"Citizens of Convenience": History Colloquium with WSU Prof. Lawrence Hatter


Continuing our fall trend of traveling the 18th century North American fur trade routes, Washington State University Assistant Professor of History Lawrence B.A. Hatter gave a November 3 talk drawn from his forthcoming book on University of Virginia Press, Citizens of Convenience: Nationhood, Empire, and the Northern Border of the American Republic, 1783-1820, as part of the Kinder Institute’s Fall 2016 Colloquium Series.

Central to the portion of his research on which he presented were those provisions to the Jay Treaty—vehemently opposed by Republicans—designed to facilitate international movement and commerce across the U.S.-Canada border. As Prof. Hatter demonstrated, the ambiguity created by these provisions, particularly when it came to ideas of citizenship, was easily (and readily) exploited by British fur traders like Robert Dickson, who were able to sidestep the naturalization process and move freely throughout the United States, claiming or denying their status as British subjects according to convenience and profitability.

As one might expect, this lack of fetter both led to heavy British investment in the St. Louis-to-Montreal trade route in particular and drew the ire of isolationist American entrepreneurs like James Wilkinson, who unsuccessfully attempted to ban foreign trade on the Missouri River in the early-19th century. On the other side of the aisle from Wilkinson, however, were profiteers like John Jacob Astor, who, in seeing Dickson’s chameleonic national status as a potential boon, attempted to enlist him as an agent of the American Fur Co. and openly lobbied for him to be appointed as a U.S. Indian Agent by the federal government (after he killed his potential predecessor in a duel).

Of course all of this changed, Prof. Hatter argued, with the War of 1812, during which many British traders who were exploiting the benefits of the Jay Treaty—including Dickson at Fort Michilimackinac—played key roles in mobilizing and leading Native American attacks on U.S. forts along the border waterways. Once the U.S. emerged from battle victorious, the fallout from the War of 1812 abrogated the Jay Treaty, as British traders were no longer permitted to claim citizenship-by-residence without going through the process of naturalization and, moreover, as the federal government cracked down on foreign traders in general by occupying strategic choke points along the Great Lakes.

Lawrence B.A. Hatter received his M.A. in History from University of Missouri and his Ph.D. from University of Virginia, and he currently serves as Assistant Professor of History at Washington State University. He has published articles in Journal of the Early Republic, Diplomatic History, and American Review of Canadian Studies, among other places, and his current book project, Citizens of Convenience: Nationhood, Empire, and the Northern Border of the American Republic, 1783-1820 is under contract with University of Virginia Press, to be published as part of the Early American Histories series.