CANCELLED: Periphery, Democracy, Empire: Rhetoric and Identity in the Northeastern Borderlands, 1837–42

Saturday, January 4, 2014
Exhibit Hall B South (Marriott Wardman Park)
Michael T. Perry, University of Maine at Orono
The study of borderlands -- particularly the Northeastern Borderlands encompassing New England, the Atlantic Provinces, and Quebec -- is often marked by an emphasis on transnational connections, communication, and conviviality. During the later half of the 1830s, however, the borders between Maine, Vermont, New York and their neighboring British colonies became the sight of several turbulent and occasionally violent encounters between residents on either side of the contested US-Canada divide. War was thought by many observers to be imminent, and it was not until the ratification of the Webster-Ashburton Treaty in 1842 that a third major Anglo-American conflict was fully averted. In the end, it was the rhetoric employed during the of these conflicts which most affected the Northeastern Borderlands experience. The excitement of midnight raids and militia organization brought about a flurry of bold (and often bellicose) rhetoric spread by politicians and publishers alike.

This study looks comparatively at the rhetoric of 1830s boundary disputes and its effect on several regions of the Northeastern Borderlands, focusing particularly on Maine and New Brunswick. Differing print and political cultures created distinct discourses in each locale. In Maine, the zeal of Jacksonian democracy created shouts for war, which in combination with the deployment of states' rights rhetoric led to a distinct feeling of isolation and peripherality; these feelings were cemented when the federalg overnment did not ultimately support Maine's boundary claims by force. In New Brunswick, meanwhile, the news of the province's boundary troubles was printed side-by-side with reports of perceived American misbehavior along the borders of New York and Vermont. Such news coverage contributed to a feeling of somewhat increased connectivity between New Brunswick and Upper and Lower Canada as each area was dealing with their own band of "American banditti."

Alongside this comparative study is a consideration of what the period of 1837-1842 meant for the Borderlands in general, as the "margins" which were once notable in their fluidity were now rigidly defined, requiring new methods of negotiating transnational relationships. How did the establishment of these boundaries increase feelings of national connectedness in marginal locales? How did the very same process create feelings of isolation and peripherality? Finally, is it possible that a clear definition of the boundary improved transnational connections, or do such geopolitical constructs necessarily damage such bonds and spoil a "borderlands"? Considering how these disputes were talked about and understood both during and after the border strife allows one to answer these questions with an increased sense of clarity.

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