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This chapter analyzes literary engagements with two linked military campaigns of the 1790s: the wars against the United Indian Nations in the Ohio Country, and the Western Pennsylvania dissidents in the “Whiskey Rebellion.” These two events, considered minor episodes in popular memory of the early republic, mark a major turning point in the US nation-state, one that tells the origin story of the US military complex and how the United States claimed the western frontier as settler-colonial space. In a reading of Hugh Henry Brackenridge, Hendrick Aupaumut, Herman Husband, and others, the author argues that an important subtext further links the war against the United Indian Nations to the Whiskey Rebellion: the struggle to define not only the geopolitical but also the racial-ethnic boundaries of the United States in a moment when Indigenous peoples and backcountry immigrants were often lumped together as “savages” living outside the law of Anglo-Saxon civilization – that is, as enemies of white fiscal-military empire.
The discourse of enthusiasm in the antebellum United States played a pivotal role in cultural debates surrounding the right of black people to participate in the “age of Revolution,” as Ralph Waldo Emerson called the era in 1837. This argument is explored through the textual archive of Nat Turner's Rebellion (1831). During this period, enthusiasm could refer to either a democratic-sublime or a fanatical-delusional passion for freedom. The term was applied to Turner pejoratively, not so much because his rebellion represented an instance of wild fanaticism to white audiences but because it represented an instance of familiar democratic revolt inadmissibly claimed by black people. Turner makes his own rhetorical claims for the meaning of enthusiasm: the word signifies an ardent zeal that inspires both direct dissent against slavery and acts of communication that transmit to readers a fervor for occluded black freedoms.
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