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State and Citizen

British America and the Early United States

Edited by Peter Thompson and Peter S. Onuf

Publication Year: 2013

Pointing the way to a new history of the transformation of British subjects into American citizens, State and Citizen challenges the presumption that the early American state was weak by exploring the changing legal and political meaning of citizenship. The volume’s distinguished contributors cast new light on the shift from subjecthood to citizenship during the American Revolution by showing that the federal state played a much greater part than is commonly supposed.

Going beyond master narratives—celebratory or revisionist—that center on founding principles, the contributors argue that geopolitical realities and the federal state were at the center of early American political development. The volume’s editors, Peter Thompson and Peter S. Onuf, bring together political science and historical methodologies to demonstrate that citizenship was a political as well as a legal concept. The American state, this collection argues, was formed and evolved in a more dialectical relationship between citizens and government authority than is generally acknowledged. Suggesting points of comparison between an American narrative of state development—previously thought to be exceptional—and those of Europe and Latin America, the contributors break fresh ground by investigating citizenship in its historical context rather than by reference only to its capacity to confer privileges.

Published by: University of Virginia Press

Title Page, Series Page, Copyright

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pp. i-iv


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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-xiv

The Constitution of the United States of America was written in the name of “the people,” but it did not define the qualifications necessary for a white person to be a citizen. And although in its first twelve years the United States Congress debated, adopted, and repealed four general naturalization bills addressing the question of how white aliens might claim ...

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pp. 1-24

The transformation of British colonial subjects into citizens of new, independent republics constitutes the main story line of early American history. Demonstrating a genius for adaptation to an unfamiliar and forbidding environment, colonists built new societies that depended on the broad distribution of power and responsibility. For all practical...

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Subjects by Allegiance to the King?

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pp. 25-51

“ No sooner had the news of the changes in England [the Glorious Revolution] arrived than it was in the mouths of all the mobile that there was no King in England and so no Government here.” So Nicholas Spencer, Secretary and Councilor in Virginia, wrote to the Privy Council of the new king and queen in April of 1689. He then repeated himself: “It was...

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The Laws of War and Peace

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pp. 52-76

“How is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of negroes?” With these words, penned toward the end of his proministerial polemic, Taxation, No Tyranny (1775), the English lexicographer Samuel Johnson captured what, for humanitarians ever since, has been one of the central problems of the American Revolution.1 How could a ...

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“The Great Field of Human Concerns”

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pp. 77-112

In his 1833 decision in Barron v. City of Baltimore, Chief Justice John Marshall confirmed a fundamental aspect of the real meaning of citizenship in the American Union before the Civil War. The true character of the privileges, rights, immunities, and duties of the vast majority of the American citizenry remained, for nearly all important purposes, in the hands of the...

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Bringing the State System Back In

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pp. 113-149

According to the formulation of historian James McPherson, the American Civil War created the American nation. The surging sense of nationalism produced by the war gave rise to a new identity, eclipsing previous loyalties to state and section, and the American state was recast. “The old decentralized federal republic,” notes McPherson, “became a...

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“A Mongrel Kind of Government”

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pp. 150-177

It is a curious fact that the world’s sole remaining superpower is the creation of an allegedly stateless society. More than most peoples, Americans are convinced that their central government plays only a marginal role in the development of their society. To the extent that the federal government figures at all in the popular imagination, it does so mainly as a threat to ...

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Patriarchal Magistrates, Associated Improvers, and Monitoring Militias

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pp. 178-217

How did Americans understand the concept of self-government, and the relationship between state and citizen, during the age of revolutions and the early Republic? I would like to explore these understandings of public authority in something of a social anthropology of power, arcing from early modern England to the antebellum American states. I agree ...

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Imagined Economies

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pp. 218-241

During the American Revolution and the U.S. Civil War, both the colonists and the Confederates unleashed the printing presses to finance their struggle for independence. Lacking a dependable supply of specie and tax revenue, they flooded their respective economies with paper money, thereby creating an inflationary spiral that ruined the fortunes of many...

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State, Nation, and Citizenin the Confederate Crucible of War

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pp. 242-294

Any evaluation of state formation in the Confederacy takes shape in the shadows of two towering, controlling facts. First, the fact that the Confederacy lost the Civil War and expired in 1865. When scholars think about state formation during the Civil War, they habitually do so with reference to the victorious Union, not the vanquished Confederacy....


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pp. 295-296


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pp. 297-312

Further Reading

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pp. 313-314

E-ISBN-13: 9780813933504
E-ISBN-10: 0813933501
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813933498
Print-ISBN-10: 0813933498

Page Count: 328
Illustrations: 3 figures, 4 tables
Publication Year: 2013