Crazy Jedediah Whiffs the Migration Question

Jedidiah Morse wrote the first geography books published in the United States.  He was also the father of American conspiracy theorists, being the first to warn his countrymen that a secret cabal of international Illuminati was working to subvert Christianity and foment radical democratic revolution.  He made these wild charges in a sermon delivered in Boston in 1798, wherein he distilled the findings of John Robison’s Proofs of a Conspiracy against all the Religions and Governments of Europe (1797).

Everyone knows that the religions and governments of Europe were the objects of universal love in 1797, and that to imagine otherwise was just paranoid delirium.

Morse had already shown signs of insanity in his American Geography, published in 1792, wherein he advanced the absurd idea that mass migrations change the land in which they settle, which of course flies in the face of everything we know about the metamorphic power of a political border.  The obvious fact is that the effect of crossing a political border may be likened to the effect that Christians claim for baptism.

Crossing a border effects a galvanic transformation of the soul.

Morse denied this transformative power and said that the Americans who were then crossing the Mississippi River into New Spain (which then included the lands that would become the Louisiana Purchase) were not thereby transformed into Spaniards.  In fact, he said that even permanent residence west of the Mississippi would not transform them into  Spaniards, a crack-brained error that will bring a smile to anyone who knows what happened in Arkansas, Missouri and Iowa.

Here’s how crazy Jedidiah put it:

“It has been supposed by some, that all settlers who go beyond the Mississippi, will forever be lost to the United States.  There is, I believe, little danger in this . . . . They will carry along with them their manners and customs, their habits of government, religion and education . . . . They will be Americans in fact, though nominally subjects of Spain . . . . We cannot but anticipate the period as not far distant when the American Empire will comprehend millions of souls west of the Mississippi . . . . The Mississippi was never designed as the western boundary of the American empire.”

To point up the absurdity of these lines, imagine if these analogous lines were written by a crazy Mexican geographer of today.

“It has been supposed by some, that all settlers who go beyond the Rio Grande, will forever be lost to Mexico.  There is, I believe, little danger in this . . . . They will carry along with them their manners and customs, their habits of government, religion and education . . . . They will be Mexicans in fact, though nominally subjects of the United States . . . . We cannot but anticipate the period as not far distant when the Mexican Empire will comprehend millions of souls north of the Rio Grande . . . . The Rio Grande was never designed as the northern boundary of the Mexican empire.”

3 thoughts on “Crazy Jedediah Whiffs the Migration Question

  1. You had me brimming with smug national pride until that bait-n-switch at the end. “Of course, manifest destiny was our national policy and as Lincoln said, we have for ourselves the fairest portion of the Earth. By no means could the Mississippi restrain us!” I said to myself. Then the reality of the invasion set in.

    His use of the word comprehend is interesting. I always attributed it to mental faculties and ignored it’s older etymological history of straightforwardly seizing. Com + Pre + hend, or completely + before + hold. An obvious linguistic relation would be apprehend, which would mean both “to seize” in the literal sense and in the “apprehensive” sense of “grasping what is about to unfold”. Those who are apprehensive about the comprehension of territory north of the rio grande into Mexico must endeavor to apprehend those reprehensible foreign nationals and remand them to their homeland.

    • Manifest destiny was just another way of saying that northern New Spain-Mexico was a cartographic fiction. Settlement was extremely sparse and the settled frontier was retreating, not advancing. If the U.S. had not taken what is now the southwest, a few thousand Apache and Comanche would have.

      Comprehend means to grasp or take in. We now use it almost exclusively in the metaphorical sense of fully understand, but this was not always so.

  2. Pingback: Crazy Jedediah Whiffs the Migration Question | Reaction Times

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