Smuggler Nation: How Illicit Trade Made America

Smuggler Nation: How Illicit Trade Made America

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by Peter Andreas

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America is a smuggler nation. Our long history of illicit imports has ranged from West Indies molasses and Dutch gunpowder in the 18th century, to British industrial technologies and African slaves in the 19th century, to French condoms and Canadian booze in the early 20th century, to Mexican workers and Colombian cocaine in the modern era. Contraband capitalism,


America is a smuggler nation. Our long history of illicit imports has ranged from West Indies molasses and Dutch gunpowder in the 18th century, to British industrial technologies and African slaves in the 19th century, to French condoms and Canadian booze in the early 20th century, to Mexican workers and Colombian cocaine in the modern era. Contraband capitalism, it turns out, has been an integral part of American capitalism.

Providing a sweeping narrative history from colonial times to the present, Smuggler Nation is now available in paperback to retell the story of America — and of its engagement with its neighbors and the rest of the world — as a series of highly contentious battles over clandestine commerce. As Peter Andreas demonstrates in this provocative and fascinating work, smuggling has played a pivotal and too often overlooked role in America's birth, westward expansion, and economic development, while anti-smuggling campaigns have dramatically enhanced the federal government's policing powers. The great irony, Andreas tells us, is that a country that was born and grew up through smuggling is today the world's leading anti-smuggling crusader.

In tracing America's long and often tortuous relationship with the murky underworld of smuggling, Andreas provides a much-needed antidote to today's hyperbolic depictions of out-of-control borders and growing global crime threats. Urgent calls by politicians and pundits to regain control of the nation's borders suffer from a severe case of historical amnesia, nostalgically implying that they were ever actually under control. This is pure mythology, says Andreas. For better and for worse, America's borders have always been highly porous.

Far from being a new and unprecedented danger to America, the illicit underside of globalization is actually an old American tradition. As Andreas shows, it goes back not just decades but centuries. And its impact has been decidedly double-edged, not only subverting U.S. laws but also helping to fuel America's evolution from a remote British colony to the world's pre-eminent superpower.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"[A] readable synthetic study of smuggling and attempts to police it... Moving swiftly through more than three centuries, the narrative resembles its more proficient subjects, cutting across subfield borders to reveal Americans' historical entanglements with illicit trade." —Journal of American History

"In Smuggler Nation, Peter Andreas recounts the well-worn story of American independence less as a lofty quest for freedom per se than as a struggle for freedom from onerous trade restrictions. He points out that many of the important freedoms protected by the Constitution, though they owed their intellectual pedigree to Locke and Montesquieu, had their origin in the travails of colonial smugglers trying to get molasses or gunpowder or Madeira past British customs agents." —Eric Felten, The Wall Street Journal

"Deftly explains how the battle lines of the American War of Independence were drawn largely because of people's varied and often self-serving relationships to smuggling... Smuggling is here to stay, and how we cope with this most American of practices will define our destiny in the years to come." —Cam Martin, The Daily Beast

"In this captivating new history, Brown University political science professor Andreas documents smuggling in America from the colonial 'golden age of illicit trade' through the Industrial Revolution and on into the current 'war on drugs'... Throughout the riveting text, Andreas also discusses the sociopolitical climates that gave rise to these storms of illicit commerce. Far from romanticizing or condoning illegal trade, Andreas convincingly argues that the flow of illicit goods has defined and shaped the nation, both in terms of who and what goes in and out, and how society reacts with regulatory policies. A valuable and entertaining read for historians and policymakers." —Publishers Weekly

"In this well-researched history, the author examines illegal commerce in the United States from its earliest days into the modern era... An illuminating look at the historical impact of America's illicit economy." —Kirkus Reviews

"In this terrific book, Peter Andreas shows that illicit trade is as American as apple pie."
—Darrell West, Vice President and Director of Governance Studies, The Brookings Institution

"Smuggler Nation is a tour de force. Porous borders and the efforts to seal them are not new to the 21st century—Andreas convincingly shows they have defined the American experience." —James Goldgeier, Dean, School of International Service, American University

"Through his extensive historical research, Andreas shows us that illicit trade in America is not an aberration but has in fact shaped the modern economy in fundamental ways. An extraordinary re-narrating of familiar episodes that makes visible America's hidden connections with underworlds and parallel worlds." —Saskia Sassen, author of Territory, Authority, Rights

"Americans have long projected national power through open, free, and legal markets. Andreas, one of the world's leading scholars of the dark side of globalization, presents us with a fascinating account of the role of illicit trade in the making of the American nation itself. This iconoclastic and timely book is an engaging and accessible primer for anyone seeking to understand the illicit dimensions of the global economy." —Louis W. Pauly, Professor and Chair, Political Science, University of Toronto

"An extraordinary retelling of the American epic. Peter Andreas shows us how smuggling shaped politics, economics and culture from colonial times to the present day. Meticulously researched and elegantly written, Smuggler Nation is an important contribution to the literature on American political development. Fascinating, powerful, persuasive, unexpected, lively, deep, and highly recommended." —James A. Morone, author of Hellfire Nation and coauthor of The Heart of Power

Product Details

Oxford University Press
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New Edition
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Product dimensions:
6.10(w) x 9.20(h) x 1.30(d)

Meet the Author

Peter Andreas is a professor in the Department of Political Science and the Watson Institute for International Studies at Brown University. He was previously an Academy Scholar at Harvard University, a Research Fellow at the Brookings Institution, and an SSRC-MacArthur Foundation Fellow on International Peace and Security. Andreas has written numerous books, published widely in scholarly journals and policy magazines, presented Congressional testimony, written op-eds for major newspapers, and provided frequent media commentary.

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