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Mirabeau buonaparte lamar

Lamar.png
A 19th-century portrait of Lamar.

Lamar was participating in a popular nineteenth-century literary genre in authoring his travel journal. The most popular travel narratives produced in the late nineteenth generally involved journeys to foreign lands, usually Europe or the Holy Land. It was not uncommon during the first half of the century, however, for U.S.-authored travel narratives to focus on domestic sojourns, particularly ones to the nation’s ever shifting western frontier. Lamar begins by declaring his intention to settle in Texas if he can discover there a profitable opportunity for himself. His travel journal follows his journey from Columbus, Georgia to Mobile to New Orleans to Baton Rouge to Natchitoches, Louisiana and finally into Texas. At each stop, he provides an extended history of the area along with an account of the contemporary social, religious, and cultural practices that he is able to observe. His “histories” operate through a combination of formal, official facts and local, often humorous anecdotes. Before it arrives at his experiences in Texas, the longest section of Lamar’s journal is the one concerned with the city of New Orleans. He moves frequently between histories of the region, including a long history on the settlement of the Louisiana Territory in general, and his observations of everyday life in the city. Interestingly, he spends a great deal of time on the city’s churches and various religious sects, leading him to comment, “The Methodist I believe are the only sect that has sincerely done any thing for the negroes; a large portion of their congregation and members are black” (13). What is especially noteworthy about this passage is that marks one of the only instances in which Lamar mentions the presence of African Americans in his text. Unlike many other travel narratives of the time, Lamar’s is barely concerned with the issues of slavery or relations between black and white populations. It is certainly not around the issue of slavery that Lamar’s journal provides us with insight into U.S. imperialist ideology. Instead, we must look to his treatment of both American Indians and Mexico in order to excavate the specters of U.S. empire from his writings.

Lamar encounters several Native American tribes during his journey to Texas, including the Comanche and the Caddo. He writes at greatest length about the Comanche, whom he primarily characterizes by their warlike and nomadic natures. It is the latter quality that feeds into Lamar’s indirect justification of the U.S.’s continued westward expansion. He writes, “All the beauties and blessings of nature, all the blessings of industry; all the luxuries that God and art have contributed to place within the reach of man, despised and unheeded by this iron race who seem to have no aim ambition or desire beyond . . . the uncouth wildness of native liberty&unrestrained lisence” (55). Lamar’s implication is that if tribes such as the Comanche will not take advantage of the productive land all around them, then another group of people – namely white Americans – should be able to. He deploys much the same rhetoric when discussing the population he terms the “natives” of Texas, whom he describes as the product of intermarriage between Spaniards and the region’s Indians. First, he racializes them, differentiating them based upon the darkness of their skin: “They are of dark swarthy complexion, darker than the inhabitants of old Spain&not possessing the clear red of the Indians” (37). He goes on to name these people among the laziest in the known world, claiming, “These people have long been in possession of the fairest country in the world . . . and yet from their constitutional&habitual indolence&inactivity they have suffered these advantages to remain unimproved” (38). In order to explain the mass migration of Americans into this region, he portrays Texas as an uncultivated territory waiting upon the arrival of an eager and industrious population. Again, Lamar is operating within a long discursive tradition that uses unexploited economic opportunity as a rationale for imperialist projects.

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Source:  OpenStax, The mexican-american borderlands culture and history. OpenStax CNX. Aug 05, 2011 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col11327/1.4
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