What If America’s Founders Had Settled in Russia?
America is an exceptional country. The first solo transatlantic flight, the first man on the moon, construction of the Hoover Dam and Panama Canal, and the defeat of the World War ii Axis powers all testify of American mettle and ingenuity. The people of the U.S. make up 4.5 percent of the world population, yet they constitute 20 percent of global economic output. Americans also enjoy one of the highest standards of living in the world, and by far the highest for a populous nation. A handful of small countries like Luxembourg and Qatar have higher per person gdps, but they house just a fraction of a percent of the population. America simply has an incomparable economic output.
The U.S. also consistently ranks among or at the top of the world’s most creative and innovative countries. It is the most generous nation on the globe, and the most potent in cultural power. America has the highest degree of technological innovation of any country, and it has shined as a beacon of freedom for over two centuries.
Yes, America has myriad deep-rooted problems that are worsening all the time, but, despite them, it is an unmatched paragon of prosperity, providing opportunity and wealth for great numbers of people.
Do you know why the United States became so exceptional? Pundits debating this question point to things like America’s laissez-faire economic system, values, politics, societal mobility, freedom of religion and speech, and its prioritization of equality.
But there is another, often overlooked answer. In many ways this unnoticed factor is the foundation that has made other aspects of America’s success possible. It is a deeply inspiring facet of the United States that takes us all the way back into the mists of the earliest human history.
This overlooked aspect of America’s greatness is the country’s geography.
Land of the Temperate
When Abraham Lincoln came to understand the exceptional geographic circumstances the American people had been placed in, he said, “We find ourselves in the peaceful possession of the fairest portion of the Earth, as regards extent of territory, fertility of soil, and salubrity of climate.” His emphasis on climate was astute because the U.S.’s most valuable geographic characteristic is not its immense amount of land, but its amount of usable land.
Russia, Canada and China all have far more square mileage than America, but harsh climates render the bulk of their territory unusable for habitation, agriculture or development. Various austere climates also reign over Australia and most nations of the Middle East, North Africa, Latin America and Asia.
In the United States, though, the climate is mostly temperate. Precipitation and temperature interact in rare harmony to yield the most resilient soils in the world. Compliments of the Midwest, America has the largest contiguous mass of arable land on the globe—and this mass is bookended by huge tracts of fertile terrain on both coasts.
These climatic conditions make possible an astonishing agricultural output: America’s 4.5 percent of the world’s population produces 13 percent of the world’s wheat, 40 percent of corn, 50 percent of soybeans, and 80 percent of sorghum—all after almost a century of significant decline in the U.S. agricultural sector. Thanks overwhelmingly to the nation’s geography, the U.S. exports more food than any other country, even though agriculture is only 2 percent of its economy.
A River on Every Page
While most countries’ terrain is pleasantly interrupted by at least a few rivers, no other nation has a maritime transport system as luxurious as that of the United States. AmericanRivers.org says the U.S. has over 250,000 rivers, totaling over 3.5 million miles of flowing water! A person could fly to the moon and back seven times and still not have crossed that many miles.
Perhaps more valuable than the number of rivers is the fact that the majority of them connect to at least one other river, creating vast networks of waterways. Chief among these is the Mississippi River’s connection to the Ohio, Red, Tennessee and Missouri rivers, which form the largest interconnected network of navigable rivers on the planet.
Besides this incomparable transport system, the U.S. is also home to all three of the world’s largest and best natural harbors: San Francisco Bay, Chesapeake Bay and New York Bay. It has dozens of other excellent natural harbors, too. The rivers connect to the ocean harbors and, from there, goods can be shipped around the globe. Meanwhile, U.S. coastal shipping is shielded in an extraordinary way by the series of barrier islands off the East Coast and the Gulf of Mexico. These island groups form an Intracoastal Waterway that safeguards watercraft and ports from all but the very foulest weather.
The value of America’s maritime network can best be understood by comparing it to that of other nations. Russia, for example, has several long rivers, but they seldom connect to each other, and not one leads to a convenient port. All three of Russia’s largest rivers flow obstinately north, emptying into the arctic sludge of the North Sea, and since they’re frozen for most of the year, they are not navigable. The south-flowing Volga River drains into the Caspian Sea, but the Caspian is landlocked, so it can only transport Russia’s vodka to a few Middle Eastern and Central Asian countries. The Volga and the Caspian also freeze over for several months of each year, paralyzing these shipment lines. Before taking Crimea earlier this year, Russia had zero warm water ports.
As bad off as Russia is, many nations are in even poorer maritime transport situations. America’s exceptional waterway system is truly miles above that of any other country, and by no virtue of the American people.
Recognition of this incredible blessing prompted journalist Charles Kuralt to famously write: “America is a great story and there is a river on every page.”
Turkey and Stuffing
Far more astonishing than America’s superlative agricultural capacity or its awe-inspiring natural maritime system is the way the two go together.
Rather than slicing arbitrarily through the country, dozens of America’s largest rivers intersect the nation’s agricultural hotspots with nearly perfect proportion and precision. Even without digging canals, boats can sail to almost any region of the Midwest from almost any region along the East or Gulf coasts. Food that isn’t needed locally can easily be floated down a river to a harbor, then exported overseas.
Ordinarily, agricultural zones as vast as the American Midwest are underutilized because the expense of transporting their yield elsewhere slashes into the economics of cultivation. To return to the Russian comparison, even in modern times, Russian crops sometimes spoil before crossing the Eurasian Steppe to reach market. Russia has to maintain colossal man-made transportation networks in order for its land to reach its potential.
But in the Greater Mississippi Basin, the lion’s share of agricultural turf lies within 120 miles of a navigable river.
The economic implications of this overlap cannot be overstated. The geography of most nations requires their governments to scrape together heaps of capital to lay endless rail and asphalt—just to form transport capacity, the groundwork of an economy. But geography provided America with an almost flawless system at no expense. The U.S.’s intrinsic transport capacity freed the nation’s resources for other economic pursuits, and virtually guaranteed that America would be capital-rich.
With this free capital, America was able to complete its first transcontinental railroad in 1869, and its first coast-to-coast roadway in 1913. Russia only completed its first transcontinental railroad in 1916, and its first cross-country highway in 2008!
America’s agricultural capacity and its maritime system are the turkey and stuffing of its geography—they go together perfectly.
A Tenable Tower
U.S. geography also ensured that the country would have virtually no continental competition. To the east and west, the nation is buffered from other countries by thousands of miles of shining sea.
To the south is Mexico, with terrain mostly too mountainous, too tropical or too arid for anything but subsistence agriculture. Mexico also has no significant maritime transport system, and is separated from the U.S. for the most part by a desert border. For much of recent history, Mexico has not presented a significant threat to the United States—though this is beginning to change due to the aggressive incursion of increasingly powerful drug cartels.
Finally, to the north is Canada, far more mountainous and far colder than America. Canada’s only traversable waterway system, the St. Lawrence Seaway and Great Lakes, belongs as much to the U.S. as to Canada. Additionally, the bulk of Canada’s farmable land lies just along the American border, making it economically wiser for provinces to integrate with the States for exporting than to work with neighboring provinces.
So, while geography hinders Mexico and Canada, it empowers the United States, leaving it unthreatened on all sides. The result is that the U.S. does not need to maintain a large standing military presence on any of its borders. And if a threat does flare up, the U.S. transport network allows it to quickly move forces around. A glance at Russia reveals an opposite situation once again: Thousands of miles of vulnerable borders, added to the lack of internal transport networks to quickly move soldiers, means the Russian bear must keep sizable standing armies along all its borders. This is an economic drain that has contributed to several Russian collapses throughout history.
Chance or Design?
So exceptional is America’s geographic situation that Stratfor calls the United States “the inevitable empire.” When considering the combination of “the robust natural transport network overlaying vast tracts of excellent farmland, sharing a continent with two much smaller and weaker powers—it is inevitable that whoever controls the middle third of North America will be a great power” (Aug. 24, 2011).
If the people who inhabit this exceptional real estate were geographically guaranteed to become great, then it’s worth considering how the American people came to possess it.
The Bible makes clear that God, and not men, determined the geographic locations and national borders of the Earth’s various peoples. The Apostle Paul explained in Acts 17:26 that God “hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bound of their habitation” (see also Deuteronomy 32:8; 2 Samuel 7:10).
Long before Paul explained that truth, God inspired the Old Testament patriarch Jacob to utter a landmark blessing upon his two grandsons: Ephraim and Manasseh. He placed his left hand on the head of Manasseh, the older of the two boys, and blessed him, saying he would become a great single nation (Genesis 48:14-22; 49:22-24). God fulfilled this promise to Manasseh spectacularly in the 19th and 20th centuries, when the United States of America attained towering cultural dominance, unparalleled military might, and mind-boggling economic power.
But before the 20th century, before the 19th century, even long before Ephraim and Manasseh were born, God foreordained America’s greatness with geography.
All the way back when He was re-creating the Earth as recorded in Genesis 1—sculpting its surface, separating dry land from sea, and carving out the continents, God was thinking of Manasseh and of His future promise to make of him the single greatest nation on Earth. Toward this end, God designated a massive and exceptional chunk of real estate for Manasseh’s descendants, the American people.
Geography also motivates the U.S. government to take a more hands-off economic approach than most nations have employed. Laissez-faire capitalism has flaws, but it contributed to America becoming a bastion of freedom. A deeper look into America’s geography reveals that God set Manasseh in a position where economic and religious freedom would reign, and where His end-time work could be carried out free of the persecution that would have plagued it in most any other nation.
How inspiring to consider that the Creator reserved the bulk of American land for some 5,500 years of mankind’s history, keeping it isolated and relatively unpeopled until Manasseh was ready to inhabit it and receive these astounding blessings! In a sense, God kept the land that would become America reserved for the majority of man’s history—as He waited to fulfill His promise to Manasseh. God “determined the bound” of U.S. borders, and He used geography to foreordain America’s prosperity!