Friday, September 24, 2004

Exploring the Wild Frontier

Several interesting posts that I want to mention dealing with the early American West.

First, Nuno Guerrerio of Rua da Judiaria has a post about the Jewish man who photographed the western frontier for John Charles Frémont called Um Judeu Português no "Faroeste Selvagem" (English Translation: A Portugues Jew in the "Wild West"). Solomon Nune Carvalho was born into a prominent Sephardic family from Charleston whose members had played a prominent role in defining early American Judaism (his father work on liturgical reform, and his uncle was a prominent khazzan). Carvalho established his reputation making daguerrotypes in Baltimore. He was hired by Frémont to photograph the people and landscapes of the West, establishing a visual record of the path that the railway would take from the Mississippi River. According to Nuno,
On various occasions for lack of provisions Nunes Carvalho was obligated to break from strict Jewish dietary rules. In the harsh winter of Colorado during a weeklong haze the explorers were obliged to eat one of their mules.

Second, Geitner Simmons of Regions of Mind has several interesting posts. One deals with with the origins of the dividing line between north and south in California, a division that affects contemporary politics:
The sense of division between northern and southern California was evident as early as the period of Mexican control that lasted from the 1820s to 1846 ... Pitt describes the north-south split in his classic study “The Decline of the Californios,” a key text for my book project (looking at some historical connections between Southern and Western states):
Regionalism polarized around Monterey, Los Angeles, and Santa Barbara, although the later town, often caught in a cross fire, remained indifferent and confused. After the capital had been moved from Monterey to Los Angeles in 1835, each passing year intensified the rivalry until, in 1845, abajeños (southerners) and arribeños (northerners) were ready for open warfare.

No matter what Alvarado or Castro wanted for Monterey, Pio Pico and others spitefully demanded the opposite for Los Angeles; when northerners spoke of stronger ties with Mexico, southerners espoused greater independence. …

In another post, Geitner points to an encyclopedia entry that describes the connection between the landscape of the Great Plains and regional identity:
Flatness — Only one-twentieth of the Great Plains’s surface is flat, yet flatness has long been an important component of the region’s image. ... By the late nineteenth century, eminent scientists felt it necessary to correct the regionwide image. Richard Hinton, special agent in charge of irrigation for the United States Department of Agriculture, cautioned in 1890 that “it must not be imagined that … the word Plains imply a vast and perfectly level stretch of country.” … Pre-Civil War lobbyists for transcontinental railroads promoted the image [of flatness]. In a petition to Congress, George Wilkes argued in 1846 that “a smooth unbroken plain, leading gradually to the culmination of the [South] Pass,” afforded [an excellent railroad path].
Finally, Peter J. Kastor's The Nation's Crucible: The Louisiana Purchase and the Creation of America explores many issues about how pre-statehood Louisiana complicated social and racial relations in America, and the problems it presented for diplomacy with Spain. Some of Kastor's observations:
  • The new citizens of New Orleans produced a treatise (Remonstrance of the People of Louisiana against the political system adopted by Congress for them, 1804) in which they argued that they were denied individual rights because Louisiana was denied territorial rights explicit in statehood.
  • Slavery was a diplomatic matter: slaves escaped across the ill-defined border with Spanish Texas. American politicians feared that the Spanish government sheltered the runaway slaves in order to destabilized America's hold on the Louisiana Territory. Conversely, Spain saw hunts for runaway slaves as a prelude to further American expansion. Consequently,
    "Slaves, Slaveowners, and public officials on the nation's periphery all made their decisions in the context of international relations."

  • As a Gulf port, New Orleans received refugees from Caribbean rebellions, further complicating the racial composition of early America.
  • Ultimately, Madison could not separate domestic policy from foreign policy when it came to Louisiana. He relied on the city council and other Louisianans to act as diplomats (something which Kastor refers to as local diplomacy.)
Most interestingly, Kastor claims that it was Louisianans who solved many of the complex problems related to citizenship: its courts decided that state citizenship was the equivalent of federal citizenship, allowing the bulk of whites to become Americans. They were no longer an alienated population.


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