Negotiations and conflict over the land between the Ohio River and the Great Lakes, as depicted
in this 1793 painting, are an example of how the new nation decided who could remain in the U.S.
Image of The Great Indian Council by Lewis Foy courtesy The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts/Christine Guest

Citizen watch

May 20, 2022

History

This brilliant work of scholarship will change the way we teach early U.S. history.

When North American colonists waged a war for independence from Britain and established the United States, they had an important question to address: Who shall be part of the new nation with us? They also had to decide its corollary: Who shall not?

How early Americans argued over these questions is at the heart of a UR historian’s book that received a major award in the spring. In April, the Organization of American Historians awarded Samantha Seeley, associate professor of history, its 2022 Merle Curti Social History Award for Race, Removal, and the Right to Remain: Migration and the Making of the United States. “This brilliant work of scholarship will change the way we teach early U.S. history,” said the OAH in a press release.

The book, Seeley’s first, examines how the states and federal government excluded groups of people from the nation after the American Revolution. One key strategy was creating legal, political, and diplomatic tools to prompt the removal — forced, coerced, and voluntary — of people deemed not to have the right to live in the United States.

“The popular understanding of the post-revolutionary period is one of free movement — the movement of people to the frontier,” Seeley said. “The book flips that understanding to argue that removal, as much as free migration, made the United States by defining who should be part of it. Because they were threatened with removal so often after the American Revolution, African Americans and Indigenous communities responded by working to protect their right to remain.”