paul mchugh, lisa ford, settlers, law and natives


Incredibly detailed and contextualised review of Lisa Ford’s Settler Sovereignty by Cambridge oracle Paul McHugh.

Law and History Review (2011), 29: 313-316

a bit of it:

Ford purposefully describes this as a predominantly legal story rather understating the impact of the huge socioeconomic and demographic changes that turned into steamrolling settler sovereignty. She could stress more emphatically that the earlier plurality and fluidity she describes was being ground down and away not simply because of changes in legal perception but also because of the devastating impact of (what Jamie Belich has recently and aptly termed throughout his book Replenishing the Earth: The Settler Revolution and the Rise of the Angloworld [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009]) the “explosive colonization” that licensed such a change. Explosive colonization, the sudden change from a trickle (usually welcome) of white settlement to unwelcome inundation, changed everything for the tribes. White settlers outnumbered, outgunned, and ravaged them with disease, leading to their collapse, crisis, depletion, and, in Georgia, forced removal. This simple but brutal phenomenon propelled the legal change that Ford describes. Greater emphasis upon this would slot her legal story into more of a context, highlighting the link between the physical crowding in of the tribes and the juridical transition at the center of her book.

Where this context is given, her narrative acquires extra power, giving a strong sense of the spatial, economic, and other factors enmeshed with the legal ones. One excellent example involves the role of roads through Indian Country in facilitating the demographic explosion of the Old Southwest. By skilful and vivid use of archival material, she shows how these roads presented important legal and spatial issues (many to this day never fully resolved). The “jurisdictional problem of the roads [was] very evident in their name, their legal classification, as well as their vital economic function” (68). They were key, incident-ridden sites of intercultural engagement that became more pressing and tension-ridden as yet more crisscrossed Indian Country (see Ford’s helpful maps showing their dramatic increase from 1796 to 1823) (72–73).


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