Civic Ideals

Civic Ideals: Conflicting Visions of Citizenship in U.S. History

Rogers M. Smith
Copyright Date: 1997
Published by: Yale University Press
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt32bh0k
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Civic Ideals
    Book Description:

    Is civic identity in the United States really defined by liberal, democratic political principles? Or is U.S. citizenship the product of multiple traditions-not only liberalism and republicanism but also white supremacy, Anglo-Saxon supremacy, Protestant supremacy, and male supremacy? In this powerful and disturbing book, Rogers Smith traces political struggles over U.S. citizenship laws from the colonial period through the Progressive era and shows that throughout this time, most adults were legally denied access to full citizenship, including political rights, solely because of their race, ethnicity, or gender. Basic conflicts over these denials have driven political development and civic membership in the U.S., Smith argues. These conflicts are what truly define U.S. civic identity up to this day. Others have claimed that nativist, racist, and sexist traditions have been marginal or that they are purely products of capitalist institutions. In contrast, Smith's pathbreaking account explains why these traditions have been central to American political and economic life. He shows that in the politics of nation building, principles of democracy and liberty have often failed to foster a sense of shared "peoplehood" and have instead led many Americans to claim that they are a "chosen people," a "master race" or superior culture, with distinctive gender roles. Smith concludes that today the United States is in a period of reaction against the egalitarian civic reforms of the last generation, with nativist, racist, and sexist beliefs regaining influence. He suggests ways that proponents of liberal democracy should alter their view of U.S. citizenship in order to combat these developments more effectively.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-14744-5
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-12)

    Today, Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dream of an integrated nation seems not only remote but undesirable to many black and white Americans. Proposals for immigration restriction abound, and controversies rage over the lines that should be drawn between aliens and citizens. American cities crackle with explosive tensions among Latinos, Korean-Americans, West Indians, Asian Indians, Jews, and many other groups, not just “blacks” and “whites”; and disputes over multiculturalism, hate speech, and so-called femi-Nazis reverberate throughout the land.¹ In these times little justification may be needed for a study of American citizenship laws that pays special attention to issues of race,...

  5. 1 The Hidden Lessons of American Citizenship Laws
    (pp. 13-39)

    Once, subjectship to the political ruler under whom one was born was believed to be natural—sanctioned by divine will and rationally discoverable natural law. Persons who acquired allegiance to a new ruler were therefore said to be “naturalized.” Today, notions that political allegiances and memberships are natural in this sense seem absurd. Political societies are seen as artifices whose human creators are perhaps guided, surely limited, but ultimately not determined in their course by nature. The modern view was influentially announced in the Declaration of Independence, which stated that governments were “instituted among men, deriving their just powers from...

  6. 2 Fierce New World The Colonial Sources of American Citizenship
    (pp. 40-69)

    In 1606, King James I of England chartered the Virginia Company, authorizing it to establish the first English settlement in the New World. The same year, Robert Calvin was born in Scotland, under the rule of King James VI of Scotland, who had become James I of England in 1603. James’s union of the two thrones raised new questions about the political identity of baby Calvin and of all the king’s Scottish and English subjects, just as the settling of Virginia would raise questions about the political identities of the members of that partly old, partly new community.

    For the...

  7. 3 Forging a Revolutionary People, 1763–1776
    (pp. 70-86)

    Although their conflicts with the French, Spanish, Native Americans, and blacks sharpened the British American colonists’ sense of their distinctive collective identity, they did so largely by making the colonists more militantly British. If they further defined who they were, most probably still turned to their religious or colonial memberships, not to being “American.” Yet after 1763 especially, many leading British American colonists decided, often with shock and pain, that their British identity was the root of their greatest problems. Far from being the wellspring of their military security, economic prosperity, personal and political rights, and spiritual destiny, their British...

  8. 4 Citizens of Small Republics The Confederation Era, 1776–1789
    (pp. 87-114)

    From the standpoint of citizenship laws, it is ironic that the Confederation era is rarely celebrated in conventional depictions of America’s allegedly steady progress toward fuller realization of its “core” liberal democratic ideals. Instead, this period is often portrayed as a false start that had to be corrected via the Constitution.¹ Yet if commitments to egalitarian liberal republican ideals are or should be the heart of American identity, the years from 1776 to 1787 ought to stand as one of the greatest eras of American civic reform. In striking contrast to most of the periods examined in this book, there...

  9. 5 The Constitution and the Quest for National Citizenship
    (pp. 115-136)

    Nothing is more revealing about the Constitution’s relationship to American political identity than the original document’s failure to say much about citizenship. Its great motivating aim, to “form a more perfect Union,” compelled its framers to be silent or ambiguous on many crucial but controversial issues of civic statuses. The 1787 text mentioned citizenship three times as a requirement for federal offices, though only the elective ones. It gave Congress the power to establish a uniform rule of naturalization. It also referred to citizenship in assigning jurisdiction to the federal courts, and in a “privilege and immunities clause” derived from...

  10. 6 Attempting National Liberal Citizenship The Federalist Years, 1789–1801
    (pp. 137-164)

    Amid one of the most rapidly repudiated Supreme Court decisions in history, Chisholm v. Georgia (1793), Associate Justice James Wilson digressed to complain about the spreading custom of offering toasts to “the United States.” He chided, “This is not politically correct.” Because such toasts were meant to praise “the first great object in the Union,” they should be given to the “People of the United States.” Wilson wished to stress, in good republican fashion, that the people, not their government, were sovereign. But he also wanted to insist that Americans were one people who had created their national government as...

  11. 7 Toward a Commercial Nation of White Yeoman Republics The Jeffersonian Era, 1801–1829
    (pp. 165-196)

    Jefferson won the presidency in 1800; Jeffersonian Republicans won control of Congress; and candidates claiming to be Jefferson’s heirs would win every presidential election for the next forty years. Only the federal courts, led by John Marshall, retained much leverage to champion Federalist nationalism, and they succeeded most on points that the Jeffersonians least disputed. Hence the nation’s citizenship laws increasingly reflected Jeffersonian views of American nationality, tempered by a few compromises with Federalist principles that did not threaten the dominant coalition.

    Yet the Democratic Republicans still faced severe problems in crafting the sort of new nation they envisioned. For...

  12. 8 High Noon of the White Republic The Age of Jackson, 1829–1856
    (pp. 197-242)

    The Age of Jackson has special significance in debates over American political identity. Jacksonian America was the America that Tocqueville visited in 1831–32. It was also Louis Hartz’s focus, discussed in nearly half the chapters of his 1955 book. If ever an era in U.S. history fit Tocquevillian and Hartzian accounts, this should be it.¹

    Intriguingly, in his 1837 Farewell Address, Andrew Jackson gave his own reading of the nation as it entered the middle of the era now named for him. He worried about states’ rights extremism and nationalist economic machinations; but still, the outgoing President boasted, the...

  13. 9 Dred Scott Unchained The Bloody Birth of the Free Labor Republic, 1857–1866
    (pp. 243-285)

    The year 1852 was momentous. Harriet Beecher Stowe published Uncle Tom’s Cabin, the African-American polymath Martin Delany published his pioneering work on the condition of blacks in America, the Whigs suffered shattering electoral defeat, and the former slave Frederick Douglass spoke to a largely white audience at a Fourth of July celebration in his adopted hometown of Rochester, New York. “Americans!” he expostulated,

    your republican politics, not less than your republican religion, are flagrantly inconsistent. You boast of your love of liberty, your superior civilization, and your pure Christianity, while the whole political power of the nation, as embodied in...

  14. 10 The America That “Never Was” The Radical Hour, 1866–1876
    (pp. 286-346)

    To forge a new Union without slavery, Republicans emancipated and empowered blacks, first with arms, then with citizenship and civil rights, and finally with the franchise. Their dramatic efforts produced three constitutional amendments and six major federal statutes that comprised the most extensive restructuring of American citizenship laws in the nation’s history, apart from the adoption of the Constitution itself. And the legal foundations of this restructuring were far more consistent than those of the heavily compromised Constitution: though not wholly unalloyed, the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments, the Civil Rights Acts of 1866,1870,1871, and 1875, the Expatriation Act of...

  15. 11 The Gilded Age of Ascriptive Americanism, 1876–1898
    (pp. 347-409)

    For Louis Hartz, the Gilded Age unfolded under “the golden banner of Horatio Alger.” The democratic capitalist dream of a “pot of American gold” for every plucky lad seduced so many of the potential foes of Big Business, Hartz argued, that the champions of Hamiltonian Whiggery, now termed Americanism, reached their Promised Land at last. Few writers today would define Gilded Age Americanism by ignoring issues of race, ethnicity, and gender as massively as Hartz did, but many still share his focus. Morton Keller, like most influential historians and political scientists writing on this era, terms the “confrontation with industrialism,”...

  16. 12 Progressivism and the New American Empire, 1898–1912
    (pp. 410-469)

    Though scholars dispute what progressivism was, few deny that both major parties and American politics generally changed during the first two decades of the twentieth century in ways that comprise a distinct Progressive Era. The impact of the range of political, social, and intellectual movements that may be termed progressivism is proven by the 1912 election.¹ In it a Progressive third-party candidate, Theodore Roosevelt, ran against Democrat Woodrow Wilson, who espoused a less nationalistic version of progressivism, and against Roosevelt’s former protégé, Republican William Howard Taft, a conservative who still supported many of Roosevelt’s reforms. Though he was by then...

  17. Epilogue The Party of America
    (pp. 470-506)

    Like a far greater political analyst in an even more divided time, I am “loath to close” on the somber note with which the preceding chapter ends.¹ Many readers will wonder what this history suggests about the moral status of American civic identity today. Though no definitive answers can be offered, I think some lessons can be drawn from the story of U.S. citizenship laws as Americans have written it up through the early years of the twentieth century. If these conclusions are less than comforting, they still suggest that Americans have grounds to hope that they can make their...

  18. Notes
    (pp. 507-644)
  19. Bibliography
    (pp. 645-672)
  20. Index of Cases
    (pp. 673-700)
  21. Index
    (pp. 701-719)