Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Pg. 99: Walter Nugent's "Habits of Empire"

The current feature at the Page 99 Test: Walter Nugent's Habits of Empire: A History of American Expansion.

About the book, from the publisher:
Discussions abound today about the state of the union, its place in the world, and the founding fathers’ intentions. Did they want the United States to become a republic or an empire? Thomas Jefferson, after all, called the young nation an “empire for liberty.” Later words through two centuries all evoked empire: “manifest destiny” in the 1840s, “benevolent assimilation” in 1898, and “our responsibility to lead” in 2002.

Indeed, since Jefferson’s day, Americans have proudly proclaimed liberty and cherished democracy even as they have often behaved imperially. Habits of Empire documents this expansionist behavior by examining each of the nation’s territorial acquisitions since the first in 1782—how the land was acquired, how its previous occupants were removed or reduced, and how it was then settled and stabilized. By 1853, when the continental United States was fully established from sea to shining sea, the nation’s habit of empire-building had become firmly formed.

Each of the acquisitions is a story in itself. In Paris in 1782, the American negotiators—the crafty Benjamin Franklin, the crabby John Adams, and the crooked John Jay—stubbornly and with much luck pushed the new country’s western boundary to the Mississippi River and almost gained southern Canada as well. Hardly any Americans yet lived west of the Appalachians, and their armies had not conquered the region, but they won it nevertheless. That allowed Robert Livingston and James Monroe in 1803 to accept Napoleon’s astonishing offer to sell all of Louisiana. Through a volatile mix of leadership, luck, aggression, chicanery, rampant population growth, and self-confident ideology came the further acquisitions of Florida, Texas, Oregon, and the Southwest.

From the 1850s through the 1920s, America’s empire-building reached across the Pacific (from Alaska through Hawaii and Samoa to the Philippines) and around the Caribbean (from Cuba, Puerto Rico, and several “protectorates” to the Panama Canal and the Virgin Islands). After 1945, American expansion took a new global form, military and economic, and built on the need to contain the Soviet Union in the Cold War. After 2001 and the start of the “war on terror, ” it became both defensive and assertive.

Acclaimed historian Walter Nugent shows how the United States, asserting republican virtue but employing imperial force, has long lived with the contradiction inherent in Jefferson’s famous phrase “empire for liberty.” Enlightening, empathetic, comprehensive, and well-sourced, this book explains the deep roots of America’s imperialism as no other has done.
Among the early praise for Habits of Empire:
"Erudite yet accessible, Nugent's history lightly expresses its opinions without interrupting the arc of its story."

"Walter Nugent is a national treasure. No historian since Frederick Jackson Turner has done more to explain the enormous impact of westward expansion upon the American experience. Elegantly written, impeccably researched, Habits of Empire will soon take its place, I suspect, among the most important historical commentaries of our era."
--David Oshinsky, author of Polio: An American Story

"How did the United States come to regard itself as morally superior to other nations and entitled to employ force rather than persuasion to get its way? This lucid, wide-ranging book not only answers that question but offers essential understandings for those who wish to break the bad habits of empire."
--David J. Weber, author of Bárbaros: Spaniards and Their Savages in the Age of Enlightenment

"At last, the essential background, succinctly and clearly told, which is absolutely necessary to understand if we are to deal with the post-9/11 tragedies of American foreign policy. Walter Nugent rightly identifies those tragedies as the culminations of a post-1776 American 'ideology of expansion.'"
--Walter LaFeber, Tisch University Professor Emeritus, Cornell University, author of America, Russia, and the Cold War
Read an excerpt from Habits of Empire, and learn more about the book at the Knopf website.

Walter Nugent is Tackes Professor Emeritus of History at the University of Notre Dame. He taught history at the University of Notre Dame for sixteen years and at Indiana University for twenty-one years before that. As a visiting professor he has also taught, lectured, and lived in England, Israel, Germany, Poland, and Ireland. He has published eleven previous books and nearly two hundred essays and reviews. He is a past president of the Western History Association and a former member of the Council on Foreign Relations.

The Page 99 Test: Habits of Empire.

--Marshal Zeringue