AMERICAN LEVIATHAN by Patrick Griffin

AMERICAN LEVIATHAN

Empire, Nation, and Revolutionary Frontier
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KIRKUS REVIEW

Think not Melville but Hobbes: a provocative study of how the war-of-each-against-all on the western frontier of America shaped the revolutionary nation.

It’s understandable that Thomas Quick should have disappeared from the history books. Writes Griffin (History/Ohio Univ.): “The master narratives we have of the American Revolution fail to contain Tom Quick because they cannot contain him”—cannot, it seems, because we would not like knowing what he tells us about ourselves. Quick was a notorious Indian killer who “trolled the woods for victims” and begged, on his deathbed, to have an Indian, any Indian, brought within shooting distance of him. Griffin notes that that western frontier, meaning mostly Ohio, Michigan and Kentucky, was a savage place, and the savage Americans who spilled out into the territory did not like to hear from the British crown that it properly belonged to the Indians. Britain attempted to maintain the peace by building a chain of forts and other “pockets of civility” west of which civilians would not be allowed to settle, but a white populace, spurred on by Quick and the Paxton Boys and other frontier-tamers who were not inclined to “wait for the day when civility would transform Indian culture,” slaughtered just about any Indian whose path they crossed. In the revolutionary and immediate postrevolutionary era, justice occasionally prevailed and such killers were punished; more usually, by Griffin’s account, makeshift genocide was tolerated, so much so that it was almost sanctioned. Officially, the government may have tried to foster good relations with Indians on the frontier, but it made no effort to restrain the killers generically called “the Virginians,” who had won the battle of hearts and minds among their fellow whites.

A carefully framed examination of Indian-hating and the white savages who were “in the service of white civilization.”

Pub Date: April 17th, 2007
ISBN: 0-8090-9515-7
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: Hill and Wang/Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15th, 2007




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