Weber-Clements Book Prize

Seeds of Empire: Cotton, Slavery, and the Transformation of the Texas Borderlands, 1800-1850

Andrew J. Torget: Winner of the 2015 Weber-Clements Prize for Best Non-Fiction Book on Southwestern America

By the late 1810s, a global revolution in cotton had remade the U.S.-Mexico border, bringing wealth and waves of Americans to the Gulf Coast while also devastating the lives and villages of Mexicans in Texas. In response, Mexico threw open its northern territories to American farmers in hopes that cotton could bring prosperity to the region. Thousands of Anglo-Americans poured into Texas, but their insistence that slavery accompany them sparked pitched battles across Mexico. An extraordinary alliance of Anglos and Mexicans in Texas came together to defend slavery against abolitionists in the Mexican government, beginning a series of fights that culminated in the Texas Revolution. In the aftermath, Anglo-Americans rebuilt the Texas borderlands into the most unlikely creation: the first fully committed slaveholders' republic in North America.

Published in the University of North Carolina Press' David J. Weber Series in New Borderlands History, Seeds of Empire tells the remarkable story of how the cotton revolution of the early nineteenth century transformed northeastern Mexico into the western edge of the United States, and how the rise and spectacular collapse of the Republic of Texas as a nation built on cotton and slavery proved to be a blueprint for the Confederacy of the 1860s.

Andrew J. Torget is associate professor of history at the University of North Texas.  He spent 2011-2012 academic year as the the Inaugural David J. Weber Fellow for the Study of Southwestern America at the Clements Center for Southwest Studies.  

The judging committee wrote: 

The Weber-Clements Book Award Committee is pleased to announce that the winner of the 2016 award is Andrew J. Torget, Seeds of Empire: Cotton, Slavery, and the Transformation of the Texas Borderlands, 1800-1850 published by University of North Carolina Press. Torget describes Seeds of Empire as “the story of how powerful economic and political forces swirling throughout the northern Atlantic world crashed into one another during the first half of the nineteenth century, swept across North America, and transformed Mexico’s northeastern frontier into the western edge of the southern United States.” (p. 3) Although this subject has been extensively studied, Torget’s deep archival work brings a fresh perspective to the conflicts over slavery in Texas on the eve of the Civil War. He has digitalized much of his remarkable research in both Texas and Mexican archives in the "Texas Slavery Project," which provides links to an impressive collection of primary sources from the early nineteenth century. (   

The book’s most notable accomplishment is the emphasis on cotton and slavery as a world-wide system that bound Texas history to larger economic and political forces in the U.S., Mexico, and Europe. Torget argues that three factors—cotton, slavery and empire—converged in the early nineteenth century to transform Texas “from Comanche hinterland to American state.” (p. 6) He challenges the traditional interpretation that the westward movement in the early nineteenth century was primarily motivated by ideologies of racial supremacy that characterized Manifest Destiny. Instead, Torget demonstrates that, although westering Americans felt superior to the people whose lands they invaded, they mainly migrated to take advantage of the opportunity to participate in the trans-Atlantic cotton economy that the Mexican government had established by offering them free land. Torget recovers the ongoing political fight inside Mexico to abolish slavery in their Texas borderlands and recounts how the Mexican government’s struggle with federalism shaped its position on slavery in its borderlands. 

The $2,500 Weber-Clements Book Prize, administered by the Western History Association, honors fine writing and original research on the American Southwest. The competition is open to any nonfiction book, including biography, on any aspect of Southwestern life, past or present. The William P. Clements Center for Southwest Studies is part of SMU's Dedman College and affiliated with the Department of History. It was created to promote research, publishing, teaching and public programming in a variety of fields related to the American Southwest.  

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