How the West Was Lost: The Transformation of Kentucky from Daniel Boone to Henry Clay

How the West Was Lost: The Transformation of Kentucky from Daniel Boone to Henry Clay, by Stephen Aron, 1999, reviewed by Pastor LaMont Bonath.

"Synchronous with the birth and initial development of the United States, the conquest, colonization, and consolidation of Kentucky established patterns ... for successive American 'Wests'." When the worlds and cultures of Indians and whites intersected, competition developed for game and land. Abundant game was attributed to providence in Kentucky and later to the absence of occupants. The real reasons for a lack of occupants was tied to European colonialism. The Iroquois raided the area about a century before Daniel Boone, forcing the Shawnee to move into Alabama, Georgia, the Carolinas and Pennsylvania.

The rights in the woods was one of the next American "Wests" to emerge in Kentucky. All white men in each of the successive American Wests believed in the private ownership of land. The difference focused on the scope conferred by private land titles. The pioneers, represented by Daniel Boone, made a presumption; unimproved land, whatever its legal status, was semipublic property which they were able to cross at will, collect dead timber, to let their stock graze and to hunt game.

The Bluegrass system, which emerged around the beginning of the nineteenth century until the War of 1812, symbolized the dynamic drive of economic development by the Bluegrass elites. These elites were made up of a combination of lawyers, merchants, and planters who believed in improving their economic well-being. These Bluegrass elites, were represented by Henry Clay. Clay's main weakness was to focus on the elites' interests and not the interests of the whole state of Kentucky. Clay truly felt the Bluegrass System bettered the lives of white and black laborers in or near to the city of Lexington. This flawed economic view surfaced in the cultivation of hemp. The planters possessed the lands and hands necessary to exploit hemp cultivation, which required intensive, year-round labor. Due to their fruitful lands and slave labor; a style and standard of living emerged surpassing the world they left behind on the East coast of America due to the cultivation of hemp as a cash crop. Another cash crop was Bourbon whiskey which provided another use for corn. Due to the high price of Bourbon whiskey farmers where able to obtain items from import merchants.

The Bluegrass elites also recognized the need for an alliance between private enterprise and public finance, if they were to remain in power. Henry Clay was able to put together an "America System" first as a state representative and then as a national politician. Clay cloaked regional interests in national rhetoric. His national rhetoric focused on protective tariffs, internal improvements and banking policies.

It is interesting to note each of these groups made "...their bargains with the devil of slavery." Due to the need for unfree labor to produce Kentucky's marketable commodities, these groups were willing to overlook the issue of slavery. Unfortunately, slavery was to complicate and hinder the political and geographic consolidation of the United States until well after the America Civil War.

I liked the way the "...messier dynamics...when people came together and their different ways collided, ..." I believe this book's approach gives the reader a greater depth of understanding about the regional history of Kentucky and some of the possibilities which were lost as America expanded geographically.

ASIN: 0801861985