Michael A. Blaakman
During the first quarter-century after its founding, the United States was swept by a wave of land speculation so unprecedented in intensity and scale that contemporaries and historians alike have dubbed it a “mania.” In Speculation Nation, Michael A. Blaakman uncovers the revolutionary origins of this real-estate bonanza—a story of ambition, corruption, capitalism, and statecraft that stretched across millions of acres from Maine to the Mississippi and Georgia to the Great Lakes.
Patriot leaders staked the success of their revolution on the seizure and public sale of Native American territory. Initially, they hoped that fledgling state and national governments could pay the hefty costs of the War for Independence and extend a republican society of propertied citizens by selling expropriated land directly to white farmers. But those democratic plans quickly ran aground of a series of obstacles, including an economic depression and the ability of many Native nations to repel U.S. invasion. Wily merchants, lawyers, planters, and financiers rushed into the breach. Scrambling to profit off future expansion, they lobbied governments to convey massive tracts for pennies an acre, hounded revolutionary veterans to sell their land bounties for a pittance, and marketed the rustic ideal of a yeoman’s republic—the early American dream—while waiting for land values to rise.
When the land business crashed in the late 1790s, scores of “land mad” speculators found themselves imprisoned for debt or declaring bankruptcy. But through their visionary schemes and corrupt machinations, U.S. speculators and statesmen had spawned a distinctive and enduring form of settler colonialism: a financialized frontier, which transformed vast swaths of contested land into abstract commodities. Speculation Nation reveals how the era of land mania made Native dispossession a founding premise of the American republic and ultimately rooted the United States’ “empire of liberty” in speculative capitalism.