The 1848 Portal in the Architecture
of North American Peoplehood
By Gonzalo Santos
[Paper originally presented at the 1848/1898@1998: Transhistoric
Thresholds Conference, Arizona State University, Phoenix, AZ, December
Great or monumental architecture may be conceived along esthetic principles, made physically viable through technical design and selection of materials, and executed flawlessly following detailed and precise blueprint instructions with great workmanship. Then again, more often than not it is the result of compromises - compromise between esthetics and utility, ideal materials and materials at hand, expected and unexpected design challenges, costs and preferences, even compromises between early and later architects - and still hold together admirably, like so many medieval castles and cathedrals still do to this day. Great socio-historical objects - like instances of peoplehood often are - are like the latter castles and cathedrals: full of added buttresses and portals that ended up put there not necessarily by design but in order to keep the edifice from falling apart or to enlarge it, and as such became part of the edifice. The Maya, using yet another approach, built their pyramids on top of and over other buildings - usually older pyramids - every half century or so, and gained in this way not only unpredictable new shapes and sizes, but managed to reaffirm continuity and change in the same place. Historical social systems exhibit this kind of duality between permanency and structural change in space-time, melding the designs and structures of dead generations with those of the living.
We seek in this study to trace the history and clarify the contingent and contested nature of peoplehood in North America at a crucial moment in its building, 1848, when various architects argued on issues of design and choice of materials, and various standing structures, some old some new, were used to build a portal between what was already there and what would be built altogether differently subsequently. The study is the first part of a three-part study of peoplehood in North America that, when completed, will include two more portal-building dates:1898 and now, 1998. The first two portals were chosen to correspond with, and to explore the origins and consequences of, the U.S.-Mexico War and the Spanish-American War, events that occurred a century-and-a-half and a century ago, respectively. Whereas these portals built in 1848 and 1898 -and what they led to - can be more or less clearly seen today, the portal we are currently building, and where it is leading to, is still largely a contested and contingent matter. The architects are presently quarreling and various new design options have arisen.
For purposes of this paper, we will understand by North America only the area convered by present day United States and Canada The histories the peoples that have inhabited this region are not only intimately intertwined, but, as this paper will attempt to show, they cannot be understood in isolation from each other; nor can their variegated collective involvement in, and deep molding by, the structural processes of the modern world-system be ignored. The same claim may actually be made of the 19th- and 20th-century histories of North America, understood more boadly to include Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central America. We hope to continue the present study of ethnotransformation in 1848 North America by focusing on and integrating Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean, in a later paper.
We begin with a few general observations on the ideological and material influences on peoplehood, and then we proceed to analyze its evolution in North America, narrowly defined, at and around 1848.
Space. Most people reify maps, especially the political maps of their respective countries, assuming, thinking, or arguing over the territorial contours of their homelands as preordained, for better or for worse: "it was written," as the Arabs say, or better yet, "it was drawn." But history has no libretto, with or without color coded maps appended, as the peoples of the former Soviet East were rudely awakened into realizing in 1989-92.
Here in North America, only the Québécois and the Puerto Ricans seem today bent on defying the map gods, though that could change. The maps of the entire area have remained essentially unchanged for the duration of this century, which is about to end. Hence, the prevailing comfortable feeling among most North American citizens that their countries are physically immutable things, preordained by divine providence to be the way they are, separate and distinct. But nothing could be further from the truth, even in North America, where the map contours actually changed repeatedly and dramatically throughout the 19th century, and where they could very well shift again in the 21st. The way this contrast between the acknowledged past dynamism and the present and future assumptions of immobility is usually reconciled is through the use of official maps of the past, showing in each country where and when those areas deemed previously "rightfully ours" were "lost forever," or, conversely, where and when those areas deemed integral to the "motherland" today were "legitimately acquired in perpetuity by treaty."
Besides the fact that past and even present official maps predictably disagree, the notion that the present-day borders truly could have ended up being drawn entirely differently, or that they may or will dramatically change again, seems inconceivable to the average citizen. Even to the scholar or policy maker in North America, the matter of past and present boundaries typically reduces itself to a heated debate of what accounts best for the otherwise inevitable and permanent outcome we have today. North Americaís present-day maps are set in stone, it seems, and however tumultuous or unfair the history is of how the boundaries came about to be where and what they are today, the outcome, it is argued, has to be seen as the inevitable result of a, b, or c - take your pick.
These are the first myths that require to be exploded. We must try to imagine not only the many possible futures of our of evolving social being, as represented among other things by new maps, but we must try to unveil and understand the many pasts that may have very well happened, which, had they happened, would have been the bases of entirely different present social realities , including entirely different maps of today. We may have been today something entirely different than what we are, and we may become something entirely different tomorrow than what we are today. We may have never "become" - and we may no longer "be" - for instance, Canadians, Americans and Mexicans, Nicaraguans and Guatemalans, Cubans and Jamaicans.
Culture. The other thing people reify, in close relation to space sometimes, though not always, is peoplehood itself, the sense of belonging to an historically evolved, unique and distinct, collective "we" that approximates the level of ontological essentialism with or without a territorial dimension. The sense of the national "we" especially, reinforced by the color coded maps to be sure, most frequently acquires this lofty status. Indeed, nationhood, nation-building, has been the most sought-after universalism of this century, having the so-called nation-state become everywhere in the world the natural scale and container of "society," and after the "right of self-determination of all nations" was solemnly proclaimed, if not practiced, by all world powers and former colonial peoples.
The nagging, violently contested question has been, of course, whoís entitled to be elevated to or joined together as a nation, where do you draw the line outwardly and inwardly? One manís nation is another manís "minority" or "tribe" or "ethnic group." Conversely one womanís current nation is another womanís cobbled conglomerate of nations, some of which are "oppressed." And, finally, many insist they belong to "incomplete," or "divided" nations requiring to be rejoined with some other "part" to become "whole." Homeland and diaspora peoples usually claim one sort or another of affinity and allegiance. All ethnic and racial groups have a potential to develop a nationalist agenda. All countries elites sit on top of a cauldron of contested peoplehoods, in fact they or a fraction of them frequently add fuel to the fire themselves. As recent events in Kuwait, Rwanda, Russia, and the former Yugoslavia have confirmed, this sort of thing can implode ad infinitum, and lead to genocide or major wars. As the rebellion of the "peoples of color" showed in the1950s and 1960s in the United States, the 1995 Québécois plebiscite in Canada, and the Zapatista rebellion is showing today in Mexico, the issue is far from settled in North America.
But it would be a mistake to assume that only - or mainly ó the national form of peoplehood is reified. In North America, our area of concern, many see themselves being of a certain race or ethnicity, or being indigenous, qua being, with a primordialist or essentialist orientation which guides and orders their social behavior in no less intense ways than the national essentialist orientation, frequently simultaneously or in cycles. The constructed social reality that results from the ubiquitous and lasting belief in the transcendent reality of an immutable form of peoplehood, whether race, nation, or ethnicity, has long ago been noted by social observers. What is odd is how this belief interacts with the previously discussed belief in the transcendent reality of preordained space and geographic historical destiny in a world whirlpool of constant change and motion, in a way that actually sustains it. Enter the last element of reification.
Political Economy. Probably the most reified thing of all in the world is the way it, the world, works and has worked over the last few centuries, especially in the sphere of economic activities. The political-economic lexicon itself reveals to what extent common folks and experts alike are mystified by and utterly fail to understand the global workings and historical structures of the modern capitalist world-economy: national economy, national sovereignty, national labor market, wealth of nations, on the national side of things; and free trade, free enterprise, newly developing or industrializing countries (in contrast with fully developed or industrial ones), modernization, market-oriented reforms, as opposed to state interventionist hard lines, etc. on the global system side of things. Again and again, the state, individually or collectively, is wrongly and artificially counterposed to the private sector capitalist process of accumulation, something that flies in the face of the actual record of articulation between polity and economy of historical capitalism. The same goes for the entrenched ó and false - assumptions of economic national insularity rampant since the inception of nation-states, which not even in the periods of the most exacerbated mercantilism were valid, and which today are laughable.
The organic, structural, and global nature of the worldís political economy, with its interstate and interenterprise systems dating back five centuries, has long been understood by the most serious political and economic historians and analysts of the modern world-system, from the time of Marx on, leading to the multiplicity of theories of imperialism in the first half of the 20th century, and the plethora of dependentista and world-system theoretical perspectives of the last four decades. Most social revolutions of the 20th century were informed by these theories.
Again and again, nevertheless, the self-regulated market is elevated to a natural ó or supernatural ó status, capable of solving all economic challenges, and, when a market calamity strikes, it is deemed beyond the power of human agency to had prevented it, as a hurricane, an earthquake, or other such natural disasters. Peopleís present-day belief in the power of money, in the preordained, natural, and inevitable commodification and commercialization of all aspects of human activity, including their labor, their leisure, their land, and their culture, even their most banal or tragic or reprehensible activities, all for the sake of profits, warps, compels, and constraints every other belief and action, including their notions of peoplehood. For purposes of attaining perceived material gain, and in the name of the ethereal forces conforming those material interests - all dressed-up this century with talk about modernization and development, just as in the 19th century, brutal colonialism was dressed up with talk about civilization - other immutables, like maps and nations and races and whoís "we", can bend a little or a lot.
Todayís patriots may be tomorrowís wheeling and dealing globalists leaving everybody else in the dust back home, and vice-versa, declining industrialists may wrap around the flag; todayís pacifists or isolationists may be tomorrowís war hawks or interventionists. Yesterdayís separatists may be todayís integrationists, and then go back again to being separatists tomorrow. It has happened before and will continue to happen over and over. So, when things get too attractive or too unattractive, maps, after all, can be redrawn; new "weís" may be forged with old "themís" and, vice-versa, new "themís" may be banished from old "weís". And, along the way and if done right, profits can be had, and markets, jobs and assets may be gained or restored to their rightful and historically destined owners and users, and one can always say, ex post facto, "It was written!"
Historical capitalism, as far as peoplehood is concerned, has indeed consisted of endless and ruthless shifting of allegiances to create and sustain hierarchies of wealth, status, and power, all in the name of lofty civilizational missions and the pursuit of secular or religious universalisms. The outcomes have been the unambiguously particularistic forms of nations, races, tribes, ethnic groups, and others, aligned along global and local vertical axes of social stratification . These forms are fictive insofar as their invariable primordialism is concerned and true sociocultural plasticity betrays, but real in their cultural engendering complexities, and, more to the point, in their location within - and adaptation to - the global and local hierarchies through which endless accumulation continues to occur, lording over all peoples and things, albeit in a reified fashion. Peoplehood in modern historical terms exhibits and in turn conforms and affects the stratified social system in much the same manner that patriarchy exhibits and in turn conforms and affects the stratified social system. Both telescope upward to the global level of social structural reality and downward to the local level, backwards to centuries of possible pasts and forwards to centuries of possible futures.
Spatial, cultural, and economic notions, structures, and processes, then, elevated to cardinal paradigms of social being, inform, conform, and deform the real history of people. Hierarchies shift, but hierarchy remains and condemns. Cultures and societies do evolve, differentiate and amalgamate, but they are debased and profoundly stratified while the accumulation structures just keeps growing in power, reach, and efficacy. Which paradigm of peoplehood, which reified notion ascends over and regulates the others is a matter of historical contingency and the "moment" in the historical life of the world-system. Sometime the material interests of the modern world-economy directly dictate all thinking and action. Sometimes, cultural notions of social being override even the most established material interest.
As we end this century, we know absolute ideas of peoplehood, even the most benign, can be taken to their logical extremes and bring utter destruction on whole populations. And when all the other beliefs alluded to align with a irredentist cause pursued by great powers, the world burns.
What follows is an analysis of the interaction between
reified social axioms and torturous historical outcomes in North American
peoplehood on three "moments" of the modern world-system, the last momentís
outcome still very much up in the air, painfully unwritten, so to speak,
and painfully lived by so many of its inhabitants today.
The 1848 Portal in Canada and the United States: Between
Endogenous and Exogenous Nation Building and Ethnoracial Fissioning Approaches
From the point of view of the peoples of North America, everything was in motion and up in the air in and around 1848. Although by then, a few notions of entitlement, social place, being, and geographic destiny had taken root, their social order and spatial articulation had not been ascertained to any large degree.
In Canada, a largely French settler population had been made, 85 years before, a subject people of the British Empire , in the aftermath of the Seven Year War, supposedly with full cultural rights to their language, religion, and even code of law, only to be pushed aside by the avalanche of United Empire Loyalists, as the losing side fleeing the American Revolution was called in Quebec. "From the moment of British ascendancy in Quebec," Merger (1997: 458) states, "French Canadians were consumed with avoiding assimilation into the English-speaking North America that surrounded them." But the Royalists/Loyalists intruders were more interested in taking things over. The Québécois, still in the majority, resisted. Before long, the British, fearing two new settler revolts for secession from the empire, one by the French-speaking and the other by the English-speaking, decided to simultaneously elevate Canada to the status of Dominion entitled to a measure of home rule, the direct precursor to full national status, and to fission its two so-called Charter Peoples, the French and English, into separate social and even territorial domains: the French would remain in Quebec, what would now be called Lower Canada, and the English would move up to Upper Canada, in what is today Ontario. Canadian nationalism was born bicephalous and one of its heads, the English-Canadian, undernourished and weak. It would remain a loyal part of Pax Britannica to this day, as evidenced by the fact that Queen Elizabethís portrait continues to grace Canadian currency to this day.
The French Canadians, notwithstanding their "charter" status, continued to undergo throughout the 19th century dispossession, displacement, and marginalization, in short, ethnic stratification. They were essentially reduced to subsistence farming even in their own province, all of it promoted prominently by a sort of linguistic racialization. In 1837, almost synchronized with the Anglo Texans, the French Canadians revolted seeking independence from both the British Empire and Upper Canada, a formula for nation building by ethnic fissioning and decolonization. They would fail, and as a result, be subjected for the next century to a policy of open discrimination, coercive assimilation and social marginalization not unlike that experienced by Mexican Americans and Native Americans in the United States during the same period. Their failure did not go unnoticed by the increasingly frustrated Southern planters in the United States. Had the French Canadians managed to repulse first the British and then the American interlopers, and declare themselves an independent republic, French may very well be today the language mostly spoken west of the Mississippi and much more to the south than the St. Lawrence River, and, the U.S. contained somewhat, perhaps North America would have granulated in the 19th century into a much larger number of countries, given the intertwined histories of everybody on the continent.
In this era, it may be noted, partly as a result of the intense inter-Euro-American conflict in Canada, partly as a result of the inherent cooperation required in pursing the fur trade, there was a process of racial/ethnic fusion among the French and the indigenous peoples of Canada, and a much milder form of ethnic antagonism or fissioning between the English and the Indians. The offspring of the mixed unions of French fur traders and Indian women in remote areas led to the formation of a unique culture, mostly Indian and partly French, the Métis Indian Nation, as they saw themselves. This experiment in racial/ethnic fusion, or amalgamation, nevertheless was not permitted by the English-Canadians to extend much or to become elevated as a paradigm of French-Canadian nationhood, as the mestizos of Mexico were by their Spanish-American criollos when they embraced nationalism. The result was an interesting process of simultaneous ethnogenesis: the Métis, on the one hand, and the French Canadians, on the other, the latter greatly augmented by the former in a process of whitening , consciously pursued to better withstand the English Canadian anti-Indian policies which were worse than those against the other Charter People of Canada.
Nation building in Canada would proceed along a deep ethno-racial fissioning process.
In the United States, several issues competed for attention and urgent solution at this fateful 1848 crossroads in American nation-building. The British Americans of 1776, in contrast to the Canadians, successfully launched a combined 13-colony settler revolt against Great Britain, putting to good use their considerable experience at politico-military consultation and joint action acquired in a century of intermittent (and savage) warfare against the Dutch and the French settlers in North America. American nationalism was born politically robust and culturally unified, insofar as who the famous "We, the People" of the Declaration of Independence was meant to refer to and who it was not.
First, it did not refer to Great Britain or rely on some form of formal affiliation to its empire. It would rely, instead, on a combination of visionary strategies meant to make the United States grow internally, economically, territorially, and demographically ó it would engender its own domestic empire in the guise of a mighty nation-state. By 1848, the United States was already matching the British along some economic indicators.
Secondly, it did not include the 400,000 African Americans, mostly enslaved, within its borders, despite their relative older longevity in the continent than anybody else with the exception of the Native Americans themselves. Whereas it had taken most of the 17th century to sharply bifurcate the social status and occupation of colonial plantation laborers along skin-color racialization schemes, by the time of the American Revolution the well-codified and utterly dehumanized class designation of chattel slave, and the socioculturally flattened and utterly stigmatized racial designation of black or Negro, had become interchangeable and welded.
Lastly, it quickly became apparent that it did not include the millions of indigenous peoples living in North America, regardless of their level of European acculturation or prior histories of cooperation in economic (fur trade) and military affairs, as attested by an endless string of treaties. It is not true that Indian-British official relations were essentially conflictive in the colonial period; rather, they were much more cooperative as a result of geostrategic considerations and the mutual benefit derived from trading fur. But the British American settlers were another matter altogether. Barely contained during the colonial epoch, they immediately began to put pressure on the American Government to seize vast tracks of Indian lands and turn them over to them. By the time Stephen Austin showed up with his few hundred homesteader families (and their slaves) to the newly minted Mexican province of Coahuila-Tejas in 1824 in the hope of growing cotton, the policy of Indian ethnic cleansing was well underway in the eastern United States. By 1830, it had become federal law (the Indian Removal Act), and President Andrew Jackson was enforcing it with all deliberate speed, that no Indian could inhabit the vast area east of the Mississippi and that all "savage tribes" had to be relocated away from the expanding "sphere of Anglo-Saxon Civilization." Jackson, the first American president born after the countryís independence, represented the sentiments of the British American settlers, themselves undergoing a dual cultural transformation nevertheless fused entirely into one: a fervent anti-imperialist nationalism, and a feverish anti-Black and anti-Indian whitening.
Americans frequently donít realize that the famous Trail of Tears, the emblematic death marches of the Cherokees and the other four so-called Civilized Tribes from the east to Oklahoma, occurred not in 1738 or 1638, but starting in 1838 - two years after the Anglo Texan settler revolt and eight years before the U.S. war with Mexico - and ending in 1859 with the removal of the last pockets of Seminole resistance, eleven years after the war with Mexico and two years before the U.S. Civil War. It took over two hundred years of Indian-European American relations in eastern North America to launch in full force, unfettered by inter-Crown rivalries in the New World, a state-sponsored genocidal campaign of extermination and relocation, euphemistically called "Indian wars," but which mostly involved starving civilian populations into submission, arranging or provoking military mass executions, and encouraging openly the most rampant and virulent white settler vigilantism. This policy would remain in effect until 1890, the year of the last massacre at Wounded Knee, South Dakota, by which time all Indians had been either killed (several million) or dumped into remote, barren reservations (about 350,000), left to cling to their cultures and their survival as best they could without any other source of sustenance than meager federal shipments of food and clothing, usually stolen by the corrupt, despotic, and unaccountable white reservation overseers.
White Race and the American Republic had thus become, by 1848, synonymous to the first and second generations of European Americans born after 1776. And that meant to them that in order to build the Great White Republic, all non-whites (as perceived and so pronounced by the W.A.S.P elite) had to be expelled territorially, barred from entry, or be socially marginalized to such a degree that there could be no question that they were or would ever become eligible to become members of the Domain of the People, with full citizen rights and status extended to them in accordance with those codified and enunciated in the humanistic and democratic founding texts of the republic.
A great dilemma, then, for those envisioning the nation-building project, from Thomas Jefferson onward, was not so much how to deal with the Indians, but how to contain such a large, geographically concentrated, and productively engaged population of permanently unfree people as blacks were within a free and democratic nation-state determined to grow and expand. By 1848, the dilemma was even sharper. A century and a half of plantation production based on black slave labor had already laid deep indigenous roots among all involved, creating a shared culture not as easy to dispose of as the colonial shared culture among Indians and Europeans had turned out to be. Racial slavery was a much more intimate, albeit inhuman, social relation of production than the freer racial ones developed around the fur trade and collective military activities. Also by 1848 the cotton gin, that was invented a half-century before, had thoroughly transformed the U.S. South from a late colonial stagnated rural area into one of the richest cash-crop agricultural areas of the world.
It was an unstable formula, to say the least; it could explode like it did in Haiti in 1789, as a result of mixing the fresh winds of liberty, equality, and fraternity that came, despite its large distance from Haiti, from the French Revolution, with the unbearable condition of chattel slavery, refined by then in Haiti to an infernal quasi-industrial system of mass production of sugar. Not only had the Southern Gentlemen paid notice to their Québécois equivalents in Canada, as they were similarly experiencing losing ground on all fronts to the Yankee Northern industrialists, merchants, and politicians, and what it would take to make a run for secession stick, but they were even more influenced and mortified by the events in Haiti. Nothing and nobody could subdue the slave rebellion there ó not the French themselves, not the British, nor the Spanish next door, who only got themselves invaded for trying. The second independent country of the Americas had been born with an even more robust nationalism than the U.S., for it was nourished by the revolutionary fervor that came with the violent overthrow of the yoke of chattel slavery from its citizens. Napoleon himself sold the Louisiana Territory to Jefferson in 1803 ó his last hope for a New France in North America, to be financed from the profits from a retaken Haiti, dashed ó rather than try again. U.S. national building underwent a tremendous jolt of territorial expansion as a result, confirming the designs of divine providence, or so it seemed, and setting the stage for the mad scramble to the Pacific in the next half-century.
But it was a bitter-sweet achievement for the Southerners, who had not yet developed fully the foreboding sense of the impossibility of remaining "equal" in the Union, especially now that King Cotton brought a lavish lifestyle and real clout vis-à-vis their white northern cousins, but who also felt that all the land in the world could not compensate for, or defuse, the powder keg deeply planted in the hidden abode of plantation production itself. The planters resolved to give it a try nevertheless, both as patriotic unionists and slavers, and spent the next half century after the Haitian Revolution and the annexation of the Louisiana Territory, hardening the slave regime in areas of cotton production (in the lower South), and softening them in areas of slave-breeding plantations (in the upper South), hoping they could raise their own brand of docile slaves, and at an even, ample rate at that. Nat Turnerís rebellion in 1831, just five years before the advent of the Republic of Texas, dashed that hope. Others followed The planterís response was to tighten still more their system of enslavement and become much more repressive, including passing laws in some states to re-enslave any free black found living there! Those Southerners coming into Tejas were separating African American families and taking the men away from what they perceived was an area full of sedition and spent, overused land with pretty mansions. Many of these men ran away into Mexico.
The Southern scramble west, then, was much more defensive in nature, but not for that reason any less virulently racist and aggressive, than the Northern scramble. The Southern planter aristocracy, as Genovese (1967) calls them, wanted and sponsored around this time filibuster expeditions to secure the annexation not only of Texas, but of the Caribbean and Central America - desperately seeking new plantation areas where to invest their amassed cotton fortunes, but to balance the political power of the North in the U.S. Congress, which was growing much faster in the House of Representatives due to huge immigration flows into its industrial zones. The South sponsored, with the full support of then President Andrew Jackson, the Texas experiment, after having had a few failed early attempts in the Spanish Floridas (before these territories were turned over gratis to the U.S. in 1819 in exchange for a "permanent" transcontinental border with Mexico, and a solemn U.S. pledge not to press ever again any territorial claims on or offers for Tejas). The Northís own scramble west, much more dynamic on its own economic and demographic terms, was made to accelerate even further by the Southís aggressive attempts to extend slavery and their model of nation building as far south and west as possible.
Things were definitely coming to a head in 1848, just on account of the so-called sectional rivalry and growing antagonism between the U.S. North and South. It was not only that slavery could overtake freedom in the republican nation, as it were, it was that there were emerging two Great white American nationalisms, both wedded to whiteness as the defining constituent element as to who would be a part of it, both imbued with a sense preordained mission and fanatically driven to expand, but divorced in terms of how to build the nation; whether as a gigantic reproduction of the plantation system, or as a gigantic reproduction of the factory system; by achieving peripheral growth and prosperity through the exploitation of home-grown enslaved labor producing a cash crop commodity for export to the British textile manufacturers, or through the exploitation of immigrant waged labor producing industrial goods and then unleashing them to the west to foster commercial farming using the machines produced in the east to produce, in turn, the agricultural commodities for urban consumption in the corifying industrial east. It is worth mentioning that the British core state, secure in its supreme command of machine production and science and technology in the world, not to mention unchallenged military superiority, simultaneously spearheaded the drive to abolish the Atlantic slave trade and institutionalized worldwide a regime of laissez faire capitalism based on free trade, industrialization of the core zones, renewed colonialism in the periphery to supply the core with raw materials and cash crops, and unfettered direct investments and loans in the semiperiphery. The United States was becoming increasingly polarized by its core and peripheral poles, rendering its semiperipheral status and state cohesion highly unstable.
Two national projects, and with them two national identities, were brought to face each other and to measure how irrevocably apart they truly were around 1848, at a time when Americans, at least white Americans, were finally free, truly independent to pursue their dreams, not as before, in colonial times, when they had to join closely, not so much by the threat of indigenous attacks, but by the geostrategic considerations and exigencies of common defense, mandated by a distant Crown against other, rival, European Crown and their settlers and Indian allies.
Two Anglo nation-building project came careening into and hitting hard Mexico, first in 1836 and then in 1846. In 1848, the fateful decision had to be made, with American troops entering and occupying Mexico City and the Mexican Republic prostrated and defeated by its own inability to agree on a nation building model: which of the two U.S. nation-building projects would Mexico, its people and its territories, be incorporated into or made to sustain, and how?
To understand how this issue was resolved, we must introduce two more elements in the analysis, issues as great in importance in 1848 as the one revolving around slavery and emerging rival North/South American nationalisms: the contested nation building projects of the different white social classes and the contested core power building project of the different political and economic elites. Each, in turn, represented partially overlapping and partially competing models of American nation building.
Before 1820, most incomers into what is today the eastern United States were either northwestern Europeans or Africans, and they came gradually over the course of three centuries. The countryís population grew modestly before and in the first decades after independence, partly as a result of the Napoleonic wars in Europe, incipient industrialization, and the reliance on U.S.-grown African American enslaved laborers for agriculture. But after 1820, U.S.-born generations of white Americans, feeling fully entitled, began to demand and obtain land on former Indian territories, as we have seen, thus creating a vast industrial labor shortage which was greatly compounded by the dynamic character of industrial development in the North. Although slavery had been abolished in the North, European Americans in both North and South had been thoroughly whitened. Free blacks were barred from most industrial occupations, which were reserved for whites, leaving only the worst, most menial jobs open to blacks. That, and a myriad other forms of discrimination and segregation, thoroughly blackened the African American population in the North, if not as much as those in the South, enough To resolve the labor shortage, industrialist turned to European immigration. But whereas notions of European, old country ancestry lingered in the minds of these northern whitened Americans, in 1848 they did not harbor any full sense of paramount racial solidarity with the new waves of immigrant Europeans that began to come after 1820 and up through the 1850s, over and above their sense of being native American nationals. Although that would become true by the early 20th century, quite the opposite was the case around 1848, a period that witnessed the native-born white Americans of the industrial areas of the North increasingly preoccupied and even going violently restless about the essentially unobstructed access of these foreigners into the American Republic.
After 1820 European immigration shot up dramatically, swelling some towns like Boston with foreigners, and precipitating nativist riots. Most prominent as a rallying issue of anti-foreign, nativist sentiment was religion, especially Catholic religion, particularly the presence of Irish Catholics. Boston erupted with numerous anti-Catholic demonstrations in 1823, 1826, and 1829, and mobs burned a Catholic convent in the vicinity in 1834. The so-called Protestant Association in New York City agitated incessantly to bar entry to Catholics and to outlaw and close down all Catholic schools. Samuel Morse, the inventor of the telegraph, published his fiery 1834 broadside against Catholics and all other foreigners been let in, A Foreign Conspiracy Against the Liberties of the United States. This was no southern planter and his slaves organizing and agitating an Anglo rebellion in the Mexican department of Tejas, where the fact that all Anglos were Catholic put a damper on that line of reasoning and required another justification for rising against "tyranny." To cover over the fact that Mexico had abolished the slave system so beholden to their sense of nation building. Morse represented the best the new generations of urban, industrial white Americans had to offer, a scientific genius with a vision for progress and rationality accompanying "Lady Columbia" as She spread the fruits of Anglo-Saxon Civilization to all corners of the continent. And Anglo-Saxon Civilization was Protestant. Catholicism, in turn, represented all that was obscure and backward in the old continent. The hostility expressed toward Catholics seemed at this time, to a large extent, generally applicable to all foreigners in the northern East, which meant European immigrants. Dinnerstein et. al (1990: 115-116) refer to native-born white American prejudices against the incoming Europeans at the time this way:
Although immigrants aided American industrial growth, old-stock Americans resented them. They were regarded as unsavory and inferior beings merely because of their European heritage. "What has annoyed me most in my associations with the Americans," one Norwegian wrote back home, is their prejudice against Europe, which they regard as hopelessly lost in slavery and wretchedness. [They] are fully convinced that the other side of the Atlantic is nothing but a heap of medieval feudal states, which, indeed, show some slight indication of reform here and there, but have not made much political progress and have not enough vitality to rise from the abyss of misery and corruption into which they have fallen as a result of centuries of ignorance and despotism; their doom is inevitable." [My emphasis]
The immigrant who wrote this around 1848 was a Protestant, white, European immigrant, and he felt that the white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant American-born - or W.A.S.P Americans - he encountered in the U.S. North consider him pretty much what their white cousins down South consider the black slaves, or those in the western frontier consider the "savage tribes" of Native Americans!
Northern W.A.S.P. Americans from 1820 up until the Civil War, clearly considered themselves and their republic besieged and threatened of being run over by hordes of unfit foreign immigrants. Indeed, when Horace Mann, the Boston educator, did declare the immigrants simply unfit for participation in American society, he was acclaimed. Not so when he proposed to make these foreigners "become morally acclimated" to American customs by going through the common school, where all youth could be instilled the values and outlook of "real" Americans." To most native-born white Americans in the Ante Bellum North, not only were Blacks inherently unfit and inferior, the very idea that Europeans could adapt and "rise" to their pristine cultural level was considered an absurdity, an impossibility given the dead weight of centuries of medieval ignorance and despotism, misery and corruption.
To make matters worse, the Jacksonian era, for all its triumphalist rhetoric of Manifest Destiny and expanding the Sphere of Anglo-Saxon Civilization, brought protracted economic adversity and periodic dislocation for the "common man." Large number of European immigrants joined the ranks of the unemployed and became fully pauperized; an even larger number worked intermittently , living in a permanent, semi-pauperized condition. The "old stock" white American industrial workers, on the other hand, perceived them as a threat to their wages and diminishing job opportunities. They even perceived the blacks in much the same way. Instead of venting their wrath on the factory owners, courts, and government that supported extreme exploitation of their labor, produced constant crises, and suppressed their labor organizations, they focused, on the main during this period, to blame and attack the free blacks and the European immigrants for their woes. Scores of "race riots" and "nativist riots" occurred in the eastern cities between 1828 and 1850, mixing anti-black (and anti-abolitionist), anti-Catholic, anti-Irish, anti-European, anti-foreigner sentiment in various proportions at various times in places like New York City, Washington, Cincinnati, Boston, and Philadelphia. In the latter "city of brotherly love," an anti-Catholic riot in 1844 went on for four days and required the use of three thousand federal troops to restore order, after more than thirty buildings had been burned and fourteen people had been killed, but not before Protestants set fire to two Catholic churches. Between 1829 and 1850, as if not consumed enough by nativist rage, Philadelphia experienced five major race riots against blacks (Dinnerstein, 1990: 118).
This is the era of Reverend Lyman Beecherís famous epistle, A Plea for the West, in which he accused the pope of plotting to dominate America by sending hordes of Catholic immigrants to settle there. This is the era of W.A.S.P. Americans insisting to have Protestant religious instruction in the schools in order to make the pupils "American citizens and ardent supporters of American institutions," while vehemently opposing the use of the Catholic Bible for precisely being inherently potentially subversive of American institutions. To become Americans, large numbers of W.A.S.P. Americans seemed to be demanding, the foreign immigrant must first shed their Catholic religion, indeed, their European heritage in its entirety.
Inevitably, most "old stock" W.A.S.P. industrial working class Americans had come to believe by 1848 that all free Blacks ought to be either expelled from the North or from the United States all together, something of a constant source of white solidarity and tension at the same time in the nascent republic. This was in sharp contrast to the purely unifying, universal belief among all whites in the United States, northerners and southerners, native-born and foreign, Protestant and Catholic, bourgeois or proletarian, that the savage tribes ought to be exterminated or banished, and their lands turned over to them. All this is well known. Less well known was the depth of anti-Catholic and anti-European sentiment in 1848 and up until the Civil War, as inimical to and subversive of the nation building project of the Great White American Republic. The republic would have to be not only white, it would have to be Protestant and for the greater glory (and material interests) of its native-born sons and daughters. Its great two sources were W.A.S.P. cultural nationalism, per se, and the revolt of the native-born, increasingly more defiant and organized, white industrial working class in America.
The great 1830s and 1840s wave of anti-European and anti-Catholic xenophobia gave rise to the nativist Know Nothing party in the 1850s, which gained such massive following that it was able to send to Congress 64 men in 1854-55, mostly from the industrial Northeastern states. Its followers did not want to hear any talk about relying on foreigners, or freed or enslaved slaved blacks, for that matter, to do the industrial and other work of "Americans," meaning W.A.S.P working class, home-grown Americans. Only the combined power of the industrial capitalists and the looming dispute over the two nations building models clashing over the purpose and spoils of the war with Mexico in the second half of the 1840s and through out the 1850s, kept at bay this third model of building the nation by means of both racial & ethnic fissioning. Had it gained early in the Jacksonian era the upper hand over the issue of letting in European immigrants, it could have precipitated the struggle between the North and the South; in the absence of sufficient pools of cheap labor, the temptation of the industrial North to "dip" into the Southern pool would have become irresistible. But neither the Know Nothings predecessors nor the Southerner planters would have tolerated any of that ó they wouldnít tolerate European immigrant competition, much less black competition, freed or not. So, in all probability, the result would have been a relatively peaceful secession by mutual accord between a planter-dominated South and a W.A.S.P. nativist-dominated North. This would have led to an entirely different history of peoplehood in North America, with two very different nation-states in the east of the Mississippi and probably two more north of the St. Lawrence.
Mexico, which had experienced the loss of all of Central America in the very early years of its republican life, and was suffering from endemic civil wars throughout the period, could have easily become the spontaneous generator of several new republics in its northern territories or become the prey of the other neighboring weak, medium-size countries like itself - the "United North," the "United South," the "English Canada" and the "French Canada;" or perhaps Mexico could have been recolonized or carved even further by some of the distant world powers like Great Britain and France, powers which, as it turned out, did attempt to conquer Mexico during the American Civil War period. North America today, had the Know Nothings predecessors succeeded in implanting their model of nation building in the U.S. North, could have very much ended up looking like eastern Europe or Central America, writ large. In1848, North America might have been undergoing just the sort of reconfiguration that Hispanic South America was undergoing, converting huge colonial areas into a increasingly fragmented series of nominally independent republics, increasingly subordinated to the global hegemon of the period, Great Britain; it would have been as much easy pickings for them in the trouble waters of North American nation building, nay, easier due to historical cultural affinities and presence in the area, than in South America.
Which brings us to the last element behind the decision to go to war with Mexico in 1846, the strategy pursued, and the objectives secretly laid out by President Polk to his Cabinet and only gradually shared with Congress and the American people, and that is the long-term vision of the industrial elite and certain geostrategic visionaries from the Founding Fathers on, that had been promoting a version of U.S. nation building that depended much more on industrial policy, trade policy, immigration policy, and international affairs policy much more than on considerations of race and cultural purity, since the inception of the republic. This was the determination to build a nation state with the capability to become a world power strong enough to contend for regional supremacy with Great Britain in North America, begin to project power into Asia and take its place along all world powers in the carving up of material interests there, and perhaps someday actually win the prize of global hegemony, currently held by Great Britain.
This northern elite model of American nation building had little to do with the northern populist working class insular model of the Know Nothings, much less with the southern planter model. Although all three agreed on creating a Great White Republic, this last model took it only as a first step to creating a Great World Power. It was, therefore, much less committed to nation building as it was committed to empire building. And it was infinitely more cognizant of the actual way the world worked, from the structure of the world-economy to the hegemonic role the British played. It knew what it would take just to keep the United States from becoming permanently frozen in the semiperiphery of the world-system, or even sliding back into peripheral underdevelopment. That last fear informed all its views on how to deal with the U.S. South in general, and the question of slavery in particular. It harbored no illusions, such as the southern planters did in their splendorous mansions full of European luxury goods bought with the fabulous profits derived from exporting cotton to Great Britain, that the British were partners willing to share forever the bounty of profits produced by the expanding system of capitalist accumulation they were busy globalizing and institutionalizing at this time. The economic and geostrategic imperatives of core nation building at this time, under the shadow of the British colossus and in a world-economy framed and controlled by Pax Britannica, were accelerated industrialization and the articulation of its agricultural areas to its industrial areas, and to expand territorially and develop maritime power. Those that upheld this model of nation building knew that they were still very far from reaching their goals or even achieving "critical mass" of national consolidation, let alone world power status.
Two paramount considerations, therefore, guided this vision in 1848 and helped framed the outcome of the war with Mexico, intersecting the other two visions of American nation building: how to prevent the British from making the U.S. South their cotton preserve, as the South American "republics" were becoming, in effect, coffee or nitrate or guano preserves, and by implication, preventing the British from robbing the industrial North of the crucial, well-balanced, agricultural areas and urban-rural relations required to develop a strong nation-state capable of quickly emerging as a core state in the world-economy. The South had not only to be contained, but to be retained. If the threat of expansion of slavery had to be met, the immense wealth generated by King Cotton could not be allowed to flow entirely to Britain either. Hence the profound disinclination of the northern economic and political elites to "let the South go its own way," which was the typical attitude in other settler American republics in the face of inter-elite rivalries. The trick was to figure out how to continue to expand the country to west as a free zone and retain the now-fabulously rich South within the Union at the same time.
An impossible project? Well, in 1846, President Polk and his advisors, who clearly represented the global power version of nation building, thought it could be done, and thought they had a expansion plan that would not just co-opt and placate southern planter nationalism, but placate and defuse northern, working class, Know Nothing W.A.S.P nationalism as well, and re-affirm and consolidate once and for all the common thread among all three competing versions of American nation building of building the Great White Republic. Racial fissioning would be retained, even elevated as a principle and strategy of American nationhood.
The other world power building consideration was the imperative not just to expand west but to reach the Pacific Coast, and not just anywhere but to reach the strategic Bay of San Francisco, from where the United States could begin to project commercial and military power to the entire Pacific Rim Area, as far away as Japan and China, as in fact it did just a couple of years after the end of the war with Mexico. A last consideration at the time was to seize the Rio Grande basin in the hopes not just of creating a navigational artery deemed as significant for economic development as the Mississippi River basin ó which turned out to be unrealistic - but to secure the economic hegemony of the United States over northern Mexico and convert it into a U.S. "preserve." The peripheralization of Mexico would correspond to the corification of the United States in much the same way as the enslavement and racial fissioning of blacks and Indians had corresponded with the freedom and social elevation of whites.
And so it happened that the United States came face to face in 1848 with the tangible opportunity to continue to expand territorially as far south as it wished, placed in the position to incorporate, if it so wished, the entire North American continent within its boundaries. It did not do so. A great portal had been reached in the architecture of North American peoplehood. The territorial imperative of all past growth efforts in North America, heretofore associated intimately with nation building and growth of all dimensions of power, was fatefully abandoned in 1848. And neither was the territorial imperative of colonialism adopted. The United States unilaterally stopped itself from conquering all of North America, either as a formal colonial empire or as a gigantic nation-state. Why?
It was not that the Mexicans or the Central Americans, even in combination, could mount the sufficient resistance to stop the U.S. juggernaut unleashed by Polk. Canada was a different matter, for although it was weak and divided, as we have seen, it was a dominion of the most powerful nation on earth at the time, Great Britain. But it could eventually be finessed into relinquishing huge areas through a combination of diplomacy and on the ground pressure via mass settling campaigns, as the disputed Oregon territory had been secured in 1846, shortly before the commencement of planned hostilities with Mexico.
The answered lied in the trifurcation of the nation building project in the United States itself, in an era of great centrifugal forces, mostly economic, the result of the extension and institutionalization of Pax Britannica in the Americas after the first big wave of decolonization in the history of the modern world-system, and which tore at the seams of the new republics everywhere in the Americas. It urgently required resolution and the endless territorial expansion option simply did not meet that need, at least from the W.A.S.P. nativist and the global power perspectives, for whereas the former would object to the wholesale incorporation of millions of undesirable Mexican Indians and "mix-breeds," contaminating and debasing the W.A.S.P nation-to-be, the latter would object to allowing the South to expand slavery interminably, something which would doom any prospects of rising the nation-state quickly to world power status and condemn it to a semiperipheral status at best, assuming it remained united, an increasingly dubious assumption looking elsewhere in the Americas.
The outcome of all these contestations over the nature and size of U.S. peoplehood in 1848 we all know: the United States would provoke war with Mexico, but then only take its northern half, the relatively unsettled provinces, but making sure to include both the Bay of San Francisco and the Rio Grande. Texas would be the last region admitted into the Union as a slave state. The rest of the territorial spoils of war would be declared out of bounds to slavery, even before the fight was over, thought not the policy of extreme racial fission vis-à-vis Native Americans, Mexicans, and shortly thereafter Asians. All plans to conquer and swallow (or colonize) all of Mexico, and even Central America and the Caribbean, would be quietly shelved until further notice.
This was sufficient to defuse the nativist impulse of W.A.S.P. nation building for the remainder of the 19th century, opening vast tracks of lands in the trans-Mississippi West to two gigantic waves of old-stock white domestic in-migrants: the first the so-called Gold Rush in the aftermath of the war with Mexico, and the second, interrupted by the Civil War, with the advent of the transcontinental railroads. All non-whites were unwelcome to partaking of this bounty, as the Chinese that arrived to California after 1848 very quickly discovered.
The East, so went the unholy trade off of the W.A.S.P nativists with their global power devil twins, could keep letting in hordes of filthy European immigrants to develop its mighty industrial machine, which would soon become the envy of the industrial world. In exchange, white Americans would just help themselves to all the Indian and Mexican lands opened to them courtesy of the U.S. War Department, the court system, and sanctioned rampant vigilantism. Old-stock eastern white working class nativists would henceforth patriotically go west and settle down to build the Great White Republic as rich ranchers and farmers. In time, they would even learn to embrace as many immigrants as could be induced to come West, too, so long as they had been properly acculturated and pronounced white. back East.
The torrent of European immigrants that arrived after the war with Mexico, only briefly interrupted by the Civil War, quickly adapted to the new situation and learned, indeed, to claim whiteness to defuse W.A.S.P. nativism and intolerance, especially in the East, and become, if not instant nationals., certainly white nationals after just one or two generations in this continental nation. If in the East (North and South) that meant resisting ó even after the Civil War - all attempts by the very native African Americans to claim their long-sought-after full citizenship in the American republic, in the West that meant championing the displacement of the Mexicans, racialized during and after the war as inferior mongrels, and the wholesale extermination of the Indians. That is, to promote and enforce a new model of American nation building through a process of native-foreign fusioning,the millions of European immigrants vehemently demanded and practiced racial fissioning with blacks, Mexicans, and Indians (and very quickly Asians, too), placing themselves, of course, on the white side of the color line. Though anti-foreign and anti-Catholic (and anti-Jewish) prejudices would persist and boil over sporadically, they became greatly attenuated for the remainder of the century by the large transmigration West of millions of native born white Americans.
It is interesting to note how in the East after 1848, especially after the Civil War, the grand deal between white natives not yet transmigrated west and incoming European immigrants led to the social construction of ethnicity through a process known in the literature as ethnic succession, whereby social, occupational, and residential upward mobility was sequentially arranged so that the newer immigrants would start at the bottom and "push up" the older ones, and all together sustain the high standard of living of the oldest W.A.S.P. Americans. Ethnic fission would persist, albeit in a highly modulated and attenuated fashion. Blacks, on the other hand, whether in the North or in the South, would remain "stuck" to bottom of the social hierarchy and be denied entry into the opportunity-laden ethnic ladder altogether. They would remain subject to two harsh modes of racial fission ó the northern "free" variant and the southern "slave" variant - that would allow them to remain in the republic and contribute their labor to build it, but would be denied their peoplehood, whether American or native. The oldest Americans in the East, aside from the now-displaced and disappeared Indians, were the least entitled to be Americans.
In the West, in contrast, as Almaguer (1994), Montejano (1987), Acuña (1988) and others have described it, what developed after 1848 would be an ethno-racial system of stratification, amalgamation and fission, whereby the native-born white Americans and the foreign-born Europeans amalgamated into a single top tier, both of whom relied on a different ladder to experience upward social mobility within this top tier (from field hand agricultural work to either commercial farming or urban/industrial work), but practicing rigid and hierarchically-ordered racialized fission towards (in order of descent) Mexican Americans and Mexicans, African Americans, Asians, and Native Americans. Nation building in the U.S. West would exhibit this mode of peoplehood, inaugurated and quickly established after 1848, for another century essentially unchanged. The Mexican Americans, it is interesting to note, would spend that century (1848-1948) asserting and claiming whitness, and in the last decades Americaness, to very little avail, as their wholesale racialization was accompanied by their wholesale social ascription of foreignness. Nevertheless, given their treaty based citizenship status and other, cultural, considerations such as Hispanic (European) partial ancestry, they would occupy the highest ladder of the lower tier of racial fissioning. Their fate would not be genocide or extreme marginalization, as befell the Indians, nor slavery in Texas and total apartheid elsewhere, as befell the African Americans, nor immigration exclusion and denial of citizenship as befell the Asians during this period. In the end, 1848 would represent for the Mexicans in what became the U.S. Southwest, a traumatic transition from a budding sense of nationhood to a century of harsh denial of their peoplehood, albeit not as harsh as that of the Native Americans and others living or moving into the region and coloured by the American model of peoplehood fully consolidated after 1848.
The South was a different matter. Though it had originally forced the issue of which model of nation building to pursue by provoking the Anglo Texan planter rebellion in 1836 (and by provoking war with Mexico after working for ten years to admit the "Independent Republic of Texas," as a slave state of the Union), and sponsoring a host of other, filibustering and enslaving experiments as far south as Nicaragua, it neither appreciated being contained nor retained. In 1848 the United States stood at another crossroads of peoplehood because the South would not be placated with the admission of Texas into the Union as a slave state or the extension of racial fissioning west. It became enraged not only by what it perceived to be the denial of its fair share of the territorial booty after the war with Mexico, as it was, but by Polkís deliberate stopping of the conquest process at the Rio Grande simply to deny any further spatial expansion south to planter nationalism. Southern Senators began to speak openly of secession and civil war.
The American nation would be built and would expand by other than territorial means after crossing the fateful portal of 1848. Its northern industrial and geostrategic leaders would prevent the semiperipheralization of the nation-state by forcefully containing and then retaining the South, and when it responded by provoking within a few years a war of secession in pursuit of planter nationalism, slavery itself would be abolished, the attempt would be drowned in a river of blood, and Reconstruction-era programs for advancing the blacks former slaves would be used to threatened the southern planters into making a new all-white deal with the North.
The crossing of the1848 portal would likewise redefine the "real" American to mean not just the old-stock W.A.S.P. white, but all European immigrants willing to come and undergo W.A.S.P. acculturation and conformity, fueling industrialization and creating a new native-foreign alliance that champion racial fissioning and elevated and combined whitening and immigration to the level of cardinal principle of American nation building, at least until the next portal rose up at the dawn of the 20th century.
Finally, it became increasingly understood after 1848 that the truer Manifest Destiny of the Great White Republic was to become the Great American World Power, the primus inter pares not just in the Americas, but in the world. American exceptionalism, the sense that divine providence had reserved and preordained the unique privileged role of leading the world to the United States, by means not of formal colonialism but by means of liberty, progress, and industry, became henceforth deeply ingrained in the ideology of American peoplehood and made an essential ingredient of indoctrination in the common school, what became known as Americanization..
European Americans now became wholly convinced of their preordained role as missionary redeemers of the world, not just North America, the standard bearers of liberty and democracy - never mind the deep racial fissioning embedded in the nation building project itself. It was the success of the republican project for whites that mattered. And so it came to pass that the Americans traded the territorial impulse of nation building for massive immigrant infusions, industrial economic growth, and its accelerated core articulation into the world-economy. The map of North America would not become a single colored map of one big country or empire, but what it became and remained until our days, taking into account the few, relatively minor, "corrections" brought about in 1898.
A great portal had been crossed in the United States in 1848, and by the 1850s the U.S. was projecting its newfound economic and military might in the Far East, Central America, and the Caribbean. Mexico, was already in the bag, so to speak. It, as well as Central America and the Caribbean - the next areas of hegemonic projection by the rising American juggernaut, in direct contention with Great Britain - would also undergo dramatic transformations as each crossed the great portal in the architecture of peoplehood around 1848. That is the subject of the next part of this study. But, from the structural, world-systemís perspective of this study, what is most salient about the comprehensive, highly contested outcome of crossing the portal of 1848, as far as the United States is concerned, is that the United States did not fragment into a number of minor nation-states, some frozen in the world-systemís semiperiphery, like Canada, some locked in its periphery, like most postcolonial Latin American republics. Rather, the United States, through an intricate re-articulation of peoplehood in various regions, territorial expansion, mass immigration, and accelerated industrialization, not only grew to continental proportions, like Brazil, and successfully resisted the Southern Challenge, when it came, but, unlike Brazil, hit on the wining formula for rising to the core of the world-system, and, immediately began to contend for regional hegemony, and eventually rise to challenge the British global hegemony. And, in so doing, the United States would redefine the mode of capitalist accumulation along entirely new principles, and erect a new institutional framework of the world-systemís political economy.
The crossing of the 1848 portal in the architecture of peoplehood in the United States set the solid foundations of all that still to come. But it was not written. It was not preordained. The United States could have easily evolved as another Argentina of the British, an ascending South American republic with which the U.S. at the time was compared to in learned circles, sometimes unfavorably. Or it could have very well gone wild with territorial empire building and swallow the continent and all its peoples, as I have suggested, but only to fragment later into a cascade of medium-to-small sized nation-states, the product of resistance to racial fissioning and inter-elite quarrels fanned by the British and their paramount material interests. North America might have very well ended up, in such scenario, looking like a gigantic Central America filled with "banana republics." And had that happened, the British would have not been challenged down the road by the United States, just like the rest of the Americas never did ó with the possible exception of the pitiful Argentinean 1993 challenge over the Falklands/Malvinas Islands ó leaving the stage to the Germans ó the nascent juggernaut of Europe - to do all the challenging for the throne of global hegemony. And had that happened, the modes of capitalist accumulation and global-institutional political economy that would have contended for supremacy in the late 19th century, would have been only two, not three. The American entirely new mode, forged through and after the war with Mexico and consolidated after the Civil War, would have never arisen. The cultural complexion, and the economic and political framework of the 20th century world-system, would have been altogether another thing than "an American Century."
Such was the importance and contingent nature of the portal
crossed in 1848 by the peoples of, coming to, and being overtaken by, the
United States of America. Nothing "was written" by crossing the 1848 portal,
but everything that would be done and written after that in the
United States, and world history indeed, would be done and written differently
for its having gone through it the way it did.
Acuña, Rodolfo, 1988. Occupied America. A History of Chicanos, 3rd. ed.. New York: HarperCollins Publishers.
Almaguer, Tomas, 1994. Racial Fault Lines. The Historical Origins of White Supremacy in California. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Dinnerstein, Leonard, Roger L. Nichols, and David M., Reimers, 1990. Natives and Strangers. Blacks, Indians, and Immigrants in America, 2nd. Ed.. New York: Oxford University Press.
Genovese, Eugene, 1967. The Political Economy of Slavery. New York: Random House.
Marger, Martin N., 1997. Race and Ethnic Relations: American and Global Perspectives, 4th ed.. Belmont: Wadsworth Publishing Co.
Montejano, David, 1987. Anglos and Mexicans in the Making of Texas, 1836-1986. Austin: Univ. of Texas.