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Historian John Suval, author of Dangerous Ground: Squatters, Statesmen, and the Antebellum Rupture of American Democracy, will deliver a talk on Jacksonian Squatter Democracy, spotlighting the dangers of unleashing forces that defy political control.

The Jacksonian Democratic Party transformed the antebellum political landscape and actual map of North America by championing white squatters in the American West. Squatter Democracy – the marriage of interests between politicians and unauthorized frontier settlers – had powerful unifying appeal, allowing southerners and northerners to sidestep the volatile issue of slavery by rallying behind an expansionist platform that delivered spoils for all.

But the U.S. – Mexican War exposed sectional fissures as partisans debated whether conquered lands would be slave or free. Democratic chiefs attempted to bridge the divide by authorizing settlers – not Congress – to determine the slavery question for themselves, but this policy of “squatter sovereignty” merely transferred the conflict from Washington to the West, converting squatters into foot soldiers in clashes that sundered the nation.

John Suval is a historian of the nineteenth-century United States specializing in antebellum political culture, the American West, public lands, and the U.S.-Mexico borderlands. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin and was a Research Assistant Professor of History at the University of Tennessee, serving as an editor of The Papers of Andrew Jackson. 

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  • Gayle, Kimberly
  • Suval, John
  • Gwydir, Emily Anne

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