Shoot the State: Guns, Freedom, and Domination in the Americas, 1774-1934

Brian DeLay, History, University of California, Berkeley

Research Grant, 2013

Funding from the Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation enabled me to spend 2013–2014 in London, Seville, and Madrid doing archival research for my second monograph.

Now under contract with W.W. Norton, Shoot the State will use the arms trade to explore the history of freedom and domination in the Western Hemisphere from the American Revolution to the eve of World War II. During this era, most of the western hemisphere’s emerging states underwent a similar series of trials: bloody anticolonial rebellion, clashes with foreign powers, wars with independent Indians and other rival internal polities, and fratricidal struggles over internal order and the nature of capitalist development. Almost always, these trials involved collective violence with firearms. Yet across the Americas, guns were made in quantity only in a few cities in the eastern United States. That meant that everyone in the hemisphere looking to force or resist a change in relations of power—not only the architects of new states, but also indigenous leaders, imperial administrators, rebel slaves, secessionists, strongmen, radical labor organizers, and conspirators of all descriptions — had to find a way to engage with the international arms market.

Firearms reveal the painful degree to which freedom and domination coproduced each other in the modern era.

The arms trade thus serves as an ideal subject for integrating histories that are almost always told separately. Indeed, more than any other object of study, firearms reveal the painful degree to which freedom and domination coproduced each other in the modern era. Yet historians of the Americas have only ever explored the arms trade episodically, rather than as a coherent topic that transcends any particular conflict or country. Shoot the State will tell a largely unknown story of how unequal access to the means of destruction conditioned power relations within and between emerging states during the long nineteenth century.

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