How Geography Gave the US Power


This video was made possible by Squarespace. Build your professional web presence for 10%
off by going to squarespace.com/Wendover. The United States and its entire history can
be largely explained by its geography. Since its inception, the fundamental factor
influencing and guiding the country’s development is that it is far from everything else. The US is bounded to the east and west by
ocean and to the north and south by friendly and militarily weak countries and this has
meant that the US has almost never been threatened on the home-front. Many suspect that this is why the US has such
a defined government and political structure—because it had the time to develop the system while
it wasn’t worrying about potential invasion. But geography had a much deeper role in the
formation of the United States that stated back before the states were even United. It all started back in the colonial era. The 13 colonies were essentially split into
three geographically distinct groups that can explain why the areas look the way they
do today. The New England colonies were heavily forested
and had some fantastic natural ports like Boston and Newport. However, the area had a short growing season
and a rocky landscape which meant that crops never grew very well. Therefore, the area ended up as a center for
shipbuilding activity and fishing. To get their food they would trade with the
breadbasket of America—the Middle Colonies. This mid-Atlantic region was fantastic for
farming. The area has a long, warm growing season and
plentiful, arable soil. It also has navigable rivers stretching far
inland that could help transport goods. Philadelphia and New York were the two major
cities of the colonial era in this area and their locations reflects their roles. You’ll notice that both New York and Philadelphia
are at the mouth of significant, navigable rivers while Boston is not. The inland mid-Atlantic farmers transported
their goods via these rivers so the major cities grew as trading posts at the end of
these rivers. If New England had been a farming based economy,
it’s largest city would likely have developed here, at the mouth of the Connecticut River,
but, even though it was navigable, the river was of little use to the area. Having a major ocean-going port in Boston
was what was important for the maritime based New England economy. Further south were the Southern Colonies—home
to some of the oldest colonial settlements. Now, there’s this one line that you can
put on a map to explain why southern cities are where they are. It’s called the fall line. The technical explanation is that this is
where the soft sedimentary rock that forms the coastal plains meets the hard basement
rock that forms the land farther inland. The simpler explanation is, however, that
above this line rivers will have waterfalls and rapids. Below, they’ll be flat and navigable. Baltimore, Richmond, Durham, Raleigh, Columbia,
Augusta, and a bunch of smaller cities all sit almost exactly on the fall line. There are two reasons for this. The obvious one is that below these cities
the rivers were navigable so colonists could get to the cities, but what was perhaps more
important was that they were far inland which gave protection. Spain controlled Florida for much of colonial
history and had a significant military presence. At the time it was reasonable to think that
they would continue their expansion by moving up the coast so colonial cities in the South
chose their locations in part based on natural fortifications. But some of the most significant events in
US history happened because of one fact—the south is hot. Very early into colonial history settlers
in the south figured out that the area was fantastic for tobacco cultivation and England
loved tobacco. The only problem was, tobacco is a much more
labor intensive crop than wheat or beans or corn. So the farmers bought in help… just not
voluntarily. The American south became one of the biggest
destinations of the slave trade and plantation owners were getting filthy rich. A big reason slavery existed for so long in
the US was actually because the south was so physically big. You see, the job of supreme court justice
used to be part-time. In the 19th century the justices would only
come to DC for a portion of the year and, for the rest of the year they would travel
around an assigned area and hear cases alongside local judges. The problem was, the north was much more densely
populated and had better travel infrastructure than the south. The south was vast, sparsely populated, and
had a very rudimentary road system. Therefore, judges assigned to the north were
given a smaller area with a larger population while the southern judges were given a larger
area with a smaller population so they could get around their whole circuit in the same
time. Therefore, in the 19th century when considering
the constitutionality of slavery, the south, the slave owning area, was overrepresented
in the supreme court. The crucial Dred Scott case of 1857 which
cemented the legality of slavery in US territory was decided by a bench of five southern justices
and four northern ones even though only 8 million of the country’s 27 million free
inhabitants lived in southern states. Although some may call it a stretch, you can
at least partially attribute the civil war to the weather in the south that made tobacco
and cotton cultivation possible. So how did the US end up becoming the superpower
it is today? After the colonial era the United States had
to push out west to gain the strategic advantage of isolation. In 1800, what is now the US was essentially
divided into three sections ruled by three countries: the United States, France, and
Spain. In the colonial era nobody really ventured
west of the Appalachians. There was no real reason to and it was the
unknown. In fact, it wasn’t until 1789 that the first
explorer crossed the continent to the Pacific overland. The first problem preventing expansion was
Spain and France’s ownership of the Mississippi River region, or more specifically, New Orleans. You see, New Orleans was perhaps the most
important city on the continent because it lay where the most important river on the
continent met the ocean. The Mississippi River has an absolutely enormous
watershed that all drains here. He who controlled New Orleans controlled the
entire middle country. There were almost no roads going from east
to west in North America in the early 1800s so to get something from Pittsburgh to New
York, it was actually easier to ship by boat on the Ohio and Mississippi rivers to the
Atlantic than to make the 300 mile overland trek. Rivers were how people got things around so
without access to New Orleans the US had no access to the rivers and without access to
the rivers the US couldn’t get crops and other goods from this region to the outside
world. Luckily, France agreed to sell New Orleans
and the rest of their huge swath of land to the US in 1803 for the equivalent of $250
million 2017 dollars. This proved to be one of the best purchases
in history as the area now has an estimated value of $1.2 trillion. The US then got access to the Pacific in 1819
in the Pacific Northwest then fully in 1848 at the end of the Mexican American war upon
the secession of California and the southwest from Mexico. The United States now existed from sea to
shining sea. It was at this moment when people were convinced,
with merit, that the US was untouchable. No real superpower existed in the western
hemisphere which meant that nobody could truly threaten the existence of the United States. Any invading army would have to run supply
chains across oceans which greatly reduces power and, at least historically, there was
no threat of another superpower arising on the North America continent because of, once
again, geography. Mexico was largely a desert and had no solid
river system like the US to facilitate ease of movement. Without a solid transport system and ability
to easily grow crops it had little chance of gaining the population and level of development
necessary to rival the US. Canada also had its own problems. It didn’t have any rivers crossing the country,
it’s climate didn’t allow for much farming, and mountainous terrain made roads difficult. Few realize that even today only one two-lane
road connects the entirety of eastern Canada to the entirety of western Canada. Just last year a bridge on the Trans-Canada
highway collapsed and so, for 17 hours, there was no way to drive from east to west and
the country was split in two. If ever Canada was invaded by land there would
be no solid way to facilitate troop movement and it would likely operate more as regions
than a cohesive country. The US is therefore in a privileged position
today where thousands of miles separates it from the serious issues of abroad. The North American continent is largely devoid
of international conflict and so the United States’ success can be accurately attributed
to its geographic isolation. When you don’t have to worry about protecting
against a potential invasion you can devote more time to education, development, science,
and politics. The United States is a country that worked
almost by chance. It just happened that the right mix of people
landed in the right place to create a world superpower so, without the fantastic geography
of the continent, the United States almost certainly would not be the superpower it is
today. One of the most frequent questions I receive
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in two weeks for another Wendover Productions video.

Maurice Vega

100 Responses

  1. Um, there are multitudes of ways around using the TransCanada Highway if something were to happen. One bridge going down didn't affect the nation at all. There are side roads within 14 kilometres of said collapsed bridge that circumvent it entirely. We also have the Railway stretching from one coast to the other, and the TransCanada trail, complete with all the added infrastructure set up to create, support, and maintain the trail. It's not a highway, it's still a road system. Next we have the winter trails. Once snow hits the ground, we don't need roads. I mean sure, some roads literally only exist when there's snow on the ground, but I mean with how many people use snowmachines, it's more economically advantageous for some communities to use nothing but snowmachines until the snow melts again, and they aren't hindered by a lack of infrastructure. In the event of an invasion, our military doctrine is to essentially use that perceived lack of a supply network to our advantage. Our military isn't just highly trained to be able to maneuver in Canada, we're literally the only military in the world that's trained to do so. If an invading force were to destroy the rail system and highway, attempting to cut the country in half, it would still take us only two days to move troops from say Toronto to Vancouver, whereas it would take even the most experienced mountain divisions from other nations roughly two months just to get through the Rockies, with the exception of US troops who potentially could use their own string of the range to train troops to traverse it. But they don't do that already, so, right now, no one could get through there without getting bogged down in attritional warfare.

  2. The success of the US is probably similar to the success of Britain pre world war 1 and 2 , isolated on an Island , they avoided damages to their country in all continental wars and conflict except world war 2 of course , but they are not too isolated to trade with others . Great political system like the bill of rights and church separation that draw in intellectual and great minded refugees. The fall of British empire had given the rise of the US ,actually, the empire never fall , they just moved the head from London to Washington .

  3. Not that any of this would ever happen, I'm just sayin'…..

    Canada would destroy the United States in war because their nuclear deterrence would be useless. Have fun carrying out a nuclear strike on Canadian cities like Toronto and Vancouver, which are less than 100 miles from major US population centers and share watersheds. The US and Canada also share missile defense infrastructure, which would greatly complicate such an attack.

    Like the United States, Canada is also geographically very difficult to 'invade' because of its arctic and subarctic climate and mountainous terrain. Over the past 20 years, the US military has been putting a great deal of effort into training and acquisition with desert climates in mind.

    Having a large, well funded military doesn't always spell victory. Remember *Vietnam?*. Canada does not have the largest military in the world, but it's also nowhere near the smallest. It's the 14th largest, and one of the most well trained – consistently producing some of the best snipers (a Canadian still holds the record for longest kill). We have a substantial force of young, capable reserve troops available for duty. Being closely related to the United States, we have access to much of the same technology and work with the same military contractors. We have a lot of information about your military that China and Russia don't have – because you trust us.

    We have far less debt, and far greater access to natural resources – most notably oil – of which Canada has the 3rd largest reserves in the world and freshwater – of which Canada has the most in the world. Canada is far less dependent on importing natural resources than the United States, which could pose a problem during war-time.

    Also, lets face it – Canada has a far greater number of strong allies than the United States. Right now, politician tension in the United States are so high some people would argue that they're on the brink of fighting a war with their own country. Their big military is spread too thin across a dozen different international conflicts to be truly effective. Canada is a member of NATO, and although the US is too, hostility against another NATO country immediately revokes your membership. All our NATO allies would view you as the enemy – and the commonwealth of nations (including Australia, India, and South Africa) would join in, too. Most of the planet would be against the United States if they ever declared war with Canada.

    In such an event, Canadians would wear down invading US troops just like tiny Finland did to the big, bad USSR during the 'Winter War'. It would last a long time, and there would be many casualties on both sides, but in the end the US would probably 'strategically withdraw' due to lack of advancement, high cost, high casualties, and international (and domestic) pressure.

  4. This video explains the advanced Native American empires that colonized the world. Some people will look anywhere but at the people who make up a nation for the reason for its success.

  5. ahahaha

    you should do the same one about germany….
    we have one of the worst geography you could have…

    cuz it actually forced us to start ww1.

  6. Native Americans were given reservations and received financial payback……..for taking their land……..and other things. Were the slave descendants paid back ? Of course not

  7. American citizens general lack of awareness of global political, economic and cultural activity can also be attributed to its geographic isolation.

    Don’t believe me?

    Ask any America to identify a flag other than their own.
    Ask any American to describe what the EU is.
    Ask any American to name 3 countries in Central Asia.
    Ask any American what the U.K. is.

    They chose the right political system so that way, only leaders need to be aware of geopolitical and global diplomacy – otherwise its citizens can benefit from the prosperous privilege of its isolation and massive economy, and not know a damn thing about the rest of the world and how it works.

    I know this because I am an American and I do know how the rest of the world works because I haven’t always lived in America.

  8. This video was made possible by sales of heroin from CIA operatives harvesting opium poppies in Afghanistan.

    Only the AMERICUNTS are stupid enough to think they can smoke the rest of the thinking world with their fake stories of US grand victories.

  9. Why don't they teach us this shit in history class. This is a whole other side to the U.S. than what they teach in school. Which is that the U.S. are dicks and took over a large chunk of the continent. School is so fucked in the way they teach shit.

  10. You're such a liar. Without the enslavement of Africans for 400yrs and free labor, America wouldn't be the country we know today!!! Right mix of people—– really (so sad you suffer from grand dilution).

  11. The USA was defined by Unalienable rights. That private property rights and the other amendments released a creativity and virtue never seem in the recorded history of mankind.

  12. not only geography leaders like George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Abraham Lincoln etc also make a good share in United States success.
    Pakistan also has a great geographic location but lack of strong Leadership Pakistan is unsuccessful as compared to the USA

  13. If the America is never threatened by aggressive neighbors, it would only need a small army. Yet it has developed the strongest military in the world. It's more than geography

  14. He doesn't Know history, France only owned the Louisiana Purchase for 2 days. It was owned by Spain who wouldn't sell it to America. Thomas Jefferson talked France into buying it from Spain and selling it to America. It had never been surveyed and Spain new America would push further west. This lie has been passed through our education system for almost a hundred years.

  15. I always wonder what would have become of North America had it been permanently divided between Spain, England, France, and Russia.

  16. "They are bordered to the north and south by militarily weak nations." Rest in Peace well trained Canadian and Mexican soldiers.

  17. You give no credit to the people who made the U.S. a superpower. The railroads and canals and roads and farms did not build themselves. The Rocky Mountains, the Ozarks and the Appalachian Mountains still existed back then. You use rugged terrain and lack of infrastructure to explain other regions reasons for their limits but ignore the same facts that exist in The U.S. Also the vast Oceans should have limited it from colonization but yet the people prevailed. It is a great land no doubt but take the same people and the rugged spirit and entrepreneurship of the American spirit and drop them in the same land you make excuses for and see what happens.

  18. At 9:03 u said "The right mix of people LANDED in the right PLACE are u fucking kinding me "how someone so enlighten can say such BULLSHIT 1.Natives was taken from here to Spain,England and Great Britain 2.Native peple on THIS LAND WAS KILLED BY THE MILLIONS 3.Africans and northern Tribe people from the Caspian sea area was brought over here to work AS SLAVES what the fuck am taken about "i guess lives dont MATTER when it comes to being number 1 👍🏻

  19. Lets not forget 200 years of FREE LABOR SLAVERY of African Americans. AND WE WERE never paid. Still waiting for my grand grand grand grand fathers and mothers Check.

  20. Hmmm yes that is also fact. Another reason why my point still stands. Large standing army means nothing if you cant pay for it and feed it. Which relegates China to just a regional land power.

    And one that will quickly have its economy slow down and a larger and larger population which you have to house cloth feed and pay. And if it does not diversify its economy its as good as fucked.

  21. But now Russia could easily nuke the US. Even though that goes both ways, it still threatens America.

  22. dont forget the animals the european monarchies imported to america, without them america would not have had the means to expand west or the ability to raise a large and formidable military to take on the native americans; because the native americans were the only real threat to americas ability to settle in new areas and new found power

  23. Contrary to this, Pakistan is fated to a hostile Eastern neighbour, currently being run by a Physcopath having history of blood and terror.

  24. Except the US fought and won more wars as a weak country then it has in the last 100 years as the most intimidating force the world has ever seen.

  25. Is Augusta supposed to be Macon or some other city because it should be much closer to the GA-SC border rather than Middle Georgia at 2:51

  26. There were 12 colonies that’s what history get wrong they Delaware was a colony but actually was the first states of US

  27. The God of heaven created the United States and greatly blessed her with abundance, because forefathers and people's honored the Word of God

  28. The Fall of Babylon

    18 After this I saw another angel coming down from heaven, having great authority, and the earth was made bright with his glory. 2 And he called out with a mighty voice,

    “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great!

    She has become a dwelling place for demons,

    a haunt for every unclean spirit,

    a haunt for every unclean bird,

    a haunt for every unclean and detestable beast.

    3 For all nations have drunk[a]

    the wine of the passion of her sexual immorality,

    and the kings of the earth have committed immorality with her,

    and the merchants of the earth have grown rich from the power of her luxurious living.”

    4 Then I heard another voice from heaven saying,

    “Come out of her, my people,

    lest you take part in her sins,

    lest you share in her plagues;

    5 for her sins are heaped high as heaven,

    and God has remembered her iniquities.

    6 Pay her back as she herself has paid back others,

    and repay her double for her deeds;

    mix a double portion for her in the cup she mixed.

    7 As she glorified herself and lived in luxury,

    so give her a like measure of torment and mourning,

    since in her heart she says,

    ‘I sit as a queen,

    I am no widow,

    and mourning I shall never see.’

    8 For this reason her plagues will come in a single day,

    death and mourning and famine,

    and she will be burned up with fire;

    for mighty is the Lord God who has judged her.”

    9 And the kings of the earth, who committed sexual immorality and lived in luxury with her, will weep and wail over her when they see the smoke of her burning. 10 They will stand far off, in fear of her torment, and say,

    “Alas! Alas! You great city,

    you mighty city, Babylon!

    For in a single hour your judgment has come.”

    11 And the merchants of the earth weep and mourn for her, since no one buys their cargo anymore, 12 cargo of gold, silver, jewels, pearls, fine linen, purple cloth, silk, scarlet cloth, all kinds of scented wood, all kinds of articles of ivory, all kinds of articles of costly wood, bronze, iron and marble, 13 cinnamon, spice, incense, myrrh, frankincense, wine, oil, fine flour, wheat, cattle and sheep, horses and chariots, and slaves, that is, human souls.[b]

    14 “The fruit for which your soul longed

    has gone from you,

    and all your delicacies and your splendors

    are lost to you,

    never to be found again!”

    15 The merchants of these wares, who gained wealth from her, will stand far off, in fear of her torment, weeping and mourning aloud,

    16 “Alas, alas, for the great city

    that was clothed in fine linen,

    in purple and scarlet,

    adorned with gold,

    with jewels, and with pearls!

    17 For in a single hour all this wealth has been laid waste.”

    And all shipmasters and seafaring men, sailors and all whose trade is on the sea, stood far off 18 and cried out as they saw the smoke of her burning,

    “What city was like the great city?”

    19 And they threw dust on their heads as they wept and mourned, crying out,

    “Alas, alas, for the great city

    where all who had ships at sea

    grew rich by her wealth!

    For in a single hour she has been laid waste.

    20 Rejoice over her, O heaven,

    and you saints and apostles and prophets,

    for God has given judgment for you against her!”

    21 Then a mighty angel took up a stone like a great millstone and threw it into the sea, saying,

    “So will Babylon the great city be thrown down with violence,

    and will be found no more;

    22 and the sound of harpists and musicians, of flute players and trumpeters,

    will be heard in you no more,

    and a craftsman of any craft

    will be found in you no more,

    and the sound of the mill

    will be heard in you no more,

    23 and the light of a lamp

    will shine in you no more,

    and the voice of bridegroom and bride

    will be heard in you no more,

    for your merchants were the great ones of the earth,

    and all nations were deceived by your sorcery.

    24 And in her was found the blood of prophets and of saints,

    and of all who have been slain on earth.”

  29. Its time to stop china expastion. Usa For the last century was either apsent or reluctant to stop it. 8 years of obama & 8 years of bush doing nothing as if they care only about therselfs but the country. Its time to team up with only man who have the courage & stemena, president trump.
    He does't stsand to china only but to japan, germany & others. They are eating our lunch all those years & all the leaders are sleeping on the jop.
    Wake up people to the facts

  30. Property rights, the rule of law, personal freedom and economic freedom are also key to US strength. Plenty of countries with good geography and natural resources have squandered their potential for lack of complementary policy wisdom.

  31. The humans who occupied the North American continent for 20k years never exploited these resources. Hopelessly primitive. We came along and knocked it pout of the park. As to your claim there were no external threats of sorts, have you never heard of the Spanish Empire, the Portugese Empire, the British Empire, and the French Empire? Never heard of the 7 years war? Yo are another revisionist Leftist intellectually dishonest shill.

  32. This is anachronistic.

    "is has not been threatened by sea, hence they developed a good political system". Not really.

    The political system was established long before the USA reached this geographic situation of protection.

    The founding stock of the nation was reacting to the politics of Europe (England) and the revolutions of the era on the Continent.

    The "White men of good character" (1790) built a good country because they are good people, thinking right and acting accordingly. That's it.

  33. AMERICA BECAME GREAT BY PRINTING PETRO DOLLAR ! I could be a trillionaire if I can print "money" on toilet paper.

  34. BE GREAT LIKE CHINA, BY HARD WORK & INNOVATION & STEALING USA SECRETS ! That is greatness; we manufacture and trade to untold riches, the envy of the USA.

  35. On the 400th anniversary of the first slaves landing in the Americas it is certainly a reasonable time to acknowledge that 250 years of slavery might just have contributed somewhat to the economic success of what is now the USA. Perhaps even time to pay their ancestors for the work of their forebears.

  36. Napoleon proved he was delusional to sell the Louisiana territory called the Louisiana Purchase . Also the Tsar of Russia was crazy to sell Alaska to the US . Before that the Russian empire covered three continents from the Baltic Sea all the way to Fort Ross about 100 miles north of San Francisco .

  37. You forgot about the St Lawrence river that has Montreal and Quebec City and it connects to the Great lakes which has Toronto.

  38. I think money can buy weapons and money cannot buy good strategies. Might be Britain England deafeted in same geographic area that might be person name america and he lives in geographical area while merchants found before colambia

  39. The Americans are lucky people, thay are border by Taco Makers in the South and Boring Canadians in the North…and Fish is delicious…..

  40. Don't try to blame the weather, it was greedy white people. Capitalism: You can grow and make a profit, but you should be growing to make the largest profit you can.

  41. This advantage gave them the right to invade other countries. Shame on America. If you are a superpower, you should be responsible. Think about making America kind, not fearful. You know what you may have the geographical advantage but, everyone loves Canada more than the USA. Even the USA is jealous of Canada.

  42. Obviously this video was not made during the Trump era because we have experienced a total clue if you haven’t noticed Rosha controls America now via cyber war cyber Jada big data and psychographic so currently this is the worst. In American history we are under the thumb of mother Russia and we have to get out despite our geography

  43. Was it a joke about education? The most expensive education in the world with questionable quality. All successful MSc and PhD students come from Russia, China and India, where they had their degrees for free and being successful young professionals. Meanwhile Americans pay their student debts until the grave

  44. 6:18 …..sooo….. do I have to say it???


    clears throats

    TRAIIIIINS

    There, this webdover vide now features trains

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