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Trans-Allegheny Republic

If natural barriers intervene to obstruct and retard communication between center and periphery, the frontier community is likely to develop the spirit of defection, especially if its local geographic, and hence social, conditions are markedly different from those of the governing center. This is the explanation of that demand for independent statehood which was rife in the trans-Allegheny settlements from 1785 to 1795, and of that separatist movement which advocated political alliance with either the British colonies to the north or the Spanish to the west, because these were nearer and offered easier access to the sea.

George Washington had been down the Ohio (1770); he had seen the possibilities of the Ohio country and it was from their commander that the officers of the Continental Army learned, as they sat with him about the camp-fires of the Revolution, definite knowledge of the beauty and richness of the west. Washington acknowledged that at times he seriously contemplated removing his home to his lands washed by the waters of the beautiful river and in the dark hours of the "storm and stress" of the struggle for independence, he looked to the Ohio country as a safe refuge for the colonists, to which they might retreat and where, protected by the natural barriers of lake, river and mountain, they could set up their republic, if the armies of the King should drive the American rebels beyond the Alleghenies.

The surveying party of which Benjamin Tupper was a member, got no farther west than Pittsburg until after the treaty with the savages made by General Parsons and other United States agents on the Miami in July 1786. General Tupper returned to Massachusetts in the winter of 1785-6, but left again for the west in June 1786, when the survey of the seven ranges was completed under his direction. In his first visit to the "Forks of the Ohio," Tupper obtained full and enthusing knowledge of the fertility and beauty of the trans-Allegheny country. He returned to his New England home to report to his war-impoverished neighbors the prospects of the promised land in the West.

The projectors of the enterprise sat up the entire night discussing and maturing plans that were to result in the founding of a western empire. The Ohio Company directors appointed Manassseh Cutler as the special agent of the association, to make a contract with the "Continental Congress" for a tract of land in the Great Western Territory "of the Union." On 27 July 1787, Congress passed the ordinance of purchase for the grant of nearly five million acres of land, amounting to three millions and a half of dollars, one million and a half acres for the Ohio Company, and the remainder for a private speculation. The Ohio River has been one of the greatest forwarding and distributing agencies ever known in history. Most rivers have been important because they invited to their shores a great and steadily increasing population creating States, government and civilization. Not so with the Ohio. Its historic role has been to forward quickly to distant empires the home-seekers and home-builders, in the nick of time, to count tremendously as a factor in Nation-building; and the fruits of the Ohio's importance, historically, are to be looked for and found in the meadow-lands of Kentucky and the prairie-lands of Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska and Kansas.

Europe laughed to scorn the pretensions of the young American Republic in asserting sovereignty from the Alleghanies to the Mississippi; France and England, rich monarchies, had found that Trans-Allegheny empire too heavy a burden; how, then, could the feeble Republic carry it? For just one reason. It could lay down a population almost instantly in a strategically rich agricultural region that would command the Mississippi and its western tributaries.

With the dawning of the flat-boat era, the Ohio suddenly became a strategic "Course of Empire". The flat-boat was the all-important craft which made the Ohio a power in the world. It cannot be described, except by saying that anything that would float came under the classification. Steered by an oar, either in front or in the rear, propelled by pole, oar, sail or current, the flat-boat can be divided roughly into two classes; those more strongly constructed were usually destined for a longer journey — to the Mississippi or its tributaries—while those more loosely built were for the lower Ohio.

The people of Kentucky and Tennessee had always regarded it as a vital interest of theirs to have the free navigation of the Mississippi. So long as a foreign power held the mouth of the river, plots were formed for separating the trans-Alleghany country from the Atlantic States, the strength of which plots lay in the fact that the tie of interest which made the basis of a union with the holder of New Orleans was stronger than the tie of interest which united the two sides of the Alleghanies.

Before 1795 the people of the Trans-Allegheny West threatened the establishment of an independent republic when it appeared that a selfish and short-sighted Congress was on the point of bartering away for ephemeral commercial advantages the right of a free navigation of the Mississippi River, on which the very existence of the western frontiersman depended.

In 1795 the United States by treaty with Spain secured a right of deposit at New Orleans for three years, and these separation plots lost all their strength. The “Annual Register” for 1796 (anti-federalist) very pertinently pointed out to the Western people the advantages they enjoyed from the Union “If they had been £ into an independent republic, the court of Madrid would have scorned to grant such a free navigation”* (i. e., as it granted in the treaty of 1795). In 1803 the whole matter of the navigation of the Mississippi was settled by the purchase of Louisiana by the United States.

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Page last modified: 19-10-2017 15:23:42 ZULU