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The Nation's Nature

The Nation's Nature: How Continental Presumptions Gave Rise to the United States of America

JAMES D. DRAKE
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 416
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt6wrnxh
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    The Nation's Nature
    Book Description:

    In one ofCommon Sense's most ringing phrases, Thomas Paine declared it "absurd" for "a continent to be perpetually governed by an island." Such powerful words, coupled with powerful ideas, helped spur the United States to independence.

    InThe Nation's Nature,James D. Drake examines how a relatively small number of inhabitants of the Americas, huddled along North America's east coast, came to mentally appropriate the entire continent and to think of their nation as America. Drake demonstrates how British North American colonists' participation in scientific debates and imperial contests shaped their notions of global geography. These ideas, in turn, solidified American nationalism, spurred a revolution, and shaped the ratification of the Constitution.

    Winner of the Walker Cowen Memorial Prize for an outstanding work of scholarship in eighteenth-century studies

    eISBN: 978-0-8139-3139-5
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. INTRODUCTION: THE HISTORICAL ROLE OF AN IMAGINED PLACE
    (pp. 1-14)

    Frayed and fading documents—the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights—embody Americans’ most prized principles. For decades the nation has carefully guarded those six pages, going so far as to move them to Fort Knox during World War II and storing them in a bomb shelter at night during the Cold War. Today, they sit enshrined under the great rotunda of the National Archives building in Washington, D.C., encapsulated in glass cases to protect them from the air we breathe. The rotunda viewing area pays homage to the “Charters of Freedom,” which rest on an...

  5. PART I: CONTINENTAL PRECONDITIONS TO AMERICAN INDEPENDENCE

    • CHAPTER 1 SCIENTIFIC TRENDS, CONTINENTAL CONCEPTIONS, REVOLUTIONARY IMPLICATIONS
      (pp. 17-66)

      Of the founding generation, George Washington would not rank at the top of anybody’s list for his abilities as a scientist. Benjamin Franklin’s scientific experiments assured him of an honored place in the pantheon of Enlightenment scientists, and Thomas Jefferson’sNotes on the State of Virginia(1785) put him among those select savants. Nor did Washington think of himself as a scientist. Though an accomplished surveyor, he sometimes fretted about lagging behind many of his contemporaries in formal education.¹ Still, Washington, like so many colonists, took an interest in scientific debate, at least when it related to one of his...

    • CHAPTER 2 THE GEOPOLITICAL CONTINENT, 1713–1763
      (pp. 67-107)

      Few, if any, American scientists in the past two hundred years have attained the international renown enjoyed by Benjamin Franklin in the eighteenth century. Yet Franklin was much more than a scientist, and his unfaltering commitment to public service garnered him as much celebrity as his intellectual pursuits. At forty-two, he gave up his successful printing business to sit on the Philadelphia City Council. Five years later, he assumed royal office as the deputy postmaster-general for North America. After that, he spent most of his time before the American Revolution in England, where he unsuccessfully lobbied to change Pennsylvania from...

    • CHAPTER 3 CONTINENTAL CRISIS, 1763–1774
      (pp. 108-150)

      For good reason, the immediate aftermath of the Seven Years’ War was a euphoric time for British North Americans. Wartime rhetoric and logic had promised that the continent’s natural boundaries would make the colonies safe and that its natural abundance—rich lands capable of producing goods from rice and tobacco to wheat and timber, all connected to markets by magisterial waterways—would translate inexorably into British imperial grandeur, a grandeur in which colonists would share. Such lofty hopes were soon deflated when the postwar years brought economic depression and conflict with Indians.

      Confounding matters, colonists and inhabitants of the mother...

  6. PART II: CREATING A CONTINENTAL EMPIRE

    • CHAPTER 4 NATIONALISM’S NATURE: CONGRESS’S CONTINENTAL ASPECT
      (pp. 153-178)

      Although notions that geography bound mainland colonists together had gained credence by 1774 and 1775, many observers still held that these same colonists could never muster enough solidarity to resist the Intolerable Acts. Even after the First Continental Congress had convened, Governor Thomas Hutchinson of Massachusetts dismissed its ability to accomplish anything. He assured ministers in London that “a union of the Colonies was utterly impracticable,” because “the people were greatly divided among themselves in every colony.” Delegates themselves could be equally pessimistic. Joseph Galloway of Pennsylvania saw “such a Diversity of Interests, Inclinations, and Decisions” that would inevitably block...

    • CHAPTER 5 NATIONALISM’S NURTURE: WAR, PEACE, AND THE CONTINENTAL CHARACTER OF THE UNITED STATES, 1775–1783
      (pp. 179-229)

      Location put the city of Quebec among the most highly prized pieces of real estate in North America. Situated at the juncture of the mighty St. Lawrence River and its St. Charles tributary, Quebec’s garrison and its guns commanded the main artery through which most of Canada’s commerce flowed. Contemporaries recognized the city as the “Key of Canada,” the gateway to Montreal, to the upper reaches of the St. Lawrence, to the Great Lakes, to the headwaters of the Mississippi, and to regions beyond. As British North Americans strove to make their territorial dreams into territorial realities, they recognized that...

    • CHAPTER 6 ORDERING LANDS AND PEOPLES: SCIENTIFIC AND IMPERIAL CONTEXTS OF THE LATE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY
      (pp. 230-259)

      What kindled the distinctive sense of geographic destiny among the European Americans in the former British mainland colonies? Why did they, more than others, feel such a strong attachment to an immense metageographical abstraction and think of themselves as the rightful occupants of their entire continent, as the true Americans? Returning to the debate over Buffonian formulations and placing the most cogent contribution from the United States—Thomas Jefferson’sNotes on the State of Virginia(1785)—in a transnational, comparative context helps to explain how these mainlanders, unlike other European colonists, mentally appropriated as their rightful domain the lands they...

    • CHAPTER 7 SEIZING NATURE’S ADVANTAGES: THE CONSTITUTION AND THE CONTINENT, 1783–1789
      (pp. 260-316)

      As with the aftermath of the Seven Years’ War, the years following the Revolution transformed the exuberance of victory into trepidation about the future. Peace had initially heightened Americans’ optimistic visions of continental grandeur. Then military demobilization, backcountry violence, constricted economic opportunity, and diplomatic obstructions gave credence to fears that the United States might fumble its potential.

      To address the nation’s problems, delegates to what became known as the Constitutional Convention trickled into Philadelphia in May 1787 for meetings scheduled to begin on the fourteenth. Their secret discussions through that summer have become legendary, and, today, few historic sites in...

  7. EPILOGUE: THE CONTINENT FROM ON HIGH
    (pp. 317-322)

    Among the highest and easternmost of the Rocky Mountains, Pikes Peak provides a picturesque backdrop to the city of Colorado Springs, Colorado. Visitors to the mountain each year number fewer than half of those to the nation’s founding documents, the Charters of Freedom in the National Archives’ rotunda; still, the peak draws droves of tourists—more than any other mountain in North America. An estimated half-million people reach the summit of Pikes Peak each year by foot, automobile, or cog railway. Some race up the mountain in annual events such as the Pikes Peak Marathon or the Pikes Peak Auto...

  8. NOTES
    (pp. 323-384)
  9. INDEX
    (pp. 385-402)