Jefferson’s hope for the Mississippi Valley was that the abundance of land would produce a harvest of self-sufficient, noncommercial white households headed by the yeoman patriarchs whom he associated with republican virtue, a flowering of white equality and political independence: an “empire for liberty.” The notion of an “empire for liberty” had embedded within it a theory of space. Given enough land, migrants from the East would naturally be transformed into a freeholding, republican yeomanry. Spread out across the landscape, white farmers would have to provide for themselves: they would be too removed from cities to be reliant upon them for their basic needs (or to develop other needs they could not meet themselves); too distant from credit networks to find themselves ensnared in the sort of debtor-creditor relationships that could compromise their political independence; and too far from factories to become dependent upon wages paid by others for their daily sustenance. These yeoman farmers would be self-sufficient, equal, and independent–masters of their own destiny. Necessity would be more than the mother of invention: it would give birth to independence, maturity, freedom (3).
It was through the Land Office that expropriated Indian land would be sown with white settlers; that conquest would yield citizenship. As Andrew Jackson put it in the aftermath of his conquest of the Creek: “The wealth and strength of a country are its population, and the best part of the population are cultivators of the soil. Independent farmers are everywhere the basis of society, and the true friends of liberty.” The “true policy” of the United States, he continued, was to sell the land of the Creek (and of other conquered peoples) “in limited packages at a price barely sufficient to reimburse to the United States the expense of the present system.” The market would turn Indian lands into white farms and conquest into cultivation: empire into equality (34).
Walter Johnson. River of Dark Dreams: Slavery and Empire in the Cotton Kingdom. Cambridge, MA: Belknap, 2013. Print.