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The Nation's Nature

How Continental Presumptions Gave Rise to the United States of America
James D. Drake

BUY Cloth · 416 pp. · 6.125 × 9.25 · ISBN 9780813931227 · $45.00 · Aug 2011
BUY Ebook · 416 pp. · ISBN 9780813931395 · $45.00 · Aug 2011

Phi Alpha Theta Book Awards, Phi Alpha Theta History Honor Society (2012)

In one of Common Sense’s most ringing phrases, Thomas Paine declared it "absurd" for "a continent to be perpetually governed by an island." Such powerful words, coupled with powerful ideas, helped spur the United States to independence.

In The Nation's Nature, James D. Drake examines how a relatively small number of inhabitants of the Americas, huddled along North America’s east coast, came to mentally appropriate the entire continent and to think of their nation as America. Drake demonstrates how British North American colonists’ participation in scientific debates and imperial contests shaped their notions of global geography. These ideas, in turn, solidified American nationalism, spurred a revolution, and shaped the ratification of the Constitution.

Winner of the Walker Cowen Memorial Prize for an outstanding work of scholarship in eighteenth–century studies


"One of the most remarkable aspects of the Founding era was the willingness of so many Americans to believe that their shaky young republic was somehow destined to dominate North America. James Drake explains why people with only the haziest ideas of the continent's geography could have found this proposition plausible, and shows how, in acting on their convictions, they positioned the United States to realize a vision that was far more improbable than they dreamed. This elegantly argued, graceful, and rewarding book invites us not only to reimagine the American Revolutionary impulse, but to reassess the nature of the nation it created."

Fred Anderson, author, with Andrew Cayton, of The Dominion of War: Empire and Liberty in North America, 1500-2000

In The Nation’s Nature, James Drake untangles the critical and complex process by which free Americans imagined the United States stretching from sea to sea long before it actually did. He makes a convincing case that this continental vision was critical to the Americans’ success at breaking up the British Empire in 1776 and launching their own eleven years later. Along the way, he proves that it is possible to trace the evolution of a nation’s collective imagination in jargon-free prose that is actually fun to read.

Woody Holton, University of Richmond · author of Unruly Americans and the Origins of the Constitution

"Geographers have begun to ask whether continents are any longer a viable category of analysis, while the new field of global history has challenged the idea that the story of this nation can be contained between the seas. In this moment of geographic turbulence, we are suddenly liberated from the tyranny of continental presumptions and encouraged to reimagine ourselves in a less landlocked manner. Drake's book comes as a gift at this critical time."

John R. Gillis · Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography

"Drake's reconstruction of the "geography of the mind" gives us a fresh perspective on the origins and development of American democracy."

Peter Onuf · Journal of Interdisciplinary History

"By choosing to evoke, but not directly engage, these debates in the text, Drake has written an accessible and thoroughly engaging book that largely leaves the reader to make bigger scholarly connections for him- or herself."

Christian J. Koot, Towson University · The Journal of Southern History

"That’s evidence of the quality of this book: it gives revolutionary-era historians something new and weighty to talk about."


About the Author(s): 

James D. Drake, Professor of History at Metropolitan State University of Denver, is the author of King Philip’s War: Civil War in New England, 1675–1676.

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