The Public Interest

Megalopolis and the new sectionalism

Daniel J. Elazar

Spring 1968

Sectionalism, the expression of social and political differences along geographic lines, was for most of our history a commonly accepted factor in American political life. Thus, in the nineteenth century most of the nations successful progressive movements (Jacksonian democracy, Populism, etc.) had their origins in problems which, though obviously not generated by “raw” geography, were frequently related to the geographic patterns of American settlement to be expressed in sectional terms, and were frequently best expressed through intersectional conflicts. But by 1933, sectionalism seemed to have spent all its original force. The coming of the Great Depression not only obscured sectional issues by transferring public attention to nationwide class conflicts, but through the New Deal- restored the South and the West to positions of some influence in the political councils of the nation, reducing the feelings of alienation in those sections. Nowhere was this restoration more evident than in the cabinet. That body, traditionally regarded as a balancing ground for the political interests of the party in power, had been, in the years since the Civil War, heavily dominated by Northeasterners, with a light leavening from the Great Lakes industrial belt. With the coming of the New Deal, it was converted into a bastion of Southern and Western influence.

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