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Bonds of Citizenship

Law and the Labors of Emancipation

Hoang Gia Phan

Publication Year: 2013

In this study of literature and law from the Constitutional founding through the Civil War, Hoang Gia Phan demonstrates how American citizenship and civic culture were profoundly transformed by the racialized material histories of free, enslaved, and indentured labor.  Bonds of Citizenship illuminates the historical tensions between the legal paradigms of citizenship and contract, and in the emergence of free labor ideology in American culture.
Phan argues that in the age of Emancipation the cultural attributes of free personhood became identified with the legal rights and privileges of the citizen, and that individual freedom thus became identified with the nation-state.  He situates the emergence of American citizenship and the American novel within the context of Atlantic slavery and Anglo-American legal culture, placing early American texts by Hector St. John de Crèvecœur, Benjamin Franklin, and Charles Brockden Brown alongside Black Atlantic texts by Ottobah Cugoano and Olaudah Equiano. Beginning with a revisionary reading of the Constitution’s “slavery clauses,” Phan recovers indentured servitude as a transitional form of labor bondage that helped define the key terms of modern U.S. citizenship: mobility, volition, and contract.  Bonds of Citizenship demonstrates how citizenship and civic culture were transformed by antebellum debates over slavery, free labor, and national Union, while analyzing the writings of Frederick Douglass and Herman Melville alongside a wide-ranging archive of lesser-known antebellum legal and literary texts in the context of changing conceptions of constitutionalism, property, and contract. Situated at the nexus of literary criticism, legal studies, and labor history, Bonds of Citizenship challenges the founding fiction of a pro-slavery Constitution central to American letters and legal culture.
Hoang Gia Phan is Associate Professor of English at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
In the America and the Long 19th Century series
An ALI book

Published by: NYU Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xii

...This book has benefited from the intellectual and material support of many. At the University of California, Berkeley, I was fortunate to work closely with Stephen Best, Colleen Lye, and Samuel Otter. Individually and collectively they inspired and challenged me as this project first took shape. A special word of gratitude goes to Stephen for his invaluable...

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Introduction. “A Man from Another Country”: Citizenship and the Bonds of Labor

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pp. 1-23

...In 1849, as the Union crisis escalated over yet another likely compromise with American slavery, Frederick Douglass startled the antislavery movement with an unusually equivocal statement of his view of the Constitution as a slavery-sanctioning text: “On a close examination of the Constitution, I am satisfied that if ‘strictly construed according...

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1 Bound by Law: Apprenticeship and the Culture of “Free” Labor

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pp. 24-62

...direct link between political representation and the rights of modern citizenship in his objections to the three-fifths clause: “Upon what principle is it that the slaves shall be computed in the representation? Are they men? Then make them citizens, and let them vote. Are they property? Why, then, is not other property included?” Like Morris, many nonslaveholding...

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2 Civic Virtues: Narrative Form and the Trial of Character in Early America

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pp. 63-106

...In Watt’s analogy between the novel’s mimetic mode and that of the law, the procedures of the jury trial serve as the analogous narrative model. The novel’s readers are like members of the jury, and the novel’s “mode of imitating reality,” or the “descriptive realism” that characterizes the novel as a genre, must meet certain standards of proof and evidence. Several...

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3 Fugitive Bonds: Contract and the Culture of Constitutionalism

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pp. 107-141

...The dominant critical account of Frederick Douglass interprets his writings as framed by his attempts to persuade Americans to adhere to the original founding principles, and to live up to the egalitarian promise of the American Revolution. Similarly, accounts of Douglass’s split with the Garrisonians, and their interpretation of the Constitution as a “proslavery...

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4 Hereditary Bondsman: Frederick Douglass and the Spirit of the Law

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pp. 142-171

...Frederick Douglass’s “man from another country” was a double figure, representing both the perspective of the “stranger from a foreign land,” unaware of the peculiar history of the Constitution and so seeing slavery nowhere named in the letter of its law, and the perspective of the African American bondslave, who read its letters as part of the discourse...

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5 “If Man Will Strike”: Moby-Dick and the Letter of the Law

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pp. 172-200

...The seal of the General Society of Mechanics and Tradesman, founded in New York in 1785, depicts an arm wielding a hammer, with the accompanying motto: “By Hammer and Hand All Arts Do Stand.” This emblematic image circulated throughout the antebellum years in self-representations...

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Conclusion. The Labors of Emancipation: Founded Law and Freedom Defined

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pp. 201-210

...Melville reminds us of the class of men whose story he tells: “Passion, and passion in its profoundest, is not a thing demanding a palatial stage whereon to play its part. Down among the groundlings, the beggars and rakers of the garbage, profound passion is enacted...


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pp. 211-248


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pp. 249-256

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About the Author

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p. 257-257

...Hoang Gia Phan is Associate Professor of English at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, where he teaches early American literature, nineteenth-century American literature, and African American literature...

E-ISBN-13: 9780814738931
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814738474
Print-ISBN-10: 0814738478

Page Count: 272
Publication Year: 2013