Maritime Destiny as Manifest Destiny: American Commercial Expansionism and the Idea of the Indian
Abstract

Abstract:

Following the Revolution, the United States merchant marine and whaling fleet sent thousands of young American men into the world. Far outnumbering tourists, travelers, and missionaries, sailors represented the predominant face and voice of the fledgling nation abroad. A survey of the journals and correspondence they kept while laboring overseas provides ample evidence of how working men thought about the wider world and their own country’s place within it. And when seafarers rendered intercultural contact, they often depended, in part, upon the use of Indian comparatives derived from domestic popular culture. Frontier language and the discourses of civilization and savagery became one means by which American men comprehended the otherwise baffling novelty and diversity they encountered while abroad. In addition, expansionist rhetoric helped to legitimate violence against so-called “Indians” overseas, as well as authorize American intervention and commercial intrusion into underdeveloped environments and economies. As such, mariners—a large population of mobile Americans—provide a valuable entryway into current efforts to resituate the history of the early republic within a more global framework.