“Before Man Was, War Waited For Him,” Jamming, 09/06/2017

Here's an odd convergence as I thought about a passage in The Federalist Papers. I didn’t realize its implications in the moment I first read it, but thinking on it in my notebook today, it’s there. A glimpse of terror.

The Federalist Papers make a remarkably optimistic document. It would have to be. These essays were designed to sway popular opinion, so had to be appealing. And they had to sway popular opinion regarding one of the heaviest concerns ever facing the people of the United States – they had to choose what their country would be.

So you don’t throw in a stark manifestation of horror intentionally. This scream appeared by accident. At the time, they probably wouldn’t even have seen it as a scream. It would have been a call to adventure.

The quote from the title is from Cormac McCarthy's
Blood Meridian. It was written as a dark and bloody
myth of America's creation in the late stages of its
western conquest. A story of the best time for an
otherworldly evil to manifest on Earth was during
the American genocide of its indigenous people.
When the scalp was a form of currency.
Americans don’t like to think of themselves as an empire. I feel pretty safe saying this. Even with their military bases flung all over the world supporting countless international alliances,* American corporations and business leaders still some of the most powerful in the world, and having written the very rules of global financial institutions, no American would say their country is an empire.

* So many that even the President can’t even keep track of who’s a friend or an enemy.

By some technical definitions, they’re right. Americans didn’t conquer every country where they stuck a military base. But I’m not thinking about the empire around the world.

See, in Federalist #7, Alexander Hamilton talks about another reason why the United States will be better off unified under a federal government. Now, he talks about the fascinating philosophical ideas in other essays.

His conception of patriotism as the fundamental virtue for a peaceful society is fascinating. It puts Hamilton squarely in the tradition of Machiavellian republicans – the materialist democrats. But there are also a lot of frank practical discussions about the coming challenges Americans faced at that moment in history.**

** No, of course it wouldn’t be slavery. Hamilton may have been enlightened in many ways, but he still had no problem with slavery.

This challenge was looking west. It was the challenge of building an American empire. Hamilton also foresaw several separate American nations and confederacies sparking into constant war on each other. John Jay spoke in broad historical strokes about how all peoples slip into war with each other eventually.

Hamilton had a very specific war in mind. If the USA split into four or five different countries and peoples, they’d face a massive war of competition over each other’s imperialist expansion. Not war directly on each other, but war for control of the territory of the American west and north.

Canada has its malformed romantic memory of the War of 1812, but for Americans at the time, it was just one part of a massive, decades-long program of empire building. From 1783 to the 1840s, the United States government led a massive push of military forces and armed settlers west of the 1763 Proclamation Line all the way to the Pacific.

America, land of those brave enough to force thousands of people on
brutal death marches across 400 miles.
The United States failed to conquer England’s northern colony of Upper Canada, but they did a much better job with the chunks of New France that still existed south of the Great Lakes, and with New Spain.

Of course, the worst would happen to the Indigenous peoples. US policy during its westward expansion was the open genocide of Indigenous peoples – constant raids and massacres, disease inflicted on them to decimate their population, forced starvation on reserve land.

Probably the most intense single event of America’s Indigenous Holocaust was the Trail of Tears. It’s a lilting, poetic name for a brutal death march of hundreds of thousands of people from the Carolinas halfway across the fucking continent to what’s now Oklahoma.

Hamilton urged unity for the 13 American states because otherwise, violence might break out during this continental conquest. The only violence that was a problem for him was the violence among countries and peoples who could have come together as the United States.

What about the rest – British, French, Spanish, black slaves, indigenous sub-humans? Violence against them would bring triumph, the triumph of American empire.

Alexander Hamilton knew a few things about how to topple empires. He knew what kept an empire strong, and what made it vulnerable. Most importantly, he new that the only empire that could ever last was a monopoly.

1 comment:

  1. And perhaps I'm jumping the gun on this here series, but isn't this one of the overlooked facets of the American Civil War (At least in popular conceptions of it)? The fact that the West was not settled yet, and would, in the case of a competing nation just next-door, be the battle-ground for imperial grinding?
    Hell, Bleeding Kansas presages this even prior to Secession, and while that was influenced by Southern worries about Senate balance, one can't imagine the conflict getting any easier by having it take place between different nations.