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American Quarterly, Volume 56, Number 1, March 2004, pp. 49-81 (Article)
Published by The Johns Hopkins University Press DOI: 10.1353/aq.2004.0014
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EARLY AMERICAN NATIONS
Early American Nations as Imagined Communities
ED WHITE Louisiana State University
BY THE END OF THE 1980S CULTURAL CRITICS SPOKE REGULARLY AND CONFIDENTLY of an analytical “Holy Trinity”: Race, Class, and Gender, three categories delineating the fundamental contours of cultural power in modern societies and consequently defining emancipatory scholarship and pedagogy. The triumvirate seemed so solidly established and comprehensive that it was difficult to imagine another category achieving a similarly hegemonic status.1 Nonetheless, by the 1990s another category—the nation—not only achieved a critical hegemony on a par with the Trinity but in fact threatened to displace class. To take a simple but telling example, a 1993 special issue of American Literature was republished as Subjects and Citizens: Nation, Race, and Gender from Oroonoko to Anita Hill, prefaced by an editorial statement silently passing over class while declaring a committed responsiveness to current scholarly interests.2 The nation had arrived. The contemporaneous influences on this turn to the nation were and are many and varied (the end of the Cold War, the rise of Eastern European nationalisms, growing scholarly interest in Nazi Germany and the independence movements of the “Third World,” etc.), and the new wave of nation studies has been eclectic and transdisciplinary in its interests and methods.3 Yet for all the complexity of the phenomenon, its literary and cultural branch can indisputably be traced to Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. The popularity and influence of this work—first published in 1983, with a spectacular re-edition in 1991—has been
Ed White is an assistant professor of English at Louisiana State University. His book The Backcountry and the City: Feelings of Structure in Early America is forthcoming from the University of Minnesota Press.
American Quarterly, Vol. 56, No. 1 (March 2004) © 2004 American Studies Association 49
tremendous and unavoidable, with practically every study of the nation offering the obligatory and often oblique reference to “imagined communities” or, perhaps, to the kin concepts of “print-capitalism” and “simultaneity.”4 Almost as celebrated, within American studies, has been the thesis on “creole nationalism”—the location of the first wave of nationalism in the Western Hemisphere—which has made Early American studies one of the critical fields in which recent nation criticism has concentrated. Yet just as stunning as Imagined Communities’ rapid entry into today’s critical canon has been its amazing critical insulation, at least among U.S. scholars. Although the historical argument about “creole pioneers” has inspired numerous studies of early national and antebellum America, there has yet to appear any sustained reckoning with that portion of Anderson’s own argument dealing with the United States; the historical foundations of the American “imagined community” have been largely ignored even as critics have embraced selected conclusions or corollaries. Complementing this historiographic silence has been an equally noticeable theoretical neglect, with little sustained examination of Anderson’s critical underpinnings. One easily gets the sense that his theoretical commitments are either transparently obvious or mysteriously elusive, though in any event somehow ecumenical enough to accommodate a wide range of approaches. The U.S. context might be contrasted with the Indian with a simple observation: there has been no U.S. equivalent of Partha Chatterjee’s detailed engagement with Anderson.5 Rarely has a critical best-seller been so popular and so ignored at the same time. Yet there is much to be gained from a critical engagement with Anderson’s study. For example, if we consider the validity of the “creole pioneers” thesis, it becomes clear that Imagined Communities actually says very little about the United States, while what it does say is profoundly flawed and uninformed. Specifically, Anderson’s claims about creole nationalism rest on a sleight-of-hand conflation of the American Revolution with the Latin American revolutions of a generation later, with a misleading caricature of print culture to the north. But my intent is not the wholesale dismissal of Anderson’s work, for in his theoretical development of the concepts of simultaneity and seriality we find valuable critical tools for understanding the national imagined community. Based on a more detailed examination of seriality, and with the historical critique in mind, I would like to offer some alternative speculations about the origins of the imagined community called the
This conception of history does not register the “cause and effect” of sequential time or “radical separations between past and present” (24). 13). the imagination of communities took shape through “the medium of a sacred language and written script” (13).” It is these two systems that “preceded” nationalism and “out of which—as well as against which—it came into being” (12). racialized associations with Native Americans. sacral-dynastic time sees a cosmological continuity—or. from the revolutionary period into the nineteenth century.EARLY AMERICAN NATIONS 51 United States. Each “privileged system of re-presentation” viewed itself as “unique” and. with important consequences for its subsequent development. “where states were defined by centres. Richard III is another in a series of ruling Richards. Further. coincidence—across time. My central point is that we cannot consider the early American “nation” apart from its complicated. the hierarchical elitism of sacred languages meant that the religious community was lived as “centripetal and hierarchical. which Anderson variously calls “Messianic simultaneity” or “simultaneity-along-time” (24). they similarly shared a premodern sense of time. If sacral and dynastic realms displayed centripetal and hierarchical conceptions of space without clear borders. In both instances we see “a conception of temporality in which cosmology and history were indistinguishable” (36). and sovereignties faded imperceptibly into one another” (19). What was the nature of these earlier communities? Within the sacral cultures. The North American nation first appeared as the “imagined community” of the Native American Other. whether in the series of dynastic rulers or in religious episodes. Instead. more radically. while the sacrifice of Christ repeats the sacrifice of Isaac. rather than boundary-oriented and horizontal” (15). and the ways in which land speculators sought to construct an empire. admitted any outsider into the community provided access to the sacred language was earned in some process of conversion (14. consequently. A similar organization characterized the imagining of dynastic communities. The Original Formula The chapters of Imagined Communities preceding its discussion of Western Hemispheric nationalism describe the breakdown of two competing imagined communities of antiquity: “the great sacral cultures” and “dynastic realms. for example. borders were porous and indistinct. .
. defined. For the New World. Translated into Anderson’s framework. Amid the flood of sociological details. of the relation of space and time. exploration. the domains of antiquity are intelligible through a “simultaneity-alongtime” that gives way to “homogeneous empty time” of newspaper or novel consumption. Rather. the Reformation’s stimulus in creating large new reading publics and “administrative vernaculars. these print-languages established spatial linguistic fields of intermediate sizes. New World exploration and a corresponding relativism. and .52 AMERICAN QUARTERLY Yet these imagined communities of antiquity experienced a “slow. as “pure European descent but born in the Americas” (47n1). narrower than Latin’s range. the demotion of sacred languages. although organized around centers and peaks. The premodern simultaneity-across-time yielded to a new temporality of “homogeneous. as presented by Anderson. . a technology of communications (print). uneven decline of these interlinked certainties” (36). and the fatality of linguistic diversity”—all of these led to the formation of monoglot reading languages. one pattern. empty time” taking shape in novels and newspapers (24–36). we are speaking first . Hence the significance of the creole.6 But the European focus actually points to a new site of significance—the Western Hemisphere. we are not speaking of objective dimensions or spans that might be measured independently of the cultures in question. Temporally. Such Eurocentrism is justifiable given the historical particularity of the primary destructive and reconstitutive phenomenon—capitalism. takes center stage. the Islamic Ummah. whether sites of pilgrimage or ascension—in implicit contrast to the nascent nation of a clearly “limited” and bordered space of horizontal evenness. these processes of disintegration and reconstitution were not common to all of the great ancient cultures privileged by Anderson—“Christendom.” the relatedly “explosive” “interaction between a system of production and productive relations (capitalism). after the Spanish colonial fashion. sacral and dynastic communities are vast realms with “porous and indistinct” borders. On the one hand. they temporally fixed the form of languages as they were linked to state administration (43–45). markets) without the older tradition. the creole will be the subject of Europe’s capitalist modernity. broader than those of the spoken vernaculars. Spatially. or “print-languages” in Anderson’s terms (36–43). the Middle Kingdom” (12)—but were concentrated in Europe. is that global extension of the newness of Europe (print. Of course. On the other hand. And when we speak of space and time here. though purified by removal or isolation from sacral-dynastic antecedents.
for they establish the sense of space and time in which the nation emerges. is how A feels connected to B. and D in time and space—as if the starting point for cultural analysis is its organizing forms rather than the content we normally stress. in many cases. Not only are the differences within these realms of secondary importance. given the common appraisal of Anderson as having shifted “from structural and material analyses of nationalism to an approach stressing the meanings and effects of a ‘sense of nationality’ and the intimate connections between personhood and belonging to a nation. Imagined Creoles Having relocated European modernity to the New World. is less a cultural system of thick descriptors and more a fairly stark relational network. These emphases need to be stressed. He begins . he is quite profoundly committed to “structural and material analyses” of one kind: the material structures of printlanguages. the contrary is true. The “community. insisting instead that the existential structures of space and time precede and encompass such local differences.” but perhaps not in the strong sense of identity implied in the above citation. be unimportant in light of the more general and material experiences of time and space. capitalism. this analytical framework challenges any first emphasis upon cultural differences within the national community. The imagining of the community is not a matter of the community’s content. This point should be clear from the very generalizations Anderson can make about Islam “from Morocco to the Sulu Archipelago.EARLY AMERICAN NATIONS 53 of all of the phenomenology. For the details or content of individual subjectivity and intersubjectivity may. but so are the differences between them. geography.” or Buddhism “from Sri Lanka to the Korean peninsula” (12). At the least.” Christianity “from Paraguay to Japan. of realm and history. What is important. or the existential experience.” in sum. while perhaps even speaking a different vernacular from C or practicing a different religion from D. C. for A may be engaged in different daily activities from B. Anderson can then focus on “the large cluster of new political entities that sprang up in the Western hemisphere between 1776 and 1838” (46). administrative practices. and the like provide the very foundation for his claims.”7 While Anderson’s opening anti-Marxist asides seem to confirm this. these are surely connected to “personhood” and a sense of “belonging. As for the “meanings and effects” of nation-ness. rather. For as the preceding summary suggests.
Finally.54 AMERICAN QUARTERLY with a threefold rebuke of historiographic conventions about nationalism. ceaseless travels” to sacred sites created a sense of circulation that gave shape to those centripetal. leaving creoles to horizontal circulation within the set administrative boundaries of Spanish viceroyalties. in fact. statuses and places. . Such were the “cramped viceregal pilgrimages” fostering a purely local interconnectedness for which European imperial centers were always unattainable (61). Such analyses misleadingly privilege the content of a culture and cannot “explain why entities like Chile. What then accounts for creole nationalism? The “framework of a new consciousness” emerges from the “decisive historic role” of two groups: “pilgrim creole functionaries and provincial creole printmen” (65). Challenging the trope of linguistic nationalisms. Drawing on Victor Turner’s anthropological framing of the journey as a “meaning-creating experience” linking “times. Americans resisting an exploitative European mercantilism or motivated by Enlightenment ideologies of republicanism or liberalism).g.. by “the fear of ‘lowerclass’ political mobilizations” (48). .8 European-born administrators thus took the highest colonial positions of power. [n]or. . ultimately.” the pilgrimage and the feudal career. In the latter. do they account for the real sacrifices made” by the New World elites (51–52). In the former. Anderson counters that creole nationalism was a fundamentally elite phenomenon motivated. “countless. hierarchical spaces of religious antiquity (54). Challenging the trope of populist-democratic nationalisms. Venezuela. which witnessed two such “modal journeys. The feudal-absolutist journey should have been transferable to the Americas but was in fact restricted—or “cramped”—by “the confluence of a time-honoured Machiavellism with the growth of conceptions of biological and ecological contamination” (58). and Mexico turned out to be emotionally plausible and politically viable . interchangeable noble functionaries attempted to ascend to the absolutist summit through various posts and through that movement experienced “a consciousness of connectedness” (55–56).” Anderson returns for a moment to sacral-dynastic precedents. Anderson insists that monoglot print-languages could not be “an element that differentiated them from their respective imperial metropoles” since creoles “shared a common language and common descent with those against whom they fought” (47). he dismisses a series of conventions about the New World revolutions stressing socioeconomic or ideological factors (e.
then later in the Spanish Americas (61). in their lateral. level. a simultaneity within rather than along time. Buenos Aires. democratic populism. Anderson’s existential focus on temporal and spatial coordinates is again clear. abnegating any cultural-experiential bridging between province and metropole (62). print mapped out a bounded market terrain. contributor. republicanism. or imperial centers (61).” print-journalists fostered the temporal coordinates of a bounded simultaneity. Strong alliances with the postal system emerged (we might think of Franklin here).” thus finding himself engaged more aggressively in the entrepreneurial project of “reaching readers” (61). Machiavellianism. brides. even if they did not read each other’s newspapers. guaranteeing the American newspaper a centrality in “communications and community intellectual life” in a way not experienced in the metropoles. racial . and circumscribed administrative circuits. The printer-journalists’ newspapers in turn coincided with the cramped zones of functionaries. Officials temporarily stationed from the European capitals would ignore the local papers.” where Benjamin Franklin was the exemplar. reading matter. as in Europe. were the printers in a uniquely creole manifestation of print-capitalism. given an “asymmetry” in newspaper consumption. Creole functionaries provided a sense of space. and administrative field came to be more pronounced in the Americas than in Europe.EARLY AMERICAN NATIONS 55 More decisive. The various factors only beginning to emerge in the Old World reached a decisive critical mass in the New World. even the sole. there emerged a unique caste of printer-journalists. bishops and prices belonged” (62). The practical limitations of communication overdetermined the spatial divide between hemispheres—and within the broad expanses of Spain’s American territory—limiting the imagined community to the range of the provincial newspaper (63). the congruence of reading public. These printer-journalists departed from the European pattern in producing newspapers for which the printer was “usually the main. but there were significant differences in the New World. and Bogota. In the Americas. were nonetheless quite conscious of their existence” (62). creating a sense “among a specific assemblage of fellow-readers. to whom these shops. First. market zone. Further. Consequently. Within the contours of these “cramped viceregal pilgrimages. however. anti-mercantilism. first in “the northern Americas. a sense of contemporaneity emerged via the coexistence of colonial papers: “The newspaper-readers of Mexico City. Specific ideologies (liberalism.
like Thomas Jefferson. that the United States served as a model for a subsequent creole pattern. “At least in South and Central America. independence leaders were. is never discussed in the . given the importance of practical precedents and modularity for Anderson’s argument: more than a generation—from the 1770s to the 1810s—cleaves the Western Hemisphere in two. however imprecisely. This seemingly minor point actually signals a related and more troubling gap: namely. 2. This is not a minor point. these tentative claims of U. as when Anderson revealingly notes. North and South Such are the contours of the “creole pioneers” analysis. in others giving them a misleading hue. in some cases contributing to these contours. Anderson observes.S. though. and the onset of the French Revolution at the end of the 1780s.S.56 AMERICAN QUARTERLY exclusivism) were secondary or even tertiary phenomena. For one of the two “historic” agents in creole nationalism. This surprising claim. “The success of the Thirteen Colonies’ revolt at the end of the 1770s. the total silence about creole functionaries in North America. But in fact it points to a deeper problem of periodization as a result of which the seventy-year period from 1760 to 1830 (64) has little value. might be read as a stunning logical contradiction in Anderson’s argument (creole nationalism influenced creole nationalism). Anderson notes that many U. the elite creole functionary. emancipatory movements (49). Southern functionaries: At another point. afraid of slave rebellions and thus reacted against popular. But what is the specific position of the United States in this argument? The “Thirteen Colonies” figure in the historical presentation at essentially four points: 1. did not fail to exert a powerful influence” (51). while insisting upon the elitism of creole nationalisms. for its southern counterpart. Periodization: In a brief acknowledgment of limited ideological influences upon the creole movement. in fact. We may read this as a tacit acknowledgment that “middle-classes” were a meaningful presence in the British plantations of the northern seaboard. with the northern variant serving as a model. Significantly. Europeanstyle ‘middle-classes’ were still insignificant at the end of the eighteenth century” (48). avoided. often racialized. elitism are never developed and are.
the Caribbean isles). rest on the predictable historical inflation of Franklin and an unfortunate overreliance on Lucien Febvre and Henri-Jean Martin’s Coming of the Book. became one nation—it is evident that this analysis of the creole pilgrimage is confined to the south. Northern printers: If the bias is toward the southern Americas in the discussions of creole functionaries and in periodization. anomalies: At another point. The logical problem here.S. of imagined reading communities. Claims about the combination of printer and journalist activities. and. which includes a celebratory caricature of Franklin as genius printer. whose administrative journeys created the borders of the future nation. context. Virginia. an internal weakness that required an internal war to confirm its own north-south bond (63–64). or about printer-administrative alliances through the postal service. one from the south there. from Mexico to Buenos Aires.S. which must be explained with reference to a military weakness in the eighteenth century and a civil war in the nineteenth.S. with empirical continuities between regions largely maintained . The nearly total reliance on Spanish examples is selfevident in the telling references to “cramped viceregal pilgrimages. 4.” we find a cobbling together of features from north and south.” which presumably have no northern counterpart. 3.” as it failed to incorporate Canada (and. case: on the one hand. It follows that the North American nation should encompass either the whole of British territory (the U. In short. the bias is decidedly northward in the discussion of printer-journalists.9 These northern qualities are quietly joined with essentially southern claims about an asymmetrical reception of local papers and a serial similitude. on the other. And given the administrative-colonial divisions within what became the United States— where thirteen colonies. context. And in the construction of the “printer-journalist. context. for whom Benjamin Franklin is the clear archetype. further highlights the inadequacies of the creole functionary argument for the U.S. Pennsylvania. an unusual “shrinkage. in commenting on the more limited spatial cohesion of the United States relative to the other creole nations.S. These brief observations further highlight the troubling application of the logic of the creole functionary to the U. rather than a single viceroyalty.). U. the portrait of the printerjournalist draws an element from the north here. plus Canada) or the tiny spheres of the particular colonies (Massachusetts.S. Anderson stresses two anomalies of the U.EARLY AMERICAN NATIONS 57 U. we might add. etc.
Any review of Franklin’s newspaper production. opens the same can of worms—the odd status of thirteen quasi-unified colonies—that had to be avoided in consideration of the functionary’s role. in which printing was often localized in specific colonies. or even an acknowledgment that it is part of Anderson’s argument. in Anderson’s defense: Is it possible that the northern branch of this argument is not ultimately that dependent on its southern functionary counterpart? Despite Anderson’s insistence that the two developed in tandem. illustrates instead a clustered dispersal of the relevant elements with a strong north-south split. references to the printer-journalist. as if these provide sufficient foundations for the new nation. contributor” (61). at best. Even so. and print simultaneity abound. generational division. According to Imagined Communities. But we might ask. the foundations of the creole pioneers argument seem remarkably flimsy. For the picture is quite different from that adopted from Febvre and Martin. the printer-journalist must correspondingly provide a northern. to which they were usually the main. in early American scholarship. Since the creole functionary is primarily a southern. even the sole. as presented by Anderson himself.10 In short. English counterpart. One struggles to find. But the historical record. minimal. critical scrutiny of the printer-journalist argument has been. who “always included a newspaper in their productions. For one thing. Spanish figure. for instance. One can of course sense the rationale behind these exaggerations. By contrast. will reveal that his written contributions to his newspapers were extremely limited and in fact diminished significantly with his retirement from the newspaper business in 1748. Anderson’s printer-journalists. print-capitalism. are nothing but mythical figures. creole nationalism surpassed its specifically European antecedents through an intensification and overdetermination of continental elements. We have yet to see any sustained engagement with Anderson’s narrative of northern printing. But too much emphasis on the north. could we not more modestly say that we are speaking instead of two possible or complementary creole paths toward nation-ness? Certainly this has been the implicit perception of Anderson’s argument among scholars of the early United States.58 AMERICAN QUARTERLY by assertion rather than evidence. The formula for the “creole pioneer” is crafted only through a forced combination of elements—printers from the north. functionaries from the south— joined in a unified period blind to a decisive. long before the crucial . any treatment of the creole functionary. perhaps for good reason.
11 Organized around and by a segment of the local population. implicitly divided the world into ours and theirs.EARLY AMERICAN NATIONS 59 period in question. far from reading about local concerns—“these ships. in their implicit or explicit factionalism. simply need to be tweaked and clarified. The most striking feature of the “local” newspaper is in fact the tremendous dearth of local news. and how they locate the scope and boundaries of their community. yet at the same time. The bulk of colonial newspaper content was taken from European sources or from the official records of adjacent colonies. American newspapers avidly followed events. in their foreign coverage. insofar as locals shaped the content of newspapers. what would this mean? Serial Nation Anderson’s dual focus on time and space turns our attention to how community members existentially define and situate themselves in history. and if so. feuding papers. In some locations. parties. in the metropole. Sacral-dynastic communities must be understood in terms . with minimal contributions from the local printer. at least concerning the United States. In Franklin’s paper one was more likely to get details from Poland or Turkey than from Philadelphia. with the exception of official provincial records. Even detached from the southern figure of the functionary. and leaders. bishops and prices”— provincial readers more commonly read about those demonstrations. whatever these may be? Can an analytical framework separate from the historical details be salvaged. Finally. In short. or do we need to return to Anderson’s prior theoretical principles. colonial newspapers in the British plantations bridged the Atlantic in significant respects and were thus more extensive than Anderson’s argument allows. what is left of Anderson’s argument? Do the inexact generalizations about printers and functionaries. or the periodization of New World movements. they were less intensive at the provincial level than his argument requires. If the historical underpinnings of Imagined Communities are so flawed. political or social. often aligned with a colonial party. the more accurate model would seem to be that of a club or cabal of contributors. brides. the northern figure of the printer-journalist does not stand up to scrutiny. most colonial newspapers faced at least one local competitor associated with an oppositional faction.
and later A and C may interact. And it is this logic of simultaneity that has been so immensely popular to Anderson’s readers and that explains. which were substantively transformed in the crucible of the New World. and D doing the same. printer-journalists a concurrent sense of time. For while the simultaneity of Anderson’s nation is delineated with clear material coordinates. In this way. most poststructuralist adaptations have simply granted existential depth and national breadth to any discourse linked to a print medium. C. the theoretical portability of the simultaneity argument has proven a disincentive for any critique of Imagined Communities’ historical foundations.60 AMERICAN QUARTERLY of their prenational experiences of time and space.” even if they have never met (25). is simultaneity. just as importantly. The novel provides a primer of sorts for this experience of simultaneity: while characters A and B act together here. Bs. he imagines B. but rather of further exploring seriality. most prominently illustrated in the sensibility that takes shape while reading “the novel and the newspaper” (25). C. and D’s activities doesn’t really matter here—it is rather the “form” that makes it possible. to imagine their activities within a coherent. Cs. to a large degree. as the simultaneity of discourse serves as its own starting point. Of course. even unavoidable. bounded community. the two clusters of creole pioneers embody these changes. B. its trans-theoretical appeal. the more important form of “book” here is the newspaper. It is worth noting that the specific “content” of A. Are there other forms of simultaneity that compli- . C and D act together there. a matter of challenging the selfevident value of this collective phenomenology. then. Simultaneity. Anderson’s term for this intersection. and Ds that fill the news—but. and one of the most frequently cited elements of his argument. this sequence ultimately connects “A to D. as if simultaneity marks the outer limits of temporal and spatial imagination. may be a useful starting point in assessing Anderson’s theory. This is not. I think.12 Simultaneity is thus a temporal and spatial phenomenon: the member imagines the community existing at the same time within certain limits. traveling functionaries providing the cramped national sense of space. in the reading of which the national imagined community takes shape. with the intersection of the two forming the outlines of the imagined nation. in the logic of simultaneity. Not only did the newspaper perform the same function as the novel—linking the local As. it allegedly produced the experience of simultaneity in its reading: as A reads the newspaper.
and the like” (32)—are imagined to exist elsewhere. The sakdina social system of Thailand is unique to Thailand. under the rubric of “statistics. citizens bound together in a finite. The integrity of the body as an integer is asserted. census—that is. A range of institutions and practices—such as “general elections. as in the series famously counted by the 1790 U. analogical comparisons will be made nonetheless. it will come to be understood. Identity. as “quotidian universals that seeped through and across all print-languages” for a series of totalities (33). but to count members. the bodies are counted together but not linked via proper names or knowledge of one another. presidents. parties.” whereby other totalities model themselves on the apparently universal terms either through the formation of new institutions or via analogy and translation (32). rallies.”13 Bound seriality may be illustrated by certain imaginative conventions of the census.” stressing the distinction—already present in Imagined Communities—between “two profoundly contrasting types of seriality . there is a commitment to the quantitative capture of all within the community. And. data is compiled not primarily to calculate percentages and fractions. and the Logic of Seriality. . legislatures. as the “feudal” system challenged by national revolution (33–34). censors. the “spectre of comparisons”—also . whereby it is imagined that certain categories are universal and applicable to zones outside of the bound totality. Here we are very close to the sense of simultaneity already summarized in the opening chapters of Imagined Communities: the seriality of the viceregal pilgrimage or the newspaper/novel. boycotts. but through the modeling imperative of unbound seriality. So while there will be local specificities that rule out any strict identity across totalities. This second form of simultaneity—unbound seriality.EARLY AMERICAN NATIONS 61 cate or challenge Anderson’s history? And are there other forms of imagining time and space that complicate this stress on the simultaneous? Anderson’s subsequent work sheds some light on these questions. At the same time there is a commitment to anonymity.” information within and about the totality of the state (35–38). . police. finally. trade unions. leaders. The imagined community here is the series of the national citizenry.S. Underlying this unbound sense of series is the grammar of “the modelling process. unbound and bound. But there is a second. total series within the nation. unbound seriality. The lead essay in The Spectre of Comparisons (1998) took up the question of “Nationalism. by Thais and non-Thais.
15 Where Sartre strongly diverges from Anderson. with gradations in between. then to the Third World in a “succession of models” that Anderson calls “The Last Wave” (113). that is. and the working class. the organization. by its relationship to more cohesive and differently unified fused groups and institutions. unacknowledged echoes of the Critique in Anderson’s work: his account of newspaper simultaneity evokes Sartre’s treatment of the radio broadcast. its internal relations of reciprocity. analytical point that practical ensembles cannot be discussed in isolation from one another. and has a surprising inspiration. and his treatment of national identity echoes Sartre’s exploration of the identity-based logic of anti-Semitism. The first is the descriptive. to the free market. In this odd work. Sartre identified one ensemble—the series—as predominant within modernity. sought to present a phenomenology of the dominant collective forms. the statutory group. if not in the “Creole Pioneers” segment. from the line at the bus station or the experience of listening to top ten hits on the radio. At any given moment the series is defined. however. Sartre. in the most radical sense. For the theory of seriality utilized by Anderson is fully developed in the first volume (1960) of Jean-Paul Sartre’s Critique of Dialectical Reason: Theory of Practical Ensembles. first to the Old World from 1820 to 1920. the experience of seriality will be understood not . Anderson’s summation essentially jibes with that of the Critique. and he discusses this seriality through a tremendous range of examples. and its relations to those outside the ensemble. inspired by an emerging structural anthropology.62 AMERICAN QUARTERLY figures prominently in Imagined Communities. Sartre’s analysis of these other practical ensembles need not be summarized here. a significant force for the creoles. is in his exploration of other “practical ensembles”: the fused group. or “practical ensembles. each examined in terms of its framing material conditions.14 There are strong. the rumor. The importance of seriality for Anderson’s account of nationalism is undeniable and profound. And while Sartre’s account of seriality is obviously more detailed. Unbound seriality is not. mention of the voting line has obvious references to Sartre’s famous discussion of the bus queue. its dominant activity. because as pioneers they are exempt from the logic of modeling.” of modern society. and the institution. however.16 but it will suffice to highlight two crucial divergences. For it is the unbound seriality as the logic of modeling that sends nationalism throughout the world in successive waves.
with a strategic awareness of seriality. in the Thirteen Colonies. whose importance is secondary. This point becomes critical when he links the nation with its national government.EARLY AMERICAN NATIONS 63 simply as membership in the series. The details of that process are unimportant once the equation “series equals nation” has been established. The contrast with Anderson should be clear. is perceived and pursued with a reflexive awareness of its dimensions. identity politics. then makes the leap to a nation-state. This analysis may smack of a retrograde combination of Robinson Crusoe fantasy and conspiracy theory. a theory of revolution. Imagined Communities largely naturalizes and neutralizes the experience of seriality (particularly of the bound variety). we need to locate the dominant and influential forms of seriality—which we will not find. For the purposes of this essay. but as nonmembership in the institution or the group. We then need to determine which of these series have a crucial link with the emergence of the nation and with the “nation” concept . This is simply a map of a state in relation to its society. “sets itself the aim of manipulating the collectives without extricating them from seriality”—that is. In short. The related second point is evaluative and political: Sartre’s insistence that seriality is modernity’s paradigmatic expression of collective political weakness through isolation. Sartre insists that in crucial instances. For he insists that the state. the national series is the default foundation or form of the new state. the state functions “as a permanent institution and as a constraint imposed by a group on all serialities” (637–38). The proto-national creole series takes shape in printing and pilgrimages. the novel. Sartre will develop this account of state and society with an eye to class relations. bound and unbound. then. regardless of its particular origins: the state will seek to maintain series with maximum order. in reconstructing the origins of the national series. but Sartre is making no claims about the origins of the state and society— these have to be explored in their historical specificities—nor is a diabolic mastery at stake. which seems to emerge and spread organically. in the newspaper. and a range of other concerns that cannot be adequately summarized here. seriality. or the functionary pilgrim. even as it has a certain seriality of its own (the series of the dominant class or classes). his critical point is that the national/societal series cannot be discussed in isolation but takes its meaning as a nation in relation to the state. To return to the creole pioneers. Sartre’s more nuanced treatment of seriality invites the following caveats. First.
We may take as an example Scots-American Cadwallader Colden’s History of the Five Indian Nation (2 vols. this originally French term suggests a cultural distance (the “Iroquois” were enemies of the French thanks to Champlain) from which a cultural and ethnic unity is perceived and granted.17 Such is the context of Colden’s History. without any Superiority of any one over the other . . given the dispersed structures of provincial colonization and the subsequent internal weaknesses of the United States. with the nation as “the Other. And. the first national literature of the American colonies century explored the question of indigenous collectives. The English. finally. . whose earlier intellectual projects mostly concerned taxonomic classification of American flora and fauna.. . and Iroquois.S.64 AMERICAN QUARTERLY itself. and that the Oneydoes and Cayugas were . British. we must examine other collectives at work in the construction of the national series. They are known to the English under the Names of Mohawks. a survey of seventeenthcentury relations between the French. The History of Nations Nation was a complicated and slippery term in the eighteenth century. It will be sufficient to juxtapose a few passages from that short explication: The Five Nations (as their Name denotes) consist of so many Tribes or Nations joyn’d together by a League or Confederacy. but we can fairly say that its dominant practical association at the time was with Native Americans—that is. as his introductory remarks—“A Short View of the Form of Government of the Five Nations”—demonstrate. lest we lapse into an organicist account of the natural emergence of the nation.” In this sense. context for the reasons acknowledged by Anderson himself: the situation of the North American colonies was in significant respects hostile to nation formation. trying to classify such polities—nations—in a broader imperial context. 1727–47). Delawares. but it is probable that this Union at first consisted only of three Nations . Dutch. like the United Provinces. . Cayugas and Sennekas. Iroquois is an anachronistic term in this context but worth mentioning simply to emphasize its absence. Hurons. Oneydoes. Colden clearly found it a challenge to classify the Five Nations. Onnondagas. something of a departure for this correspondent of Linneaus. found five (and later six) Nations. by contrast. Such an examination is particularly important in the U. Turning to political history.
EARLY AMERICAN NATIONS 65 afterwards adopted or received into this League. . so I believe. which in turn provides the basis for the lateral equality of the nation—kinship prevents “any Superiority of any one over the other”—while at the same time it embodies the milder.” The nation is thus grounded in a biological or familial unity. political terms of a larger scale and force than the nation. naturalized hierarchy of family status (as in the child status of the Cayugas to their Seneca fathers). for the Oneydoes acknowledge the Mohawks to be their Fathers. here we may with more certainty see the Original Form of all Government. we need only note the incorporation of the Tuscaroras into the League of the Six Nations. . The confederacy of Indian nations is like the (Dutch) United Provinces. . . to the immediately following division of nations into “Tribes or Families. Each tribal nation is “an absolute Republick by itself. understanding of the nation to the political conception. We see this in the passage from his initial equation of nations with tribes. “the People of Carolina.” What do we make of these observations? Colden’s map of imperial politics seems to imply an equation of provincial peoples with ethnic Indian polities (Tuscaroras ≈ Carolinas).” guaranteeing the egalitarian status of the confederacy or league. But what.18 Colden concludes enthusiastically with the naturalist’s observation “that the present state of the Indian Nations exactly shows the most Ancient and Original Condition of almost every Nation. . and are now incorporated with them. Each of the Nations are distinguished into 3 Tribes or Families . The Tuscaroras. We likewise find an interesting attempt to fit these “nations” into the political vernacular of British statecraft. a similar equation of confederacies with complex political . than in the most curious Speculations of the Learned” (xxi). fled to the Five Nations. so that they now properly consist of Six Nations . the Six Nations exist “under the Government of New-York”. But the central objective of Colden’s History is clearly the practical and theoretical alignment of Indian polities with their European counterparts. Each Nation is an absolute Republick by it self . have we learned about the “Ancient and Original” conditions of nations? For starters. . the Tuscaroras battled with their English analogue. exactly. for which Colden gives us confusing messages. as the Cayugas do the Sennekas to be theirs. or ethnic. since the War they had with the People of Carolina. Colden’s remarks can be read as tracing the transition from the folk. If we have any doubts about the secondary political status of the nation.
the great threat to the English empire in the region was the undermining presence of a class group.and early eighteenth-century colonial politics. say. which seek to untangle and redirect the imperial politics of the New York region. will hardly doubt that the Five Nations by themselves were at that time an over Match for the French of CANADA. and finally a hierarchical distinction between “nation” and “government. . The Onnondagas. that historical agents fall into three categories: the nations (the Five Nations acting independently of the confederacy. How does The History of the Five Indian Nations illuminate Anderson’s narrative of the “nation” as the emergent imagined commu- . the “French” do not exist on the same level as. This initial map more or less underlies Colden’s analyses. I say. gave the Indians rather grounds of Jealousy than Assistance. whoever considers all these things. and what the Five Nations did actually perform under all these disadvantages against the French. under the Influence of the French Jesuits. then. And the Measures the English observed with the French all King James’s Reign.” such that the latter of course encompasses the former (Tuscaroras < New-York). and Oneydoes. . then. we have historical agents of several different orders. How the Five Nations were divided in the Sentiements and Measures. For it is clear that. just as the English are to be understood with reference to an imperial center located around King James. . For. Grasping imperial politics means understanding the possible interactions among these different collectives. Cayugas. specific groups (of which the “French Jesuits” are most prominent). (74) In this survey of late seventeenth. and four other Indian “Nations”). and the institutional empires (the “French” and the “English”). including the Jesuits. the New York merchants whose fur trade with the French repeatedly threatened to undermine the elaborate networks of European–Native American diplomacy. by the Jesuits cunningly spiriting up those three Nations against the Virginia Indians . were diverted from prosecuting the War with [French] Canada. for Colden. as Colden also explains in the 1747 preface to volume 2. Here is his synopsis of volume 1: For whoever considers the state of the Indian Affairs during this Period.66 AMERICAN QUARTERLY states (Six Nations ≈ United Provinces). . and specifically understanding the management of “nations” by specific groups for the benefit—or to the detriment—of the encompassing empire. We can say. The Sennekas had a War at the same time upon their hands with three numerous Indian Nations . the Cayugas: the French are an imperial power of multiple agents.
To some extent. though with very different inflections. the Twightwees. But that seriality does not resolve the problem of the nation. the functionary finds—or at least imagines—nations existing as preformed Others. cohesive communities interact with one another. But.19 and I think this suggests that the colonies figure predominantly as nations as well (as in the equation of “the people of Carolina” with the Tuscaroras). the imperial sensibility. in the context of imperial frontiers and autonomous Indian nations.S. these nations— the Mohawks. Yes. coordinating. The fate of the empire is the fate of its assembled nations. and regulating. was encouraged. and maintenance of certain smaller collectivities. as these bordered. the people of Carolina. and supervisory collectives within the imperial framework.EARLY AMERICAN NATIONS 67 nity? Colden’s history takes us back to the question of the transition from dynastic-sacral community to nation. If Colden is in any way representative (and I think he is). Clearly the overarching imagined community is the empire. differentiated communities of the Other. empires already contain nations—in the plural— understood as binding. the pre-U. but with important revisions. most importantly. functionary does not simply develop a default national sensibility from being crowded out of the empire. Colden doesn’t imagine himself in any nation. despite occasional references to the colonial placemen (the “Government” rather than “the people” of New York) who work to situate “nations” in the imperial frame. Colden’s History confirms Anderson’s focus on both the colonial functionary and simultaneity. regulation. the Onondagas. It is likely that some of Colden’s terminological confusion— “creativity” may be a better term—stems from the concurrent project of more closely incorporating Scotland within the United Kingdom. and this is the key to their importance: the empire is the sequence of nations. but nonetheless imagines nations as the crucial mediating and relational communities linked with lateral. It is rather the beginning of the national problem—the problem of studying. far from being cramped. and so on—exist simultaneously or serially. an encompassing system whose viability hinges on the careful construction. imagined as a complicated community of hierarchies and relations. the necessary building blocks for the new imperial framework. subordinate. but rather situates himself squarely in the empire’s development and expansion. . And in this context of European-Indian contact. then.
political organization. warfare.68 AMERICAN QUARTERLY National Literature With Colden’s work we are jumping into the middle of the literary history of “the nation. just as landscape. and fish must be addressed. offered his ethnography of the local Indians. Smith (Virginia). is a necessary element of the Colony. as Other. The “letter” moves through thirty-three enumerated observations. clearly bounded and existing in simultaneous time. Williams (New England). hunting. the Nation. Alsop (Maryland). There is nothing unique about Penn’s approach. . diet. moving through history in a perpetual. touching on physical appearance. birds. When William Penn. trade. before finally arriving at “the Condition we are in.” which can now be located within a broader colonial tradition of “national literature. language. it was situated within a broader framework of the colonization project. or medicine in that way. the colony will itself become something of a nation after the fashion of the local Indians. which we also find in the ethnographies of Harriot (Roanoke). the ethnography. Byrd (Virginia). the detailed description of the manners and customs of Indians. eternal sameness. two implications follow. and what Settlement we have made” in the final sections.21 This structure is typical insofar as identification of the Indian “nation” figures as a dominant element of colonization. birth. marriage. and 27 through 29 brief references to the previously colonizing Dutch and Swedes. handicrafts.”20 It is these ethnographies that first expressed a variant of the nation-ness described by Anderson: these are the first nations. and so on. These ethnographies offered “hypostatized descriptions” of nations. What deserves more attention. a “national” resource that must be reckoned with. the features of these nations are “described in the present tense as if all the Indians have always practiced marriage. First. 1 through 4 describing the land. dress. the ethnography attempted a comprehensive account of the nation as other. in his first letter from Pennsylvania (1683).” We should first return to that favored genre of colonization. economy. 11 through 26 the Indians. and so on: in each case. however. 5 through 10 the plant and animal resources. who will be either incorporated or eliminated. stressing the “universals” constituting “the samenesses that extend across all societies”. An essential element of English colonization from Thomas Harriot into the eighteenth century. In each case. but secondly. is the characteristic framing of these ethnographies. situated within the colonial program. further. for instance.
Alexander Hamilton’s roving ethnographies in the Itinerarium (1744). Historical and Political . which might usefully be called the imperiography. or to describe the “local character. . different laws. that the colonies were “not only under different governors. these creole ethnographies appear within travel narratives. of the empire but not of any nation. reflections on the first generations of colonial development. though the tendency to define at moments a provincial way of life.EARLY AMERICAN NATIONS 69 the master colonizers are themselves managers or overseers of nations. This is precisely how the ethnography developed in colonial writing. with works like Colden’s History (1727.24 It is these ethnographies that encouraged Benjamin Franklin to write. In some cases these are properly provincial histories.22 In other instances. 1747) and Joseph Morgan’s Temporal Interest of North America (1733). and Douglass’s Summary. about scattered Indian nations. from Cotton Mather’s Magnalia Christi Americana (1702) to Samuel Smith’s history of New Jersey (1765). of course. . in 1760. in which we can find two dominant currents. But here we need to register another emerging colonial genre. William Byrd’s accounts of North Carolinians (1729). Indian ethnographies continued. different interests. and in this assertion of unbound seriality we seem a long way from the imagined community of a unified United States. or Dr. It began haltingly in the late 1720s and continued through the 1730s and 1740s.23 These creole ethnographies are rarely the radically “hypostatized” descriptions one finds in the Indian ethnographies. as if a central feature of colonial travel is the encounter with the other local “nations. Franklin’s “Proposal for Promoting Useful Knowledge among the British Plantations in America” (1743). William Douglass’s Discourse Concerning the Currencies of the British Plantations (1739). .” persists nonetheless. but have different forms of government. and some of them different religious persuasions and different manners. And it was these creole ethnographies that could allow William Byrd to describe the colonies as “Limb[s] lopt off from Virginia”—a series of distinctive nations moving ever farther from unification as the British “main” was increasingly carved into discrete parts. despairingly.” Here we may cite Sarah Kemble Knight’s vernacular ethnographies of Connecticut and New York (1704).”25 One gets the sense that Franklin is writing. but in the early eighteenth century we witness the gradual emergence of the provincial ethnography. offering descriptive accounts of the immigrant or creole populations.
the Produce.” “British Northern America. he revealingly noted. and Mode of Subsistence. each of these works thinks imperially. and a Detail of the Nature. we miss what they have in common: an emphasis on the grand imperial picture of “North America. as Evans put it. whether of Indians or Christian utopian communities such as the Pietist Unitas Fratrum in Pennsylvania. then. Drawing on his earlier primer on colonial administration and Lewis Evans’s essays and maps. But the imperiography truly blossomed in the 1750s and 1760s. Communion. In a preface reprinted by Pownall. . to a judicious Reader in a few Pages. “have taken every little Society for a separate Nation. Commerce. of the Progress they have made. . and Military Expeditions. Progress. Evans had complained that the “inattentive Observer” might “imagine there was nothing but Confusion” in the American landscape.” Or. amounted to an encyclopedia of . from Aaron Burr Sr. Whether they agree or argue with imperial policy from the metropole.”27 The imperiography. and Completion of these Settlements. the Family. many authors.70 AMERICAN QUARTERLY of the British Settlements in North America (1749–51).” The imperiographies.26 If we look ahead to the revolution and divide these texts into royalist and proto-independence camps. it contains a sequence of local ethnographies. containing an Account of the Mode of Settling.” Yet the point here was not to deny the existence of “nations”: Pownall was to declare his own interest in the colonial ethnography. the Tribe.’s Discourse . (1776). but rather sought to incorporate or map these ethnographies into a master system. and of the Point in which they are found as to Society.” or “the Colonies” in the plural. he would “explain the Climates. as the Seven Years War increasingly prompted creoles to think imperially. In Pownall’s words. in short. did not resist the logic of the ethnography. promising in future editions “a Description of their Nature. and Government. . on Account of the Late Encroachments of the French. the Healthiness. as to the general Spirit by which they regulate themselves when considered as a Nation.” piecing together the creole ethnographies into a master map of empire. he sought to present “an Account of this Country IN ITS SETTLED AND CULTIVATED STATE. . and Conveniences for Habitations. as to their Manners in the Individual. Pownall’s Topographical Description is exemplary in this respect. their System of Life. and Their Designs against the British Colonies in America (1755) right up to Pownall’s Topographical Description of Such Parts of North America . imagining possible connections among the colonial “nations.
brides. and Trade” of New England (or more specifically Nantucket) and of “Charles Town” to the south. for others. that of “the Manners. In a very real sense. which still bears the inferiorizing association with the Other. It is less a matter of imagining a (bound) simultaneity with “these shops. and administration may now begin. envisions the frontier farmer in a quasi-Indian community as the imperial powers battle it out. para. The authors of the imperiographies clearly locate themselves beyond—or better. The Speculators We might reflect here on J. and prices.EARLY AMERICAN NATIONS 71 ethnographies in an unbound seriality that would find cohesion in the imperial framework. but no literature of the nation (singular). we’re given portraits of (at least) three American nations.29 In short. and those shops. the imperiographic project of population oversight: the farmer huddles on the frontier waiting for the . as late as the 1780s. Hector St. and Military Expeditions”—a properly imperial moment of occupation. etc. By the middle of the eighteenth century the dominant imagined community for creoles became the empire containing the nation. such that a properly imperial. brides.. when nations might be coordinated and connected. distinct creole ethnographies. mercantile connection.28 Literature about nations (plural). above—the nation. In a similar vein. The telling word in Pownall’s account is perhaps completion. Does this work not show the nation as the dominant imagined community? After all. under the regulation of the empire. etc. reasserted the ethnographic equation of colony and Indian nation while accepting. etc. is actually the Pennsylvanian and that the author goes on to provide two further. Policy. doesn’t Crèvecoeur ask and answer the question “What is an American?” We should remember that “an American.or transnational history of management. as if to insist that the eternal ethnographic and national moment is over.” as described by Crèvecoeur. bishops. “Distresses of a Frontier Man. and military mastery. Evans offers the “judicious Reader” a bird’seye view of “every little Society” or nation in order to inaugurate a new era of “Habitations. brides. Crèvecoeur’s writings.” and more a matter of imagining the (unbound) seriality of those shops. Customs.” set at the crisis moment of the Seven Years War.. brides. Commerce. John de Crèvecoeur’s Letters from an American Farmer (1782). And the concluding letter. coordination. and those shops..
We need only consider the case of Franklin. with an additional major wave of land companies appearing after the Revolution. and through this period there was frequent competition and absorption of rivals. it is not the figure described by Anderson: confined to a provincial sphere and developing a local sense of nation-ness. the North American functionary was hardly cramped in the sense of provincial confinement. who extended his printing influence (via trained apprentices and capital investment) to other colonies. It remains to briefly outline this transition. Whatever the North American “creole functionary” may be. the Greenbrier Company in 1751.72 AMERICAN QUARTERLY order of nations to be reestablished. Rather. but more spectacularly attempted in Connecticut’s claim on northern Pennsylvania—or. but large-scale corporate investments took off only in the mid-eighteenth century. who served the colony of Massachusetts. First. and then. with schemes for new western colonies . governor of Massachusetts. with the Wabash. secretary extraordinary to Lord Loudoun during the Seven Years War. the Loyal Company in 1749. the Grand Ohio or Vandalia Company in 1769. the Illinois Company in 1766.” As I’ve said. we must look to the land speculators as the class behind the imperiographers. The Ohio Company was organized in 1747. There remains to be written a systematic survey of the speculation companies.30 but for our purposes several recurring features stand out. and who happily hobnobbed with imperial administrators like Thomas Pownall. after the Seven Years War. Transylvania. eventually. the Susquehannah Company in 1753. lieutenant governor of New Jersey. who drafted the Albany Plan. it is fair to say that with Crèvecoeur we are witnessing a transition to the “nation” of the United States. and second Illinois Companies following in the 1770s. the Indiana Company in 1768. Alongside these major ventures existed dozens of less formalized speculation schemes. and eventually appointee to the governorship of South Carolina. who began his career in Pennsylvania. who spent years of his career in England. most of these companies sought to extend or transcend a colonial charter. something I want to attempt via a revision of Anderson’s notion of the “creole functionary. Speculation in lands was constitutive of colonization from its beginnings. who was himself the Crown’s unofficial representative to the Albany Congress. who helped place his son in the governorship of New Jersey. whether by legally pressing for the extension of charter boundaries—a frequent tactic with the Virginians and Pennsylvanians. Still.
200. and so on. But we should remember that these states first emerged as companies. The partial success of these attempts is today apparent in familiar state names such as Indiana. Sir William Johnson. And finally. competing Indian claims of varying legal status. major merchants in Philadelphia. Most qualified in these respects were the “diplomats” from the provincial governments. well versed in the imperial discourse of Indian nations. posed serious obstacles to many speculation schemes. and John Baynton. an imperial placeman serving on the New York Council but more importantly the superintendent of Indian affairs. Benjamin Franklin. in their demand for capital. and the Whartons. George Morgan. although these companies sometimes required secrecy in the preparation of claims. which. Ohio. the speculators were decidedly transatlantic. because this westward movement required negotiations with. The major investors included the western trader and sometime diplomat George Croghan. as . Westsylvania. The Illinois Company offers a brief illustration. the companies all needed the expertise of men engaged in Indian diplomacy and trade—that is. Furthermore. profoundly connected to “Indian affairs” and active in promoting their plans in writing: these were the speculators behind the imperiographers. which. Benjamin’s son and governor of New Jersey. they also required a certain amount of publicity to attract investors and influence imperial policy. the writer and promoter of the group. The group first proposed a grant of 1.000 acres. and Illinois—echoes of the transcendence of the older provincial boundaries. Transprovincial capitalists of various positions and locations within the empire. achieved the practical alliance of the great bourgeois merchants and landowners. Franklin. Joseph Galloway. sometimes even residence within. although.EARLY AMERICAN NATIONS 73 such as Transylvania. Each potential “nation” thus began as a group of directive elites. the metropole. Consequently the land companies frequently united “creoles” and investors with strong ties to. and imperial placemen assigned to oversee imperial interactions. William Franklin. and management of. So the speculators always included vernacular theorists and propagandists—the imperiographers— whose writings reproduced the original colonial tracts and reports with the grandeur of an eighteenth-century transcolonial vision. merchants at either end of the major Indian trade routes (frontier traders or seaport capitalists). after the Proclamation of 1763. prominent member of the Pennsylvania Assembly and author of the 1774 imperiography Plan of a Proposed Union between Great Britain and the Colonies.
with a profound connection to EuropeanIndian contact and a commitment to the commercial development of new commonwealths. It suggests imagined communities. they sought to envision the empire as a network of coordinated nations—Indian and white. as the unbound speculative seriality of potential nations somehow on a par with colonies or provinces or Indian tribes. and the senior Franklin was to press for the plan in London. Croghan. Although the speculators deserve the privileged position in British North America that Anderson gives the creole functionary. but from without. speculation determined the eventual formation of the United States. and we may see the emergence of the United States as a major political consequence of speculation. and overseen by a hierarchy of managing companies. they had their eye on 63. where he succeeded in gaining the support of the southern department’s secretary of state before the initial plan was halted by the Board of Trade. but imagined not from within. tribes and colonies—in which they would serve as developers and managers rather than as mere members (consumers or renters) of the proposed nations. Johnson. “[F]or provincial Britons [in America]. as if a simple return on investment shaped the revolution. a greater Britain that reached across the Atlantic.000.” but was instead a matter of “imagining a transcendent.000 acres. In this sense. speculation is a fortuitously charged term. as bounded lateral entities. We should always keep in mind an oddity of the American situation mentioned but largely ignored by Anderson: that its . while the elder Franklin. imperial community. Johnson was to be the governor. ‘empire’ did not evoke. centralized. they were neither cramped “nationalists” nor simplistic defenders of Old World empire. and the younger Franklin were to be Tories in the Revolution. inclusive. As Peter Onuf notes. despotic. and the Philadelphia merchants supported independence.”32 The Fate of the Nation If not all speculators and imperiographers became revolutionaries. But understood as an imaginative political project. as it now does. it is important that we not reduce land speculation to some brute economic determinism.31 Can we assume these thwarted speculators eventually supported independence? No: Galloway. Rather. Again. and arbitrary rule. many revolutionaries were nonetheless speculators or imperiographers.74 AMERICAN QUARTERLY Franklin wrote to his son.
In this case. The founding fathers. Thus the primary political body of the revolution was called the Continental Congress. Nonetheless. be ascribed to the existence of multiple colonies.EARLY AMERICAN NATIONS 75 name—allegedly given by an Englishman.” In short. suggesting that nation-states were the constitutive units for a new imperial system eventually labeled “federalist. there were at the revolution’s outset attempts to imagine the unified colonies as something of a “nation. in some simple form of reflection.” The new country was to express the imperial overtones of the “United Kingdom” minus the monarchical reference. politics not only with the Civil War but in western independence movements and “conspiracies” and in the New England of the 1810s. as elites from the various states would correspond about the management of their respective. with its imperial overtones.S. nor can it. this first “national revolution” produced a profoundly and literally ambivalent sense . More cynically but at the same time more profoundly. as does the long-lasting sense of regional or state cultures and the threatened secession movements that shaped U.” We cannot simply note the absence of national terminology in the revolutionary institutions. It was the continent. populations. Rather its roots are to be found in the colonial concept of the indigenous nation and the imperiographies that envisioned an imperial rather than national union in the decades before the revolution. The label “United States of America” cannot be retrospectively explained with reference to the constitutional federalism of the 1780s. not the National Congress. we find the imperial attitude toward local nations in much elite organizing during the revolutionary period. complemented by state militias. its major military wing the Continental Army. Thomas Paine—stresses the union of multiple entities. many of whom were speculators or merchants tied to speculation. that justified the union of the smaller local nations whose unbound seriality was emphasized by the nationto-nation or state-to-state Committees of Correspondence. were to formulate a sovereign political identity characterized by this split inflection of “nation. for the congressional faction supporting a stronger Continental Army took the informal label “nationalists” in opposition to the decentered power of state governments. offering the binding overtones unavailable in the imperial descriptor “continental.” The briefly proposed fourteenth colony for Indians in the Ohio Valley highlights this imperial framework. frequently more radical. “nation” expressed the perceived cohesion of state unification.
Yet the antebellum focus likewise reveals an important truth about U. But the final point of this essay is that these blindnesses and insights in contemporary scholarship cannot be remedied through a simple supplement: the colonial origins of the nation are not simply the prequel to antebellum nation construction. nationalism needs to map the transition from the imperial imagined community of unbound serial “nations” to the insistence upon the bound unified and singular nation. nations. reaching back . whether in the 1790s or in the antebellum period more generally. Study of the development of U. Hugh Henry Brackenridge’s narrative of the Whiskey Insurrection (1795) and Modern Chivalry (1792 and following). given the imperial framing of the original nation. I conclude with three hypotheses about this process and possible research. the United States needed at the same time to become a new. The obvious gap in this scholarship has been its silence about. described so well in Peter Onuf’s study of Thomas Jefferson. the Blount and Burr conspiracies. as Anderson’s foundations are typically accepted or reasserted in misleading references to print culture and an emerging public sphere. imperial nation. The literary markers here are Royall Tyler’s Contrast (1787. From Daniel Shays to Tecumseh. the period from roughly 1785 to 1815 was centrally concerned with the persistent problem of fractious backcountry populations. but expresses its deeply para-national origins. rebellious internal groups. ever haunted and influenced by its Indian populations and policies. Building on and continuing the British empire of nations. with the Whiskey and Fries insurrections. alluding to the Massachusetts Regulation).S. The United States’ constantly intermixed vocabulary of empire and nation. is not simply a vestigial terminological tic. the colonial origins of nation-ness. or potential republics profoundly shaped the directions of “national” thought and the ways in which Americans imagined their extended community.76 AMERICAN QUARTERLY of nation. which has focused almost exclusively on the slow development of nationalism after independence. The ambivalent. nationalism—that.S. with some appreciation of the stages of this process. Clair expedition in between. even disinterest in. imperiographic nationalism of the early United States explains in part an underappreciated oddity of contemporary American studies scholarship. and the St. First. a proper lateral “nationalism” had to emerge in the decades following the appearance of the “nation” itself. Charles Brockden Brown’s Wieland (1798.
from Haiti to Mexico. with allusions to St. and essays about Native Americans. and Arthur Mervyn (1799. or. nationalism. William Apess’s Son of the Forest (1829). Given the deep challenges posed by these fundamentally internal conflicts. and Tabitha Tenney’s Female Quixotism (1801. about the Indian context of American nationbuilding. scholars have long noted the remarkable cultural interest in Native Americans that emerged in the 1820s. of course. Last of the Mohicans (1826). Seaver’s Narrative of the Life of Mrs. but we will not be able to do full justice to the “Indian boom” of the 1820s and its interest in colonial sources unless we are more attentive to the original colonial and indigenous resonance of the term nation. perhaps. Critics too numerous to mention have rightly stressed the importance of Native Americans to the development of American nation-ness. the decade of the culmination of the Latin American revolutions. the decade of John Gottlieb Ernestus Heckwelder’s missionary narrative (1820). it also reveals a strong sense of the persistence of empire and the possibilities for a “national” critique. James Fenimore Cooper’s Pioneers (1823). Nicholas Hentz’s Tadeuskund.S. no easy sense of nation could develop. the Last King of the Lenape (1825). could reflect or refract the earlier northern experiences: that Simón Bolívar could be celebrated in the United States as the “Latin” George Washington says more. Lydia M. while the class and racial conflicts that these events expressed became entangled with the terminology of the nation. Clair and Fries). and Prairie (1827). Edgar Huntly (1799. James E. Catherine Maria Sedgwick’s Hope Leslie (1827). The growing literary fascination with Latin . grappling with Washington than it says about Bolívar’s career. Child’s Hobomok (1824). negative or positive.EARLY AMERICAN NATIONS 77 to the Paxton Riots). for which the United States had been a model seen from a distance. and Joseph Smith’s Book of Mormon (1830). And this suggests a third important dimension of the transition that has yet to be adequately addressed: the reflective analysis of this second generation of nations to the south. Now this second generation of nations. The 1820s were also. alluding to current Indian unrest). not to mention a number of poems.S. The Last of the Wampanoags (1829). speaking to the Whiskey uprising). Not only does the moment reveal a self-awareness. Second. Mary Jemison (1824). plays. The class upheavals and racial wars of this period demand further attention for our appreciation of a premature U. John Augustus Stone’s Metamora. about a U.
Davidson. respectively. ed. G. and “Preface to the Second Edition. I’m particularly grateful to Peter Onuf for his insights. from the biographies of Columbus (1828) and his “companions” (1831) to The Alhambra (1832).C. most evident in Prescott’s histories of Mexico (1843) and Peru (1847) and in a range of Washington Irving’s writings. and Andrew Curry. Race. Nations and Nationalism since 1780: Programme.” in Becoming National: A Reader.: Duke University Press. Eley and R. (New York: Verso. 3. ed. the southern generation eventually proved as important to its northern “model” as the northerners had been for the south. If the unified category of “creole pioneers” offers little explanation for the first creole nation. Rick Moreland. 1995). Further citations from this last work are given parenthetically in the text. Hobsbawm. Subjects and Citizens: Nation. eds. . There had been an earlier fascination with Columbus in the revolutionary period in works like Joel Barlow’s “Vision of Columbus” (1787). and Gerry Kennedy. ethnicity and sexuality. Two contenders. 1. and Gender from Oroonoko to Anita Hill (Durham.78 AMERICAN QUARTERLY American—an Hispanicism analogous in ways to European Orientalism—suggests not only an interest in new nations but also an imaginative return to the colonial foundations of the Western Hemisphere. Dan Kim. Earlier the Haitian revolution had forced Americans to think about connections with France even as Louisiana—in some respects occupied by the rejects and prisoners of the Haitian experience—was purchased and incorporated. See the overviews in E. Yet the incorporation of each essentially involved the expansion—at first supplementary but eventually complementary—of one of the original trinitarian concepts: race and gender. Thanks also to Beth Younger.” in Benedict Anderson. emphases occur in the original unless otherwise noted. N. did in fact achieve greater prominence in the decade to follow. which helped me undertake a major revision of the essay’s second half. Suny (New York: Oxford University Press. rev. 1991). for comments in a seminar on George Washington and early nationalism. J. Cheryl Higashida. “Introduction: From the Moment of Social History to the Work of Cultural Representation.. Reality (New York: Cambridge University Press. but this later Hispanicism returned to Cortés and Pizarro with an eye to their national descendants. Geoff Eley and Ronald Grigor Suny. 1990). G. Jeff Smithpeters. including Jim Holstun. Myth. 2. Michael Moon and Cathy N. NOTES I have benefited from the careful readings of a number of people. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. 1996). 3–37. Michael Drexler.
The Coming of the Book: The Impact of Printing. to a nonmodular obscurity. a strong case can be made for the primacy of capitalism” (37). Southeast Asia. 12. a further complication emerges: the colony’s third durable paper marked the strong presence of a foreign-language press. as an antimodel. Lucien Febvre and Henri-Jean Martin. Characteristic are the eight citations of Anderson in Lauren Berlant. 1976). it indisputably became a popular movement that ultimately eliminated most elites. however important French materials may have been. The Anatomy of National Fantasy: Hawthorne. Partha Chatterjee. ed. while qualifying the newspaper argument. 29. 8. The Haitian revolution is mentioned only once. revolution. and the World (New York: Verso. These were two of the most influential works in American criticism at the dawn of the nation boom. The Letters of the Republic: Publication and the Public Sphere in Eighteenth-Century America (Cambridge: Harvard University Press. 1986). The Spectre of Comparisons: Nationalism. 1990). Benedict Anderson. David Gerard (New York: New Left Books. For Machiavellianism and the racism of contact do not provide the content of the new community. and (4) it was a movement triggered by a European class war. and in the meantime we must not fall back on the heroic legends of Franklin. see David Shields’s discussion of James Franklin’s New England Courant.” 4. in the colonial and early national periods. 11. 6. in “British-American Belles-Lettres. see also the references to print-capitalism (63) and imagined simultaneity (112) in Michael Warner. The reliance here upon socioeconomic and ideological explanation should not undermine the point stressed earlier. 9. One can see the various problems Haiti poses for the creole formula: (1) whatever the role of various elite groups. (3) it was a movement not grounded intensively in print culture. 7. which followed Addison’s model of a newspaper formed around a partisan club. and Everyday Life (Chicago: University of Chicago Press. in coffee houses and taverns. . further complicating the idea of an “imagined community. but rather contribute to the contours of its form. trans. These examples will be discussed further below. 225n4. and then as a terrifying motivation for the South American creole (48–49)—in other words. Anderson’s later video on Imagined Communities added the industrial time clock as the privileged medium of simultaneity. 249n32. 229n37) or to the thesis about simultaneity (227n21. 226n10. . On this point. 313. 13. (2) it was a movement based on overturning a socioeconomic system. Sacvan Bercovitch (New York: Cambridge University Press.” in The Cambridge History of American Literature. 5. which refer either to the general argument about imagined communities (219n2. while The Spectre of Comparisons (see note 13 below) added elections and the census. given what we know about collective newspaper reading. 227n22. 257n29). 1450–1800.” Clearly more extensive study of colonial newspapers is necessary. These departures consign the second independence movement in the Western Hemisphere.EARLY AMERICAN NATIONS 79 4.S. Nationalist Thought and the Colonial World: A Derivative Discourse? (Delhi: Oxford University Press. 10. and the only one truly proximate to the U. This image of simultaneous reading has its own problems. 1998). This is the place to comment on the role of the other important northern nationalism elided in Anderson’s argument: that of Haiti. Eley and Suny. 1994). . In Pennsylvania. 210– 11. 1991). “Introduction. Utopia. Anderson notes at one point that while the “factors involved” in the shift from older systems to the nation are “obviously complex and various .
3. through December 31. Hutson. 1971). 1630–1707 (New York: Barnes & Noble. 1. 20. 17. Documenting the influence of Sartre on Benedict Anderson is a trickier matter that would require more space than I have here. Flynn. 1707–1837 (New Haven: Yale University Press. Critique of Dialectical Reason.80 AMERICAN QUARTERLY 14. and 108.: Peter Smith. ed. 1. 1991). The Papers of Benjamin Franklin. 1992). This list would also include Robert Beverley’s History and Present State of Virginia (1705). ed. xvii. and William Stith’s account of Virginia (1747). 3–4. Helene H. Cadwallader Colden. Most summaries have stressed three dominant practical ensembles: the series. chap. which. Boyd (Gloucester. in their parallels to emerging ethnographies of “Christianized” Indians. William Byrd. although it did not then become the dominant term. 1997). 1. 9. ed. For an overview.. See Jean-Paul Sartre. William K. for an excellent overview. Fineman. not to mention the captivity narratives that give us Indian ethnographies with implied ethnographies of the “home” community. 22. in June of 1743. 15.” 21. whose account of feudalism emphasizes a bound seriality and whose account of absolutism relies on unbound seriality. and Delaware. Coetzee’s “Idleness in South Africa. Stephen Hopkins’s True Representation of the Plan Formed at Albany for Uniting All the British Northern . vol. Theory of Practical Ensembles. 238. The first English use of the term Iroquois I can find is in the Minutes of the Provincial Council of Pennsylvania. Narratives of Early Pennsylvania. 103. esp. Foucault. chaps. 1997). Benjamin Franklin. the critical history of Georgia by Patrick Tailfer and other disgruntled colonists (1741). This list would also include Lewis Evans’s Essays (1755). M. 24. See Gordon M. 1 and 3. vol. 90. and James H. Sartre. but see Linda Colley. whose Lineages of the Absolutist State (New York: Verso. 1992). We should also consider as colonial ethnographies the descriptive accounts of creole religious communities. William Byrd’s Histories of the Dividing Line betwixt Virginia and North Carolina. 1966). Boatfield. The best summary available is Thomas R. further blur the Indian-European distinction. Jonathan Ree (New York: Verso. The quotations are taken from 102. The connection is via the work of his brother Perry Anderson. Albert Cook Myers. Daniel Neal’s History of New England (1720). Labaree. John Lawson’s New Voyage to Carolina (1709). 26. 1958). Mass. among others. see chapter 4 of Fredric Jameson. The History of the Five Indian Nations Depending on the Province of New-York in America (Ithaca: Cornell University Press. and the institution. Britons: Forging the Nation. and Historical Reason. later noted the influence of Sartre on his study in English Questions (New York: Verso. 1761 (New Haven: Yale University Press. 1974) may be read as prequels to Imagined Communities. trans. Alan Sheridan-Smith. ed. 253–342. 16. 18. Leonard W. John Callender’s Historical Discourse on Rhode Island (1739). Perry Anderson. 1967). 1984). “Les Sauvages Américains”: Representations of Native Americans in French and English Colonial Literature (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. The important role of Scottish immigrants deserves closer attention than I can give it here. xx–xxi. the group. 23. Sayre. January 1. Toward an Existentialist Theory of History (Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Hugh Jones’s Present State of Virginia (1724). 1760. the middle reference citing J. Helen C. 1974) and Passages from Antiquity to Feudalism (New York: Verso. 19. vol. James Oglethorpe’s account of South Carolina and Georgia (1732). West New Jersey. Marxism and Form: Twentieth-Century Dialectical Theories of Literature (Princeton: Princeton University Press. 25.
Indian Treaties Printed by Benjamin Franklin. Let me mention here a related genre. For a focused account of speculation in Virginia. and the Making of the American Revolution in Virginia (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. 1949). which in presenting the interactions between. 27. Lois Mulkearn (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press. James Otis’s Rights of the British Colonies Asserted and Proved (1764).. In North America. the Indian treaty. Abernethy. 32. . Boyd. 6. 1736–62 (Philadelphia: Historical Society of Pennsylvania. though a more recent. Liberty. 31. the Delawares.EARLY AMERICAN NATIONS 81 Colonies (1755). if less systematic. The major overview prepared in the twentieth century was Thomas P. Franklin’s Interest of Great Britain Considered with Regard to Her Colonies (1760. John Mitchell’s Map of the British and French Dominions in North America (1755). 1938). the Pennsylvanians. Onuf. 2. 30. For Crèvecoeur’s fantasy of farmers in wigwams. ed. The citations are found at 2–3 (Evans) and 153 (Pownall). &C. Life. Thomas Pownall’s The Administration of the Colonies (1764). . esp. account is offered in Daniel M. Appleton-Century. . see Woody Holton. cited above). Jefferson’s Empire: The Language of American Nationhood (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia. (1765). among others. 1992). 1999). the Six Nations. Western Lands. see chapter 2 of Ed White. and the Marylanders not only insisted upon the equation of colonies with nations but also began to imagine their coordination. and Richard Bland’s Enquiry into the Rights of the British Colonies (1766). and the Pursuit of Land: The Plunder of Early America (Buffalo: Prometheus Books. Julian P. 2000). 29–30. forthcoming). for instance. Thomas Pownall. John Dickinson’s The Late Regulations Respecting the British Colonies on the Continent of America . say. See. A Topographical Description of the Dominions of the United States of America: Being a Revised and Enlarged Edition of a Topographical Description of Such Parts of North America as Are Contained in the (Annexed) Map of the Middle British Colonies. The Backcountry and the City: Feelings of Structure in Early America (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. 1937). Slaves. Friedenberg. Forced Founders: Indians. Western Lands and the American Revolution (New York: D. 28. Debtors. the Twightwees. pt. the Virginians. ed. 29. Peter S. Abernethy.
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