ohio is the gateway -- 6/16/13

Today's selection -- from William McKinley by Kevin Phillips. In the early 1800s, Ohio became the gateway from the original thirteen states to the West. This was because it was adjacent to the two key states of Pennsylvania and Virginia (West Virginia was not a state at this point). It was also because the two most important waterways from the east, the Erie Canal and the Ohio River, connected directly to Ohio's northern and southern regions. Because of this, Ohio's population grew from 230,000 in 1810 to 900,000 in 1830. From this dynamic cauldron sprang a more democratic, less class-oriented society, with a preponderance of smaller landholders. It also yielded seven U.S. presidents -- Grant, Garfield, Hayes, Benjamin Harrison, McKinley, Taft and Harding -- and the three leading Union Civil War generals -- Grant, Sherman, and Sheridan:

"Nineteenth-century Ohio ... was not just a place but a phenomenon. No retrospective on [President William McKinley] can begin without a comprehension of the state's spectacular emergence as a center of U.S. political and economic gravity during the fifty-eight years between McKinley's birth and death. Like Virginia earlier, Ohio became a 'Mother of Presidents.' ...

"From 1868 to 1900, no Republican would be elected president who was not born in the Buckeye State. Those of other origins tried in vain: New Yorkers, Hoosiers, state of Maine men, anyone. Even the three leading Northern generals in the Civil War were Ohio-born: Grant, William Tecumseh Sherman, and Philip Sheridan. Ohio itself was the sole Northern state central enough to be a bridge from the war's eastern theater of operations in next-door Virginia to its western theater spanning the Ohio-Mississippi river system. The late nineteenth century was Ohio's great period, the Buckeye hour in history. ...

"At the beginning of the nineteenth century, Ohio was the doorstep of the New West, the open, rich land closest to Virginia and the original Northern states. Steamboats were common on the Ohio River by the 1820s. [By 1860, the center of national population was in Ohio]. ...

"The early settlers, disproportionately from Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Kentucky, concentrated near the [Ohio] river that had taken most of them west. ...

"Then in the 1830s, courtesy of New York's Erie Canal, a new population movement began to fill up the northern and central parts of the state with Yankees, Pennsylvanians, New Yorkers, and German, British, and Irish immigrants. ...

"Ohio was a new type of state, a composition board of converging migrations from all three major U.S. eighteenth -- century coastal regions. ... As settlement swelled, Ohio's population jumped from 230,000 in 1810 ... to some 900,000 in 1830. A further flood more than doubled the population to nearly 2 million in 1850. Ohio became to the canal, steamboat, and Conestoga wagon era what California would be to the automobile and airplane in the decades after World War II: not just a beacon but a national symbol of westward migration.

"'The immigration to the North Central section,' concluded historian Frederick Jackson Turner, 'had a special significance. In the Atlantic states, from the colonial days, the rule of the older stock was well-established, and institutions, manners and customs -- the cultural life of the sections -- had been largely fixed by tradition. But in the New West, society was plastic and democratic. All elements were suddenly coming in, together, to form the section. It would be a mistake to think that social classes and distinctions were obliterated, but in general, no such stratification existed as was to be found, especially, in New England.' "


Kevin Phillips


William McKinley: The American Presidents Series: The 25th President, 1897-1901


Times Books


Copyright 2003 by Kevin Phillips


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