Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Louisiana Purchase

I am reading a book on American history.

[Side note:]Don't worry. Your computer has not been compromised by malware. Don't check your firewall or start downloading the latest virus protection (although it would not be a bad idea). I read a book on American history every once in a while. However, this one really fits into my interests in regionalism.

A Wilderness so Immense: The Louisiana Purchase and the Destiny of America by Jon Kukla deals with the diplomacy and relations between the US states leading up to the purchase. I picked it up after a conversation with Johno peeked my curiosity about the importance of the Mississippi River as a frontier. I have also been intrigued by the mass of literature produced in celebration of the bicentential of the purchase and the Lewis and Clark expedition (something which I might read as well).

Kukla's thesis is that western expansion was more dependent on the opening of the Mississippi River than on the acquisition of new land--without access to the river, it was not clear that the states would remain bound together--but that the river issue was bound up in internal and external affairs. New Englanders, believing that the early republic was unnaturally large, thought up separationist schemes: the creation of a northern confederation either within or without the original confederation. Western settlers, who needed access to the sea for commerce, demanded that the republic claim the river: their belligerence pushed them toward separatism as well.

Kukla spends a great deal of time on Spanish possession of the Louisiana territory. Not wanting to develop Louisiana, the Spanish Bourbons saw the river as a barrier to American threats on their mining interests in Mexico. They insisted that Americans must not navigate the river. Spanish diplomats played into the separatism of Massachusetts congressmen.

Kukla's book uses lots of documents, which he quotes extensively. One of my favorite passages is a letter from James Monroe wherein Monroe fumes about how the manipulations of the New Englanders will break of the confederation.
The object in the occlusion of the Mississippi on the part of [Nathaniel Gorham, Rufus King, and Theodore Sedgwick] ... is to break up ... the settlements on the western waters, prevent any in future, and thereby keep the States southw[ar]d as they now are-- or ... make it the interest of the [western] people to separate from the confederacy, so as ... to throw the weight of population eastward and keep it there, to appreciate the vacant lands of New York and Massachusetts. In short it is a system of policy which has for its object the keeping the weight of gov[ernment]t and population in this quarter.

This book will be very useful when comparing the separatists of the German Rhineland of the 1920s to other separatist movements. Some of the same schemes were thought up, like the republic within confederation.


At 9:31 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a delight to know that intelligent European readers are enjoying my book and engaged by some of the themes it treats. Thank you.
Jon Kukla


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