Opinion: Daily Journal

They Walked the Line

RALEIGH – Imagine that you left work in South Carolina, went home, went to bed, and went to work in North Carolina the next morning – at the same place.

That may not be a hypothetical situation for Victor Boulware, who owns the Lake Wylie Minimart just south of Charlotte. As The Charlotte Observer reported a few days ago, Boulware and dozens of others who thought they owned business or residential property in South Carolina may soon find themselves in North Carolina, thanks to a modern redrawing of a boundary line that has long been a bone of contention.

For Boulware, the change could jeopardize his business, which relies on North Carolinians headed south of the border for cheaper gas and legal fireworks. One might say that he’s engaged in a little retail arbitrage between the two jurisdictions. North and South Carolina may have begun life as part of the same 17th century colony, but they soon became very different places.

South Carolina’s distinctive traditions emerged from the urban outpost of Charleston and the plantation culture of the midlands. North Carolina’s distinctive traditions emerged as a combination of Tidewater culture in the northeast, small farms across a broad swath of the state, and a steady stream of English, Scotch-Irish, and German settlement into the foothills and mountains.

South Carolina became an integral part of the Deep South. North Carolina didn’t. South Carolina led the secession movement that provoked the Civil War. North Carolina resisted the idea, leaving the Union only after President Lincoln announced plans to invade the new Confederacy.

The two states retained different political cultures for decades afterward. Although both remained Democratic strongholds well into the 20th century, they didn’t follow the same course on economic development, education, and other policies. South Carolina later became solidly Republican. North Carolina went for Barack Obama in 2008 and has yet to elect a Republican governor and legislature at the same time, although 2012 may well be the year that finally happens.

The Carolinas continue to differ in important ways: in their economies, in popular culture, in athletic traditions, and in law. No one will ever mistake Columbia for Raleigh, or Asheville for Spartanburg. At the same time, however, the two states still have much in common – and along the border, which includes some major population centers, generations of Carolinians have crossed back and forth routinely to work, shop, marry, visit, and enjoy themselves.

As a Tar Heel native who has spent a great deal of time south of the border, I hope that the latest boundary dispute can be settled amicably, in a matter that does not impose unnecessarily costly burdens on the affected households and businesses. But history may not be on our side here.

Consider the longstanding dispute regarding Andrew Jackson’s birthplace. Both Carolinas claim him as a native son. The truth is that no one can say for sure on which side of the border Jackson was born. The community in question, the Waxhaws, straddled the border near modern-day Charlotte.

The future president’s father, also named Andrew Jackson, was a Scotch-Irish immigrant who arrived in the region in the mid 1760s with his wife Elizabeth Hutchinson Jackson, who went by Betty. The Jacksons appear to have built a farm near the present-day Union County, NC town of Mineral Springs. While she was pregnant with his son, the elder Jackson died in an accident. Betty journeyed south to the Waxhaw Presbyterian Church (in present-day SC) to bury her husband. It was while returning home from the funeral that she began to go into labor. Young Andrew Jackson was born on March 15, 1767.

But where? There are two possibilities, both the homes of a sister of Betty Jackson. She might have given birth at the plantation of James Crawford, who was married to Betty’s sister Jane. Or it might have been at the cabin of George McCamie, who was married to her sister Peggy.

There are partisans of both scenarios, but not a lot of hard evidence to settle the controversy. At the time, of course, no one knew that the location would become the stuff of future bragging rights. And the two homes were just a mile and a half apart. They were part of the same community. Only later, when an official boundary was drawn, did it become evident that Crawford’s plantation was in South Carolina and McCamie’s cabin was in North Carolina.

I’ll admit to a bias. I want the birthplace to be the North Carolina home of George and Peggy McCamie, my 6th great-grandparents. But even if Andrew Jackson was born at my 6th great-uncle James Crawford’s place, that still makes him my cousin.

It’s time for the border feuds to end. We Carolina cousins really ought to stick together. After all, it’s them Georgians who are the real enemy, right?

Hood is president of the John Locke Foundation.