Mapping The Republic

Conflicting Concepts of the Territory and Character of the U.S.A., 1790-1900

Maps of the United States of America made by U.S. map makers in the nineteenth century embodied a truly important conflict in how Americans understood and conceptualized the republic. The issue was, which characteristic defined the republic? According to the Declaration of Independence of 1776, the republic was a single union comprising ” one People” united in their opposition to British tyranny; this federalist concept would underpin the belief in Manifest Destiny and the republic’s Westward expansion. Yet according to the Constitution, which took effect in 1789, the heart of the republic was formed by the sovereignty and autonomy of its constituent states; this localist concept would underpin the issue of “states’ rights” and the slaughter of the Civil War (1861-1865). This exhibition explores the two conflicting concepts and their political ramifications by means of early nineteenth century wall maps (sections 2-3). It then examines the tension between these spatial conceptions as it played out in a variety of maps and atlases made by both commercial companies and government agencies in the U.S.A.: geographical gazetteers and atlases from the Early Republic; general atlases from 1820-1860; newspaper broadsides covering both civil and external wars; and, the surveying and mapping of the topography and coasts of the U.S.A. by the Federal government (sections 4-7). Of course, the conflict persists to this day: no matter the degree to which Americans understand the U.S.A. to be a single entity, as represented by the weather maps of U.S.A. Today, they still expect Rand McNally and other publishers to organize their road atlases by individual states!

Credits and Acknowledgments

Mapping the Republic: Conflicting Concepts of the Territory and Character of the U.S.A., 1790-1900 was prepared by Professor Matthew H. Edney in association with the 20th International Conference on the History of Cartography organized by the Osher Map Library, University of Southern Maine, and the Harvard Map Collection, Harvard University, under the aegis of Imago Mundi, Ltd. The exhibit was installed by George Carhart and Casco Bay Framing. Valuable assistance was given by Dr. Harold L. Osher, Yolanda Theunissen, Lance Bergman, and Professor Adam-Max Tuchinsky. The professional assistance of Zip Kellogg, Sara Sikes, and the staff of the Publications and Marketing Department of USM is gratefully acknowledged as is the technical assistance of Affordable Photo. David Cobb and the Harvard Map Collection provided a digital version of the Lewis 1816 map for the exhibition website. All other images were scanned by Grapheteria, Inc. The exhibition poster was generously funded by the Friends of the Osher Map Library.