During the first quarter-century after its founding, the United States was swept by a wave of land speculation so unprecedented in intensity and scale that contemporaries and historians alike have dubbed it a “mania.” In Speculation Nation, Michael A. Blaakman uncovers the revolutionary origins of this real-estate bonanza—a story of ambition, corruption, capitalism, and statecraft that stretched across millions of acres from Maine to the Mississippi and Georgia to the Great Lakes.
Patriot leaders staked the success of their revolution on the seizure and public sale of Native American territory. Initially, they hoped that fledgling state and national governments could pay the hefty costs of the War for Independence and extend a republican society of propertied citizens by selling expropriated land directly to white farmers. But those democratic plans quickly ran aground of a series of obstacles, including an economic depression and the ability of many Native nations to repel U.S. invasion. Wily merchants, lawyers, planters, and financiers rushed into the breach. Scrambling to profit off future expansion, they lobbied governments to convey massive tracts for pennies an acre, hounded revolutionary veterans to sell their land bounties for a pittance, and marketed the rustic ideal of a yeoman’s republic—the early American dream—while waiting for land values to rise.
When the land business crashed in the late 1790s, scores of “land mad” speculators found themselves imprisoned for debt or declaring bankruptcy. But through their visionary schemes and corrupt machinations, U.S. speculators and statesmen had spawned a distinctive and enduring form of settler colonialism: a financialized frontier, which transformed vast swaths of contested land into abstract commodities. Speculation Nation reveals how the era of land mania made Native dispossession a founding premise of the American republic and ultimately rooted the United States’ “empire of liberty” in speculative capitalism.
Part I. The Rapturous Idea of Property Chapter 1. Certain Unalienable Land Rights Chapter 2. What the West Could Fund
Part II. Mania’s Moment Chapter 3. The Logic of Land Mania Chapter 4. Paper Promises Chapter 5. This Dirty Business Chapter 6. Preemptive Property Chapter 7. Federal Dealing
Part III. The Land of Speculation Chapter 8. Great Discredit
List of Abbreviations Notes Index Acknowledgments
Michael A. Blaakman is an assistant professor in the Department of History at Princeton University. He is coeditor of The Early Imperial Republic: From the American Revolution to the U.S.–Mexican War, also available from the University of Pennsylvania Press.
"[A]n illuminating survey of an important and understudied aspect of the Revolutionary era."—Publishers Weekly
"Lively and persuasive, Speculation Nation deftly reveals how massive and reckless land speculation converted lands taken from Natives into the financial resources essential to American capitalist development."—Alan Taylor, author of American Republics: A Continental History of the United States, 1783–1850
"Michael A. Blaakman provides a magnificent treatment of the power of land speculation in the United States from the eve of the American Revolution until the era of the Louisiana Purchase. Speculation Nation is a highly important book, rich in its research, clever in its prose, and provocative in its insights."—Gregory Evans Dowd, author of War under Heaven: Pontiac, the Indian Nations, and the British Empire
"This marvelous multi-faceted account of the speculative land frenzy following the American Revolution argues that far from being a natural result of settler ‘land hunger,’ America's original land mania was the outcome of policies created by a people who staked the success of their Revolution on the seizure and sale of Indian land. Blaakman’s fine study restores contingency to a vitally important but misunderstood narrative of U.S. history."—Amy S. Greenberg, author of A Wicked War: Polk, Clay, Lincoln, and the 1846 U.S. Invasion of Mexico
"In this stellar book, Michael A. Blaakman rethinks the American founding along its financialized frontier. Speculation Nation goes further to explain the contested and commodified terrain of the post-revolutionary United States than any account I’ve read in recent years. Highly recommended for its deep research, clear prose, and ambitious interpretive reach."—Seth Rockman, author of Scraping By: Wage Labor, Slavery, and Survival in Early Baltimore
"Speculation Nation delivers an ambitious, astute, cumulatively damning account of how the early republic built itself on the seizure of Native land. Written with propulsive verve and exceptional clarity, this is a major new interpretation of the revolutionary era which will stimulate anyone interested in the dynamics of property, finance, and race in America."—Maya Jasanoff, author of Liberty’s Exiles: American Loyalists in the Revolutionary World