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The Nation's Nature

How Continental Presumptions Gave Rise to the United States of America

James D. Drake

Publication Year: 2011

In one of Common Sense’s most ringing phrases, Thomas Paine declared it "absurd" for "a continent to be perpetually governed by an island." Such powerful words, coupled with powerful ideas, helped spur the United States to independence.

In The Nation's Nature, James D. Drake examines how a relatively small number of inhabitants of the Americas, huddled along North America’s east coast, came to mentally appropriate the entire continent and to think of their nation as America. Drake demonstrates how British North American colonists’ participation in scientific debates and imperial contests shaped their notions of global geography. These ideas, in turn, solidified American nationalism, spurred a revolution, and shaped the ratification of the Constitution.

Winner of the Walker Cowen Memorial Prize for an outstanding work of scholarship in eighteenth–century studies

Published by: University of Virginia Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. xi-xii

Over the past decade, I have leaned heavily on countless friends, scholars, and institutions to help bring this book to fruition. Unfortunately, my debts to individuals are so numerous, and my memory so faulty, that I fear I have forgotten someone in the thanks that follow. If so, please accept my...

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introduction: the historicalrole of an imaginedplace

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pp. 1-13

Frayed and fading documents—the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights—embody Americans’ most prized principles. For decades the nation has carefully guarded those six pages, going so far as to move them to Fort Knox during World War II...

part i

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chapter 1

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pp. 17-66

Of the founding generation, George Washington would not rank at the top of anybody’s list for his abilities as a scientist. Benjamin Franklin’s scientific experiments assured him of an honored place in the pantheon of Enlightenment scientists, and Thomas Jefferson’s Notes on the...

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chapter 2

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pp. 67-107

Few, if any, American scientists in the past two hundred years have attained the international renown enjoyed by Benjamin Franklin in the eighteenth century. Yet Franklin was much more than a scientist, and his unfaltering commitment to public service garnered him as much celebrity...

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chapter 3

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pp. 108-150

For good reason, the immediate aftermath of the Seven Years’ War was a euphoric time for British North Americans. Wartime rhetoric and logic had promised that the continent’s natural boundaries would make the colonies safe and that its natural abundance—rich lands...

part ii

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chapter 4

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pp. 153-178

Although notions that geography bound mainland colonists together had gained credence by 1774 and 1775, many observers still held that these same colonists could never muster enough solidarity to resist the Intolerable Acts. Even after the First Continental Congress had convened...

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chapter 5

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pp. 179-229

Location put the city of Quebec among the most highly prized pieces of real estate in North America. Situated at the juncture of the mighty St. Lawrence River and its St. Charles tributary, Quebec’s garrison and its guns commanded the main artery through which most of Canada’s...

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chapter 6

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pp. 230-259

What kindled the distinctive sense of geographic destiny among the European Americans in the former British mainland colonies? Why did they, more than others, feel such a strong attachment to an immense metageographical abstraction and think of themselves as the rightful...

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chapter 7

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pp. 260-316

As with the aftermath of the Seven Years’ War, the years following the Revolution transformed the exuberance of victory into trepidation about the future. Peace had initially heightened Americans’ optimistic visions of continental grandeur. Then military demobilization...

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pp. 317-321

Among the highest and easternmost of the Rocky Mountains, Pikes Peak provides a picturesque backdrop to the city of Colorado Springs, Colorado. Visitors to the mountain each year number fewer than half of those to the nation’s founding documents, the Charters of...


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pp. 323-384


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pp. 385-402

E-ISBN-13: 9780813931395
E-ISBN-10: 0813931398
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813931227
Print-ISBN-10: 0813931223

Page Count: 416
Illustrations: 41 b&w illus.
Publication Year: 2011

OCLC Number: 785780921
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Nation's Nature

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • United States -- Territorial expansion.
  • Nationalism -- United States -- History -- 18th century.
  • United States -- History -- Colonial period, ca. 1600-1775.
  • United States -- Historical geography.
  • Geographical perception -- United States -- History -- 18th century.
  • United States -- History -- Revolution, 1775-1783 -- Causes.
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