In the eighteenth century, land was at the heart of the early American economy. While land ownership was closely associated with the virtues of republicanism, land speculation represented eighteenth century thinkers with a far more complex problem. Speculators challenged republicanism by engrossing large amounts of land, threatening to become an American aristocracy. Moreover, speculators trod the thin line between investment and gambling, making their actions particularly morally fraught. This project seeks to bridge the traditional gap in the literature of early American capitalism between finance and farming, thereby offering a more complex picture of the national economy as a whole.
This project offers a unique vantage point for examining the early American economy. At the end of the Revolution, thousands of Americans turned their eyes towards lucrative opportunities investing in western lands and in new trading opportunities abroad. Each of these endeavors brought Americans into conflict with individuals and cultures they regarded as being "distinctly other." Nowhere was this more clear than in their interactions with American Indians in the trans-Appalachian west and the Barbary States of North Africa. Comparing American diplomacy, broadly defined, with both groups, reveals not only how Americans thought about race, religion, and commerce, but also offers an avenue into the complex process of nation building that the United States undertook under the Washington, Adams, Jefferson, and Madison administrations.