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spirit of man; who know that in the ultimate record of history, the place of the Ohio Valley will depend upon the contribution which her people and her leaders make to the cause of an enlightened, a cultivated, a God-fearing and a free, as well as a comfortable, democracy.
THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE MISSISSIPPI VALLEY IN AMERICAN HISTORY 1
The rise of a company of sympathetic and critical students of history in the South and in the West is bound to revolutionize the perspective of American history. Already our Eastern colleagues are aware in general, if not in detail, of the importance of the work of this nation in dealing with the vast interior, and with the influence of the West upon the nation. Indeed, I might take as the text for this address the words of one of our Eastern historians, Professor Albert Bushnell Hart, who, a decade ago, wrote:
The Mississippi Valley yields to no region in the world in interest, in romance, and in promise for the future. Here, if anywhere, is the real America the field, the theater, and the basis of the civilization of the Western World. The history of the Mississippi Valley is the history of the United States; its future is the future of one of the most powerful of modern nations.2
If those of us who have been insisting on the importance of our own region are led at times by the enthusiasm of the pioneer for the inviting historical domain that opens before
1 Proceedings of the Mississippi Valley Historical Association for 190910. Reprinted with the permission of the Association.
2 Harper's Magazine, February, 1900, p. 413.
us to overstate the importance of our subject, we may at least plead that we have gone no farther than some of our brethren of the East; and we may take comfort in this declaration of Theodore Roosevelt:
The states that have grown up around the Great Lakes and in the Valley of the Upper Mississippi, [are] the states which are destined to be the greatest, the richest, the most prosperous of all the great, rich, and prosperous commonwealths which go to make up the mightiest republic the world has ever seen. These states . . . form the heart of the country geographically, and they will soon become the heart in population and in political and social importance. . . . I should be sorry to think that before these states there loomed a future of material prosperity merely. I regard this section of the country as the heart of true American sentiment.3
In studying the history of the whole Mississippi Valley, therefore, the members of this Association are studying the origins of that portion of the nation which is admitted by competent Eastern authorities to be the section potentially most influential in the future of America. They are also studying the region which has engaged the most vital activities of the whole nation; for the problems arising from the existence of the Mississippi Valley, whether of movement of popu lation, diplomacy, politics, economic development, or social structure, have been fundamental problems in shaping the nation. It is not a narrow, not even a local, interest which
Roosevelt, "The Northwest in the Nation," in "Proceedings of the Wisconsin Historical Society," Fortieth Annual Meeting, p. 92.
determines the mission of this Association. It is nothing less than the study of the American people in the presence and under the influence of the vast spaces, the imperial resources of the great interior. The social destiny of this Valley will be the social destiny, and will mark the place in history, of the United States.
In a large sense, and in the one usually given to it by geographers and historians, the Mississippi Valley includes the whole interior basin, a province which drains into nearly two thousand miles of navigable waters of the Mississippi itself, two thousand miles of the tawny flood of the Missouri, and a thousand miles of the Ohio five thousand miles of main water highways open to the steamboat, nearly two and a half million square miles of drainage basin, a land greater than all Europe except Russia, Norway, and Sweden, a land of levels, marked by essential geographic unity, a land estimated to be able to support a population of two or three hundred millions, three times the present population of the whole nation, an empire of natural resources in which to build a noble social structure worthy to hold its place as the heart of American industrial, political and spiritual life.
The significance of the Mississippi Valley in American history was first shown in the fact that it opened to various nations visions of power in the New World — visions that sweep across the horizon of historical possibility like the luminous but unsubstantial aurora of a comet's train, portentous and fleeting.
Out of the darkness of the primitive history of the continent are being drawn the evidences of the rise and fall of Indian cultures, the migrations through and into the great Valley by men of the Stone Age, hinted at in legends and languages, dimly told in the records of mounds and artifacts, but waiting still for complete interpretation.
Into these spaces and among the savage peoples, came France and wrote a romantic page in our early history, a page that tells of unfulfilled empire. What is striking in the effect of the Mississippi Valley upon France is the pronounced influence of the unity of its great spaces. It is not without meaning that Radisson and Groseilliers not only reached the extreme of Lake Superior but also, in all probability, entered upon the waters of the Mississippi and learned of its western affluent; that Marquette not only received the Indians of the Illinois region in his post on the shores of Lake Superior, but traversed the length of the Mississippi almost to its mouth, and returning revealed the site of Chicago; that La Salle was inspired with the vision of a huge interior empire reaching from the Gulf to the Great Lakes. Before the close of the seventeenth century, Perrot's influence was supreme in the Upper Mississippi, while D'Iberville was laying the foundations of Louisiana toward the mouth of the river. Nor is it without significance that while the Verendryes were advancing toward the northwest (where they discovered the Big Horn Mountains and revealed the natural boundaries of the Valley) the Mallet brothers were ascending the Platte, crossing the Colorado plains to Santa Fé and so revealing the natural boundaries toward the southwest.
To the English the great Valley was a land beyond the Alleghanies. Spotswood, the far-sighted Governor of Virginia, predecessor of frontier builders, grasped the situation when he proposed western settlements to prevent the ch from becoming a great people at the back of the colon realized the importance of the Mississippi Valley' as for expansion, and the necessity to the English dominating it, if England would remain the gre the New World.
In the war that