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Chapter Forty-Six. The West: territory, states, and confederation

Peter S. Onuf


Subject History

Place United States of America » American West

Period 1000 - 1999 » 1700-1799

Key-Topics American War of Independence, state

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405116749.2003.00049.x


Extract

The establishment of effective authority along the northern and western frontiers represented one of the leading challenges to the United States during and after the Revolution. Reports of fabulously fertile frontier lands inspired a rage for emigration, particularly in areas where land was overused and in short supply. But the rapid expansion of settlement kept the frontiers in an uproar, stretching the political capabilities of state and central governments to the limit and provoking chronic conflict with the Amerindians. Meanwhile, frontiersmen invoked revolutionary notions of popular sovereignty and self-determination as they sought increased representation in the state assemblies or recognition as new states. Separatist movements were, in turn, symptomatic of pervasive jurisdictional confusion, the leading legacy of British rule. State boundary claims in frontier areas were rarely clearly defined; the claims of large, “landed” states, generally based on vague and often mutually contradictory colonial charters, were particularly controversial. Not surprisingly, the small, “landless” states were reluctant to recognize large state claims. How, they asked, could a union of such unequal states survive? Beyond these political and constitutional issues was the question of land titles. Jurisdictional confusion led to conflict, sometimes violent, between rival groups of land speculators, ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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