Professor Pearl Ponce (History) presented a paper at the 59th Annual Conference of the Western Historical Association in Las Vegas, Nevada.
As part of a panel entitled “Vigilantism, War, and Terror: Violence in the Antebellum American West,” Professor Pearl Ponce (History) presented her paper, “Terror and the Territories of the 1850s” on October 19, 2019. In her paper, Ponce argued that when we evaluate the strength and stability of the United States in the decade before the American Civil War, it is important to look beyond the states. By widening our lens to consider the territories, we can see how forces other than sectionalism were weakening the integrity of the nation. Congress created five territories in the 1850s—the most since the country also organized five from 1800-1809--but a weakened federal government was less able to meet territorial challenges here at mid-century, including the terrorism that infected the three territories which suffered six, named massacres in this decade. While the states could better absorb ineffectual national leadership, the inchoate democracies of the territories simply could not do so. As such, territorial strength (or lack thereof) mirrored that of the nation. This paper was part of a larger manuscript project entitled “A Strange System of Terrorism”: The Fraying of Democracy in Utah, Washington, and Kansas Territories in the 1850s.