Revolutionary Negotiations: Indians, Empires, and Diplomats in the Founding of America (review)
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Keywords

Early American diplomacy, Native Americans, Treaties, International relations

Revolutionary Negotiations: Indians, Empires, and Diplomats in the Founding of America. By Leonard Sadosky. (Charlottesville, VA: University of Virginia Press, 2010. Pp. 275. Cloth, $40.00.)

Leonard Sadosky promises his readers “a book about how the United States came to be” (1) and delivers on that pledge in flying colors with this brilliant monograph that should fundamentally revise how historians think about the early American republic’s construction of national identity and its relations with the wider world. Sadosky turns the diplomatic history of the era inside out, demonstrating in an unprecedented manner how Revolutionary and early republican era American diplomats and policymakers regarded their external relations with all other nations (European and indigenous alike) in a holistic, related manner. This carefully researched and gracefully written study leaves no doubt that diplomacy with Native American nations was part and parcel of what historians have retrospectively deemed early national “foreign relations” until at least 1814. Sadosky’s book has the added benefit of tracing the process by which attitudes diminishing the significance of Indian treaties became normative in American political discourse after 1814 and ties that process to the nation’s emergence into a modern nation–state.

Influenced by International Relations theory, Sadosky insists on returning his reader to the unsettled context of the mid eighteenth century and demonstrating in painstaking detail how the nascent United States constructed its sovereign status in relation to other sovereign entities at the time. Prior to the ratification of the United States Constitution, Sadosky maintains that sovereignty in the early modern Atlantic world existed along a continuum spanning metropolitan elites, indigenous confederacies, and settler authorities (colonial and later national in character). Employing a close reading of British adventurist Sir Alexander Cuming’s efforts to leverage imperial negotiations with the Cherokee nation into an imperial office for himself, Sadosky demonstrates the fluidity of international affairs on North America’s borderlands circa 1730. Significantly, Sadosky makes clear that imperial and settler authorities alike commonly regarded certain indigenous confederacies and nations as entities that warranted special recognition and concessions given their relative military strength vis-à-vis that of the colonial settler population.

Sadosky’s narrative flows smoothly—large, organizing ideas are explicated [End Page 138] in detailed, illustrative case studies, some familiar and others less so: the 1744 Treaty of Lancaster, Congressional revisions to Benjamin Franklin’s draft Articles of Confederation during the summer of 1776, Congress’s defeat of the Carlisle Commission, the 1784 Treaty of Fort Stanwix, the 1796 Treaty of Colerain, and finally the landmark Supreme Court case Cherokee Nation v. Georgia (1831). Anyone seeking a more nuanced understanding of the supposed influence of American Indians on early national policymakers will profit from Sadosky’s compelling analysis of the prominence of Indian nations in the minds of those serving in the Second Continental Congress and how, over the course of revisions to the Articles of Confederation, those same men took some halting rhetorical steps away from the pre-Revolutionary recognition of colonial provinces and indigenous nations as “congruent polities” (85) in order to preserve state-level agency over questions of war and peace relative to Native nations. Sadosky deems this an “invidious distinction” (87) between indigenous and European polities, for no such state-level authority was permitted in decisions regarding European polities that might make war on the United States.

In tracing the United States’s immediate post-war diplomacy with Indian nations, Sadosky offers an important corrective to the standard claim that federal officials adopted a “conquest” approach in 1783, insisting on the expropriation of all the lands of Native Americans who had fought with the British. Instead, he demonstrates (via a case study of the machinations of the settler population in postwar New York with regard to Iroquois land) how that objective originated at the state level and was later matched by federal officials in a desperate effort to maintain a semblance of centralized control over relations with Indian nations. Sadosky follows this increasingly heated debate between advocates of state versus federal levels of control over Indian diplomacy into the Constitutional era and leaves his reader with the distinct...


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