The Midwestern United States (or Midwest) is a name for the north-central states of the United States of America. The states that are part of the Midwest are: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wisconsin.
The word Midwest has been in common use since the late 19th century. Other names for the area are no longer used. These names include the "Northwest" or "Old Northwest", "Mid-America," or "the Heartland". Since 1929, sociologists have often used the Midwest as "typical" of the entire nation.
- Physical geography
- American Indian
- European exploration and early settlement
- British American colonization
- Development of transportation
- American Civil War
- Industrialization and immigration
- Images for kids
The vast central area of the U.S., into Canada, is a landscape of low, flat to rolling terrain in the Interior Plains. Most of its eastern two-thirds form the Interior Lowlands. The Lowlands gradually rise westward, from a line passing through eastern Kansas, up to 5,000+ feet in the unit known as the Great Plains). Much of the Plains are now converted land use-wise to farming.
While these states are for the most part relatively flat, consisting either of plains or of rolling and small hills, there is a measure of geographical variation. In particular, the eastern Midwest near the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains; the Great Lakes Basin; the Ozark Mountains of southern Missouri; the rugged topography of Southern Indiana and far Southern Illinois; and the Driftless Area of northwest Illinois, southwest Wisconsin, southeast Minnesota, and northeast Iowa exhibit a high degree of topographical variety.
Proceeding westward, the Appalachian Plateau topography gradually gives way to gently rolling hills and then (in central Ohio) to flat lands converted principally to farms and urban areas. This is the beginning of the vast Interior Plains of North America. As a result, prairies cover most of the Great Plains states. Iowa and much of Illinois lie within an area called the "prairie peninsula", an eastward extension of prairies that borders conifer and mixed forests to the north, and hardwood deciduous forests to the east and south.
Geographers subdivide the Interior Plains into the Interior Lowlands and the Great Plains on the basis of elevation. The Lowlands are mostly below 1,500 feet above sea level whereas the Great Plains to the west are higher, rising in Colorado to around 5,000 feet.
The Lowlands, then, are confined to parts of Minnesota, Iowa, Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Tennessee, and Kentucky. Missouri and Arkansas have regions of Lowlands elevations but in the Ozarks (within the Interior Highlands) are higher. Those familiar with the topography of eastern Ohio may be confused by this; that region is hilly but its rocks are horizontal and are an extension of the Appalachian Plateau.
The Interior Plains are largely coincident with the vast Mississippi River Drainage System (other major components are the Missouri and Ohio Rivers). These rivers have for tens of millions of years been eroding downward into the mostly horizontal sedimentary rocks of Paleozoic, Mesozoic, and Cenozoic ages. The modern Mississippi River system has developed during the Pleistocen Epoch of the Cenozoic Eraut its rocks are horizontal and are an extension of the Appalachian Plateau.
Rainfall decreases from east to west, resulting in different types of prairies, with the tallgrass prairie in the wetter eastern region, mixed-grass prairie in the central Great Plains, and shortgrass prairie towards the rain shadow of the Rockies. Today, these three prairie types largely correspond to the corn/soybean area, the wheat belt, and the western rangelands, respectively.
Although hardwood forests in the northern Midwest were clear-cut in the late 19th century, they were replaced by new growth. Ohio and Michigan's forests are still growing. The majority of the Midwest can now be categorized as urbanized areas or pastoral agricultural areas.
American Indians came to North America through the Beringia land bridge between Asia and North America anywhere from 12,000 to 100,000 years ago. According to the study of ancient Indian skulls by scientists, these people display affinities with populations as diverse as the Ainu of Japan, peoples of central Asia, Australasia, India, southwest Asia, and the Neandertals of Europe.
Prior to European colonization in North America, Native Americans had developed a large population in this vast land, estimated as between 1 million to 18 million, scattered across all of North America. There were many different tribes which belong to several main cultures and societies. In Midwestern America, the American Indians had experienced three main periods before the arrival of Europeans in the 17th century.
Paleoindian cultures was the earliest one, occupied North America, with some restricted to the Great Plains and Great Lakes of the modern United States and Canada, as well as adjacent areas to the west and southwest from about 12,000 B.C. to around 8,000 B.C. These people moved into North America when the continental glaciers of the last great ice age, the Wisconsin glaciation, began to melt.
Following the Paleo-Indian period is the Archaic period (8,000 B.C. to 1,000 B.C.), the Woodland Tradition (1,000 B.C. to 100 A.D.), and the Mississippi Period (900 to 1600 A.D.). Archeological evidence indicates that Mississippi culture probably began in the St. Louis, Missouri area and spread northwest along the Mississippi and Illinois rivers and entered the state along the Kankakee River system. It also spread northward into Indiana along the Wabash, Tippecanoe, and White Rivers.
The Mississippi period was characterized by a mound-building culture. The namesake cultural trait of the mound builders was their construction of large, truncated earthwork pyramid mounds, or platform mounds, and other earthworks. These burial and ceremonial structures were typically flat-topped pyramids or platform mounds, flat-topped or rounded cones, elongated ridges, and sometimes a variety of other forms. Domestic houses, temples, burial buildings were usually constructed on the tops of such mounds. Prehistoric mounds are common from the plains of the Midwest to the Atlantic seaboard, but only in this general area was there a culture that regularly constructed mounds in the shape of mammals, birds, or reptiles.
Among the most well known are found at Effigy Mounds National Monument in northeastern Iowa, the largest known collection of mounds in the United States. The monument contains 2,526 acres (10.22 km2) with 206 mounds of which 31 are effigies. The others are conical, linear and compound. Woodland period Indians built mounds from about 500 BC until the early European contact period. When the American prairies were plowed under by European settlers for agriculture, many mound sites were lost.
They were built as part of complex villages that attracted more dense populations, with a specialization of skills and knowledge. The best-known, flat-topped pyramidal structure, which at over 100 feet (30 m) tall is the largest pre-Columbian earthwork north of Mexico, is Monks Mound at Cahokia Indian Mounds in Collinsville, Illinois.
The mound builders included many different tribal groups and chiefdoms, involving an array of beliefs and unique cultures over thousands of years. The general term covered their shared architectural practice of earthwork mound construction. This practice, believed to be associated with a cosmology that had a cross-cultural appeal, may indicate common cultural antecedents.
Mississippi Mound tribes in the Midwest were mostly farmers who followed the rich, flat floodplains of Midwestern rivers. They brought with them a well-developed agricultural complex based on three major crops – maize, beans, and squash. Maize, or corn, was the primary crop of Mississippi farmers. They gathered a wide variety of seeds, nuts, and berries, and fished and hunted for fowl to supplement their diets. With such an intensive form of agriculture, Mississippi Mound culture supported a large Indian population.
Great Lakes Indians
The Great Lakes region –stretching from New York to Minnesota – has played a vital role in the lives and histories of Native American peoples who have resided along their shores for millennia. Tribes living around the Great Lakes area included the Hurons, Ottawa, Chippewas or Ojibwas, Potawatomis, Winnebago (Ho-chunk), Menominees, Sacs, Neutrals, Fox, and the Miami. Most numerous were the Hurons and Chippewas. Fighting and battle were often launched between tribes, with some tribes forced to move around.
Most Indian groups living in the Great Lakes region for the last five centuries are of the Algonquian language family. Some tribes—such as the Stockbridge-Munsee and the Brothertown--are also Algonkian-speaking tribes who relocated from the eastern seaboard to the Great Lakes region in the 19th century. The Oneida belong to the Iroquois language group and the Ho-Chunk of Wisconsin are one of the few Great Lakes tribes to speak a Siouan language. American Indians in this area did not develop a written form of language.
In the 16th century, American Indians used projectiles and tools of stone, bone, and wood to hunt and farm. They could made canoes for fishing. Most of them lived in oval or conical wigwams that could be easily moved away. Various tribes had different ways of living. The Ojibwas were primarily hunters and fishing was also important in the Ojibwas economy. Other tribes such as Sac, Fox, and Miami, who wandered in the south and southwestern section of the Great Lakes region, both hunted and farmed to make their living.
They were oriented toward the open prairies where they engaged in communal hunts for buffalo. In the northern forests, the Ottawas and Potawatomis separated into small family groups for hunting. The Winnebagos and Menominees used both hunting methods interchangeably and built up widespread trade networks extending as far west as the Rockies, north to the Great Lakes, south to the Gulf of Mexico, and east to the Atlantic Ocean.
The Hurons reckoned descent through the female line, while the others favored the patrilineal method. All tribes were governed under chiefdoms or complex chiefdoms. For example, Hurons were divided into matrilineal clans, each represented by a chief in the town council, where they met with a town chief on civic matters. But Chippewa people’s social and political life was simpler than that of settled tribes.
The religious beliefs varied among tribes. Hurons believed in Yoscaha, a supernatural being who lived in the sky and was believed to have created the world and the Huron people. At death, Hurons thought the soul left the body to live in a village in the sky. Chippewas were a deeply religious people who believed in the Great Spirit. They worshiped the Great Spirit through all their seasonal activities and viewed religion as a private matter: each person’s relation with his personal guardian spirit was part of his thinking every day of life. Ottawa and Potawatomi people had very similar religious beliefs to that of the Chippewas.
Great Plains Indians
The Plains Indians are the indigenous peoples who live on the plains and rolling hills of the Great Plains of North America. Their colorful equestrian culture and resistance to white domination have made the Plains Indians archetypical in literature and art for American Indians everywhere.
Plains Indians are usually divided into two broad classifications which overlap to some degree. The first group were fully nomadic, following the vast herds of buffalo. Some tribes occasionally engaged in agriculture; growing tobacco and corn primarily. These included the Blackfoot, Arapaho, Assiniboine, Cheyenne, Comanche, Crow, Gros Ventre, Kiowa, Lakota, Lipan, Plains Apache (or Kiowa Apache), Plains Cree, Plains Ojibwe, Sarsi, Shoshone, Stoney, and Tonkawa.
The second group of Plains Indians (sometimes referred to as Prairie Indians) were the semi-sedentary tribes who, in addition to hunting buffalo, lived in villages and raised crops. These included the Arikara, Hidatsa, Iowa, Kaw (or Kansa), Kitsai, Mandan, Missouria, Nez Perce, Omaha, Osage, Otoe, Pawnee, Ponca, Quapaw, Santee, Wichita, and Yankton.
The nomadic tribes of the Great Plains survived on hunting, and the bison was their main source of food. Some tribes are described as part of the 'Buffalo Culture' (sometimes called, for the American Bison). Although the Plains Indians hunted other animals, such as elk or antelope, bison was the primary game food source and the chief source for items which Plains Indians made from their flesh, hide and bones, such as food, cups, decorations, crafting tools, knives, and clothing. (See Bison hunting.)
The tribes followed the seasonal grazing and migration of bison. The Plains Indians lived in teepees because they were easily disassembled and allowed the nomadic life of following game. When Spanish horses were obtained, the Plains tribes rapidly integrated them into their daily lives. By the early 18th century, many tribes had fully adopted a horse culture. Before their adoption of guns, the Plains Indians hunted with spears, bows, and bows and arrows, and various forms of clubs. The use of horses by the Plains Indians made hunting (and warfare) much easier.
Among the most powerful and dominant tribes were the Dakota or Sioux, who occupied large amounts of territory in the Great Plains of the Midwest. The area of the Great Sioux Nation spread throughout the South and Midwest, up into the areas of Minnesota and stretching out west into the Rocky Mountains. At the same time, they occupied the heart of prime buffalo range and also an excellent region for furs which could be sold to French and American traders for goods such as guns. The Sioux (Dakota) became the most powerful of the Plains tribes and the greatest threat to American expansion.
- Isáŋyathi or Isáŋathi ("Knife," originating from the name of a lake in present-day Minnesota): residing in the extreme east of the Dakotas, Minnesota and northern Iowa, and are often referred to as the Santee or Eastern Dakota.
- Iháŋktȟuŋwaŋ and Iháŋktȟuŋwaŋna ("Village-at-the-end" and "little village-at-the-end"): residing in the Minnesota River area, they are considered to be the middle Sioux, and are often referred to as the Yankton and the Yanktonai, or, collectively, as the Wičhíyena (endonym) or the Western Dakota (and have been erroneously classified as “Nakota”).
- Thítȟuŋwaŋ or Teton (uncertain, perhaps "Dwellers on the Prairie"; this name is archaic among the natives, who prefer to call themselves Lakȟóta): the westernmost Sioux, known for their hunting and warrior culture, are often referred to as the Lakota.
The Plains Indians followed no single religion. Animist religion was an important part of a Great Plains Indians' life, as they believed that all things possessed spirits. Their worship was centered on one main god, in the Sioux language Wakan Tanka (the Great Spirit). The Great Spirit had power over everything that had ever existed, and the Plains Indians believed that by worshiping him they would become stronger. Earth was also quite important, as she was the mother of all spirits. Spirits were worshiped daily. People sometimes prayed alone, while other times there were group gatherings. The most important group ceremony was the Sun Dance, in which participants danced for four days around a sacred object, and some would inflict harm upon themselves on purpose, all while staring at the sun. They believed this self-sacrifice would encourage powerful spirits to support and defend them.
Today, the Sioux maintain many separate tribal governments scattered across several reservations, communities, and reserves in the Dakotas, Nebraska, Minnesota, and Montana in the United States; and Manitoba and southern Saskatchewan in Canada.
European exploration and early settlement
European settlement of the area began in the 17th century following French exploration of the region and became known as New France, the area colonized by France in North America during a period beginning with the exploration of the Saint Lawrence River by Jacques Cartier in 1534 and ending with the cession of New France to Spain and Great Britain in 1763.
At its peak in 1712 (before the Treaty of Utrecht), the territory of New France extended from Newfoundland to the Rocky Mountains and from Hudson Bay to the Gulf of Mexico. The territory was then divided in five colonies, each with its own administration: Canada, Acadia, Hudson Bay, Newfoundland (Plaisance), and Louisiana.
The Treaty of Utrecht resulted in the relinquishing of French claims to mainland Acadia, the Hudson Bay and Newfoundland colonies, and the establishment of the colony of Île Royale (Cape Breton Island) as the successor to Acadia.
Marquette and Jolliet
Many governors of settlements and kings of nations were hoping to be the first to find the Northwest Passage, a shortcut through the New World to the Indies of southeast Asia. The discovery of a Northwest Passage would result in great wealth for the founding nation because it would be able to directly import goods from the Asian markets while controlling the passage itself.
In 1673, the governor of New France (Quebec, the French settlement started by Samuel de Champlain), sent Jacques Marquette, a Catholic priest and missionary, and Louis Jolliet, a French Canadian fur trader, along with seven other explorers, on a mission to find the Northwest Passage. The team began their trip in Quebec and traveled through Michigan's upper peninsula to the northern tip of Lake Michigan. On canoes, they crossed the massive lake and landed at present-day Green Bay, Wisconsin at the mouth of the Fox River. They met native American Indians who described various rivers they would encounter. After portaging their canoes to the Wisconsin River, they entered the Mississippi River on June 17, 1673.
Marquette and Jolliet soon realized that the Mississippi couldn't possibly be the Northwest Passage they were hoping for because it flowed south. Nevertheless, the journey continued. They recorded much of the wildlife they encountered. They described the catfish as a monster with the head of a tiger, the nose of a wildcat, and with whiskers. They encountered herds of buffalo which they described as cattle. The pair rowed south past the junction of the Mississippi River and the Missouri River at present day St. Louis, Missouri, and turned around at the junction of the Mississippi River and Arkansas River. They believed that the Mississippi River flowed into the Gulf of Mexico and were wary of being captured by Spaniards who controlled the area.
The Marquette and Jolliet party returned to Illinois Territory in late 1674, becoming the first Europeans to winter in what would become the city of Chicago. As welcomed guests of the Illinois Confederation, the explorers were feasted en route and fed ceremonial foods such as sagamite.
Upon journey’s end, Father Marquette and Louis Jolliet became the first Europeans to see and map the northern portion of the Mississippi River. Marquette and Jolliet did not discover the Mississippi. American Indians had been using it for thousands of years, and Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto had crossed it more than a century before them. They did confirm, however, that it was possible to travel easily from the Great Lakes all the way to the Gulf of Mexico by water, that the native peoples who lived along the route were generally friendly, and that the natural resources of the lands in between were extraordinary. Equipped with this information, French officials led by LaSalle would erect a 4,000-mile network of trading posts to systematically exploit those riches over the next century and a half.
British American colonization
French control over the area east of the Mississippi River ended in 1763 with the conclusion of the French and Indian War. British colonists began to expand into the Ohio Country during the 1750s. The Royal Proclamation of 1763 temporarily restrained expansion west of the Appalachian Mountains, but did not stop it completely. West of the Mississippi River, French settlers flourished in towns such as St. Louis and Ste. Genevieve until the mid 18th century.
France ceded the rest of New France to Great Britain and Spain at the Treaty of Paris, which ended the Seven Years War (the French and Indian War). Britain received all lands east of the Mississippi River, including Canada, Acadia, and parts of Louisiana, while Spain received the territory to the west – the larger portion of Louisiana. Spain returned its portion of Louisiana to France in 1800, but French leader Napoleon Bonaparte sold it to the United States in the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, permanently ending French colonial efforts on the North American mainland.
British American settlement began either via routes over the Appalachian Mountains, such as Braddock Road, or through the waterways of the Great Lakes. Fort Pitt (now Pittsburgh) at the source of the Ohio River was an early outpost of the overland routes. The first settlements in the Midwest via the waterways of the Great Lakes were centered around military forts and trading posts such as Green Bay, Sault Ste. Marie, and Detroit. The first inland settlements via the overland routes were in southern Ohio or northern Kentucky, on either side of the Ohio River, and early such pioneers included Daniel Boone and Spencer Records.
The region's fertile soil made it possible for farmers to produce abundant harvests of cereal crops such as corn, oats, and, most importantly, wheat. The region soon became known as the nation's "breadbasket".
Development of transportation
Two waterways have been important to the development of the Midwest. The first and foremost was the Ohio River, which flowed into the Mississippi River. Development of the region was halted until 1795 due to Spain's control of the southern part of the Mississippi and its refusal to allow the shipment of American crops down the river and into the Atlantic Ocean.
The second waterway is the network of routes within the Great Lakes. The opening of the Erie Canal in 1825 completed an all-water shipping route, more direct than the Mississippi, to New York and the seaport of New York City. In 1848, The Illinois and Michigan Canal breached the continental divide spanning the Chicago Portage and linking the waters of the Great Lakes with those of the Mississippi Valley and the Gulf of Mexico. Lakeport and river cities grew up to handle these new shipping routes. During the Industrial Revolution, the lakes became a conduit for iron ore from the Mesabi Range of Minnesota to steel mills in the Mid-Atlantic States. The Saint Lawrence Seaway (1862, widened 1959) opened the Midwest to the Atlantic Ocean.
In the 1870s and 1880s, the Mississippi River inspired two classic books – Life on the Mississippi and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn – written by native Missourian Samuel Clemens, who used the pseudonym Mark Twain. His stories became staples of Midwestern lore. Twain's hometown of Hannibal, Missouri is a tourist attraction offering a glimpse into the Midwest of his time.
Inland canals in Ohio and Indiana constituted another important waterway, which connected with Great Lakes and Ohio River traffic. The commodities that the Midwest funneled into the Erie Canal down the Ohio River contributed to the wealth of New York City, which overtook Boston and Philadelphia.
Railroads and the automobile
During the mid-19th century the region got its first railroads, and the railroad junction in Chicago grew to be the world's largest. Even today, a century after Henry Ford, six Class I railroads meet in Chicago.
In the period from 1890 to 1930 many Midwestern cities, towns, villages, and even farms were connected by interurbans, or electrical streetcars. The Midwest had more interurbans than any other region. In 1916, Ohio led all states with 2,798 miles (4,503 km), Indiana followed with 1,825 miles (2,937 km). These two states alone had almost a third of the country's interurban trackage. The nation's largest interurban junction was in Indianapolis. During the first decade of the 20th century the city's 38% growth in population was attributed largely to the interurban.
Competition with a growing population of automobiles and buses traveling on paved highways led to a decline in the interurban and other railroad passenger business. Henry Ford and Charles Kettering, the inventor of the electrical starting motor and leaded gasoline, were both products of the Midwest, as were the Wright Brothers.
American Civil War
Slavery prohibition and the underground railroad
The Northwest Ordinance region, comprising the heart of the Midwest, was the first large region of the United States that prohibited slavery (the Northeastern United States emancipated slaves in the 1830s). The regional southern boundary was the Ohio River, the border of freedom and slavery in American history and literature (see Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe and Beloved by Toni Morrison).
The Midwest, particularly Ohio, provided the primary routes for the "Underground Railroad", whereby Midwesterners assisted slaves to freedom from their crossing of the Ohio River through their departure on Lake Erie to Canada. Created in the early 19th century, the Underground Railroad was at its height between 1850 and 1860. One estimate suggests that by 1850, 100,000 slaves had escaped via the "Railroad".
The Underground Railroad consisted of meeting points, secret routes, transportation, and safe houses and assistance provided by abolitionist sympathizers. Individuals were often organized in small, independent groups; this helped to maintain secrecy because individuals knew some connecting "stations" along the route but knew few details of their immediate area. Escaped slaves would move north along the route from one way station to the next. Although the fugitives sometimes traveled on boat or train, they usually traveled on foot or by wagon.
The region was shaped by the relative absence of slavery (except for Missouri), pioneer settlement, education in one-room free public schools, democratic notions brought by American Revolutionary War veterans, Protestant faiths and experimentation, and agricultural wealth transported on the Ohio River riverboats, flatboats, canal boats, and railroads.
The first violent conflicts leading up to the Civil War occurred between two neighboring Midwestern states, Kansas and Missouri, involving anti-slavery Free-Staters and pro-slavery "Border Ruffian" elements, that took place in the Kansas Territory and the western frontier towns of Missouri roughly between 1854 and 1858. At the heart of the conflict was the question of whether Kansas would enter the Union as a free state or slave state. As such, Bleeding Kansas was a proxy war between Northerners and Southerners over the issue of slavery. The term "Bleeding Kansas" was coined by Horace Greeley of the New York Tribune; the events it encompasses directly presaged the Civil War.
Setting in motion the events later known as “Bleeding Kansas’’ was the Kansas-Nebraska Act. The Act created the territories of Kansas and Nebraska, opened new lands that would help settlement in them, repealed the Missouri Compromise, and allowed settlers in those territories to determine through popular sovereignty whether to allow slavery within their boundaries. It was hoped the Act would ease relations between the North and the South, because the South could expand slavery to new territories but the North still had the right to abolish slavery in its states. Instead, opponents denounced the law as a concession to the slave power of the South.
The new Republican Party, born in the Midwest (Ripon, Wisconsin, 1854) and created in opposition to the Act, aimed to stop the expansion of slavery and soon emerged as the dominant force throughout the North.
An ostensibly democratic idea, popular sovereignty stated that the inhabitants of each territory or state should decide whether it would be a free or slave state; however, this resulted in immigration en masse to Kansas by activists from both sides. At one point, Kansas had two separate governments, each with its own constitution, although only one was federally recognized. On January 29, 1861, Kansas was admitted to the Union as a free state, less than three months before the Battle of Fort Sumter officially began the Civil War.
The calm in Kansas was shattered in May 1856 by two events that are often regarded as the opening shots of the Civil War. On May 21, the Free Soil town of Lawrence, Kansas was sacked by an armed pro‐slavery force from Missouri. A few days later, the Sacking of Lawrence led abolitionist John Brown and six of his followers to execute five men along the Pottawatomie Creek in Franklin County, Kansas, in retaliation.
The so-called "Border War" lasted for another four months, from May through October, between armed bands of pro‐slavery and Free Soil men. The U.S. Army had two garrisons in Kansas, the First Cavalry Regiment at Fort Leavenworth and the Second Dragoons and Sixth Infantry at Fort Riley. The skirmishes endured until a new governor, John W. Geary, managed to prevail upon the Missourians to return home in late 1856. A fragile peace followed, but violent outbreaks continued intermittently for several more years.
National reaction to the events in Kansas demonstrated how deeply divided the country had become. The Border Ruffians were widely applauded in the South, even though their actions had cost the lives of numerous people. In the North, the murders committed by Brown and his followers were ignored by most and lauded by a few.
The civil conflict in Kansas was a product of the political fight over slavery. Federal troops were not used to decide a political question, but they were used by successive territorial governors to pacify the territory so that the political question of slavery in Kansas could finally be decided by peaceful, legal, and political means.
The election of Abraham Lincoln in November 1860 was the final trigger for secession by the Southern states. Efforts at compromise, including the "Corwin Amendment" and the "Crittenden Compromise", failed. Southern leaders feared that Lincoln would stop the expansion of slavery and put it on a course toward extinction.
The U.S. federal government was supported by 20 mostly-Northern free states in which slavery already had been abolished, and by five slave states that became known as the border states. All of the Midwestern states but one, Missouri, banned slavery. Though most battles were fought in the South, skirmishes between Kansas and Missouri continued until culmination with the Lawrence Massacre on August 21, 1863. Also known as Quantrill’s Raid, the massacre was a rebel guerrilla attack by Quantrill’s Raiders, led by William Clarke Quantrill, on pro-Union Lawrence, Kansas.
Lawrence was targeted due to the town's long support of abolition and its reputation as a center for Redlegs and Jayhawkers, which were free-state militia and vigilante groups known for attacking and destroying farms and plantations in Missouri’s pro-slavery western counties.
The Lawrence Massacre was one of the bloodiest events in the history of Kansas and the nation. Quantrill’s band of 448 Missouri guerrillas raided and plundered Lawrence, killing more than 150 and burning all the business buildings and most of the dwellings. Pursued by federal troops, the band escaped to Missouri.
Industrialization and immigration
By the time of the American Civil War, European immigrants bypassed the East Coast of the United States to settle directly in the interior: German immigrants to Ohio, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois, and Missouri; Irish immigrants to port cities on the Great Lakes, especially Chicago; Danes, Swedes, and Norwegians to Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and the Dakotas; and Finns to Upper Michigan and northern/central Minnesota. Poles, Hungarians, and Jews settled in Midwestern cities.
The U.S. was predominantly rural at the time of the Civil War. The Midwest was no exception, dotted with small farms all across the region. The late 19th century saw industrialization, immigration, and urbanization that fed the Industrial Revolution, and the heart of industrial domination and innovation was in the Great Lakes states of the Midwest, which only began its slow decline by the late 20th century.
In the 20th century, African American migration from the Southern United States into the Midwestern states changed Chicago, St. Louis, Cleveland, Milwaukee, Kansas City, Cincinnati, Detroit, Minneapolis, and many other cities in the Midwest dramatically, as factories and schools enticed families by the thousands to new opportunities. Chicago alone gained hundreds of thousands of black citizens from the Great Migration and the Second Great Migration.
Farming and agriculture
Agriculture is one of the biggest drivers of local economies in the Midwest, accounting for billions of dollars worth of exports and thousands of jobs. The area consists of some of the richest farming land in the world. The region's fertile soil combined with the steel plow has made it possible for farmers to produce abundant harvests of grain and cereal crops, including corn, wheat, soybeans, oats, and barley, to become known today as the nation's "breadbasket".
Farms spread from the colonies westward along with the settlers. In cooler regions, wheat was often the crop of choice when lands were newly settled, leading to a "wheat frontier" that moved westward over the course of years. Also very common in the antebellum Midwest was farming corn while raising hogs, complementing each other especially since it was difficult to get grain to market before the canals and railroads. After the "wheat frontier" had passed through an area, more diversified farms including dairy and beef cattle generally took its place.
The very dense soil of the Midwest plagued the first settlers who were using wooden plows, which were more suitable for loose forest soil. On the prairie, the plows bounced around and the soil stuck to them. This problem was solved in 1837 by an Illinois blacksmith named John Deere who developed a steel moldboard plow that was stronger and cut the roots, making the fertile soils of the prairie ready for farming.
The tallgrass prairie has been converted into one of the most intensive crop producing areas in North America. Less than one tenth of one percent (<0.09%) of the original landcover of the tallgrass prairie biome remains. States formerly with landcover in native tallgrass prairie such as Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Nebraska, and Missouri have become valued for their highly productive soils and are included in the Corn Belt. As an example of this land use intensity, Illinois and Iowa rank 49th and 50th out of 50 states in total uncultivated land remaining.
The introduction and broad adoption of scientific agriculture since the mid-19th century contributed to economic growth in the United States. This development was facilitated by the Morrill Act and the Hatch Act of 1887 which established in each state a land-grant university (with a mission to teach and study agriculture) and a federally funded system of agricultural experiment stations and cooperative extension networks which place extension agents in each state. Iowa State University became the nation's first designated land-grant institution when the Iowa Legislature accepted the provisions of the 1862 Morrill Act on September 11, 1862, making Iowa the first state in the nation to do so.
The Corn Belt is a region of the Midwest where corn has, since the 1850s, been the predominant crop, replacing the native tall grasses. The "Corn Belt" region is defined typically to include Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, southern Michigan, western Ohio, eastern Nebraska, eastern Kansas, southern Minnesota, and parts of Missouri. As of 2008[update], the top four corn-producing states were Iowa, Illinois, Nebraska, and Minnesota, together accounting for more than half of the corn grown in the United States. The Corn Belt also sometimes is defined to include parts of South Dakota, North Dakota, Wisconsin, and Kentucky. The region is characterized by relatively level land and deep, fertile soils, high in organic matter.
Former Vice President Henry A. Wallace, a pioneer of hybrid seeds, declared in 1956 that the Corn Belt developed the "most productive agricultural civilization the world has ever seen". Today, the U.S. produces 40 percent of the world crop.
Iowa produces the largest corn crop of any state. In 2012, Iowa farmers produced 18.3 percent of the nation's corn, while Illinois produced 15.3 percent. In 2011, there were 13.7 million harvested acres of corn for grain, producing 2.36 billion bushels, which yielded 172.0 bu/acre, with US$14.5 billion of corn value of production.
Soybeans were not widely cultivated in the United States until the early 1930s, and by 1942, the U.S. became the world's largest soybean producer, partially because of World War II and the "need for domestic sources of fats, oils, and meal". Between 1930 and 1942, the United States' share of world soybean production skyrocketed from 3 percent to 46.5 percent, largely as a result of increase in the Midwest, and by 1969, it had risen to 76 percent. Iowa and Illinois rank first and second in the nation in soybean production. In 2012, Iowa produced 14.5 percent, and Illinois produced 13.3 percent of the nation's soybeans.
Wheat is produced throughout the Midwest and is the principal cereal grain in the country. The U.S. is ranked third in production volume of wheat, with almost 58 million tons produced in the 2012–2013 growing season, behind only China and India (the combined production of all European Union nations is larger than China) The U.S. ranks first in crop export volume; almost 50 percent of total wheat produced is exported.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines eight official classes of wheat: durum wheat, hard red spring wheat, hard red winter wheat, soft red winter wheat, hard white wheat, soft white wheat, unclassed wheat, and mixed wheat. Winter wheat accounts for 70 to 80 percent of total production in the U.S., with the largest amounts produced in Kansas (10.8 million tons) and North Dakota (9.8 million tons). Of the total wheat produced in the country, 50 percent is exported, valued at US$9 billion.
Midwesterners are sometimes viewed as open, friendly, and straightforward, or sometimes stereotyped as stubborn and uncultured. Midwest values were shaped by religious beliefs and the agricultural values from the people who settled in the area. The Midwest today is a mix of Protestantism and Calvinism, untrusting of authority and power.
Between 19 and 29% of the Midwest is Catholic. 14% of the people in Ohio, Indiana, and Michigan, 22% in Missouri and 5% in Minnesota are Baptists. 22-24% of people in Wisconsin and Minnesota are Lutherans. 1% or less of the people in the Midwest are Jewish and Muslim, with slightly more Jewish or Muslim people in major cities, such as Chicago and Cleveland. 16% of the Midwest do not have a religion.
Politics in the Midwest are very divided. With many states leaning liberal and others conservative. The Great Lakes area, which has more large cities than the rest of the Midwest, tends to be the most liberal area of the Midwest. However, the rural Great Plains states, are more conservative.
Because of 20th century African American migration from the South, many African Americans live in most of the area's large cities. However, there are still more African Americans living in the Southern United States than in the Midwest. The mix of industry and cultures in those cities led to new types of music in the 20th century in the Midwest, including jazz, blues, rock and roll. Techno music came from Detroit and house music and blues came from Chicago.
Today the population of the Midwest is 65,971,974, or 22.2% of the total population of the United States.
The accents of the Midwest are often clearly different from the accents of the South and many urban areas of the American Northeast. The accent of most of the Midwest is thought by many to be "standard" American English. Many national radio and television shows in the U.S. like this accent more than many other accents. This may have started because many television show hosts — such as Walter Cronkite, Johnny Carson, David Letterman, Tom Brokaw and Casey Kasem — came from this area.
In some parts of the Midwest, the accents are quite different from the "neutral" accent of the rest of the Midwest. These accents usually are because of the heritage of the area. For example, Minnesota, western Wisconsin and Michigan's Upper Peninsula have strong Scandinavian accents, which get stronger the farther north one goes. Many parts of Michigan have Dutch-flavored accents. Also, people from Chicago are known to have their own "nasal" accent. The same is true of St. Louis. In the most southern parts of the Midwest, such as southern Indiana, Southern accents are common in addition to the standard Midwest accent. The same can be said of Southern Illinois, particularly below U.S. Highway 50 and south of St. Louis. Missouri is also an example of a Midwest state with southern culture. Missourians can have either a southern or Midwestern accent or a combined dialect, but accents tend to be distinctly Southern in the Southeastern and Bootheel sections of the state.
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Midwestern United States Facts for Kids. Kiddle Encyclopedia.