Revolutionary Negotiations: Indians, Empires, and Diplomats in the Founding of America (review)
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Revolutionary Negotiations: Indians, Empires, and Diplomats in the Founding of America. By Leonard J. Sadosky. (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2010. Pp. 275. $40.00 cloth)

As Leonard Sadosky states in his introduction, Revolutionary Negotiations is about "how the United States of America came to be" and how the "American Indian nations of eastern North America came to be much less than they once had been" (p. 8). Right from the [End Page 123] beginning, therefore, Sadosky sets a sizeable goal for his book. He intends to illustrate how the development of American sovereignty within the framework of late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth-century Atlantic World geopolitics strengthened the new nation at the expense of the American Indians who had grown accustomed to the diplomatic frameworks of the colonial era.

This examination requires Sadosky to address the historical developments within the Westphalian system in European diplomacy as well as the changing nature of American Indian diplomacy in North America. More specifically, he places familiar historical events within the context of broader diplomatic concerns and systems. A good example of this approach is his analysis of the American colonists' decision to revolt against British rule in 1776 and the subsequent debates over a system of governance that led to the U.S. Constitution. Sadosky ably and concisely illustrates the connections between independence and sovereignty that were so important to the men focused on breaking from an empire and creating a new polity. Just as important, he reveals the ways in which the Articles of Confederation distinguished between diplomacy with Indians and with sovereign European nations even as it failed to provide a solid foundation for the United States on the world stage. Thus, the "inability of the Confederation to engage with polities external to it . . . in a meaningful, orderly, and sustained fashion," served as a critical catalyst for the process that negated the Articles and crafted the U.S. Constitution (p.120).

Intertwined with the gradual strengthening of the American government were the debates over American Indian policy. Primarily because of U.S. financial and military weakness, the first secretary of war, Henry Knox, proposed a continuation of the basic elements of British-Indian diplomacy. But these early formations of federal policy struggled with the contentious world of state politics within the United States. Although Knox and his Federalist allies believed in the power of the central government, states like Georgia refused to concede authority over Indians and lands within their borders. [End Page 124] In the concluding chapter, subtitled "The Triumph of the Diplomacy of Conquest," Sadosky describes how the final negotiations of the Revolutionary Era finally put an end to the borderlands diplomacy of the colonial era, even as it lay the groundwork for the more modern era of U.S. domestic and foreign policies.

But it is in the final pages where Sadosky makes a somewhat confusing choice. His six primary chapters are sandwiched by a prologue and an epilogue. The prologue illustrates the ad hoc nature of eighteenth-century borderlands diplomacy by showing how a British trader created a Cherokee emperor. The epilogue presents the 1831 Supreme Court decision in Cherokee Nation v. Georgia, in which Indian nations are described as "domestic dependent nations." Curious in its absence is the 1832 case of Worcester v. Georgia that confirms to a much greater extent the primacy of federal authority in Indian affairs. It is unclear why this equally important decision is not discussed.

Revolutionary Negotiations is a solid addition to the historiography. For the reader already familiar with the basics of the history of the early American republic, Sadosky's analysis provides a slightly different perspective on the thoughts, actions, and impact of the Founding Fathers. But the discussions of diplomacy are far better when dealing with topics spanning the Atlantic Ocean than with those spanning the Appalachian Mountains.

John P. Bowes

John P. Bowes teaches history at Eastern Kentucky University in Richmond, Kentucky. He is the author of Exiles and Pioneers: Eastern Indians in the Trans-Mississippi West (2007) and is currently writing a book titled, Northern Indian Removal: An Unfamiliar History.

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