Society & Culture

Our Inner Mason-Dixon

About a hundred years before the Civil War, two British surveyors, Jeremiah Mason and Charles Dixon, with a crew of ax-men, marked out 270 miles of wilderness.  They set a stone at every mile, and another grander one embossed with the arms of the Penn and Calvert clans every five miles.  The resulting map pacified a decades-long territorial quarrel between Maryland and Pennsylvania.

Today, no historian refers to that surveyor’s mark as a symbol of unity.  Although Maryland remained in the Union during the war, the mythic Mason-Dixon Line would stand for disunity between North and South for decades to come.

A century after Appomattox, organized resistance to federal power seemed a rear-guard action at best.  The South had squandered its shares in the moral argument.  It was subdued.  If Washington had been right about slavery and segregation, perhaps it knew best about everything.  And maybe it would behoove reactionaries to keep their mouths shut when the courts discovered additional rights previously unsuspected in the Constitution or its penumbras.

After the 1950’s brought about the integration of the schools—and equal access to all public accommodations—“equality” was on its way to becoming a talismanic incantation rather than a limited juridical concept.  Rational discourse, appeals to precedent, natural law, the authority of an archaic...

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