket and Dixie. As well as parts of US states such as California, Texas, New Mexico and Arizona, Mexamerica includes northern Mexico and the Baja California Peninsula. Its capital is Los Angeles.
And, finally, The Islands. This group includes a small part of the current United States represented by South Florida, with Miami as its capital city, but also the whole of the Caribbean and Central America. Owing to this peculiar expansion, Mexico looks like a patch of white on the map and a foreign element.
The concept has been discussed, criticised and interpreted for decades. Although the tendencies towards secession have been more pronounced in some parts of the country and non-existent in others, speculative constructs like these are important. This mental map is gradually reprogramming the minds of Americans, who are increasingly discussing their country’s historical heritage and alternative political scenarios. In 2014, Garreau himself published a short article in the New York Times pointing out that his ideas were just as relevant thirty years later.
Writer and historian Colin Woodard came up with an equally interesting theory with regard to America’s territorial elements, which he outlined in his book “American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America”. Woodard stays out of Canada and he ignores Alaska, although his study ends in 2010. His map only coincides with Garreau’s in a few details – The Left Coast, which is slightly smaller than Garreau’s Ecotopia, and South Florida, which Woodard includes with the Spanish-speaking Caribbean; that is, it is excluded from his “union of American nations”.
Woodard’s First Nation is located in the very north and does not play a significant role in US policy, since it is in Canadian territory and the nation itself is represented by Native Americans.
Nearby is New France, which coincides with the province of Quebec. New France is an enclave on the shores of the Gulf of Mexico – this is southern Louisiana, where there is still nostalgia for the monarchy. Bordering New France is Yankeedom, which is an area on the shores of Massachusetts Bay that was settled by Calvinists. From its New England centre, the culture, together with settlers, spread to the west and north – to Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Aiowa, parts of Dakota, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. New York City (formerly New Amsterdam) and its suburbs is encompassed in New Netherland with its multi-ethnic, multi-religious and mercantile population. Tidewater was linked to aristocratic heritage – it is the states of Virginia, Maryland, Southern Delaware, and part of North Carolina. To its left is Greater Appalachia, which was colonised by settlers from war-ravaged Ireland and Scotland. It is a vast area that covers the southern parts of Ohio, Indiana and Illinois, Arkansas and Missouri, two thirds of Oklahoma, and part of Texas. To the north of Greater Appalachia is The Midlands, which was settled by English Quakers who were later joined by German migrants, and underneath is the Deep South, which was established by slave lords. El Norte is a former Spanish territory and represents the oldest Euro-American nation. It means ‘the north’ in Spanish (since Spain also colonised South America), although, geographically, it is located in the south of North America. Snaking northwards above El Norte is The Left Coast, which is joined on the right by The Far West – the largest territory. The first wave of settlers passed through here, following the frontier, while its subsequent colonisation was managed from offices in New York, Boston, Chicago, and San Francisco. The area was robbed of its resources for a long time but little was given in return, so Woodard refers to it as an “internal colony”.
Colin Woodard brought together each region according to the cultural and political characteristics that have developed over the last four hundred years, and the War for Independence, the American Civil War, migration and two world wars only reinforced their differences.
The fact that this book is regularly mentioned in the US media suggests that there is a heightened interest in the differences (rather than the unity) within the US.
And since the Rust Belt was mentioned earlier, the Bible Belt should also be added, with its specific Protestant culture. Coupled with this is the well-known meme showing North America divided into the United States of Canada and Jesusland that was created after the 2004 US presidential election, when the states were divided up according to their political preferences. The Democrats were coloured blue and the Republicans red. Since then, the red/blue split has become a firm feature of electoral politics in the US, but it also points to a deep ideological divide that includes religion, attitudes towards the legalisation of drugs, same-sex marriage and abortion, the right to arms, and so on.
There is also a historical, centuries-old opposition in the US between rural cultures and megacities, which has made its contribution too. In the near future, one should also expect borders to emerge based on BlackLivesMatter, and Trump against the swamp of upheavals currently affecting American society. And when the social problems associated with economic depression and rising unemployment are also included, US citizens will have even more options for partition and grounds for secession.