The Frontiers of American Grand Strategy: Settlers, Elites, and the Standing Army in America's Indian Wars
Szarejko, Andrew Alden
Bennett, Andrew O
Much work on U.S. grand strategy focuses on the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. If the United States did have a grand strategy before that, IR scholars often pay little attention to it, and when they do, they rarely agree on how best to characterize it. I show that federal political elites generally wanted to expand the territorial reach of the United States and its relative power, but they sought to expand while avoiding war with European powers and Native nations alike. I focus on U.S. wars with Native nations to show how domestic conditions created a disjuncture between the principles and practice of this grand strategy. Indeed, in many of America’s so-called Indian Wars, U.S. settlers were the ones to initiate conflict, and they eventually brought federal officials into wars that the elites would have preferred to avoid. I develop an explanation for settler success and failure in doing so. I focus on the ways that settlers’ two faits accomplis—the act of settling on disputed territory without authorization and the act of initiating violent conflict with Native nations—affected federal decision-making by putting pressure on speculators and local elites to lobby federal officials for military intervention, by causing federal officials to fear that settlers would create their own states or ally with foreign powers, and by eroding the credibility of U.S. commitments to Native nations. All of this, moreover, was made possible by the federal government’s commitment to a very small standing army. At times, however, an unfavorable local balance of power and identity-based cleavages between settlers and elites inhibited federal military intervention. To adjudicate between my proposed explanation and plausible alternatives, I identify several observable implications across which the explanations can be compared, and I examine three least-similar cases—the Northwest Indian War (1790-1795), the Second Seminole War (1835-1842), and Utah’s Black Hawk War (1865-1872). I conduct process tracing in each case, for which I rely on records of Congressional debates, archival documents, and interviews with enrolled members of relevant tribes. I conclude with implications for ongoing debates on U.S. grand strategy and International Relations more broadly.
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