Northern Illinois University Press

Conflict on the Michigan Frontier

Yankee and Borderland Cultures, 1815–1840

James Z. Schwartz

“Well written. Advances a novel thesis: that Michigan leaders sought to combat ‘wilderness’ on the frontier by establishing legal and cultural barriers, and in the process ended up transforming the culture they had hoped to transplant from the eastern states.”—Amy Greenberg, Pennsylvania State University

“It is informed by recent scholarship, is engagingly written, and makes a significant contribution to a number of historical literatures. Schwartz does a marvelous job of achieving his goal and making a forceful case for his main thesis.”—Martin Hershock, University of Michigan

In the early 19th century, the pioneers who came from New England to the Northwest Territory envisioned themselves taming the wilderness. As they cleared the forests for their crops and livestock, these settlers also sought to transform the social landscape for the cultivation of their own moral values, political beliefs, and cultural institutions. Using Michigan as a case study, James Schwartz explains how settlers employed both legal tactics and moral suasion to impose their vision of a civilized society.

Yankees were concerned not only with the barbarism of the Native Americans in Michigan but also with the savagery of the territory’s white inhabitants who violated the norms of genteel society. Michigan leaders sought to eliminate this compound threat by establishing two kinds of boundaries—formal legal barriers and informal restraints. Combining these elements of civic culture allowed settlers to enact laws while also placing emphasis on families, schools, community groups, and print culture to reestablish social norms in a new environment. The elected legislature passed anti-vice laws to control drunks and gamblers while it debated ways in which to curb unscrupulous speculators and avaricious bankers. Meanwhile crusaders advocated religious instruction and education to civilize the state’s youth.

Conflict on the Michigan Frontier touches on one of the oldest debates in American history: whether westerners created new cultures or simply transplanted those in which they had been raised. Schwartz concludes that, while efforts to transform the physical and social landscape of the Northwest Territory generally succeeded, Michigan’s settlers blended New England and the frontier, establishing a landscape that resembled, but was not identical to, that of the East. Despite the focus on Michigan, Schwartz’s study sheds important new light on how settlers transplanted eastern culture not just to the Midwest, but to the entire American frontier.

(2009) 192 pp.
ISBN 978-0-87580-400-2
cloth $30.00

James Z. Schwartz is a visiting Assistant Professor of History at Eastern Illinois University.

Table of Contents

Chapter One: The Rise of Michigan's New Constitutional Order
Chapter Two: Ohio and the Battle for Michigan's Southern Border
Chapter Three: Economic Development and the Panic of 1837
Chapter Four: Taming the "Savagery" of Michigan Indians
Chapter Five: Civilizing White Settlers
Chapter Six: Cholera and the Conflict over Cultural Boundaries in Early Michigan

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ISBN: 978-0-87580-400-2
Conflict on the Michigan Frontier $30.00