Thursday, August 16, 2018

Booknotes: Coast-To-Coast Empire

New Arrival:
Coast-to-Coast Empire: Manifest Destiny and the New Mexico Borderlands
  by William S. Kiser (Univ of Okla Press, 2018).

A recently minted PhD, Kiser is already the author of four major studies dealing with the nineteenth-century American Southwest, and he's rapidly becoming a rising authority of the region and period. Readers might recall that I liked his Turmoil on the Rio Grande: The Territorial History of the Mesilla Valley, 1846-1865 (2011), and Kiser's scholarly work has also delved into peonage and captive-taking in the Southwest along with Apache resistance in southern New Mexico between the Mexican War and the beginning of the Civil War. His new book is Coast-to-Coast Empire: Manifest Destiny and the New Mexico Borderlands.

The book marks a fresh attempt at integrating a variety of associated historical topics. From the description: "Previous histories have treated the Santa Fe trade, the American occupation under Colonel Stephen W. Kearny, the antebellum Indian Wars, debates over slavery, the Pacific Railway, and the Confederate invasion during the Civil War as separate events in New Mexico. In Coast-to-Coast Empire, William S. Kiser demonstrates instead that these developments were interconnected parts of a process by which the United States effected the political, economic, and ideological transformation of the region."

As the subtitle indicates, the concept of Manifest Destiny and the Southwest's fundamental place in it is a principal theme of the study. "New Mexico was an early proving ground for Manifest Destiny, the belief that U.S. possession of the entire North American continent was inevitable. Kiser shows that the federal government’s military commitment to the territory stemmed from its importance to U.S. expansion. Americans wanted California, but in order to retain possession of it and realize its full economic and geopolitical potential, they needed New Mexico as a connecting thoroughfare in their nation-building project. The use of armed force to realize this claim fundamentally altered New Mexico and the Southwest. Soldiers marched into the territory at the onset of the Mexican-American War and occupied it continuously through the 1890s, leaving an indelible imprint on the region’s social, cultural, political, judicial, and economic systems."

As Andrew Masich has also argued in his own work, Kiser views the military as a key societal agent of regional change and development. "By focusing on the activities of a standing army in a civilian setting, Kiser reshapes the history of the Southwest, underlining the role of the military not just in obtaining territory but in retaining it."

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