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Reviewed by:
  • Revolutionary Negotiations: Indians, Empires, and Diplomats in the Founding of America
  • Troy Bickham
Revolutionary Negotiations: Indians, Empires, and Diplomats in the Founding of America. By Leonard J. Sadosky . Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2009. 288 pp. $40.00 (cloth).

In this study of early American diplomacy, Leonard J. Sadosky places the negotiations of British North American colonists (and later citizens of the United States) in the contexts of both European courts and American Indian councils in an effort to assert a single transatlantic system of politics. Pointing out that the historiography of American colonial and early U.S. diplomatic history has been hitherto fragmented into traditional diplomatic history, ethnohistory, American Indian history, and the history of U.S. westward expansion, Sadosky argues that such divisions mask the situation of eighteenth-and nineteenth-century American policymakers, who "were never able to keep the theaters of diplomatic activity as hermetically sealed from one another as twentieth-century historians, political scientists, and anthropologists have managed to do" (p. 3).

Sadosky's solution is a diplomatic history narrative that describes how early American negotiators and policymakers successfully operated with a foot in both the European and the American Indian camps [End Page 604] to secure the recognized legitimacy of the United States and its position as the preeminent power in North America. Sadosky begins his story with a Cherokee diplomatic visit to London in 1730 but moves quickly to the revolutionary era, starting with a broad chapter covering the familiar territory of how British experiences in the Seven Years War led the governing elite in London to implement imperial reforms that in turn helped to fuel the crisis that led to the American Revolution. This is followed by three detailed chapters that take an acute look at what Sadosky calls the "political culture of diplomacy" during the revolutionary era. One examines the year prior to the signing of the Declaration of Independence, emphasizing that the Declaration itself was not a sudden break but instead part of an ongoing process of the colonies' claim of sovereignty according to the European model. Another chapter closely analyzes the importance of the United States' alliance with France in 1778, in which, in addition to pledging military support, France recognized the legitimacy of American independence. A further chapter emphasizes how frustrations with the Continental Congress's inability to conduct effective diplomacy with either European or American Indian nations helped to propel the reforms that resulted in the federal Constitution in 1787, which centralized diplomatic authority in the national government. These three chapters are followed by two chapters that look more broadly at how U.S. diplomacy evolved over the next three decades. The book finishes with an epilogue that examines Cherokee Indian resistance to removal through the lens of William Wirt, the lawyer the Cherokee nation hired in 1830 to plead its case before the Supreme Court.

With any book that covers so much chronological and geographical ground in a modest amount of space, Revolutionary Negotiations exposes itself to some criticism regarding the historical episodes its author emphasizes or the starting and ending dates of the study. For example, starting the study at a time in which American Indians held the upper hand economically and militarily over European colonists would have enabled Sadosky to better explain why, when, and how British colonists' diplomacy with American Indians evolved into the shape it did in the mid eighteenth century. By focusing on some of the most-studied American diplomatic events of the era—such as the Declaration of Independence, the Franco-American alliance of 1778, and the framing of the federal Constitution—Sadosky spends too much time rehearsing familiar arguments. These are energies that might have been better spent acutely testing his ideas on fresher ground, such as the Jay Treaty or the failed Monroe-Pinkney Treaty—in which U.S. objectives of legitimacy among European states intermingled more overtly with [End Page 605] policies toward American Indians and westward expansion. In fairness, however, these are just quibbles.

More regrettable for historians of world history will be the limited attention to either European or American Indian perspectives. The U.S. focus is understandable, but the lack of balance leaves...