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American Leviathan: Empire, Nation, and Revolutionary Frontier Hardcover – April 17, 2007


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Hill and Wang; 1st edition (April 17, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0809095157
  • ISBN-13: 978-0809095155
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.1 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,953,345 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Griffin's erudite account places ordinary settlers of America's frontier at the center of 18th-century political revolution. The British Empire's hold on the western edge of colonies like Pennsylvania was always tenuous, suggests the University of Virginia's Griffin (The People with No Name). The frontier was beset by violence between Indians and white settlers, and the latter thought Britain appeased the Indians at their expense. These settlers' disgust with the inadequacies of imperial policy, says Griffin, fomented the American Revolution, a titanic political clash that ultimately gave ordinary frontiersmen new rights. But they gained those rights at the expense of Native Americans—whom they identified as irreconcilably other. Tensions continued after the revolution. The fragile new American government was unable to enforce order on the frontier, and settlers in the Ohio valley and other border regions believed the state had to eradicate Indians to secure a stable and safe society. (As Griffin puts it with elegant bluntness, the frontiersmen were building a commonwealth "on the bod[ies] of... dead Indian[s].") Griffin judiciously weaves analysis into riveting stories of riots and unrest, and weds attention to race and marginalized people with traditional political and military history. 8 pages of b&w illus., 3 maps. (Apr.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Griffin's history of the settlement process in the Ohio River Valley spans from 1763, when France ceded the region to Britain, to 1795, when Indian tribes ceded huge tracts of the region to the U.S. The intervening decades witnessed chronic frontier violence, and Griffin builds an inquiry into who would be sovereign over the area. Griffin highlights the lawlessness with which the nominal sovereign power contended. He details how neither Britain's Proclamation Line of 1763 nor the land-sale schemes of the world's George Washingtons succeeded in regulating its Daniel Boones, whose numbers increased remorselessly. Their welcome was the tomahawk, not the peace pipe, and these generally poor whites' appeals for protection occupy Griffin's intensive analysis of the responses they received from Virginia and Pennsylvania, similarly convulsed by the power shifts of the American Revolution. Readers drawn to a professional historian's critical appraisal of the frontier experience will discover in Griffin's book the limits of heroizing or demonizing it. Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Daniel J. Kovacs on December 6, 2010
Format: Hardcover
In recent decades scholars such as Eric HinderakerElusive Empires: Constructing Colonialism in the Ohio Valley, 1673-1800, Alan Taylor The Divided Ground: Indians, Settlers, and the Northern Borderland of the American Revolution, and Richard White The Middle Ground: Indians, Empires, and Republics in the Great Lakes Region, 1650-1815 (Studies in North American Indian History), have examined the early American interior more throughly. Patrick Griffin joins these elite scholars with his recent work, _American Leviathan_. Griffin attempts to examine the process of revolutionary settlement in the west, which he persuasively portrays through the lens of Hobbes' Leviathan. While many contemporary Americanists seem to treat the idea of "American Exceptionalism" as taboo, Griffin grabs the bull by the horns. Griffin argues that the troubled and contradictory nature of the American Revolution's legacy--one of freedom and slavery; liberation and oppression--is most visible in the trans-Appalachian frontier. For Griffin, the "frontier" is less of a geographical reality than a process of social change.
Griffin suggests that British imperial policy--rooted in a stadial theory of social evolution--failed in the trans-Appalachian west because it settlers ultimately rejected it as a means to order western society.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By David Olien on September 3, 2013
Format: Paperback
This is one of the best written books on this period of history in recent memory. The research is superb. The author is careful to buttress his commentary and historical judgements with facts developed through extraordinary effort. Anyone seeking to understand the history of America's westward expansion would be wise to include this in their reading list.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By William J. Shepherd on April 14, 2013
Format: Paperback
This is a well constructed and well argued work with the main thesis that eastern white elites used white savages (pioneers) to subdue native savages and settle the frontier. Focused on western Pennsylvania and more balanced than most academic accounts that tend to whitewash anything to do with native peoples, but still harsh in its judgements on the pioneers.
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58 of 87 people found the following review helpful By David M. Dougherty VINE VOICE on October 29, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Once again we are treated to what passes for scholarship today -- a politically correct analysis of (this time) the problems & wars with the Indians west of the Proclamation Line before, during and after the Revolutionary War. The most accurate portion is the British viewpoint and policies, treating the colonies only as providers of a market for English goods and a source of materials and commodities for the home country. In short, a colony and people to be exploited. In this light, the Indians were simply a segment of the British empire, and a curb on colonist ambitions.

However, the Indians are seen by the author as noble savages living in a state of nature, whereas the white settlers west of the Proclamation Line (a temporary expedient) are seen as low life, savage, ruffians, and not worthy of being called white. Amazingly, the author contends the Indians did not as a rule kill innocent women and children. No? Then I guess all those wives and children of settlers who were butchered or tortured to death after capture didn't exist. He only mentions in passing the murder of a woman and her newborn baby that precipitated the Gnadenhuetten Massacre and doesn't mention that the prepetrators were tracked to Gnadenhuetten. John Carpenter had seen them, but they fled Gnadenhuetten before the whites arrived but after leaving evidence of their being in the village.

The author makes liberal use of the explosive term (today) of racism to tar the settlers.
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4 of 12 people found the following review helpful By S. Alost on January 8, 2008
Format: Hardcover
This is a great book. The author shifts the thinking about the start of this country. Griffin takes democracy and federalism out of the misty clouds and sinks it into the mud of the frontier and in the dirty hands of the people. It was such a good read, and so thought provoking, I bought copies for each of my brothers and for my father -- all of whom are history buffs.
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