Forging a Bluegrass Commonwealth: The Kentucky Statehood Movement and the Politics of the Trans-Appalachian West, 1783–1792

In 1893 historian Frederick Jackson Turner first presented his frontier thesis to a group of historians at the World’s Columbian Exposition, a fair honoring the four-hundredth anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ expedition, in Chicago, Illinois. Since then, scholars have long debated the role that the frontier played in shaping the development of the United States. The Kentucky statehood movement emerged at a critical juncture in the early republic’s history, and, when viewed in a transatlantic context, becomes much more important to the development of the United States and larger Atlantic world than what has generally been recognized. Kentuckians found themselves at the forefront of a multifaceted struggle between the United States and Europe’s most powerful empires for control of the trans-Appalachian West. The manner in which Kentuckians interpreted and responded to the realities of daily life in the region shaped the foreign and domestic agendas of the developing United States and influenced the actions of foreign political representatives. This analysis of the Kentucky statehood movement, framed by the conventions themselves, reveals how Kentucky’s political leaders were shaped by, and often times influenced, national and international politics while carefully attending to their own local political agendas.