Monday, October 13, 2014

West of the Revolution: A Book Report

West of The Revolution, by Claudio Saunt. This book takes place circa 1776, in places on the North American continent besides the English Colonies. It explores the conditions that existed beyond our parochial little world view. Like the book Empires, Nations and Families, by Anne F. Hyde, Saunt covers the real history of the Continent, the real powers that governed and ruled within America. Hyde's narrative takes place during the period 1804-1860 or so. Saunt limits himself to the decade of the Revolution, and of course, the First World War, otherwise known as the Severn Years War, or the French and Indian war. The decisions concerning the partitioning of the North American continent along the Mississippi river resonate down to this day, but not due to decisions made in the peace treaty in Paris, rather how those decisions were taken advantage of by American Indians.

As Thomas Jefferson put it, after he entertained the Osage chiefs in Washington DC, "The truth is, the Osages are the Great Nation south of the Missouri. Among them we must stand well, because in their quarter we are miserably weak".

About a month ago, Jonathan Chait wrote an essay called "A Southern GOP Can't Be the Party of Lincoln" detailing the North/South split of our country that started prior to the Revolution, and festers down to this day. He lays out how the Republican party is essentially now the party of the Confederacy. David Brin picked up on the theme, and riffed his own take on this ongoing  event of the divide along the Mason-Dixon line.

A fairly interesting and worthwhile investigation, this examination of the North/South cultural divide within America, but it misses the far more interesting East/West divide. More to the point, the cultural difference between North and South are for the most part trivial. Both were interested in conquering and exploiting the continent west of the Appalachians, and later, west of the Mississippi.

While elites of the South would have preferred a vision of of a continental realm of landed gentry and hereditary rule, patterned on jolly England, the North was willing to eschew titles and pomp, but keep the mercantile power. Both the North and the South were all about cheap labor, their visions differed only slightly. While the South opted for the idea of chattel slavery, the North preferred trading cheap food for cheap people. Both wanted to exploit labor and ingenuity of peoples to the optimum value they could wrest from them. And why not? Labor was the only sticking point, getting people to do all the work for you, as everything else was practically free, no? That was the colonial vision of lands west: a world with no history, populated by peoples of no consequence.

So it is worthwhile to understand exactly what was going down outside of a tiny feeble set of English colonies clutching to the Eastern seaboard. In fact, I'm going to reproduce a striking map found in Saunt's book. Here we see the populated areas of the American colonies free of geopolitical symbolic borders.

Courtesy of West of the Revolution by Claudio Saunt
Looks a lot like a bad case of black mold ready for some chlorine bleach, doesn't it? And honestly, had native peoples west and south had any idea what was going to happen to them over the next two hundred years, I'm sure they would have applied a generous hosing down of bleach to rid the continent of this invasive species.

(And spare me the "those Stone Age slow learners didn't stand a chance against our superior technology" line. That's a trope that needs to die. Indians consistently and successfully bested and slaughtered European-style armies through and beyond colonial times. If you look at the map, English colonists had after almost two hundred years only made in ways into the Continent of only three weeks traveling time by foot. For every one surviving colonist, ten were sent from England, an attrition rate that few nations would find acceptable today. One of the single worst defeat, to this day, of the United States Army is the Battle of a Thousand Slain in Ohio country in 1791).

Our (America's) only advantage, aside from the fact that we Europeans are a miserably filthy and disgustingly germ-ridden race, is that we were able to reproduce at something close to biological maximum. Certainly this could not have occurred in Europe, and especially Northern Europe, without the advantage of the new food crops available through the Columbian exchange. Nor could we, as a nation, have thrived without two of the largest welfare programs ever conceived: the Louisiana Purchase, and the Homestead Acts. If any stupid fat white old conservative man should bother you about how superior they are due to innate white abilities, and how they could have been successful without a single penny of government monies, I suggest you spit and laugh in that parasite's face. Those soft squishy leeches make the fictional Cadillac driving welfare queen look like a paragon of Working Class Pride. They have not the slightest clue as to how they have been coddled and pampered by government largess and the coincidence of history. Capitalism was subsidized by the treasures of the New World. Do not confuse any supposed inherent systemic superiority for sheer dumb stupid Luck.

Okay, sorry for drifting. The book covers most of the continent outside of the Revolution, and contains may fascinating details.

We learn how Russians conduct trade among the Aleuts: kill some, take others hostage, demand the natives hunt sea otters or they kill the hostages, then give them trinkets after they've hunted enough for them (which the Russians are ineptly incapable of doing, hunting sea otters by the way).

We learn how the Spanish had at best two paltry fingers of colonization sticking up into the continental United Staes: Santa Fe, and maybe San Diego. But the whole enterprise was pretty damn pathetic for the longest time, and they relied heavily upon the charity of Indians.

(In fact, this is a common them for early western US history: the people that head west rely heavily upon native american charity and the largesse of the Federal government).

We learn how the Lakota from Minnesota discovered the Black Hills in 1776. The great thing about the Black Hills is, since they stick above the prairie, they trap rain. The area around the Black Hills stays rich and verdant even when the rest of the Great Plains are bone dry.

We learn how, had the Creek been assisted by the stupid short-sighted Spaniards, the South may never have risen. We also learn how, had the Creek become purveyors of goods to the fastest growing slave colony of Georgia, they may have had a considerable economic clout, and perhaps could have avoided being booted off their lands in the 1830s. (In fact, had the Indians been willing to trade with the British rather than the Spanish in Cuba, I rather suspect Indian regiments would have served the South in the Civil War).

We learn most especially just how poisonous were the attitudes of the Founding Fathers toward Indians west of the Appalachians, how they were at best seen as impediments, and at worse vermin to be wiped at the earliest opportunity.

Most especially, we learn how fur was, for the longest time, more precious than gold. Because, quite simply Fashion is at least a 200,000 year old industry, back when we first started clothing ourselves, and for the longest time, clothes were our most important technology.

When you look at a map of languages and cultures of the United States of America, you will see that ancient America is still here, despite out best efforts to wipe it all out. There may come a day when the East/West divide becomes far more important than the North/South.

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