1902: State Borders
Title text: A schism between the pro-panhandle and anti-panhandle factions eventually led to war, but both sides spent too much time working on their flag designs to actually do much fighting.
In this comic, graphic designers take control of the United States, but the only thing they do is to change the state and national borders, using primarily aesthetic criteria, see details in the table below. State and national borders have generally emerged from some combination of political decisions, natural boundaries, control of natural resources, and, to some degree, from chance. As the comic implies, some borders originally resulted from surveying errors, but became encoded by law and tradition, and thus were never changed.
Despite the caption's rather blasé reaction to the graphic designers' master plan, the changes they propose could be rather tumultuous. Political boundaries are difficult to change because rewriting them places entire populations in different states or even different countries. Even within the US, changing a population from one state to another has serious implications. A different state means different laws, tax obligations, public benefits, business regulations, infrastructure support, etc. It would also mean that control of some very substantial natural resources would be transferred from one state to another. More significantly, the suggestion to cede portions of the US to Canada and Mexico would be a much bigger deal, forcing residents of those areas to either leave their homes, businesses, and communities or surrender their current nationality and apply for citizenship in another country. The joke behind the comic is that graphic designers would tend to ignore these practical concerns and pay more attention to a map looking orderly.
This comic hints at the fact that Randall actually wants to see these changes made, since there have been other comics containing red annotations over a complex and established structure that he wants to change.
In the title text, the graphic designers have a civil war between the ones that favor "panhandles" in the borders, such as the Oklahoma one which is enlarged in the map, the Florida one which is removed in the map, and maybe others such as the Texas region known as the "Texas panhandle". However, as graphic designers, they get too caught up in making the flag designs for their faction to actually fight. Randall has shown interest for vexillology (the study of flags) in the past, such as in 1815: Flag.
Table of changes
|Give to Canada||Minnesota has a small northern exclave (the Northwest Angle) which is sparsely populated (with only about 120 residents), and is accessible from the rest of the US only via water (the Lake of the Woods) or by traveling through Canada. This land being part of the US is the result of a geographic error during the original negotiations over the border, and its irregularity would naturally bother someone concerned with clean and logical boundaries. The new borders suggest giving this territory to Canada to simplify the state and national border. In fact, during the Covid pandemic that hit the US in 2020, the US/Canada border was closed to nonessential travel, and so many of the Angle’s residents struggled to make ends meet, as the cross-border tourism that typically supported them largely disappeared.|
|This should be Wisconsin||Michigan is divided into two parts by Lake Michigan. The graphic designers suggest eliminating a boundary line by assigning the upper peninsula of Michigan to Wisconsin. The upper peninsula of Michigan was given to Michigan as part of a compromise to end the Toledo War.|
|Move Long Island to NJ or CT, or make it its own state||Connecticut and New Jersey are very close to each other but don't actually border, separated only a few miles by New York State. Long Island is part of New York State, which visibly juts out into the Atlantic (extending so far to the east that it gives New York a maritime border with Rhode Island) and apparently drives graphic designers crazy who see an association with New Jersey or Connecticut or even becoming its own state more logical than being a part of New York State. This would have some issues, not least of which is that Long Island contains two of New York City's five boroughs (Brooklyn and Queens) and more than half the city's population.|
|Unlabelled cleanup at the eastern border of New York, northern border of Massachusetts, and northern border of Connecticut||Straighten the eastern border of New York from New York City to the southern tip of Lake Champlain, straighten the northern border of Massachusetts, and straighten the northern border of Connecticut.|
|Align to Grid||Most of the Western states are variations on "large box", but there's something a bit irregular about them. Never fear, the Design Team has fixed it! In the process, they've also changed the border between Idaho and Montana from a natural boundary following the Continental Divide into an arbitrary squiggle.|
|Clean Up (Maryland/Ohio/Pennsylvania/Virginia/West Virginia)||Maryland's western panhandle and both of West Virginia's to the east and north would be smoothed out to have nice, straight, shorter lines. The Mason-Dixon Line that forms the current border between Maryland and Pennsylvania would also be extended east to the border between Pennsylvania and Delaware, which the latter in real life cuts into Pennsylvania a little bit via the Twelve Mile Circle.|
|Enlarge Rhode Island & Delaware|| Rhode Island and Delaware, the two smallest U.S. states by area, are often difficult to make out on a map of the United States.
Expanding Delaware to occupy the entire Delmarva peninsula eliminates some boundary lines the designers apparently consider excessively fiddly, as well as solving another "Michigan" problem, as the "VA" of "Delmarva" refers to its Eastern Shore, which is separated from the rest of Virginia by the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay. The two parts of Virginia are connected by the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel, while Maryland's two bay shores are connected by U.S. Route 50. Rhode Island is not indeed entirely an island, and the mainland portions are the focus of the graphic designers.
Expanding Rhode Island eastward would make it easier to see on a map. Giving the former Plymouth Colony to Rhode Island would have the additional advantage of making Massachusetts a more neatly rectangular state.
|If we're going to have a panhandle, why not commit to it?||Oklahoma has a "panhandle" to its west, which is a kind of Salient. The obvious fix would be to give it to Texas. In a twist, the graphic designers suggest extending it even further, across the northern parts of Arizona and New Mexico. This would make the Four Corners Monument obsolete, since Arizona and New Mexico would no longer border Utah and Colorado respectively, let alone all four states sharing a corner.|
|Fix this thing||The border of Missouri cuts into Arkansas, in the so-called Missouri Bootheel. The Design Team has awarded that piece to Arkansas, straightening the border.|
|Unlabelled cleanup at the junction of Kentucky/Virginia||Virginia's western border is shifted east to align it with the borders to the north and south, forming a continuous line along the Appalachians.|
|Unlabelled cleanup at the junction of Nevada/Arizona||Continue the line of Utah's western border and Arizona's far northwestern border south (replacing part of the Colorado River boundary), transferring part of Arizona's Mohave county to Nevada.|
|Unlabelled cleanup at the junction of Texas/Oklahoma/Arkansas/Louisiana||Square off Southwest Arkansas, and move Louisiana's northwest border to meet up, presumably because square corners are better.|
|Clean up (Arizona/New Mexico/Texas)||One of New Mexico's borders should be extended into a single line. This results in ceding some land to Mexico, having El Paso split across New Mexico and Texas, and Highway 62 alternating between two states.|
|Straighten to fix survey errors (Tennessee)||Tennessee's southern border is supposed to be the 35th parallel north, but due to surveying errors made in the 19th Century the marked border is one mile south of that line. At many times since, Georgia has sought to fix this by various means (at least partly because doing so would net them some rights to the water from the Tennessee River) including bringing its case to the US Supreme Court - with the Design Team in charge, they wouldn't need those lawyers any more. Farther westward, Tennessee's actual southern border suddenly juts south at the Tennessee River between Alabama and Mississippi - again, the Design Team would rather see it smoothed out. Tennessee's northern border with Kentucky has similar hitches that prevent it from being a straight line that the Design Team wants to address.|
|Good Curve! Keep. (Florida/Georgia/South Carolina)||The only thing the design team likes already about the shape of the US is the shape of the Atlantic coast in northern Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina, as it seems to bend into the US smoothly. Unfortunately for them, the curve is coastline; whether or not we get to keep it is up to the whims of Mother Nature . Fortunately for them, they like it as is, so it doesn't matter that they can't change it.|
|Let's be honest, this should be Canada too||Southeast Alaska should be given to Canada, presumably because it more neatly fits with British Columbia. This is slightly problematic, as the current state capital, Juneau, is within this section. Presumably, the state capital would be moved to Alaska's most populous city, Anchorage.|
|Why should Florida get Alabama's coastline? It has plenty.||
The Florida Panhandle borders southern Alabama denying the state all but a sliver of coastline. Given that Florida already has an abundance of coast, the Graphic Designers consider the present arrangement unfair. Ceding the Florida counties west of the Apalachicola River has actually been raised since the 19th century. This change would have the additional benefit of more neatly aligning Florida's western border with that of neighboring Georgia. As a sidenote, this would have significant political implications, as Florida is a closely divided "swing state" whose votes can easily determine the outcome of US Presidential elections. Ceding the largely rural and conservative population of the panhandle would likely tilt the rest of the state in favor of the Democratic candidate in future elections. Such an upset of the power balance is one reason why these kinds of changes would be aggressively opposed.
- [An outline map of the United States is shown, including state boundaries. The following edit marks are shown in red text:]
- [Minnesota's Northwest Angle is circled] Give to Canada
- [Border between Wisconsin and Michigan's Upper Peninsula is crossed out] This should be Wisconsin
- [New York's Long Island is circled, with arrows and question marks pointing to New Jersey and Connecticut] Move Long Island to NJ or CT or make it its own state
- [New York's eastern border has been straightened]
- [Wyoming's western border is moved to align with that of Colorado. The Montana/Idaho and Idaho/Utah borders are extended to reach the new border. Similarly, Colorado's eastern border is moved to align with that of Wyoming, and the Nebraska/Kansas border has been extended] Align to grid
- [West Virginia's northern panhandle has been given to Ohio and part of its eastern panhandle has been given to Maryland. In return, Western Maryland has been given to West Virginia. The altogether effect is that West Virginia and Maryland have more compact shapes] Clean Up
- [Rhode Island has been enlarged to encompass southeastern Massachusetts, and Delaware now takes up the entire Delmarva Peninsula] Enlarge Rhode Island & Delaware
- [The Oklahoma Panhandle has been extended west until it reaches Nevada, taking the northernmost parts of Arizona and New Mexico with it] If we're going to have a panhandle, why not commit to it?
- [The Missouri Bootheel has been given to Arkansas] Fix this thing
- [The part of Virginia west of the Appalachian Mountains has been given to Kentucky]
- [The southwestern and eastern borders of Nevada have been extended into Arizona until they meet a point. A part of California is slightly extended to reach the revised border]
- [Parts of Arizona and New Mexico have been ceded to Mexico, and part of Texas has been given to New Mexico, so that the southern borders of Arizona and New Mexico and the northern border of the Trans-Pecos area of Texas collectively form a straight line] Clean Up
- [Parts of northeastern Texas have been given to Arkansas and Louisiana]
- [The northern and southern borders of Tennessee have been straightened] Straighten to fix survey errors
- [A line has been traced along the coasts of South Carolina, Georgia, and northern Florida] Good curve! Keep.
- [Alaska's southeastern panhandle has been circled] Let's be honest - this should be Canada, too.
- [The Alabama/Florida border has been erased, and Alabama's eastern border has been extended south until it meets the Gulf of Mexico] Why should Florida get Alabama's coastline? It has plenty.
- [Caption below the panel:]
- It was scary when graphic designers seized control of the country, but it turned out they just wanted to fix some things about the state borders that had always bothered them.
- Here's how the outline map of the United States (excluding Hawaii) will look like if the suggested border changes are done:
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