Current Issue Article Abstracts
Summer 2020, Vol. 40.2
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Africa in the Early Republic and the Early Republic in Africa
This essay considers the possibilities and limitations of using the slavevoyages.org database to research the histories of enslaved people who came to the Americas through the transatlantic slave trade. It argues that there are limits to what can be known about individuals based solely on the region from which they departed Africa aboard a slave ship.
This article considers the crucial role that ideas about race and slavery played in the formation of the Early Republic. Instead of highlighting, as have others, the paradoxical emergence of race-based slavery in a society devoted to freedom and liberty, Jason Young instead envisions this conflict as merely a more recent iteration of a much larger trans-Atlantic concern. The central conflicts of citizenship and alienation that were at the heart of key Constitutional debates in the Early Republic were also playing out in West Africa and Western Europe. Instead of reflecting novel problems of state, these debates animated political formations and conceptions long before they arrived on American shores. In this way, viewing the Early Republic through an African Diasporic lens promises new ways of thinking not only about slavery and abolition but also about the processes of nation-building around the Atlantic rim at the turn of the nineteenth century.
Africa and the Early American Republic: Comments
Historians of Africa and the Early Republic have overlapping interests both temporally and thematically. To date, this has largely been dominated by the role of the slave trade in both histories. Drawing on some existing examples of the historiography that makes use of comparison and shared methodology, the essay proposes that the two fields can learn from each other in ways that extend beyond their connections to the slave trade and enslaved labor. This essay suggests three ways that the two fields could be further enriched by sharing methodologies, by being imaginative about comparisons across time, and by thinking about the shared trends that developed in their overlapping Atlantic spaces.
"Brothers Gonna Work It Out": Imagining a Black Planet
James H. Sweet
This essay considers the political implications of African exclusion from full participation in the American Early Republic. Rather than thinking of Africans as incipient "Americans," I examine points of social and political connection that tied African-descended peoples of North America to those in Africa, the Caribbean, and Latin America.
Africa and Africans have been a constant but changing presence first in colonial Anglo-America and then in the United States since 1619. Thinking clearly about their presence in the Early Republic requires making a distinction between the long-term and the immediate. Africans and their descendants loom large in the histories of the peopling of North America, of the emergence of American cultures, of the nature of American religions, and of the development of American economies before, during and after the Early Republic. As such, they must inevitably play important roles in efforts to understand the era in ways that cut through a nation-based periodization. Africans and people of African descent also played important roles in ways that are more specific to the Early Republic. This essay discusses both long-term and immediate presences to shed light on the reality and limits of the new republic's influence on African Americans and the ways African Americans influenced the new republic.
Mapping Distress: Taxation and Insolvency in Virginia, 1782–1790
Frank W. Garmon Jr.
This article employs previously underutilized tax records to quantify the level of economic distress in Virginia in the 1780s. Historians have offered sharply contrasting interpretations. While some scholars emphasize postwar prosperity, others suggest an economic crisis that may have rivaled the Great Depression. Tax records offer an opportunity to evaluate and reconcile these conflicting narratives. By counting the number of individuals who could not pay their taxes and dividing by the taxable population found in the assessment lists, the insolvency rate produces an indicator comparable to a modern bankruptcy rate. Regional insolvency patterns reveal that historians have tended to generalize from localized phenomena that are unrepresentative of the larger economy. Tax records demonstrate that the critical period was not imagined. Local commodity prices were most important in shaping economic outcomes. Insolvency trends support and contextualize existing interpretations of tax resistance and voting patterns during the ratification debates.
The Dutch crisis of 1787 was a brief event that had a significant impact on the American debate over the ratification of the Constitution. First, the threat of a European war led Americans to consider the response of the United States as a neutral power. Second, the collapse of the Dutch republic led Americans to seek lessons for their own republic. The Federalists saw the Dutch crisis as further evidence of the inadequacy of confederations, and thus a reason to approve a stronger central government, as provided by the Constitution. The Antifederalists believed the Dutch crisis demonstrated the danger of a strong executive, and was an argument against the Constitution.
This essay traces Cherokee diplomacy in the Arkansas River Valley in the decades before Removal as a window into how Native Americans in the American South shaped the contours of multi-cultural settlement. The Arkansas Cherokees fled social upheaval and diminishing game in their homeland to establish their new settlements. Cherokee leaders solidified their new territory via treaties with the United States by initially depicting themselves as immigrant hunters and, in later negotiations, as farmers. When white settlers challenged the Cherokees' worthiness to agricultural land, Cherokee leaders appropriated American scientific systems to block white settlers from Cherokee-claimed territory. The Cherokees' ability to enforce their geographical claims demonstrates how southeastern Indian nations influenced geopolitical power in the southern borderlands through controlling ecological language and scientific knowledge.
The Disaffected: Britain's Occupation of Philadelphia during the American Revolution by Aaron Sullivan (review)
Literature, American Style: The Originality of Imitation in the Early Republic by Ezra Tawil (review)
Facing Empire: Indigenous Experiences in a Revolutionary Age ed. by Kate Fullagar and Michael A. McDonnell (review)
Coast-To-Coast Empire: Manifest Destiny and the New Mexico Borderlands by William S. Kiser (review)
Sarah Gray Cary from Boston to Grenada: Shifting Fortunes of an American Family, 1764–1826 by Susan Clair Imbarrato (review)
Rachel Tamar Van
Escaped Nuns: True Womanhood and the Campaign against Convents in Antebellum America by Cassandra L. Yacovazzi (review)
The City–State of Boston: The Rise and Fall of an Atlantic Power, 1630–1865 by Mark Peterson (review)
John L. Brooke
Building a Revolutionary State: The Legal Transformation of New York, 1776–1783 by Howard Pashman (review)
Jefferson's Daughters: Three Sisters, White and Black, in a Young America by Catherine Kerrison (review)
Appealing for Liberty: Freedom Suits in the South by Loren Schweninger (review)
Henry Clay: The Man Who Would Be President by James C. Klotter (review)
Michael E. Woods
The Panic of 1819: The First Great Depression by Andrew H. Browning (review)
Figures of Speech: Six Histories of Language and Identity in the Age of Revolutions by Tim Cassedy (review)
Sean P. Harvey
The Genesis of America: U.S. Foreign Policy and the Formation of National Identity, 1793–1815 by Jasper M. Trautsch (review)
Lawrence B. A. Hatter
The Pursuit of Happiness in the Founding Era: An Intellectual History by Carli N. Conklin (review)
Frontiers of Science: Imperialism and Natural Knowledge in the Gulf South Borderlands, 1500–1850 by Cameron B. Strang (review)
Church in the Wild: Evangelicals in Antebellum America by Brett Malcolm Grainger (review)
The Practice of Citizenship: Black Politics and Print Culture in the Early United States by Derrick R. Spires (review)
Accounting for Slavery: Masters and Management by Caitlin Rosenthal (review)
Ann Marsh Daly
A Literate South: Reading before Emancipation by Beth Barton Schweiger (review)
No Property in Man: Slavery and Antislavery at the Nation's Founding by Sean Wilentz (review)
Aaron R. Hall
American Honor: The Creation of the Nation's Ideals during the Revolutionary Era by Craig Bruce Smith (review)
Political Community in Revolutionary Pennsylvania by Kenneth Owen, and: Irish Presbyterians and the Shaping of Western Pennsylvania, 1770–1830 by Peter E. Gilmore (review)
Creole Drama: Theatre and Society in Antebellum New Orleans by Juliane Braun (review)
Sara E. Lampert
Thomas Jefferson: A Modern Prometheus by Wilson Jeremiah Moses (review)