Economic Democracy in Unexpected Places: Property, Discipline and Money in the Nineteenth-Century Cherokee Nation

When surveying the development of liberal state-building over the course of the Nineteenth Century, one would hardly expect the find a vanguard of the liberalization movement flourishing on the rough Indigenous frontier of the United States. Yet, my current research on Cherokee fiscal-monetary policy upends current historiographical representations of the Cherokee economy as a subsistence or frontier exchange economic order. Instead, the codified law and the records of the Cherokee National Treasurer show that the Cherokee Nation successfully secured for its citizens the two main pillars of the liberal state, that is, the protection of property and the maintenance of disciplinary institutions to reinforce those rights. More important however, as my research suggests, was the fiscal monetary apparatus they created in order to sustain their model liberal state, the primary tool of which was the sovereign ability to create currency. In fact, not only do we find an internationally renowned and sophisticated, liberal, fiscal-monetary state in the Cherokee Nation, we also learn from them that sovereign monetary policy is in fact the third, indispensable, even existential, pillar of the successful liberal state. In this essay, following the above-mentioned core themes of property, discipline, and money, I will look at a few specific examples that show how, when defined in terms of property rights, the Cherokee Nation used their fiscal-monetary state not only to build their Nation, but also to secure genuine and unassailable national sovereignty well into the Twentieth Century. When defined in terms of property rights, then, there can be little doubt that, as vanguards in the international drive for liberalization, the Cherokees, with a success not shared with other liberalizing nations of the era, independently created a social, political, and economic order that could in fact be considered a model economic democracy flourishing in this previously unexpected place