Saturday, April 14, 2007

Pg. 69: Patrick Griffin's "American Leviathan"

This weekend's feature at the Page 69 Test: Patrick Griffin's American Leviathan: Empire, Nation, and Revolutionary Frontier.

About the book, from the publisher:
The war that raged along America’s frontier during the period of the American Revolution was longer, bloodier, and arguably more revolutionary than what transpired on the Atlantic coast.

Between 1763 and 1795 westerners not only participated in a War of Independence but engaged in a revolution that ushered in fundamental changes in social relations, political allegiances, and assumptions about the relationship between individuals and society. On the frontier, the process of forging sovereignty and citizens was stripped down to its essence. Settlers struggled with the very stuff of revolution: violence, uncertainty, disorder, and the frenzied competition to remake the fabric of society. In so doing, they were transformed from deferential subjects to self-sovereign citizens as the British Empire gave way to the American nation. But something more fundamental was at work. The violent nature of the contest to reconstitute sovereignty produced a revolutionary settlement in which race and citizenship went hand in hand. The common people demanded as much, and the state delivered. As westerners contended in a Hobbesian world, they also created some of the myths that made America American.

Patrick Griffin recaptures a chaotic world of settlers, Indians, speculators, British regulars, and American and state officials, vying with one another to remake the West during its most formative period.
Among the early praise for the book:
"In this book, Griffin aims to re-conceptualize the American Revolution in the West and his explanation of the ways Hobbesian disorder and violence on the American frontier escalated and laid the basis for the acceptability of federal state power in the West is very convincing."
—Gordon S. Wood, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Radicalism of the American Revolution

"Griffin's erudite account places ordinary settlers of America's frontier at the center of 18th-century political revolution. The British Empire's hold on the western edge of colonies like Pennsylvania was always tenuous, suggests the University of Virginia's Griffin (The People with No Name). The frontier was beset by violence between Indians and white settlers, and the latter thought Britain appeased the Indians at their expense. These settlers' disgust with the inadequacies of imperial policy, says Griffin, fomented the American Revolution, a titanic political clash that ultimately gave ordinary frontiersmen new rights. But they gained those rights at the expense of Native Americans — whom they identified as irreconcilably other. Tensions continued after the revolution. The fragile new American government was unable to enforce order on the frontier, and settlers in the Ohio valley and other border regions believed the state had to eradicate Indians to secure a stable and safe society. (As Griffin puts it with elegant bluntness, the frontiersmen were building a commonwealth "on the bod[ies] of... dead Indian[s].") Griffin judiciously weaves analysis into riveting stories of riots and unrest, and weds attention to race and marginalized people with traditional political and military history.
Publishers Weekly
Patrick Griffin's earlier book is The People with No Name: Ireland’s Ulster Scots, America’s Scots Irish, and the Creation of a British Atlantic World, 1689-1764 (Princeton University Press, 2001).

The Page 69 Test: American Leviathan: Empire, Nation, and Revolutionary Frontier.

--Marshal Zeringue