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  • Citizens of the County of Their DomicileConscription and Confederate Citizenship
  • David Carlson (bio)

President Barack Obama was not speaking for the Confederacy, but he could have been.

For years, many Americans had been calling for stricter controls, tighter security, and more stringent protections against immigrants whose undocumented or “illegal” status threatened the United States’ economic and political security. Those demands became even more earnest after the 9/11 attacks opened a worldwide War on Terror. Traditional calls for the protection of American jobs and wages against the downward pressures of cheap immigrant labor became laced with urgent pleas for border and national security. Immigrants, including migrants, long-term residents, and foreigners not directly linked to implicated terror states, came under increased scrutiny as a potential fifth column. Critics argued against any prejudicial actions toward innocent economic migrants, but even they admitted that border security and the vetting of immigrant arrivals had become a top concern. The challenge was to find the proper balance between securing national borders and protecting immigrant rights. For more than a decade, attempts at immigration reform by both Republicans and Democrats failed. On November 20, 2014, Obama issued a series of directives not only to increase border security but—most controversially—to offer temporary protection against deportation for certain members of the immigrant community. This was not a general amnesty, he explained in a televised address that evening, but “most of these immigrants have been here a long time. They work hard, often in tough, low-paying jobs. [End Page 399] They support their families. They worship at our churches. Many of their kids are American-born or spent most of their lives here, and their hopes, dreams, and patriotism are just like ours. As my predecessor, President [George W.] Bush, once put it: ’They are a part of American life.’” Time, residency, social and economic participation, and the general acceptance of American businesses, churches, and communities to their presence, it appeared, had granted immigrants, regardless of legality or documentation, a recognizable status as members—though not necessarily citizens—of the United States, a status worthy of federal protection.1 In return for that protection, he asked only that immigrants fulfill basic obligations: formalize their relationship with the United States through registration and federal screening and support the government by paying their fair share of taxes.

More than 150 years earlier, southern slaveholders had shared similar concerns. For decades, they had been calling for stricter controls, tighter security, and more stringent protections against northerners whose abolitionist leanings threatened the South’s economic and political security. Those demands became even more earnest after the April 1861 shelling of Fort Sumter began the Civil War. Traditional calls for the protection of slaveholder interests against the incitement of abolitionist literature and insurrectionary rhetoric became laced with urgent pleas for border and national security. Immigrants, including migrants, long-term residents, and those not directly linked to abolitionist strongholds, came under increased scrutiny as a potential fifth column. Critics argued against any prejudicial actions toward innocent economic migrants, but even they admitted that border security and the vetting of immigrants had become a top concern. The challenge was to find the proper balance between securing Confederate borders and protecting immigrant rights. For months, attempts at immigration reform in the Confederate Congress failed. On May 2, 1862, Attorney General Thomas Bragg issued a legal finding concerning unnaturalized immigrant liability to a Confederate military draft. An immigrant’s continued residency, he wrote, and the community’s acceptance of that residency established a recognizable status—what he called a de facto citizenship—that warranted governmental protection and demanded fulfillment of military obligations in return. [End Page 400]

The similarities are striking. In both cases, citizens held deeply felt reservations about the disruptive influence of outsiders on their homeland. In both cases, they sought government intervention that was not forthcoming. In both cases, government officials, while acknowledging the people’s concerns, recognized that certain outsiders had established morally and legally recognizable relationships with their communities and governments. And in both cases, the government demanded that these outsiders legitimize these relationships by fulfilling certain obligations. Obama asked for taxes; the Confederacy demanded military service. There...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1533-6271
Print ISSN
0009-8078
Pages
pp. 399-431
Launched on MUSE
2016-11-07
Open Access
No
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