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Over the river and into the trees (or New Jersey)

Several readers, mostly in a kindly way, have written this morning to take issue with a phrase in my column on the Pennsylvania Senate race suggesting that Delaware is "across the river" from Pennsylvania. "Nice column this morning," wrote one, "but there is no river between PA and Delaware!"

And Prof. James J. Marquardt of the Department of Politics at Lake Forest College in Illinois (and a former resident of Pennsylvania Democratic Rep. Joe Sestak's Congressional District) wrote me a learned e-mail pointing out the same thing and explaining the historical origins of the Pennsylvania/Delaware boundary. "The border between PA and DE," he wrote, "is a long arch put in place in the 18th century, to separate English and Quaker-dominated settlements (Philadelphia and areas south) from Swedish and Lutheran settlements in and around Christiana (named after a Swedish royal) and modern-day Wilmington." It's nice to know that, especially since I can't tell you how many times I have been locked in traffic at the toll booths near Christiana.

Now, I have spent so much time in that area over the years and crossed rivers so often -- notably the Delaware River, which separates Delaware from New Jersey, as Prof. Marquardt points out -- that the phrase "across the river" just, as it were, spilled out. I could make a technical case on my own behalf here: a tiny point of the Brandywine Creek, which is also called the Brandywine River, does separate the two states. I might extend that argument and make the same point about the larger river of which the Brandywine is a tributary, the Christina River. And one reader, who took me to task more sharply than most of the others, nonetheless offered me another technical way out. He pointed out that the Naamans Creek in Claymont could also be said to separate Pennsylvania and Delaware.

Maybe I would insist on such claims if this were a court-martial on a ship. But the truth is that I could have kept with the nautical theme and been more geographically accurate if I had simply said that Delaware is "downriver" from Philadelphia, and that is what I should have written. I thank my readers for trying to keep my ship from listing.

By E.J. Dionne  | October 28, 2010; 12:49 PM ET
Categories:  Dionne  | Tags:  E.J. Dionne  
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