cover image Speculation Nation: Land Mania in the Revolutionary American Republic

Speculation Nation: Land Mania in the Revolutionary American Republic

Michael A. Blaakman. Univ. of Pennsylvania, $39.95 (432p) ISBN 978-1-512-82448-3

Princeton historian Blaakman debuts with an informative analysis of “the tremendous wave of land speculation that crashed outward from the new United States between the end of British rule and the beginning of the nineteenth century.” In the Royal Proclamation of 1763, issued by George III of Great Britain at the end of the Seven Years’ War regarding newly won French territory, Americans colonists had been denied access to all land west of the Appalachian mountains; the region was declared an “Indian Reserve.” To British Americans, this “was anathema,” and it became a central cause of the American Revolution and precipitated the land speculation “mania” of the early national period, which became entwined with the revolution itself. As Blaakman puts it, “Americans staked the success of their revolution on the seizure and sale of land.” He spotlights George Washington and Benjamin Franklin, both speculators, demonstrating how they “lived, thought, sold, and bought within the ideological matrix of Enlightenment-era political arithmetic,” as well as other Founding Fathers, including Robert Morris, a “leading land tycoon” whose failed speculations put him in debtors’ prison. Detailed and persuasive, Blaakman’s account offers useful context for later 19th-century events, including Thomas Jefferson’s Louisiana Purchase of 1803 and Andrew Jackson’s policy of “Indian Removal.” It’s an illuminating survey of an important and understudied aspect of the Revolutionary era. (Sept.)