Author's School

Graduate School of Arts & Sciences

Author's Department/Program



English (en)

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Chair and Committee

Iver Bernstein


Daniel Scallet, "The Second Seminole War, the Ad Hoc Origins of American Imperialism, and the Silence of Slavery," Ph.D. Washington University in St. Louis, December 2011 My dissertation examines the national context of the Second Seminole War and argues that it was begun at the behest of Deep South slaveholders and represented a vital national shift toward violent expansionism. However, due to tacit agreements among public officials to refrain from debating the influence of slavery on federal policy, the fundamental arguments of the war - why it was undertaken, how it was to be fought, why it had to be won - occurred wholly outside of public view, if they occurred at all. As a result, the nation abandoned older Jeffersonian ideals of national expansion predicated upon ideological conversion and instead embraced violent conquest, without a real debate, let alone a fight. This project has two main focuses. In the first, I examine how disparate people in Florida, including generals, volunteers, soldiers, Seminoles, and Black Seminoles, viewed the war and, through the use of diaries, letters, personal narratives, and professional reports, demonstrate the centrality of competing conceptions of slavery and race relations to the everyday struggles of the conflict. Several times, American generals proposed peace treaties that would allow the Seminoles to remain in southern Florida. In each case, vociferous opposition from both southern slaveholders determined to eradicate autonomous nonwhite enclaves on their frontiers and national politicians who characterized agreement with Indians on any grounds as inimical to national honor, left every treaty stillborn. This slaveholder influence on the war effort was largely invisible to the rest of the country. In this work's second focus, I detail the war's national context, utilizing newspaper accounts, Congressional debates, and published manuscripts, to examine how a refusal among politicians of both parties to question the place of slavery in national politics dramatically stunted the breadth of what is commonly called Jacksonian democracy. As Democrats increasingly articulated ambitions over the rest of the continent - John Quincy Adams disgustedly condemned their agenda as promulgating a "culture of conquest" - mainstream Whigs remained largely silent over this radical alteration of American foreign policy, though only a few years before, they had steadfastly opposed Andrew Jackson's Indian Removal Act. Only isolated groups of antislavery activists led by Joshua Giddings, David Lee Child, and Harriet Martineau, themselves especially attuned to the rhythms of domination and subjugation, had the foresight to perceive the course of their nation: indeed the course of empire) and oppose the Second Seminole War for what it truly was. In 1835, in their failure to grapple with the war's radical underpinnings, elite Americans from every region of the country freely adopted, without contestation, the priorities of the Slave Power: the colonization of native populations and the annihilation of their political forms. Their silence normalized violent expansionism in national culture and politics and laid the foundation for the future adoption of legal structures that typify imperial states. In ways contemporary Americans could not have known but might have prevented, the Second Seminole War made possible the United States global acquisition of colonies for over a century. This dissertation offers a new context for not only understanding the Jacksonian period, but also American imperialism, whose history can now be appreciated as fully intertwined with the political history of slavery, and largely unchallenged at its birth.


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