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(Bawl-)Fredonia: Renaming, Remapping, and Retelling the United States in the Early Republic

Christian Quendler

Pages 291 - 314


In the aftermath of the American Revolution, the New York scientist and politician Samuel Latham Mitchill proposed ‘Fredonia’ as a new national name for the United States. Despite his clever promotional strategy that involved Noah Webster, the eminent national geographer Jedidiah Morse, and Thomas Jefferson, Mitchill failed as a naming patron. Yet, “Fredonia” prevailed as a critical and satirical expression of a distinct national discourse. It surfaces in national debates on language, geography, and history and finds its most elaborate response in Jonas Clopper’s utopian satire ‚Fragments of the History of Bawlfredonia‘ (1819). Even though Fredonia is but a minor, nominal event, it illustrates well the stakes and conflicts of nation building. It is exemplary in the way naming, mapping, and historicizing the United States are put to use as key strategies for projecting a communal basis of national identity. Tracing Fredonia from its national, idealistic conception to its polemical appropriation in political discourse and its imaginative transformation into “Bawlfredonia” sheds light on the ideological and political ruptures in the young republic. It also shows the political limits of the scientific empiricism that drove nation building in a spirit of Enlightenment. The literary recoding of Clopper’s satire brings out, in particular, the political, representational, and aesthetic transformations that shaped the literature of the Early Republic. ‚Fragments of the History of Bawlfredonia‘ offers a satirical commentary on how historiography, geography, and linguistics served as metasettings in the search for an American character. Its humorous and reflexive encounter also becomes an investigation of the confines of literary imagination and its social functions.


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