Power in motion: Western success stories of the Jeffersonian republic
Among the men who became political leaders of the first western states and territories was a cadre of able and ambitious Virginians. This study delineates the type by exploring two particularly well-documented examples, John Breckinridge (1760-1806), who migrated in 1793 to Kentucky, and Thomas Worthington (1773-1827), who moved in 1796 (freeing his enslaved) to the Northwest Territory. Both history and tradition have generally labeled such successful Virginia expatriates as planters or "Virginia gentry." In the process of introducing such men, Part One interrogates these labels and their interpretive consequences for (mis)understanding the trans-Appalachian West---and the expansive early republic itself. Since migrating Virginians moved west to free as well as to slave territory, investigating these men also offers new angles from which to investigate the border of slavery. Part Two explores questions of distance and connection, starting with a fresh look at the trans-Appalachian migration. Once across the Appalachians, ambitious, politically active men like Breckinridge and Worthington quickly identified themselves as "western men." These men possessed highly-developed personal styles and strategies of managing over distance (My dissertation premise and leitmotif, "power in motion," refers to their skills in making and maintaining their circulations of power, political, economic, and social, around the republic). But, as soon as they moved west, these same well-connected men began to speak the "western" language of distance and disaffection. This seeming paradox is resolved if we examine these men's actual operations and the purposes behind them. We see then that, far from being isolated or local, these men were actually using the distances to articulate, on behalf of their new "western country," a national vision in opposition to eastern Federalist and (as they saw it) local interests. After the "revolution" of 1800, such men were obvious candidates for national Jeffersonian office, and, in the largest sense, these were the sorts of men whom James Madison and his fellow Founders knew and could trust to realize the "Practicable sphere" of the vast and expanding American republic.