As a young man, George Washington (1732–99) worked as a surveyor. Looking at a landscape, he could plan its division into orderly tracts. These skills would prove useful when he became the first president of the United States in April 1789. At the time, Americans widely believed that new territory was vital to securing ongoing independence, in large part because small parcels of land could be sold to European settlers, expanding the American polity and helping pay down crushing Revolutionary War debts. As a result, President Washington made the fledgling country’s territorial expansion his chief focus. It was a perfect fit between man and mission, between a surveyor and a country that would grow from a set of colonies perched on the east coast of North America to a continent-spanning empire. Of course, this growth was far from inevitable. What would become the United States was already inhabited by as many as a million American Indians, and expanding west beyond the Appalachian mountains would be far messier than reorganising a landscape along a surveyor’s grid.
Joshua Specht reviews 'The Indian World of George Washington: The first president, the first Americans, and the birth of the nation' by Colin G. Calloway
The Indian World of George Washington: The first president, the first Americans, and the birth of the nation
by by Colin G. Calloway
Oxford University Press, $53.95 hb, 640 pp, 9780190652166
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Joshua Specht teaches American history at Monash University. His first book, Red Meat Republic: A hoof-to-table history of how beef changed America is coming out with Princeton University Press in April 2019. Broadly, his research focuses on land and political economy. He is on the web at www.joshuaspecht.com and @joshspecht on Twitter.
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