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  • Altered States
  • Karim M. Tiro (bio)
Leonard J. Sadosky . Revolutionary Negotiations: Indians, Empires, and Diplomats in the Founding of America. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2009. xii + 275 pp. Map, notes, bibliography, and index. $40.00 (cloth or e-book).
Matthew Dennis . Seneca Possessed: Indians, Witchcraft, and Power in the Early American Republic. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2010. 313 pp. Illustrations, notes, and index. $45.00 (cloth); $24.95 (paper).

Between 1776 and 1831, American colonies became states, the states formed a confederation, then consolidated themselves into a nation-state of initially dubious viability. Meanwhile, Indian nations, whose sovereignty had been afforded a significant measure of recognition by all, were downgraded to the category of "domestic, dependent nations." The category was invented for the occasion, and its meaning would remain contested. Few would expect all this to have been straightforward. By reconstructing fraught negotiations and conflicts among these overlapping entities, Sadosky and Dennis demonstrate just how complicated, drawn out, and uncertain it was.

Revolutionary Negotiations and Seneca Possessed invite us to reexamine the history and meaning of the term "sovereignty" in the geographic space that became the United States, but they approach the subject from very different vantage points. Sadosky surveys developments on both sides of the Atlantic from 1750 to 1830. If Sadosky's perspective is orbital, Dennis' is grounded. Seneca Possessed maintains a tight focus on Seneca country in present-day western New York. Dennis' chronological scope is also narrower, concerned mostly with the first third of the nineteenth century.

Although the tales Sadosky tells are mostly familiar ones, Revolutionary Negotiations offers a compelling synthesis of American Indian history and American diplomatic and political history. Sadosky argues that the emergence of an independent United States and the history of American federalism can only be understood fully when they are considered in relation to negotiations with other peoples. Americans entered into treaties with Europeans and Natives alike, and doing so required the states to work out their own relations with one another as well. As Sadosky notes, Richard Henry Lee's June 7, 1776, [End Page 229] resolution in the Continental Congress proposed independence, foreign alliances, and confederation as an ensemble (pp. 81-82).

Indian relations, Sadosky asserts, had long been an important arena in which colonial and imperial assumptions diverged. In the interest of rationalizing relations with Indian tribes to help fend off the French threat, imperial officials were inclined to treat Native American nations as formal allies, with all appurtenant respect. However, for colonists, the respect afforded Indians in this "borderlands diplomacy" was a matter of expediency only. Efforts such as the 1754 Albany Congress, which tended to formalize and centralize Indian diplomacy, were undermined by colonists who saw such reforms as both dangerous and unnecessary. This tension would persist in the ambiguous authority the Articles of Confederation granted to Congress to deal with Indians. Article IX placed Native American affairs under the purview of Congress but undermined its grant by excluding Indians who were "members" of states and by protecting "the legislative right of any State within its own limits." Article IX continues to puzzle scholars, and Sadosky thickens the plot further with his analysis of Article VI. He concludes that the wording of the war powers article tacitly operated to "preserve state-level agency in determining questions of war and peace vis-à-vis Indians, as opposed to war powers more generally" (p. 87).

Congress' power to deal with foreign nations abroad during the Revolution was clearer, but this did little to win active support. Merely declaring independence did not guarantee entry into the club of nations and assistance from other members. Sadosky argues that the United States hoped to win France over by articulating a vision of aggressive British imperialist ambition that threatened all if left unchecked. Indeed, Sadosky's detailed description of Silas Deane's 1776 memoranda makes them sound like an early version of George Kennan's Long Telegram, with Britain in the role of the Soviet Union. However, it was ultimately not words, but victory on the battlefield that advanced America's case, and not just with France. As Sadosky's consideration of the Carlisle Commission shows, the British defeat at...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1080-6628
Print ISSN
0048-7511
Pages
pp. 229-234
Launched on MUSE
2012-06-21
Open Access
No
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