Friday, October 15, 2010

Sobel, Manitoba, and the HBC

Back in the early days of the For All Nails project, Noel Maurer took a good hard look at Robert Sobel's United States of Mexico, and he didn't like what he saw. Bear in mind that Noel is an economic historian who specializes in Mexico, and he's written and co-written several books on the subject. In particular, Noel found the six states of the U.S.M., ostensibly created by Andrew Jackson in 1819, to be completely unbelieveable. No way, said Noel, would the Mexicans go along with Jackson's plan to put 90% of the country's population in one of the six states. (The joke among the FAN Cabal was that Jackson had just discovered the medicinal properties of Mexican marijuana when he drew his map of the U.S.M.) So Noel took the liberty of redrawing Sobel's U.S.M. to make it, if not plausible, then at least semi-plausible.

It's been seven weeks since I undertook my own project to Wikify For Want of a Nail, and I've only just gotten around to starting the article on the Confederation of Manitoba, one of the five original constituents of the Confederation of North America as established in 1782. Writing this article has led me to the conclusion that Sobel's failure to even mention Hudson's Bay Company in For Want of a Nail is at least as egregious as anything involving the U.S.M. Sobel's Manitoba is basically Rupert's Land, the territory controlled by the HBC, with the northern coast of Lake Superior thrown in. Thus, the HBC would own almost all of the land in Manitoba.

Sobel describes Manitoba as "a land without politics," but in reality Manitoba would be highly politicized, and would bear a strong resemblance to colonial Pennsylvania, with the colony's settlers pitted against its proprietors (in Pennsylvania's case, the Penn family). Administering Manitoba would be problematic for any man the Crown appointed to govern the confederation, since he would be constantly butting heads with the HBC's Chief Factors, while the HBC's Governor back in London pulled strings to undermine his authority (unless of course the Company got one of its own men appointed to the post, which is highly likely). According to Sobel, the first Governor-General of Manitoba in 1782 was Francis Legge, who was recalled from Nova Scotia in 1776 due to his tactlessness in dealing with that colony's inhabitants. However, since Legge died in 1783, he would not have been in charge for long. By the early 19th century, the governors of the C.N.A.'s confederations were elected rather than appointed, which would of course make for even more dramatic politics in Manitoba.

Stay tuned for further updates on the Sobel Wiki.

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