David Walker’s Nationalism—and Thomas Jefferson’s
Abstract

Abstract:

This essay proceeds from an examination of two spectacular expressions of nationalist identity in the early republic. First, the Declaration of Independence and subsequent articulations of the exclusionary, white supremacist, character of its rights claims prompted by Jefferson’s Notes on the State of Virginia and congressional debate over the admission of Missouri. Second, David Walker’s Appeal to the Coloured Citizens of the World 1829-30 and the emergence of an African-American nationalism shaped by opposition to colonization and a determination to confront racism and slavery. That these nationalisms existed in a dialectic relationship is an established feature of the literature. This essay breaks new ground by suggesting a similarity of intellectual provenance, specifically the application within both nationalist discourses of precepts derived from an ostensibly international law of law of nations to domestic relations between states and peoples within the United States of America. Departing from a previous emphasis on expression and outcome within the literature on both African-American and white supremacist nationalisms – or on themes of resistance, assimilation, separation or oppression – the essay seeks to place its examination of the provenance of American “nation making” in dialogue with an emerging scholarly literature on multiple national identities in regions of nineteenth century Europe.