Building An American Empire: The Era Of Territorial And Political Expansion, by Paul Frymer
There is one very important fact that seems to be forgotten by many people who like to write about the history of the American empire. It’s okay to be white. This fact should be blaringly obvious, so obvious that it does not need to be pointed out, and certainly so obvious that it ought not to be controversial to anyone. Yet this obvious truth is controversial, and this book helps us to understand why. Not a lot of Americans understand that we are part of an empire. This fact is quite obvious to those of us who travel around the world or even to our imperial possessions, but most Americans tend to think of our republican culture s being antithetical to empires even while we possess one of the largest empires that the world has at present. This book explores how that empire came to be during an era of history, and how controversial empire was, and explores the process of alchemy by which frontier areas with problematic populations were made white enough to become states, as if that was a problematic thing. There’s nothing wrong with being white, and there’s nothing wrong about wanting the right kind of citizens in one’s country, especially when you are giving them the sort of rights that are enshrined in our constitution and our political tradition. This book would have been better had the author realized that.
After beginning with a list of figures and acknowledgments, this book of about 300 pages is divided into seven chapters. The author begins with a lengthy introduction which discusses the frequent complaint that Americans do not realize that they are and long have been an imperial nation (1). After that the author explores boundaries and movements from the very beginning of America’s history as a nation and how this was frequently a complex negotiated matter that involved the weakness of America’s government (2). The author discusses the desire of America’s early leaders to advance compactly across the United States, which was in tension with the dramatic expansion of settlers into contested regions (3). The author then moves to the argument over homesteading and the desire to manufacture whiteness in territories to make them fit for statehood (4), something I can definitely support. The author then discusses the limits of manifest destiny when it comes to expanding into non-white areas (5), however they are defined, and then a discussion of the issue of black colonization and why it failed (6), before the book discusses America’s empire at the end of the frontier with the settlement of Oklahoma (7) and the states of the southwest.
One of the important insights of this book, even if the author does not really understand it, is that America is a settler nation in the same way that Israel, Russia, Australia, Chile, Canada, and Argentina are. All of these nations expanded from their base with the help of immigration, the skill of forming coherent national identities with stories of expansion, and had lengthy and fierce conflict with sparsely populated original inhabitants of the country. In all of these countries settlement brought with it the improvement of areas and their ability to support wealthier and more advanced populations than existed in those areas before and featured clear cultural superiority of the settlers from the dispossessed original inhabitants. And yet it has become fashionable for self-hating contemporary leftists to wish to blame these people for their successful expansion as if manifest destiny, in whatever form it took in these countries, is a bad thing. This book focuses on the United States and shows a clear leftist self-hating tendency, but its application is far, far wider and helps to provide yet more context of how it is that generally patriotic Americans are similarly favorable to their analogous populations in other similar countries.