Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Stephen J. Rockwell's "Indian Affairs and the Administrative State in the Nineteenth Century"

Stephen J. Rockwell is an associate professor in the Department of Social Sciences at St. Joseph's College, where he is also the coordinator of the American studies program.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Indian Affairs and the Administrative State in the Nineteenth Century, and reported the following:
Big government won the West. Our national myth of pioneers settling an open, unpeopled West—only to suffer the intrusions of big government later on—ignores the ways in which the federal government worked to craft and control westward expansion, long before US settlers got there.

To Ford Madox Ford’s credit, and to the extent that any single page can reveal “the quality of the whole,” page 99 works pretty well for Indian Affairs and the Administrative State in the Nineteenth Century.

My page 99 discusses the significance, and the effectiveness, of Indian affairs administration in the early decades of the nineteenth century. At the top of 99 I quote Josiah Gregg, a nineteenth-century trader, from his book, The Commerce of the Prairies. In the quotation, Gregg describes how a federal treaty signed with Osage Indians in 1825 helped create a safe environment for US citizens along the Santa Fe Trail. Treaties like this one solidified working relationships between US and Indian interests, and were legally required for any acquisition of land from Indians.

The second half of Page 99 discusses the effectiveness of the factory system, a series of not-for-profit trading houses run by the federal government from the 1790s to the 1820s. The factories pacified Indian relations by taking trade away from independent traders, who were believed to be threats to peace on the frontier. The US drove independent traders out of business by underselling them (the government not seeking to make a profit), by driving up traders’ costs with federal licensing and bonding requirements, and by forcing traders to join large, presumably more accountable firms like John Astor’s American Fur Company.

That’s right—the early federal government regulated land transactions and the fur trade, two giant motors of the new American economy. Just as page 99 suggests.

Westward expansion is the first great project of national public policy. Page 99 does not reveal my book’s discussions of Indian removal and the reservation system, or of the federal government’s roles in enforcing slavery, developing infrastructure, or protecting westward population migrations. My page 99 discussion of Josiah Gregg’s quotation, though, captures key aspects of my book’s larger argument:
The place and route [described by Gregg] remained safe, and “from the borders of Missouri to those of New Mexico not even an Indian settlement greeted our eyes.” That safety and the absence of Indians was a government-constructed outcome, and Gregg knew it. The freedom of the prairie described so movingly by Gregg toward the end of his journal—“the wild, unsettled, and independent life of the prairie trader”—was made possible by the prior action and continuing oversight of the federal government.
Gregg knew that you couldn’t understand expansion or the nineteenth century without its Indian participants, and he knew that the federal government had been a central and active player in the nation’s life from the earliest days of the republic.
Read an excerpt from Indian Affairs and the Administrative State in the Nineteenth Century, and learn more about the book at the Cambridge University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue