“A history of America that looks at land from a slightly different angle - that of real estate...Mr. Linklater's history is one of increasing federal power. A territory had to meet federal standards before it could be admitted as a state, and so the interior became more loyal to federal power than the original 13 colonies. The most exciting episode in this book concerns a plot to break Kentucky and Tennessee off from the union, in collusion with the Spanish government at Natchez. Only the good offices of Andrew Ellicott, Mr. Linklater's favorite surveyor and perennial hero, prevented the conspiracy, by proving in 1797 that Natchez actually lay within American territory, in modern day Mississippi - as opposed to Spanish Florida. After Ellicott promised the local white landowners that their property - including slaves - would be preserved, the assumption of American jurisdiction was assured.” Benjamin Lytal, New York Sun
“Linklater gives us a different perspective than we usually get when reading about how the U.S. developed. The frontier experience took place not only in wide open spaces, but within the borders of the United States. How that happened is an important story and Linklater tells it splendidly.” Roger Bishop, BOOKPAGE
“Scottish-born Linklater (Measuring America) delivers a readable story of how borders helped shape America. He refutes Frederick Jackson Turner's famous thesis that the frontier gave us a dislike for direct control and government dependence. Instead, he effectively argues that without literal boundaries, our history would be much more treacherous....This book, addressing little-known history, will appeal to general readers, while students can use it to research the other side of Turner's thesis. Highly recommended for both public and college libraries.” Library Journal (starred review)
“Contradicting historian Frederick Jackson Turner's famous "frontier thesis," Linklater (Measuring America, 2002, etc.) claims it was America's borders that shaped our national character...An ingenious premise delivered in lively, accessible prose backed by impressive research.” Kirkus Reviews
Contradicting historian Frederick Jackson Turner's famous "frontier thesis," Linklater (Measuring America, 2002, etc.) claims it was America's borders that shaped our national character. Pioneers on the borderless frontier, Turner maintained, hated government control and craved the liberty provided by open, free land. Not so, insists Linklater. True, settlers grabbed free land wherever they could, but what they yearned for above all was legal title to their property. Once they'd acquired their land, each wave of settlers immediately set to work establishing a system to provide law and order and to recognize their claims. From 1783 on, new states rushed to send out surveyors to establish their borders, then mark out sections to record, sell and tax. This was critical, Linklater points out, because land sales provided virtually 100 percent of a state's revenue. The author reintroduces a major historical character, unknown today but familiar to the founding fathers and early presidents: astronomer and surveyor Andrew Ellicott. Quickly acquiring a reputation for dazzling precision, he spent 40 years roaming the nation, laying out borders that stand to this day and in the process making political decisions that also stand. Ellicott (not Pierre L'Enfant) surveyed the new capital, Washington, and drew the original map that appears in history books. Marking our borders proved to be a surprisingly contentious process. Moving into the 19th century, Linklater reminds us that it was less slavery itself than disputes over its boundaries that inflamed both sides. Campaigning in 1860, Lincoln denied an interest in abolition but stressed keeping slavery within a defined area. An ingenious premisedelivered in lively, accessible prose backed by impressive research.