No child has ever been known to say, “When I grow up, I want to establish a state line.” But somebody had to do it. Who were those people? How did they end up in that endeavor?

As it turns out, the people involved in America’s states being shaped the way they are have come from all walks of life. Some are famous, such as Thomas Jefferson and John Quincy Adams, though how they participated in shaping our states is not widely known. Others are famous, but why they’re famous is not widely known. Daniel Webster, for example: is he famous because of his extraordinary debate in The Devil and Daniel Webster? Stephen Vincent Benét’s tale may well be why Webster remains famous. But Daniel Webster never debated with Satan—at least not in public. He did, however, create one state’s lines.

Most of those who participated in the location of our state lines are not famous. Moreover, they are not exclusively white men. Women, African Americans, Native Americans, and Hispanics have also been involved in shaping the states.

For none of these people was the establishment of their state line their primary objective in life. Their participation in the creation of a boundary resulted from some personal quest. Those quests differed, yet each quest emanated from the issues of the time. Today those historical issues, and the personal quests they spawned, are imprinted on the map in the form of state lines.

The borders of the United States, however, do not fully enclose those quests. Many others sought, unsuccessfully, to create additional states in Canada, Mexico, Cuba, and—still an issue—Puerto Rico. Their stories further enhance our perspective of the United States.

The American map is so familiar that even its straight lines begin to seem a part of nature. But looking at it through the individuals involved in its creation, that map becomes a mural. Its lines reflect an ongoing progression of Americans. Who, when, and where they were explains much of why we are who we are today.


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