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  • Writer's pictureFrederick Gero Heimbach

Thomas Jefferson's Mad Midwest Plan

Once the fledgling United States had acquired the Northwest Territories and their general shape was known, Thomas Jefferson's topographical mind couldn't rest until he had carved it up into states. The map you see here is the result of his efforts. It's surprising to me how little known this fascinating document is, so I share it with you.

As plans go, Jefferson's is unusually bad. He organized the states around a meridian measured from the "falls of the Ohio." Why that location was so important to him, I don't know. Perhaps he thought the parts of the Mississippi river system below those falls (i.e., west of the meridian) would be significantly different due to their access to navigable water. Economic differences lead to cultural differences, no question. In retrospect, however, we know there are lots and lots of geological and topological features more important than those falls.

In any event, in an effort to get states like Saratoga and Pelisipia into neat boxes, he ends up with a horrible rump state he named Washington. (GW: "Thanks, Thomas. Thanks a lot. Remind me to return the favor sometime.")

Jefferson also chopped up Michigan's peninsulas with borders that make even less sense than the ones that state (my state) eventually got stuck with, thanks to the War of Southern Aggression. (Although trading away Toledo for the Upper Peninsula was, in retrospect, not a bad deal at all.)

Jefferson's borders inspired me not at all, but his names inspired me quite a bit, when I came to create a map for my alternate history where the USA is founded by Satan-worshiping pirates:

Note well the disputed territory between Michigan and Ohio. No, I am not bitter. Not bitter at all. And if you're wondering how Texas ended up with Mexico, it happened like this: the president of Mexico won it from the president of the USA in a game of correspondence poker.

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