American Geography and Politics

pennsylvania_map

Pennsylvania is one of many states that moved its capital to a small city nearer its center as its population spread.

A modern gentleman realizes geography matters as much as ever. Despite Internet connectivity and airplanes, it remains cheaper and more convenient to know what’s going on with a neighbor than keep in touch with a good friend who lives a few hours’ drive away — let alone San Francisco.

The Founding Fathers knew this. Sure, we are taught that placing the District of Columbia between Virginia and Maryland was a bargaining chip between North and South at the First Federal Congress. But its location made sense because the mean center of the United States’ population in 1790, when the deal was struck, was Kent County, Maryland. Kent County, which is just across the Chesapeake Bay from Baltimore, roughly corresponded to the geographic center of the existing states as well.

As of the 2010 Census, the mean center of the population had shifted to Texas County, Missouri. The geographic and geodetic centers of the 48 contiguous states are around Lebanon, Kansas. And the geographic center of all 50 states is just west of Castle Rock, South Dakota.

In short: The location of Washington, D.C., no longer represents — certainly not literally and increasingly less symbolically  — where we are as a nation.

From this perspective, it stands to reason that people of the Great Plains are state-centric. While frequent flights make travel from the West Coast to the capital cheap and easy, the middle part of the country remains relatively isolated. As a result, its representatives are either independently wealthy, willing to accept “free” flights or both (read: Republicans/Ben Nelson who add nothing to the national discourse and obtain even less for their constituents from the federal government but gain much for themselves from industries plying votes).

I propose a simple solution: The United States should follow the examples of Pennsylvania, Missouri and others, moving its capital to reflect shifts in population and economic influence. A move would enfranchise a segment of the electorate currently indifferent to national politics while unsettling special interests that have become entrenched in Washington, D.C., during the last 200 years.

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