A paradox of U.S. history has been Americans' commitment to limiting the power of their national government—often articulated as a defense of states' rights—amid that same government's rise to a continental and then world power. Connecting nineteenth-century debates over federalism with the intertwined discourses of nation and empire, this essay explores that contradiction by examining how states' rights advocates used the term "consolidation" to critique the emerging concept of the nation-state. The essay argues that critics of consolidation offered a vision of American expansion organized around the principle of divided sovereignty as the best means for governing a heterogeneous collection of territories and peoples. In this respect, states' rights provided Americans committed to a self-image as the world's leading democratic republic with a roadmap for joining the fraternity of empires via a rhetoric ostensibly aimed at preventing tyranny by the center.


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pp. 612-632
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