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The census of 1850, of the United States, actually transferred the weight of political power, and with it the control of the government, if they had chosen to unite their interests, to the states of the western plain.
The census of 1860, adding millions to the towering ascendancy of the Mississippi valley, solemnly commits the destinies of the republic to the inviolable pledge of its geographical unity. The strifes of sections which did not originate and can not prevail under this majestic symbol of national concord, will not sever the strong cords of its federation, till they can break the multiplex strands of its mighty commercial system. The Union rests securely upon this immovable base. The political supremacy of the Mississippi valley is, in the social affairs of this country, what the force of gravitation is in nature—a resistless power, underlying and controlling the oscillations of parties, and constraining the tempests that break upon the shore to a supreme law of order.
8. MINNESOTA THE HYDROGRAPHICAL CENTRE OF THE GREAT PLAIN.
This vast interior basin, rimmed by the mountain chains of the ocean coasts, with an area of 2,500,000 square miles, with a population of 15,000,000, increasing at the rate of fifty per cent. every ten years-embracing the productions of all climates, and the wealth of every soil-culminates in Minnesota, as the apex from which its grand divergent valleys slope to their ocean outlets; the common source and center from which, as from the hub of a vast wheel, the great ship-bearing rivers radiate to its ocean rim.
The origin, the courses and the character of these inland waters are prominent attributes of the geographical position of Minnesota.
The Mississippi River.-The Mississippi river, originating in the lacustrine steppes of Northern Minnesota, in latitude 47° 13′ 35", and longitude 95° 2′, gives 900 miles of its waters to its mother state, 400 miles of which is navigable with only two interruptions before it reaches the head of continuous navigation below the falls of St. Anthony, whence, starting at a more majestic pace, and gathering on its bosom the commerce of fifteen states, it empties in the Gulf of Mexico, at a distance through its winding channel of 2,187 miles, from Saint Paul, and 2,896* miles from its source in Lake Itasca, embracing in its affluents an area of 1,217,562 miles, a population of 13,000,000, and an aggregate navigable shore line of 35,644 miles.
The St. Lawrence.—The St. Lawrence—the summits of whose sources interlap with those of the Mississippi-fed from the copious gushings of the same maternal fountain, and whose Mediterranean expansion washes our northeastern boundary, at the utmost western limit of its navigation, flows eastward from the mouth of the St. Louis river, with the volume of an inland sea, and a channel wide and deep enough to float the navies of the world, for 2,400 miles along the British American frontier, washing 2,620 miles of American, and 3,500 miles of British shore, before it empties into the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
The actual basin of the St. Lawrence has an estimated area of 475,000 square miles, and contains a population of 3,500,000, but its commercial influence dominates over a large portion of the eastern slope of the Mississippi. Of the ten states and two provinces, with an aggregate population of 15,000,000, which have a frontage upon the lakes, only two, Upper Canada and Michigan, are entirely within their basins.
The Red River.-The utmost sources of the Red river of the north were found by Nicollet, upon the summits of the same narrow ridge whose copious springs gave birth to the Mississippi, and upon the same level.
Turning its southwesterly current towards the north, at the point where its waters become navigable, it washes the western boundary of Minnesota for 380 miles, and traversing 154 miles of British territory, interlocks in Lake Winnipeg with the waters of Saskatchewan, whose mighty volume rolls for 1,400 miles from the base of the Rocky mountains, and discharges itself through Nelson's River into Hudson's Bay.
*Nicollet.-See these distances corrected in tables, by A. J. Hill.
9. MINNESOTA, THE COMMERCIAL CENTRE OF THE CONTINENT.
Such are the Titanic progeny of Minnesota. Such the gigantic arms with which she grasps the extremities of the continent. These three great channels of internal commerce, converging from the antipodal extremes of the great plain, and bringing together all its infinite gradations of climate and production in one integral and simple geographical and social mass, unite upon Minnesota, as their common link of intercommunication, and thus concentrate upon this spot all the latent and active commercial forces of the continent.
According to the present distribution of the commercial interests of the continent, its manufacturing and maritime power is located in the North-eastern states, the seat of the staples of tropical agriculture at the south, of bread, provisions and wool, in the North-west. The bread and provisions of the Northwest go to feed the manufacturer and merchant of the North-east and South; the North-east supplies the South and North-west with the fabrics of domestic or foreign manufacture; and the South supplies the North-east with the raw ma terial of manufactures, and the whole North with sugars, tobacco, rice, fruits, &c. This is the natural and permanent adjustment of the industrial and commercial interests of the Union. The movements of national commerce, following the Atlantic, the lakes and the Mississippi, describe the three sides of a triangle. These lines of commercial movement accord with the tri-lateral outlines of the great basin, the same hydrographical features that determine the physical structure of the continent, fixing also the channels of its intercourse. ́As these lines are extended by the progress of colonization, to include the undeveloped basin of the Winnipeg in the agricultural empire of the North-west, Minnesota must necessarily become the focus of distribution for a commerce between the Winnipeg and Mississippi valleys, exceeding all the commercial exchanges of the present states of the Upper and Lower Mississippi, and for a commerce between the Red river and Lake Superior, exceeding all the present through trade of the northern lakes. The entire exports of Central British 'America, whatever they may be in the future growth of that country, must find their inevitable outlet, as its furs and skins do now, across Minnesota, through the lakes or the Mississippi; and the imports into that country must be received, as they are mainly now, by the same channels. Here are four distinct commercial movements arising out of the relations of Minnesota, to the Red river valley, having Minnesota as their common point of internexus, each involving two transhipments within her borders, upon her eastern and western water lines, and laying, therefore, a double tariff on all through freightage over her territory, to swell the commercial revenues of her people. Three hundred and fifty miles of railroad to connect the head of navigation on the Mississippi and Lake Superior, with the navigation of Red river, is all that is necessary to integrate this splendid commercial system, and to centralize the profits of its exchanges in Minnesota.
10. WESTERN BRITISH AMERICA THE BASIS OF THE COMMERCIAL POSITION OF MINNESOTA.
From what has been said it will be seen that Minnesota derives whatever of commercial consequence it may possess, as an entrepot of inland exchanges, exclusively from its commanding the sole outlets of the tributary plain of the Winnipeg. These northwest valleys have the same relation to Minnesota, the same relative subordination to its commercial interests, as the north-western United States to New York and Massachusetts; and it is the proud distinction of Minnesota, not only that this magnificent commercial dependency belongs to her alone of all the states of the Mississippi valley, but that, of all the states of the west bank of the Mississippi, she alone posseses any tributary back country whatever. All the lower states of the west side occupy a narrow margin of fertile lands, beyond which, west of the 98th parallel, a sterile and arid desert stretches to the "dewy lips" of the Pacific. The commercial development of those states is, therefore, restricted to their individual resources. From the summit of the Winnipeg basin the horizon of Minnesota expands to the shores of the Pacific.
11. GEOGRAPHICAL DESCRIPTION OF THE WINNIPEG BASIN. Dimensions.-The region of British America drained by the rivers flowing into Lake Winnipeg has the general form of a parallelogram, lying between the parallels of 49 and 55 degrees north, and extending from Lake Winnipeg and Red river, westward, to the Rocky mountains, with a breadth of 400 and a length of 800 miles.
The Red river valley, projecting southward of the international boundary to the prairie terraces of Minnesota, whence it derives its waters, adds to this tract 35,000 square miles of American territory.
The whole area of the Basin of the Winnipeg is grossly estimated at 360,000 square miles-equal to eight first class states of the size of New York or Pennsylvania, and nearly six times as large as all New England.
The Saskatchewan river.-The Saskatchewan river, whose two great branches drain two-thirds of this district, is the most important of the confluent rivers of the Winnipeg basin. Both its great branches rise in the Rocky mountains, close to the sources of the Columbia and Fraser rivers, and, gathering in each at the base of the mountain slope a volume of water sufficient for navigation, flows eastward to Lake Winnipeg, crossing eighteen degrees of longitude, through undulating slopes of green and grassy uplands, the favorite pasture of myriads of wild cattle. This great stream affords, in both branches, about 1,400 miles of steamboat navigation, of which 400 miles are the joint volumes of the confluent streams.
The Red river.-The Red river rises in the affluents of Elbow lake, in Minnesota, close to the sources of the Mississippi, and flows south-westwardly though a chain of beautiful lakes, till it receives the waters of the Sioux Wood, from the south, whence it runs with a narrow and winding, but sluggish and navigable current, through a rich alluvial plain, due north, at right angles to the Saskatchewan, for 520 miles, of which 380 miles washes the western boundary of Minnesota. This river, though of far less volume and length than the Saskatchewan, is, in some respects, a more important stream, as its valley forms the connecting link between the basins of the Mississippi and the Winnipeg, and their respective systems of navigation.
The Assineboine. -The Assineboine, draining the plain between these rivers, is the principal tributary of the Red river, into which it empties, about seventy miles above the international boundary. This river supplies some two hundred miles of doubtful navigation.
The Red Lake and Sioux Wood rivers in Minnesota, the Shayenne and Pembina in Dakota, are the principal tributaries of the Red river in American territory. Lake Winnipeg.-Lake Winnipeg, 264 miles long, and averaging 35 miles wide, and the common reservoir of these confluent streams, discharges its waters, through the precipitous channel of Nelson's river, into Hudson's bay. Connected with Lake Winnipeg on the west, by navigable channels, are two other large bodies of water-Lakes Manitoba and Winnepegoos; being together nearly as long as Lake Winnipeg, with about half its breadth. The water area of these three lakes will equal that of Ontario and Erie combined.
12. PHYSICAL STRUCTURE.
The converging valleys of the Winnipeg system, though subordinate to the great Hudson's bay slope, form a distinct hydrographical basin, abruptly insulated from the circumjacent expanse by its geological structure, its depression below the general level, its climate and its flora.
Limestone forms the bed of the basin, and occupies its whole extent, except its western flank, in the slopes of the Rocky mountains, where, it is stated, that an immense development of coal occupies the whole breadth of the Saskatchewan drainage, with a longitudinal width of 150 miles.
The eastern limit of this district is abruptly defined by Lake Winnipeg, which washes the limestone on its western shore, and the granitic uplift of the Arctic watershed on the east. Its southern boundary is indicated by a like bold transition to the cretaceous steppes of the Missouri, nearly coincident with the
international line of 49°; on the west the belt of coal, already alluded to, occupies a narrow interval between the limestone and the primitive upheaval of the Rocky mountains; on the north a chain of lakes and streams, winding about the parallel of 55°, marks a similar disappearance of the silurian in the primary formations.
The natural boundaries of the Winnipeg basin thus coincide with a girdle of granitic or cretaceous elevations, which mark bold transitions on every side, from the rich calcareous soil, which is the characteristic association of the limestone, to the regions of barren sands or clay which support the thin vegetation of the Arctic highlands or the Missouri steppes.
13. REMARKABLE DEPRESSION OF SURFACE.
Throughout nearly its whole extent the undulating prairies of the Winnipeg slope support a rich growth of grasses and herbage, on which countless herds of buffalo find their favorite ranges in winter and summer.
This fertile plain is in every respect the continuation and complement, in the upper belt of the temperate zone, of the silurian substratum and surface forms of the Mississippi valley, which spans its lower belt, and with it and the valley of the Mackenzie river, constitutes that characteristic interior depression of the continent between the Atlantic and Pacific systems of mountain plateaux, to which the name has been given of "The North American Basin." The valleys of the Minnesota and Red rivers, in this state, are the connecting links between those continuous basins. These valleys are only separated on the western border of Minnesota by a narrow neck of land, two or three miles wide, which divides Lac Traverse from Big Stone lake. So low is this barrier that in the spring freshets it is submerged in the overflow of the adjacent lakes. The water line of these lakes is only elevated 966 feet above the level of the sea, and the surrounding plain is but a few feet higher. The Red river valley slopes gently from this elevation to Lake Winnipeg, 853 feet above the sea, where it meets the inclined plain of the Saskatchewan, which has an average altitude of 1,200 feet above the sea.
The general level of the adjacent districts is much higher. The granitic ridges of the Hudson's bay declivity, the "Heights of land" in Minnesota, the Coteau des Prairies, the Missouri plateaux, constitute a girdle of elevations around this basin, increasing in height from east to west till they culminate in the Rocky mountains, at an altitude of 15,000 feet above the sea. A similar system of hilly ranges, progressing in elevation towards the central dome of the continent, in Utah and New Mexico, and the parallel mountain chains on the east, enclose the valley of the Mississippi.
This broad depression, ranging through thirty degrees of latitude, exercises a remarkable influence upon the distribution of the interior temperatures of the continent, partly as the effect of inferior elevation, and partly in consequence of the softening and fertilizing currents of air which are received into it, at its southern extremity from the Gulf of Mexico, and at its northern, through the gorges of the Rocky mountains from the Pacific. The effect of both these causes is to occasion a remarkable northward deflection of the lines of mean temperature, carried to the Pacific, around the head of the Northern Lake Basin, lifting the climate of Minnesota, Wisconsin and New England up to the fifty-fifth and even to the sixtieth parallel of north latitude, that is to say, to a line a thousand miles north of Saint Paul.
14. CLIMATOLOGICAL DESCRIPTION. THERMOMETRICAL STATISTICS. Within these sub-arctic plains, between latitude 47° and €0° north, is reproduced the climate of Western Europe in the corresponding belt of the temperate zone. "Nine-tenths of European Russia, the main seat of population and resources," says Mr. Taylor, "lies north of Saint Paul. Pembina is the climatic equivalent of Moscow, and for that of St. Petersburg, which is 60° north, we may reasonably go to latitude 55°."
The luxuriant summer climate and exuberant verdure of this secluded basin, sharply defined on the east and north against the arctic ridges of the barren
highlands that slope towards the Frozen sea, repeat on a magnificent scale along its borders the abrupt climatic contrasts of the Switz valleys, whose green summers are girdled by the icy summits of the Alps.
This insular valley climate, oscillating between the equatorial winds of its summers and the winter blasts that sweep from the ice-fields of the arctic coast, is characterized by extremes of temperature probably greater than any other part of the continent; while the annual mean is higher than that of the same parallels of Western Europe, including some of the best agricultural regions of that continent. The difference between its hottest and coldest months as compared with other climates of great annual range, will be shown in the following table, as also the difference between the mean winter and summer temperatures.
It is the excessive cold of the long winter season, embracing five months of the year in this latitude, which reduces the annual mean.
The mean for the three winter months of December, January and February, at the Red river settlement is 6° 85'. At Fort Snelling it is 16°; at Green Bay, 199'; at Detroit, 26° 8'; at Montreal, 16° 3.'
But it must be remembered that the Red river settlement lies upon the very edge of this climatic belt, in close proximity to the arctic declivity of Hudson Bay, and is by far the coldest part of the whole basin of the Winnipeg. The climate grows rapidly warmer on the same parallels westward, even when there is an increase of elevation.
It is warmer at Fort Benton on the Missouri than at Saint Paul; Fort Benton being 7 degrees of longitude west of Saint Paul, while it is 23 degrees of latitude further north, and 1,843 feet higher in relative elevation.
"The mean winter temperature at Fort Benton," says Blodgett, "is 25 degrees, the same as that of Chicago, Toronto, Albany, and Portland, Me. At Saint Paul it is but 15 degrees, being 10 degrees less. It is not so cold as this on the south branch of the Saskatchewan."
14. THE RED RIVER WINTER.
Mr. Blodgett claims that the whole Saskatchewan valley has a climate very nearly as mild in its annual average as that of Saint Paul, which would give it a winter mean of 15 degrees and an annual mean of 44 degrees, which represents the climate of Wisconsin, northern Iowa, Michigan, western Canada, northern New York, and southern New England.
But though the winter of this region is a period of intense cold, during which the mercury often remains frozen for days together, its effect upon the physical comfort is mitigated by a clear dry atmosphere, such as makes the winters of Minnesota the season of animal and social enjoyment. The buffalo winter in myriads on the nutritious grasses of its prairies, up to as high a latitude as Lake Athabasca. The half-breeds and Indians camp out in the open plain during the whole winter, with no shelter but a buffalo skin tent, and abundance of buffalo robes, and the horses of the settlers run at large all winter, and grow fat on the grasses which they pick up in the woods and bottoms. As compared with Fort Snelling, the winter of the Red river settlement will be shown as follows, including the months of November and March in the natural winter group.