The Mississippi Territory and the Southwest Frontier, 1795-1817 (review)
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The Mississippi Territory and the Southwest Frontier, 1795-1817. By Robert Haynes. (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2010. Pp. 431. $50.00 cloth)

To date, the story of the territorial period of the region that became Mississippi and Alabama has been told piecemeal, when it has been told at all. The period between the departure of the Spanish and the advent of widespread cotton monoculture has been largely neglected by historians, much to the detriment of our understanding of American expansion in general and the political and economic development of the Gulf Coast in particular. Professor Haynes's extensively researched book corrects this elision by detailing the history of the Mississippi Territory from its incorporation into the United States in 1796 until it entered the union as the twentieth state in 1817. Haynes's book offers a much-needed addition to our knowledge of an oft-neglected region and period in American history.

Haynes begins his book with the signing of Pinckney's Treaty in 1795, which transferred the territory north of the modern border between Alabama and Florida from Spain to the United States. Unlike federal appointees in the Northwest Territory, Mississippi territorial officials had to contend with an entrenched community that was already divided along class and regional lines, as well as Spanish neighbors who watched developments in Mississippi with a wary eye. Haynes traces the process by which territorial officials were gradually able to assert control over a still-turbulent populace.

Haynes's primary focus is on the political history of territorial Mississippi. Each of the governors, in turn, brought his own style of political affairs to the region, and Haynes is careful to describe [End Page 270] each regime. He offers several highly detailed accounts of legislative sessions and elections, and of the internecine conflicts engendered by the highly personal political system of Mississippi. Haynes clearly demonstrates how the rise of the first party system affected politics in the far West in unique ways; conflicts between local elites and federal appointees often took on a partisan cast, though ideological divisions were often secondary to personal grudges.

Haynes's book is most valuable for its discussions of sectional conflict within the Mississippi Territory and of the Aaron Burr controversy. Throughout the book, Haynes clearly demonstrates the growing divide between residents of the Tombigbee district and the more cosmopolitan Natchez district. The interests of the two regions rarely aligned, and the territorial government focused far more on the concerns of the Natchez district rather than the more rural and remote Tombigbee region. As Haynes describes it, Mississippi officials "treated Tombigbeans as stepchildren or worse" (p. 334). The divide eventually led to the admission of the western part of the territory as the state of Mississippi and the reorganization of the eastern part into the territory of Alabama. Haynes's discussion of the Aaron Burr controversy reveals how well the crafty former vice president read the prejudices of Southwesterners. Latent anti-Spanish sentiment throughout the Southwest led to Burr being hailed, rather than reviled, and when tried before the Mississippi Supreme Court, Burr was acquitted. Haynes's discussion of the details surrounding Burr's reception in Mississippi greatly adds to our understanding of this complicated and legendary moment in American history.

Though the book is clearly well researched, greater use of Spanish sources, particularly in the early chapters, would have been helpful in presenting a more balanced discussion of the early conflicts between Spanish and American officials. The reliance on the point of view of American officials gives a somewhat one-sided understanding of the international components of the conflict over the transfer of the Mississippi Territory; using Spanish sources would not only have offered balance but would have also validated American commissioner [End Page 271] Andrew Ellicott's fears of Spanish attempts to delay the transfer of territory to the United States, which Haynes largely dismisses as "overly suspicious" (p.14). Haynes's emphasis on Mississippi politics, meanwhile, occasionally seems too narrowly focused; one wonders what the citizens of Mississippi thought of the incessant bickering of their politicians. Despite these shortcomings, Haynes has written a rich book, which will be of much...


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