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Regions of the USA

2015.10.11

Regions of the USA

from Britannica Encyclopedia

The West

The West, region, western U.S., mostly west of the Great Plains and including, by federal-government definition, Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming. Virtually every part of the United States except the Eastern Seaboard has been “the West” at some point in American history, linked in popular imagination with the last frontier of American settlement. But especially it is that vast stretch of plain, mountains, and desert west of the Mississippi that has loomed so large in American folklore, a region of cowboys, Indians, covered wagons, outlaws, prospectors, and a whole society operating just outside the law.

As with other sections of the United States, regional boundaries are somewhat imprecise. The West of the cowboy and the cattle drive covered many non-Western states, including Kansas and Nebraska. Much of the West’s fiercest Indian fighting took place in the Dakotas, both of which are now considered to be part of the Middle West. Alaska and Hawaii, geographically the most western of all the states, are really no part of the popularly conceived West at all.

Furthermore, though the West was the last region of the United States to be settled and developed, its modern history predates that of the British colonies on the eastern seaboard. The Spaniards reached the Grand Canyon in 1540, what is presently Kansas in 1541, and San Francisco in 1542. Santa Fe was founded in 1610, only three years after the British founding of Jamestown. Extensive settlement, however, was still hundreds of years away.

 Much of the West became part of the United States through the Louisiana Purchase of 1803; the Southwest, however, was a Mexican possession until 1848. The Lewis and Clark Expedition of 1804–06 established much of what would become the Oregon Trail and thereby facilitated settlement of the Pacific Northwest, an area soon known for its richness in furs, timber, and salmon. The Mormons, fleeing from harassment in Midwestern states, reached Utah in 1847, built Salt Lake City, and began a vigorous colonization of all parts of the Rocky Mountain West. The discovery of gold in California in 1848 brought a burst of migration to the West Coast and led to California’s admission to the Union in 1850, barely two years after it had been ceded from Mexico.

The rest of the West, however, remained sparsely populated. For many decades, most Americans knew of the Great Plains simply as the Great American Desert, an inhospitable area of poor soil, little water, hostile Indians, and general inaccessibility. But the years following the American Civil War changed that conception. In 1862 the Homestead Act was passed by Congress; in 1869 the first transcontinental railroad was completed; and in 1873 barbed-wire fencing was introduced. Coupled with improvements in dry farming and irrigation and the confinement of American Indians (after much brutal and costly warfare) to reservations, the Great American Desert grew steadily in population.

In the 20th century the rapid growth of the West continued. In every census decade but one from 1850 to 1960, the West’s population growth rate was more than twice the national average, although the rate diminished thereafter. While the several Mountain states account for only a small percentage of the nation’s manufacturing, the preponderance of the industrial strength in the West lies in the few Pacific states, which have shown a dramatic increase in the number of manufacturing establishments (1940 to the late 1970s) and nearly doubled the West’s percentage of the national value added by manufacture. No longer merely a land of “wide, open spaces,” cattle, mines, and mountains, the West has become famous for other things: for example, the motion-picture industry in southern California, gambling in Nevada, aerospace production in Washington and California, environmental protection in Oregon, and retirement communities in Arizona.


 

Middle West

Middle West, also called Midwest, or North Central States,  region, northern and central United States, lying midway between the Appalachian and Rocky mountains and north of the Ohio River and the 37th parallel. The Middle West, as defined by the federal government, comprises the states of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wisconsin. Actually composed of two regions, the Northwest Territory, or the Old Northwest, and the Great Plains, the Middle West has become more an idea than a region: an area of immense diversity but somehow consciously representative of a national average.

The Northwest Territory entered the United States in 1783 at the conclusion of the American Revolution and was organized under a series of ordinances that set the precedent for the admission of future territories into the Union. The Great Plains entered the United States in 1803 as part of the Louisiana Purchase. The Plains were to develop primarily agriculturally, but the Northwest Territory, blessed with both fertile soil and valuable natural resources (coal, oil, iron ore, and limestone), would develop both industrially and agriculturally.

Emerging transportation arteries, first canals and then railroads, linked the Middle West with Eastern markets and firmly established it as part of the industrially expanding North, thus concluding a process begun in 1787 when slavery was outlawed in the Northwest Territory. The region was not without its Southern sympathizers, however, as a number of its settlers, particularly in the Ohio River valley, had migrated from the South; but the Middle West was to give to the brewing sectional crisis not only a new political party (the Republicans) that was devoted to the nonextension of slavery but also two of the Union’s staunchest defenders: Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas.

After the American Civil War, the growth experienced by the Middle West was dramatic. Transportation, immigration, and industrialization all played a part. By 1890 Chicago, not even 60 years old, had become the second largest city in the country, and the Middle West accounted for 29 percent of the country’s manufacturing employment and nearly one-third of its value added by manufacture. The Great Plains, however, developed more slowly. Westward migration tended to skip the Plains for the West Coast, and it was not until the late 1800s, when most American Indians had been subjugated, barbed-wire fencing had been introduced, and railroads had penetrated the interior, that the Plains experienced rapid settlement by farmers, ranchers, and tradesmen.

The influence of the Middle West on national life has been significant. In the 1870s, it was the main area of activity of the Granger movement and a hotbed of labour agitation. It provided some of the most prominent figures of the Progressive movement and was home for many of America’s most famous industrial giants. It was an innovator in architecture and retailing, a potent force in the settlement-house movement, a centre of temperance activity, and an inspiration to a new school of naturalistic writers.

Unique in American life, the Middle West has fused the raw and expansive muscle of an urban industrial establishment with the sturdy conservatism of a rural hinterland. But like its neighbours to the northeast, the Middle West’s growth rate has lagged behind that of the country as a whole.

Despite regional economic shifts adverse to the Middle West, the region has continued to be the most important economic region in the country, leading all other sections in value added by manufacture and in total value of farm marketings.


 

the North

the North, region, northern United States, historically identified as the free states that opposed slavery and the Confederacy during the American Civil War. This struggle against slavery and secession obscured the reality that the North was actually four separate and not so similar areas: New England, the Middle Atlantic states, the Old Northwest (East North Central States in federal terms), and the Great Plains (West North Central States). Recognized as these four areas, the North includes Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont, and Wisconsin. Of these, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota were not states at the time of the Civil War, and Missouri, though part of the Union, was a slave state; thus, regional lines were, and remain, unclear. Regional distinctions, however, did exist. As early as 1796 President George Washington used the terms North and South, warning against the danger of basing political differences upon geographic lines. The most critical sectional distinction, however, had already been recognized in 1787, when slavery was banned in the Northwest Territory (an area known today as the American Midwest). Soon after the American Revolution, slavery disappeared in all states north of the Mason and Dixon Line, the boundary between Pennsylvania and Maryland.

The North’s development was characterized by a common system of free labour, commercial vigour, and agricultural diversity. In the 19th century transportation developed markedly along east-west lines; e.g., the Erie Canal opened up the Great Lakes in 1825, and New York City was connected to Chicago by rail in 1852. Thus, both immigration and trade bound northern sections together, creating a remarkable homogeneity of ideology, political and educational institutions, cultural ties, and economic patterns.

By the 1850s the question of the extension of slavery into the western territories was the central issue uniting the North and bringing it into conflict with the South. On the eve of the American Civil War (1861), there were 19 free and 15 slave states, the boundary between them following the Mason and Dixon Line, the Ohio River, and latitude 36°30′ (except for Missouri). The North attained its highest self-consciousness as a region during the war, when its name became synonymous with the Union. Including the four border states that fought with the Union, the North at this time had a population of 22 million, produced 75 percent of the nation’s wealth, and possessed 81 percent of its factories.

The North attempted, largely unsuccessfully, to ensure the political enfranchisement and socioeconomic equality of blacks in the South during the Reconstruction period (1865–77). Meanwhile, the North itself was experiencing an unprecedented period of economic growth as it underwent industrialization. As the 19th century progressed, the North, particularly the Middle Atlantic states and the Great Lakes area of the Middle West, became more and more typified by big cities, big business, and big industrial complexes. Its ample natural resources, excellent inland-waterway system, and proliferating railways confirmed the North as the economic hub of the country, while the vast expanse of prairie and plain on both sides of the Mississippi gave the western reaches of the North the agricultural dominance that would make it America’s breadbasket.

This dominance, however, was not without its costs. Immigration brought millions of southern and eastern Europeans to northern cities, swelling their populations and providing a cheap source of industrial labour but also causing problems of housing, health, and education. When this wave of immigration slowed dramatically after 1920, it was replaced in the second half of the 20th century by another wave made up of Southern blacks, Latin Americans, and East Asians. During the late 1950s the South was the initial locus of the civil rights movement, but by the late 1960s and ’70s the inclusion of minorities in the political and economic mainstream of the nation was as much a challenge in the North as in the South.

Continuing heavy industrialization had affected the environment, causing water- and air-pollution problems, while the concentration of blacks in Northern inner-city ghettos spawned tension and violence and severely affected patterns of housing, education, employment, and public health. These difficulties, coupled with the decay of the North’s industrial base owing to foreign competition and other factors, contributed to further demographic shifts, notably a significant migration of people from the North to southern and western states. In 1939 the North had 70 percent of the country’s manufacturing establishments within its borders. By the late 1970s this figure had fallen to barely more than half. Likewise, the North accounted for 58 percent of the total population of the United States in 1940, but only 40 percent at the turn of the 20th century. Efforts at renewal and revitalization were undertaken by many Northern cities, with varying effect.


 

Southwest

Southwest,  region, southwestern United States, historically denoting several geographic areas in turn and changing over the years as the nation expanded. After the War of 1812, the Southwest generally meant Missouri, Arkansas, and Louisiana; after Texas was annexed, it, too, was included. In the wake of the war with Mexico, the Southwest embraced most, but not all, of the territory that was acquired under the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo (1848), including land often considered part of the “West”—i.e., New Mexico, Arizona, and all or parts of Oklahoma, Colorado, Utah, and Nevada, as suited the convenience of the user of the term. It ordinarily excludes California.

The common denominator of the modern Southwest is aridity. The high, dry plains of Texas extend westward to the Pecos valley of New Mexico. Although the southern spurs of the Rocky Mountains beyond the Pecos River are cool and are dotted with evergreens, farther west are vast highly coloured sandstone deposits. Occasional mesas or buttes rise above the peneplain through which the Colorado River has cut such spectacular gorges as the Grand Canyon. Stretching westward from Arizona are the true deserts with their growth of cacti and gaunt, parallel chains of mountains almost devoid of vegetation.

Most crops can be grown in the Southwest only with irrigation, the water for which is taken mostly from the Colorado River and the Rio Grande. Prior to the Reclamation Act of 1902 and the subsequent building of Theodore Roosevelt Dam (completed 1911) near Phoenix, Ariz., Hoover Dam (1936) on the Colorado River, and the Glen Canyon Dam (1966) upriver from Hoover, the dryness of the land enforced a pastoral economy. During the period of Spanish ascendancy in the early 1800s, sheep ranches grew to great size. The Pueblo Indians even began to use wool instead of native cotton in their weaving. Although the importance of sheep ranching has declined in the 20th century, cattle raising has increased and is economically important in New Mexico, Arizona, Oklahoma, and Texas; the latter leads all other states in the raising of beef cattle as well as sheep. Long-staple cotton, alfalfa, citrus fruit, grain, and sorghum are the Southwest’s main crops.

Copper mining, particularly in Arizona, where open-pit operations account for about two-thirds of the nation’s total annual production, has been important since the 19th century. The discovery of petroleum and natural-gas deposits in the early 20th century in Oklahoma and Texas resulted in oases of prosperity from local oil booms. Along the Gulf Coast a flourishing industrial region developed around Houston and other Gulf of Mexico ports, largely based on petrochemical industries. Also, since World War II and particularly in Arizona and Texas, manufacturing has become important, notably in the electrical, communications, aeronautical, automobile-assembly, and aluminum industries. The growth of population and industry in the region also brought water shortages and, following the building of dams, disputes between states over the allocation of water resources, such as the diversion of water from the Colorado River.

Although the Southwest’s dry, crisp climate and scenic landscapes were a curse to agriculture, they have been a boon to businesses catering to tourists and health seekers. These visitors had a lively interest in the Indian and Spanish-American cultures, including the native architecture, Indian dances, Spanish fiestas, and rodeos. The Southwest has also become a popular retirement area.

 

 

 

South

The Pinnacle, in Cumberland Gap National Historical Park, overlooking the point where Kentucky, …D. Muench/H. Armstrong Robertsregion, southeastern United States, generally though not exclusively considered to be south of the Mason and Dixon Line, the Ohio River, and the 36°30′ parallel. As defined by the U.S. federal government, it includes Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia. The South was historically set apart from other sections of the country by a complex of factors: a long growing season, its staple crop patterns, the plantation system, and black agricultural labour, whether slave or free. White domination of blacks characterized Southern politics and economics from the 17th century and began to yield only after World War II.

Cotton Pressing in Louisiana; wood engraving from …Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.The warm climate of the South affords a period of 200–290 frost-free days per year, enabling such profitable crops as tobacco, rice, sugarcane, and cotton to be grown. This climate, coupled with abundant rainfall, offered 17th- and 18th-century European settlers a superb opportunity to raise crops for export if an adequate permanent labour supply could be found. The source proved to be African slaves, made available for purchase through the international slave trade. From this unique situation of supply and demand arose the system of plantation slavery, which above all other factors distinguished the South from other U.S. regions. By 1790, blacks constituted about one-third of the Southern population and almost the entire workforce on the plantations. At the beginning of the American Civil War (1861), more than four million blacks remained in bondage, though less than one-sixth of the white population actually owned slaves.

Economically, the antebellum and cotton-oriented South looked to the British textile industry for its market and opposed the growing politico-economic power of the industrializing North. The Southern social philosophy, holding to an ideal of rural gentry, presented a sharp contrast to that of the North, for it stressed a genteel, aristocratic lifestyle rather than one based on the earnest accumulation of money.

In the period between the American Revolution (1775–83) and about 1830, the North, spurred by the abolitionists, passed from mild opposition to strong condemnation of slavery. In response, the white South rose to an unqualified defense of its “peculiar institution,” supporting it on the grounds of biblical sanction, economic justification, the supposed racial inferiority of blacks, and the necessity for a well-ordered society. Southern separatism in defense of slavery culminated in 1860–61, when 11 Southern states (South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Texas, Arkansas, North Carolina, Virginia, and Tennessee) seceded from the Union and formed the Confederate States of America. The ensuing Civil War (1861–65) wrought immense destruction on much of the South, which emerged the loser in the conflict. In many areas cropland was ruined, livestock lost, railroads destroyed, and billions of dollars in slave-related investments wiped out. Recovering slowly from this destruction, much of the South continued to rely largely on a one-crop economy—cotton, tobacco, or rice—and to cultivate the crops with the labour of black freedmen. The white-dominated South’s continuing insistence on the inferiority and subordination of blacks through a system of legalized racial-control measures known as Jim Crow laws resulted, after Reconstruction ended (1877), in the replacement of slavery with three institutions: the economic system of sharecropping (tenant farming), the political system of one-party politics (Democratic), and the social system of racial segregation, supported by law and custom.

Until 1932 the South remained an impoverished and undiversified region. The growth of a textile industry in the Carolinas and the movement to develop a “New South” after the Civil War had not seriously qualified the region’s commitment to cotton, to agriculture, and to a rural way of life. The blacks remained a kind of peasantry, and the income of the South stood at only $372 per capita in 1929, while income outside the South was $797 per capita. Chronic overproduction of cotton, with its attendant low prices, forced more and more farmers, both black and white, into sharecropping; between 1880 and 1930 Southern land tenancy increased from 36 to 55 percent. The Great Depression of the 1930s caused a total bankruptcy of the cotton economy, which was not relieved until federal New Deal legislation intervened to provide payments for reducing cotton acreage and for unemployment relief. Both of these devices encouraged migration to the cities, a trend that was accelerated during World War II by a heavy influx of Southern blacks to Northern industrial centres.

The New Deal, however, was ultimately to benefit the South. The cotton acreage quota system led to improvements in productivity and to diversification of the agricultural base. The Tennessee Valley Authority, a vast river-development scheme created in 1933, brought electricity to many rural families, further increased farmland productivity through flood control and improved soil management, and laid the groundwork for new industry.

After World War II the South began to experience sustained growth and industrialization, particularly in the lumber, paper, petrochemical, and aerospace industries. The cultivation of citrus and other fruits, peanuts (groundnuts), and soybeans eradicated the Deep South’s historic dependence on cotton, which fell below livestock, poultry, and textiles in production value. By the 21st century, manufacturing was the largest sector of the economy in most Southern states.

Selma March, Alabama, March 1965.Peter Pettus/Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. (LC-DIG-ppmsca-08102)During the second half of the 20th century, the population of the South boomed, exceeding 100 million by the end of the century, when the increasingly urban region contained two-fifths of the nation’s 50 largest metropolitan areas. By the 2000 census, Texas had surpassed New York as the second most populous state. Moreover, Florida’s population more than doubled in the final three decades of the 20th century. As the demographic balance of the country shifted southward, the South consistently gained Congressional representation. Meanwhile, the region’s political profile changed dramatically. A split in the Democratic Party in response to its postwar civil rights platform led to the ascendency of George Wallace and caused many segregationist Southern conservatives to flee to the Republican Party. This split was so exacerbated by the growing civil rights movement of the 1960s that by the 1980s the Democratic monopoly of the South was fully broken. Ever wealthier, the South played an increasing role in national politics beginning in the final quarter of the 20th century. Democrats Jimmy Carter of Georgia and Bill Clinton of Arkansas as well as Republicans George Bush and George W. Bush of Texas were elected president, and Southern support became pivotal to successful presidential campaigns. The controversial continued use of the Confederate flag by some Southern states remains a hotly debated political issue.

A country music group performs on a river in Louisiana.© Philip Gould/CorbisCulturally, the South boasts a literary tradition stretching from Sidney Lanier and Kate Chopin in the 19th century to William Faulkner, James Agee, and Eudora Welty in the 20th century. It has also been the crucible of jazz, blues, rock, and country and western music.