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Empire of the People


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Table of Contents

  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction: The Settler Colonial Foundations of Modern Democratic Thought
  • Part One: Federalism and Empire
  • 1. From Colonial Dependence to Imperial Equality
  • 2. The Coloniality of Constituent Power
  • Part Two: Settler Colonialism and Democratic Culture
  • 3. Colonial Dispossession and the Settler Social State
  • 4. Manifest Destiny and the Safety Valve of Colonization
  • 5. Slavery and the Empire of Free Soil
  • Part Three: Unsettling Democracy
  • 6. William Apess and the Paradox of Settler Sovereignty
  • Afterword: Decolonizing the Democratic Tradition
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Index

    About the Author

    Adam Dahl is assistant professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.


    Empire of the People is a capacious tour de force. In a sweeping historical account, Dahl illuminates the violent structure of settler colonialism in the United States. The chapters explore, and powerfully unsettle, prevailing assumptions in American political thought, vividly taking stock of the narratives of native absence that underpin the democratic thought in the west. The book is an impressive contribution to the florescence of counter-narratives that are preparing new ground for an urgent and emergent political theory of decolonization.--Alexander Keller Hirsch, University of Alaska

    "What if the foundation of democracy is not 'the people' but the dispossession of land from its rightful inhabitants? Adam Dahl transforms our understandings of American political thought, showing how it deliberately ignores Native American presence and practices. Dahl deftly illuminates how democratic theory--from Jefferson to Tocqueville to Emerson--cannot be separated from its settler-colonial roots. By turning to the Pequot theorist William Apess, Dahl identifies a solution--to take indigenous thinking and nations seriously as alternative, equal nations."--Kennan Ferguson, director of the Center for 21st Century Studies, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

    "What is the relation between democracy and colonial dispossession? Adam Dahl critically examines this question through a close study of democratic theory in nineteenth-century Anglo-America. Bringing together familiar figures such as Emerson, Whitman, and Tocqueville with a complex array of lesser known texts and authors, Dahl expertly demonstrates how the US tradition of democratic thought was forged in and through the systematic expropriation of indigenous peoples from their ancestral lands. Most important and innovative, however, is his serious engagement with indigenous political thinkers, including William Apess, Black Hawk, and Elias Boudinot, who laid bare the paradoxes of this 'democracy dispossession.' As such, Empire of the People functions as both contribution to, and indictment of, American political thought."--Robert Nichols, McKnight Land-Grant Professor in Political Theory, University of Minnesota

    "Dahl presents a complex and intriguing theory of American historical development."--Choice

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