WEEK 21

"It was on the first of May, in the year 1769, that I resigned my domestic happiness for a time, and left my family and peaceable habitation on the Yadkin River, in North-Carolina, to wander through the wilderness of America, in quest of the country of Kentucke…"—Daniel Boone, in John Filson’s The Discovery, Settlement and Present State of Kentucke, 1784

"The land we live on, our fathers received from God, and they transmitted it to us, for our children, and we cannot part with it… Where is the land on which our children and their children after them are to lie down!"—Cornplanter, the Seneca leader, to President George Washington, 1790, prior to the making of a sacred treaty to last "as long as the grass shall grow"

"The Western Country will one Day give us trouble—to govern them will not be easy."
—John Jay

BRUCE THOMPSON:
"As we all know, the thirteen original colonies hugged the Atlantic shore. Moreover, they were hemmed in by Appalachian Mountains, and, further to the west, by other claimants to the vast, uncharted land on the other side of those mountains: Native Americans, the Spanish, the French, and the British. But the Founders were obsessed with the West from the beginning. George Washington, a surveyor by profession before he was a soldier, never heard of a land deal that did not tempt him. Before the Revolution, Washington owned over 63,000 acres of trans-Appalachia, and he wanted more. So did Thomas Jefferson, who built Monticello facing west. British efforts to stem the flow of Virginians across the mountains were among the principal causes of the Revolution. Richard Henderson, a judge in North Carolina and a sponsor of Daniel Boone’s scouting expeditions, possessed, in his own words, "a rapturous idea of property." During the years before the Revolution, and for many years after it, speculation in property was considered an honorable way of getting rich. Why this obsession? Stephen Ambrose explains: "constant expansion was critical, because the Virginia plantation of the day was incredibly wasteful. The low ground or inferior bottomland was planted to corn to provide food for slaves and animals. Fertile land—identified by hardwood growth—was saved for tobacco. The planters had their slaves gird large trees and leave the trees to die while plowing lightly around them. Slaves created hills for tobacco with a hoe, without bothering to remove the trees. After three annual crops of tobacco, these ‘fields’ grew wheat for a year or so before being abandoned and allowed to revert to pine forest. The planters let their stock roam wild, made no use of animal manure, and practiced only the most rudimentary crop rotation. Meanwhile, the planters moved their slaves to virgin lands and repeated the process. The system allowed the planters to use to the maximum the two things in which they were really rich, land and slaves. Tobacco, their only cash crop, was dependent on an all-but-unlimited quantity of each…. Tobacco wore out land so fast there could never be enough." But it wasn’t only wealthy planters who sought land. Land hunger was universal. For people of modest means, or even no means at all, the acquisition and development of fertile land was an attainable goal. It’s true that lack of capital, labor-intensive farming, and poor transportation limited most farmers to a subsistence level, but this was better than most European peasants could hope for. Americans, the great historian David Potter observed, were the "people of plenty." Another fine American historian, John Opie, writes: "One of the world’s great agricultural success stories took hold when the independent property-owning farmer appeared on the American landscape. This legendary figure dominated American expansion westward…. The frontier farmer remained undertooled, undercapitalized, and isolated, but the American landscape, with its fertile soil and forgiving climate, was the foundation for a remarkable shift from scarcity to an abundance of food…. In southern Pennsylvania, Daniel Boone’s father, blocked by the mountains from easy access to the west, gathered up six of his eight children and several grandchildren and drifted southward to base of the Appalachians: the Shenandoah Valley. There, the Boones and other migrants from Pennsylvania joined another stream of settlers pushing up from South Carolina northward along the rivers that flow from the Blue Ridge Mountains. Many of them were Scotch-Irish, deeply imbued with Calvinism; some were Huguenots from France or Germans from the Rhine Palatinate. They were, as a group, semi-literate, tough, and cantankerous. Their assets: perhaps an axe, a hunting knife, an auger, a rifle, a horse or two, some cattle and pigs, a sack of seed corn and another of salt, a crosscut saw, and a loom. Before they could establish their farms, they lived on wild meat, Indian maize, and native fruits. Land for them meant dignity and independence, and they hoped, eventually, prosperity. On May 1, 1769, Daniel Boone and his party moved west across the headwater streams of the Tennessee River and found the Warrior’s Trace, by which Cherokee war parties traveled north as far as the shores of Lake Erie. They traveled north through the rocky, steep-sided Cumberland Gap, to the open prairies that later became known as the bluegrass country of Kentucky. And what did they report, when they returned in the spring of 1771? "Horses trampling through the wild strawberries; the gaps were stained with juice to their knees. Grapevines a foot thick spread lofty tendrils through the dense canopy of forest leaves; the way to pick grapes was to chop down the trees. And game! Pigeon roosts were a thousand acres in size. Wild turkeys were so fat that when they were shot and fell to the ground, their skins burst open. Deer, elk, and buffalo came in fantastic numbers to the ‘licks’—salt-impregnated earth surrounding saline springs…. By the time of the Revolution, the rich lands of Kentucky had become a patchwork of conflicting land claims. That is why Abraham Lincoln’s father, Thomas, having cleared a patch of land and tried to establish himself there, had to abandon it and move further west."

REQUIRED READING FOR THE WHOLE YEAR OF HISTORY OF THE USA

Wilfred McClay,

Land of Hope,

Encounter Books,

ISBN ‎ 978-1641713771

From the Publisher:
"For too long we’ve lacked a compact, inexpensive, authoritative, and compulsively readable book that offers American readers a clear, informative, and inspiring narrative account of their country. Such a fresh retelling of the American story is especially needed today, to shape and deepen young Americans’ sense of the land they inhabit, help them to understand its roots and share in its memories, all the while equipping them for the privileges and responsibilities of citizenship in American society. The existing texts simply fail to tell that story with energy and conviction. Too often they reflect a fragmented outlook that fails to convey to American readers the grand trajectory of their own history. A great nation needs and deserves a great and coherent narrative, as an expression of its own self-understanding and its aspirations; and it needs to be able to convey that narrative effectively. Of course, it goes without saying that such a narrative cannot be a fairy tale of the past. It will not be convincing if it is not truthful. But as Land of Hope brilliantly shows, there is no contradiction between a truthful account of the American past and an inspiring one. Readers of Land of Hope will find both in its pages."

REVIEWS

“At a time of severe partisanship that has infected many accounts of our nation’s past, this brilliant new history, Land of Hope, written in lucid and often lyrical prose, is much needed. It is accurate, honest, and free of the unhistorical condescension so often paid to the people of America’s past. This generous but not uncritical story of our nation’s history ought to be read by every American. It explains and justifies the right kind of patriotism.”― Gordon S. Wood, author of Friends Divided: John Adams and Thomas Jefferson

“We’ve long needed a readable text that truly tells the American story, neither hiding the serious injustices in our history nor soft-pedaling our nation’s extraordinary achievements. Such a text cannot be a mere compilation of facts, and it certainly could not be written by someone lacking a deep understanding and appreciation of America’s constitutional ideals and institutions. Bringing his impressive skills as a political theorist, historian, and writer to bear, Wilfred McClay has supplied the need.”― Robert P. George, McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence, Princeton University

“No one has told the story of America with greater balance or better prose than Wilfred McClay. Land of Hope is a history book that you will not be able to put down. From the moment that ‘natives’ first crossed here over the Bering Strait, to the founding of America’s great experiment in republican government, to the horror and triumph of the Civil War...McClay’s account will capture your attention while offering an unforgettable education.”― James W. Ceaser, Professor of Politics, University of Virginia