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Ford Evening Book Talk: Speculation Nation: Land Mania in the Revolutionary American Republic

Detail, A map of the north west parts of the United States of America, 1785, by John Fitch. Courtesy of Richard Brown and Mary Jo Otsea.

Hear from Princeton University professor Michael A. Blaakman, author of Speculation Nation: Land Mania in the Revolutionary American Republic. 

Dr. Blaakman investigates the extraordinary wave of land speculation that swept the United States during its first quarter-century, stretching across millions of acres from Maine to the Mississippi. A story of ambition, corruption, capitalism, and statecraft, the book uncovers the revolutionary origins of this real-estate mania and explores its role in the American founding.

Attendees will have the opportunity to submit questions and have their books signed. This event will include a reception from 6 to 7 pm, before the lecture.


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About the Book

During the first quarter-century after its founding, the United States was swept by a wave of land speculation so unprecedented in intensity and scale that contemporaries and historians alike have dubbed it a “mania.” In Speculation Nation, Michael A. Blaakman uncovers the revolutionary origins of this real-estate bonanza—a story of ambition, corruption, capitalism, and statecraft that stretched across millions of acres from Maine to the Mississippi and Georgia to the Great Lakes.

Patriot leaders staked the success of their revolution on the seizure and public sale of Native American territory. Initially, they hoped that fledgling state and national governments could pay the hefty costs of the War for Independence and extend a republican society of propertied citizens by selling expropriated land directly to white farmers. But those democratic plans quickly ran aground of a series of obstacles, including an economic depression and the ability of many Native nations to repel U.S. invasion. Wily merchants, lawyers, planters, and financiers rushed into the breach. Scrambling to profit off future expansion, they lobbied governments to convey massive tracts for pennies an acre, hounded revolutionary veterans to sell their land bounties for a pittance, and marketed the rustic ideal of a yeoman’s republic—the early American dream—while waiting for land values to rise.

When the land business crashed in the late 1790s, scores of “land mad” speculators found themselves imprisoned for debt or declaring bankruptcy. But through their visionary schemes and corrupt machinations, U.S. speculators and statesmen had spawned a distinctive and enduring form of settler colonialism: a financialized frontier, which transformed vast swaths of contested land into abstract commodities. Speculation Nation reveals how the era of land mania made Native dispossession a founding premise of the American republic and ultimately rooted the United States’ “empire of liberty” in speculative capitalism.

About the Author

Michael A. Blaakman is an assistant professor of history and the David L. Rike University Preceptor at Princeton University. He earned his Ph.D. from Yale in 2016. Dr. Blaakman is coeditor of The Early Imperial Republic: From the American Revolution to the U.S.–Mexican War. He worked on Speculation Nation as a member of the Washington Library’s 2014-15 class of research fellows. He returned to Mount Vernon as a member of the class of 2022-23. 

Sponsored By The Ford Motor Company Fund

Mount Vernon has enjoyed a very special relationship with the Ford Motor Company dating back more than 90 years. We are grateful for their generous support and we applaud their abiding respect for American heritage.

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