A War of Words: Rhetoric, Identity, and Memory in the Maine-New Brunswick Borderlands, 1838-1842
Date of Award
Level of Access Assigned by Author
Master of Arts (MA)
Scott W. See
Second Committee Member
Third Committee Member
The Aroostook War was a two-month standoff during the winter of 1839 between the state of Maine and colony of New Brunswick. Overlapping boundary claims created a disputed territory rich in timber but lacking in organization. Troops were mobilized, but war was averted when the United States and Great Britain recoiled at the prospect of a formal conflict. The “War” has been dismissed by contemporary observers and historians alike because of the lack of shots fired. In Maine and New Brunswick, meanwhile, local historians have long sought to inflate the importance of the conflict to legitimize its role in the memory and identity in each locality. What has largely been overlooked, however, is the large body of political rhetoric produced on both sides of the border during the dispute. In Maine, Democrats and Whigs struggled to gain the upper hand in a state which was one of the closest battlegrounds of the Second Party System. Each sought to outdo the other in becoming the “pro-war” party. In New Brunswick, there were fewer publishers and no formal political parties, but newspapers nonetheless published a strong defense of the province’s interests and condemnation of the unruly state along its border. Examining the rhetoric in New Brunswick, dominant themes include the appeals to civility and order and a growing feeling of connection with the rest of British North America. In Maine, themes of honor, rights, and obligation were prevalent. For both localities, a “phenominalized” geography of disputed territory emerged. Residents were able to project their values and ambitions upon the undeveloped disputed territory. In studying the roots (or “parent discourses”) of each rhetorical theme, it is possible to position the Aroostook War in the context of a longer chronology of a borderlands relationship and larger intellectual framework. Such a study also illuminates the tangled web of discourses which created a unique interpretation of the conflict in either locality. In New Brunswick, this process defined the Aroostook War as an affront to proper social order and offered for the province a chance to exert its Britishness and loyalty to the Crown. In total, these elements created a “discourse of connectivity” in the province. In Maine, rhetorical themes combined to form a legitimizing construct for armed conflict based on mutual obligation with the United States. When the federal government did not fully support Maine’s land claims by force, feelings of peripherality, bitterness, and neglect emerged, contributing to a “discourse of isolation.” An analysis of the Aroostook War through the words produced in newspapers and public speeches by politicians and opinion-makers, this study seeks to contribute to a new conception of the war. By considering local rhetoric in the scope of broader intellectual and political themes, it is possible to position the Aroostook War in the larger scope of Anglo- American relations while at the same time identifying its importance in Maine and New Brunswick as a part of the identity in each Northeastern Borderlands locality.
Perry, Michael T., "A War of Words: Rhetoric, Identity, and Memory in the Maine-New Brunswick Borderlands, 1838-1842" (2012). Electronic Theses and Dissertations. 1864.
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