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Bonds of Citizenship

Bonds of Citizenship: Law and the Labors of Emancipation

Hoang Gia Phan
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    Bonds of Citizenship
    Book Description:

    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 Crevecoeur, 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 Phanis Associate Professor of English at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.In theAmerica and the Long 19th CenturyseriesAn ALI book

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-3893-1
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction. “A Man from Another Country”: Citizenship and the Bonds of Labor
    (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 to its reading’ it is not a pro-slavery instrument. . . . I now hold that the original intent and meaning of the Constitution (the one given to it by the men who framed it, those who adopted it, and the one given to it by the Supreme Court...

  5. 1 Bound by Law: Apprenticeship and the Culture of “Free” Labor
    (pp. 24-62)

    The “case of the slaves,” Publius declared inThe Federalist No. 54,“is in truth a peculiar one.”¹ Discussing the “three-fifths clause” of the Constitution’s provision for apportionment of representation and taxation (art. 1, § 2, clause 3), Publius was not pleading the case of the slaves, but rather advocating the view of “our Southern brethren” the slaveholders, and appealing for “compromise” over the inclusion of three-fifths of their slaves in the Constitution’s “numerical rule of representation” (FP336). During the 1787 convention as well as the ratification debates for whichThe Federalist Paperswere written, it was the three-fifths...

  6. 2 Civic Virtues: Narrative Form and the Trial of Character in Early America
    (pp. 63-106)

    In his influential description of the novel’s formal realism, Ian Watt proposed an analogy with the epistemological procedures of philosophical realism. He went on to suggest that such representational strategies and

    procedures are by no means confined to philosophy; they tend, in fact, to be followed whenever the relation to reality of any report of an event is being investigated. The novel’s mode of imitating reality may therefore be equally well summarised in terms of the procedures of another group of specialists in epistemology, the jury in a court of law. Their expectations, and those of the novel reader coincide...

  7. 3 Fugitive Bonds: Contract and the Culture of Constitutionalism
    (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.¹ Similarly, accounts of Douglass’s split with the Garrisonians, and their interpretation of the Constitution as a “proslavery compact,” insert Douglass into a historical narrative of natural law interpretations of the Constitution, arguing that Douglass’s embrace of political abolitionism was based on his belief in the universalist ideals of the founders. While this chapter does not discount the possibility that Douglass may have been...

  8. 4 Hereditary Bondsman: Frederick Douglass and the Spirit of the Law
    (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 of the master.¹ A year after he published his “Change of Opinion,” Douglass delivered his most famous address, “What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?”² Throughout the address, Douglass extends this double perspective of the “man from another country,” linking...

  9. 5 “If Man Will Strike”: Moby-Dick and the Letter of the Law
    (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 of newly organized journeymen and wage workers, appearing in pamphlets, broadsides, newspapers such as theWorking Man’s Advocateand theChampion of American Labor,and emblazoned on banners carried in union parades and protest rallies.¹

    Melville introduces this image into the world of Moby-Dick during one of Ishmael’s early moments of narrative prolepsis. In “Knights and...

  10. Conclusion. The Labors of Emancipation: Founded Law and Freedom Defined
    (pp. 201-210)

    After Emancipation, Melville looked back on the long nineteenth century, to trace the ambiguities of modern freedom and the rule of law to that moment with whichBonds of Citizenshipbegan, the Age of Revolution. Like Douglass’s “man from another country,” who looked beyond the forms of law to the history of labor struggles that made possible their founding, Melville inBilly Budd, Sailor (An Inside Narrative)(1888?–91) tells a suppressed story of this age, recovering the histories of slavery and servitude inhering in the revolutionary reconstitution of citizenship.

    Throughout Billy Budd,Melville reminds us of the class of...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 211-248)
  12. Index
    (pp. 249-256)
  13. About the Author
    (pp. 257-257)