“However our present interests may restrain us within our own limits, it is impossible not to look forward to distant times, when our rapid multiplication will expand itself beyond those limits, & cover the whole northern, if not the southern continent, with a people speaking a same language, governed in similar forms, & by similar laws; nor can we contemplate with satisfaction either blot or mixture on that surface.” Thomas Jefferson to James Monroe, November 24, 1801

“… nor can we contemplate with satisfaction either blot or mixture on the surface.” Ironic, right? Because based on not so recent scholarship, Thomas Jefferson had little reservation about mixing with at least one of the “blots” on at least six different occasions.

As much as we like to believe the origins of the American character are forged in democracy & fraternity, we’d be negligent if we didn’t consider the very strong impulses toward imperialism and white supremacy ably carried by the vessel of “Manifest Destiny.” Jefferson’s letter to James Monroe, excerpted above, was written roughly three years before he commissioned Lewis and Clark to map the Northwest Territory which he’d just bought from France, ignoring the sovereignty of the many nations of indigenous people who’d already live on this continent for centuries.

Lewis & Clark set out from St. Louis, the very site of the Cahokians, the “Mound Builders” who had established a vast civilization some 800 years prior. They built a network of at least 70 mounds used for festivals, religious rituals, and observing the stars. I camped in the state park near the few remaining mounds as a Boy Scout. We were told that they were crude burial grounds. The area surrounding the park has been zoned for industrial and commercial use. The nearby exits look like just about every other off-ramp in America, a mixture of gas stations, big box stores, and fast food franchises. Which is, what it is, right? The new always supplants the old. Every city is built over the bones of earlier attempts at civilization.

But consider that Cahokia and the rest of the continental U.S. weren’t “settled” as much as taken by force. The civilizations already established on the land weren’t supplanted. They were obliterated. The bones of their prior cities ground to dust, or, as in the case of the Cahokia mounds, used to backfill the foundations of the new cities.

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