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    Re: CN and Mason-Dixon line
    From: Frank Reed
    Date: 2013 Nov 27, 10:32 -0800

    Alan, you wrote:
    "is that the same Mason-Dixon Line that one read of in American history"

    Yes, that's it: the famous "Mason-Dixon" often heard in the phrase, pronounced with a southern twang, "south of the Mason-Dixon".

    And you wrote:
    "I would have thought that the M-D Line would have been further to the South. Surprise."

    I think most people are surprised by its location, so far north. Today the US "South" is usually thought of as beginning somewhere south of the DC suburbs in northern Virginia. But that wasn't the case in earlier centuries. In the nineteenth century, Maryland was a southern state culturally and legally, and the location of the District of Columbia within it (and earlier in the century, extending into northern Virginia to "complete the square") was rather problematic strategically, to say the least, during the US Civil War. This also helps to explain the strategic significance of the Battle of Gettysburg. It was the decisive battle north of the Mason-Dixon. If the southern Confederacy had survived the war, Maryland could have become a source for future conflict. The Mason-Dixon line might well have become the border between a truncated northern Union and "Dixie".

    As usual, there's some craziness with significant digits in accounts of the Mason-Dixon line. The Wikipedia article gives the latitude of the main run of the line, according to one source, as "39°43′19.92216″ N". This should not be taken too literally. Note that a second of arc of latitude is about 100 feet so that last digit is meaningless.

    Interstate borders in the US involve some fun history. The "twelve-mile circle" which forms the eastern border between Pennsylvania and Delaware has been a source of dispute as recently as six years ago since it creates a strange border in the Delaware River. Normally, we think of legal cases as working their way up the hierarchy until they finally "reach" the US Supreme Court in cases of constitutional importance. But the US Supreme Court is the starting point for interstate boundary disputes. That doesn't mean that the judges of the Supreme Court meet and deliberate as they do over constitutional cases. Instead so-called "special masters" are appointed who investigate cases and provide what amounts to a recommended ruling. The judges then usually decide after brief presentations and discussion. Sometimes it's big news, like the decision over Ellis Island back in 1998 (New Jersey won):


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