Here’s something a bit lighter for your Tuesday. I was poking around on the Internet looking for—well, I don’t know what—and I stumbled upon this charming little blog, Salt of America. It has an “early Internet” feel in terms of layout, with a few banner or sidebar ads, and an archaic system for logging your ZIP code so the site can get sponsors.
Other than the ads for Mobil 1 engine oil and Campbell’s Soup, the site includes all sorts of articles and documents pertaining to rural living in the American past. The site features a series of local and regional histories that explore the development of various American cities and States. I’m particularly interested in checking out a two-part series on America’s first State to ratify the Constitution, Delaware (Part I, Part II).
American history is incredibly rich. I’ve been teaching US History survey courses at the high school and collegiate levels for years, and I’m constantly learning things I did not know. And a survey course that focuses on national history will, necessarily, leave out a great deal of local and regional history, except to the extent those histories tie into the national story.
What’s lost, though, is the richness and variety of America’s past. We conceive of our nation as The United States, largely as part of the legacy of the American Civil War, which demonstrated by force of arms the dominance of the national government over the States. But prior to that great conflict—and fundamental reconstitution—the United States was referred to as these United States.
What a difference two letters make. At the time of independence, the thirteen newly-independent States conceived of themselves as thirteen sovereign entities sharing a loose, weak national government in the form of the Articles of Confederation. There was an acknowledgment of national brotherhood—a “firm league of friendship,” per the Articles—but there was a deep knowledge of the regional and local differences, which were quite substantial.
Thus, the battle over the ratification of the Constitution was, in part, a battle to preserve that regional identity. The Constitution, as originally conceived, sought to preserve State’s rights through the mechanism of federalism—the national government would be supreme, but only within a very limited scope. With the passage of the Tenth Amendment with the other nine amendments in the Bill of Rights, federalism was enshrined—broad powers are formally reserved to the States.
That’s all to say that regional variety and cultures, even in our age of mass media and rapid transportation, continue to exist. It’s why federalism is such a vital institution, one in need of preservation (and, in many cases, restoration).
Blogs like Salt of America are useful resources for learning more about the depth and complexity of that variety. It’s also reassuring to see “ma and pop” blogs that persevere, and keep putting out and linking to charming, interesting content. Connecting with our regional, rural roots also gives us a greater sense of perspective for who we are as a people, and for all that we have to be thankful.
Let me know if you find anything interesting at Salt of America or any other blog. I’ll be sure to spotlight any items of interest here for the edification of my readers.