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Making a Republic Imperial

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Making a Republic Imperial

Thursday, March 28, 2019

The Library Company of Philadelphia

1314 Locust Street, Philadelphia, PA

Friday, March 29, 2019

McNeil Center for Early American Studies

3355 Woodland Walk, Philadelphia, PA


How and why did the newly independent United States become an empire? The answer to this question is not obvious. Before the American Revolution, the colonies and the continent beyond them were spaces of contest, collaboration, and competition among European empires, Native American powers, and enslaved and free African Americans. The founding generation of the early republic added its own imperial ambitions to this mix, revealing competing visions for the new nation, intense debate in the new citizenry about whether and how quickly the republic should expand, what role it should play among international states, and what its character and purpose should be. Some began calling their nation an “empire” almost as soon as they started calling it a republic, while others wondered if the idea of an expansive republic was a contradiction in terms. Yet in just seven decades, the fledgling republic had become an imperial juggernaut with ambitions to rule a continent and beyond. By the 1840s, the United States had refined its tools for dispossessing Native peoples and asserted a political economy grounded in black enslavement. It had conquered an immense amount of territory and claimed the Pacific Ocean as its western boundary, while setting its imperial sights upon regions, peoples, and resources much further afield.

At this conference, six panels of scholars will use empire as an analytical framework for thinking and writing about the early republic. They will employ a wide variety of methods and approaches to investigate how and why the new nation became an empire, and to explore the meaning and utility of empire as a category of analysis for understanding the history of the early republic.


Conference Program

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THURSDAY, MARCH 28

All sessions at the Library Company of Philadelphia, 1314 Locust Street, Philadelphia

9:00–9:45AM Registration & Coffee

9:45–10:00AM Welcome

Cathy Matson, PEAES and University of Delaware

Daniel K. Richter, McNeil Center and University of Pennsylvania

10:00–11:30AM Indigenous Sovereignty and the Ambitions of U.S. Empire

Chair: Michael Blaakman, Princeton University

Emilie Connolly, New York University
“Strategies of Succession and the 1797 Treaty of Big Tree”

Lauren Brand, Southern Nazarene University
“Facing West in Indian Country”

Garrett Wright, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
“Ambassadors to the Federal City: Central Plains Indians Discover the American Empire”

Comment: Elizabeth Ellis, New York University

11:30AM–12:00PM Break

12:00–1:30PM Industry, Trade, and the Imperial State

Chair: Cathy Matson

Susan Gaunt Stearns, University of Mississippi
“Selling the West: Frontier Merchants and Imperial Authority, 1780-1811”

Lindsay Schakenbach Regele, Miami University of Ohio
“How the National Firearms Industry Helped Make an Early Republic Empire”

Alicia Maggard, Williams College
“Pacific Mail, Industrial Empire: Building U.S. Power in the Pacific”

Comment: Honor Sachs, University of Colorado, Boulder

1:30–3:00PM Lunch on your own

3:00–4:45PM Knowledge Production and the Tools of U.S. Empire

Chair: Alexandra Montgomery, University of Pennsylvania

Tisa Wenger, Yale University
“Making Settler Secularism: Morse’s Geographies and American Religion”

Sveinn Jóhannesson, University of Cambridge
“Scientific Knowledge and Empire in Jacksonian America”

Michael Verney, University of New Hampshire
“Selling Empire: Publishing and Presenting Naval Imperialism in the Early American Republic, 1842-1860”

Comment: Ned Blackhawk, Yale University

4:45–5:00PM Keynote Introduction

Emily Conroy–Krutz, Michigan State University

Michael Blaakman, Princeton University

5:00–6:00PM Keynote Speaker

Kathleen DuVal, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
“Debating Empire, Race, and Nation in the Early Nineteenth Century”

6:00–7:00PM Reception

FRIDAY, MARCH 29

All sessions at the McNeil Center for Early American Studies, 34th and Sansom Streets, Philadelphia

9:00–9:45AM Registration & Coffee

9:45–11:30AM Race, Slavery, and Geographies of Empire

Chair: Emily Conroy–Krutz, Michigan State University

Nancy Gallman, McNeil Center and Lewis & Clark College
“Unmaking an American Republic: Settlers, African Americans, and Constitutional Law in the Spanish Florida Borderlands”

Brandon Mills, University of Colorado, Denver
“From a Settler Empire to a Global Empire: Reconsidering the African Colonization Movement”

Scott Heerman, University of Miami
“Freedom in Chains: U.S. Empire, the Illegal Slave Trade, and the Case of East Texas, 1836-1845”

Comment: Rashauna Johnson, Dartmouth College

11:30–11:45AM Break

11:45AM–1:30PM Law and the Politics of Imperial Expansion

Chair: Bethel Saler, Haverford College

Jessica Choppin Roney, Temple University
“Inalienable: The Limits of an Empire Based Upon Natural Rights”

Julia Lewandoski, University of California, Berkeley
“An Empire of Indian Titles: Private Land Claims in Early American Louisiana, 1803-1840”

Camille Suarez, University of Pennsylvania
“This Land is Not Your Land: The Land Claims Act of 1851, Unratified Treaties, and the Dispossession of Californios and Native Americans”

Comment: Sarah Rodriguez, University of Arkansas

1:30–2:30PM Lunch on your own

2:30–4:00PM Imperialism and Its Discontents

Chair: Andy Shankman, Rutgers University-Camden

Margot Minardi, Reed College
“Pax Americana? The Imperial Ambivalence of American Peace Reformers”

Nick Guyatt, University of Cambridge
“Imperialism and the American Imagination”

Amy Greenberg, Pennsylvania State University
“When No Means No: The Question of Consent in the Ideology of Manifest Destiny”

Comment: Rosemarie Zagarri, George Mason University

4:15–5:00PM Closing Remarks

Michael Blaakman, Princeton University

Emily Conroy-Krutz, Michigan State University

5:00–6:00PM Reception




The Program in Early American Economy and Society at the Library Company of Philadelphia, the McNeil Center for Early American Studies, the Department of History at Princeton University, and Iona College’s Institute of Thomas Paine Studies are pleased to co-sponsor this two-day conference bringing together scholars of imperialism in its multiple early North American forms and spaces.



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