Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
State and Citizen

State and Citizen: British America and the Early United States

Peter Thompson
Peter S. Onuf
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 328
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    State and Citizen
    Book Description:

    Pointing the way to a new history of the transformation of British subjects into American citizens,State and Citizenchallenges the presumption that the early American state was weak by exploring the changing legal and political meaning of citizenship. The volume's distinguished contributors cast new light on the shift from subjecthood to citizenship during the American Revolution by showing that the federal state played a much greater part than is commonly supposed.

    Going beyond master narratives-celebratory or revisionist-that center on founding principles, the contributors argue that geopolitical realities and the federal state were at the center of early American political development. The volume's editors, Peter Thompson and Peter S. Onuf, bring together political science and historical methodologies to demonstrate that citizenship was a political as well as a legal concept. The American state, this collection argues, was formed and evolved in a more dialectical relationship between citizens and government authority than is generally acknowledged. Suggesting points of comparison between an American narrative of state development-previously thought to be exceptional-and those of Europe and Latin America, the contributors break fresh ground by investigating citizenship in its historical context rather than by reference only to its capacity to confer privileges.

    eISBN: 978-0-8139-3350-4
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-xiv)
  4. Introduction State and Citizen in British America and the Early United States
    (pp. 1-24)

    The transformation of British colonial subjects into citizens of new, independent republics constitutes the main story line of early American history. Demonstrating a genius for adaptation to an unfamiliar and forbidding environment, colonists built new societies that depended on the broad distribution of power and responsibility. For all practical purposes, subjects of a distant monarch had to act as if they were citizens of self-governing commonwealths. The colonial period was a protracted apprenticeship for liberty that culminated in the American Revolution, the moment when theory and practice converged and British subjects finally became conscious of themselves as American citizens.


  5. Subjects by Allegiance to the King? Debating Status and Power for Subjects—and Slaves—through the Religious Debates of the Early British Atlantic
    (pp. 25-51)

    “No sooner had the news of the changes in England [the Glorious Revolution] arrived than it was in the mouths of all the mobile that there was no King in England and so no Government here.” So Nicholas Spencer, Secretary and Councilor in Virginia, wrote to the Privy Council of the new king and queen in April of 1689. He then repeated himself: “It was feared that the difficulties of maintaining order would have remained insuperable until we received the news of the happy accession of the Prince and Princess of Orange, which has been widely and solemnly proclaimed to...

  6. The Laws of War and Peace: Legitimating Slavery in the Age of the American Revolution
    (pp. 52-76)

    “How is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of negroes?” With these words, penned toward the end of his proministerial polemic,Taxation, No Tyranny(1775), the English lexicographer Samuel Johnson captured what, for humanitarians ever since, has been one of the central problems of the American Revolution.¹ How could a people famous for their love of liberty sanction an institution that deprived nearly a fifth of British America’s colonial population of any rights at all? Why did so few Americans in 1776 see the irony in the words “all men are created equal,” written...

  7. “The Great Field of Human Concerns”: The States, the Union, and the Problem of Citizenship in the Era of the American Revolution
    (pp. 77-112)

    In his 1833 decision inBarron v. City of Baltimore, Chief Justice John Marshall confirmed a fundamental aspect of the real meaning of citizenship in the American Union before the Civil War. The true character of the privileges, rights, immunities, and duties of the vast majority of the American citizenry remained, for nearly all important purposes, in the hands of the individual states. The famous Bill of Rights—the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution—were “intended solely as a limitation on the exercise of power by the government of the United States,” and were therefore “not applicable to...

  8. Bringing the State System Back In: The Significance of the Union in Early American History, 1763–1865
    (pp. 113-149)

    According to the formulation of historian James McPherson, the American Civil War created the American nation. The surging sense of nationalism produced by the war gave rise to a new identity, eclipsing previous loyalties to state and section, and the American state was recast. “The old decentralized federal republic,” notes McPherson, “became a new national polity that taxed the people directly, created an internal revenue bureau to collect these taxes, expanded the jurisdiction of federal courts, established a national currency and a national banking structure.” While McPherson’s emphasis on the revolutionary character of the Civil War is shared broadly by...

  9. “A Mongrel Kind of Government”: The U.S. Constitution, the Federal Union, and the Origins of the American State
    (pp. 150-177)

    It is a curious fact that the world’s sole remaining superpower is the creation of an allegedly stateless society. More than most peoples, Americans are convinced that their central government plays only a marginal role in the development of their society. To the extent that the federal government figures at all in the popular imagination, it does so mainly as a threat to the American way of life. Born a liberal society, out of a revolution against the oppressive regulations and taxation of an overbearing government, the state, it is often assumed, was never part of America’s history before the...

  10. Patriarchal Magistrates, Associated Improvers, and Monitoring Militias: Visions of Self-Government in the Early American Republic, 1760–1840
    (pp. 178-217)

    How did Americans understand the concept of self-government, and the relationship between state and citizen, during the age of revolutions and the early Republic? I would like to explore these understandings of public authority in something of a social anthropology of power, arcing from early modern England to the antebellum American states. I agree with Steve Hindle, who, in respect to Tudor-Stuart England, speaks of being more interested in the “circuits of authority” than the “corridors of power,” more interested in “what was happening” than “what happened.”¹ Such a mapping needs to take into consideration the claims of the state...

  11. Imagined Economies: Economic Nationalism in the American and Confederate Independence Movements
    (pp. 218-241)

    During the American Revolution and the U.S. Civil War, both the colonists and the Confederates unleashed the printing presses to finance their struggle for independence. Lacking a dependable supply of specie and tax revenue, they flooded their respective economies with paper money, thereby creating an inflationary spiral that ruined the fortunes of many ordinary civilians. The reliance on vast emissions of paper money—and the disastrous inflation that it spawned—reflected the general economic similarities between the colonists and the Confederacy. Both depended on the export of agricultural goods to international markets, and both depended upon other nations (especially the...

  12. State, Nation, and Citizen in the Confederate Crucible of War
    (pp. 242-270)

    Any evaluation of state formation in the Confederacy takes shape in the shadows of two towering, controlling facts. First, the fact that the Confederacy lost the Civil War and expired in 1865. When scholars think about state formation during the Civil War, they habitually do so with reference to the victorious Union, not the vanquished Confederacy. This predisposition tends to obscure a robust process of state and national development that took place in the Confederacy during the war years, making it difficult to see the Confederacy as an integral part of—rather than a glaring exception to—the long-term transformations...

  13. The Enduring Legacy of Nineteenth-Century Governance in the United States: The Emergence of the Associative Order
    (pp. 271-294)

    That nineteenth-century Americans did not want the general government involved in their lives, that they preferred to leave things to state and local government and a free market unencumbered by government intervention, and that they got their wish—a national government that did not do anything important—has informed popular interpretations of nineteenth-century U.S. history. It has influenced scholarly accounts of twentieth-century political development as well and continues to frame twenty-first–century political debate, with partisans dividing over the battle to resurrect or bury America’s laissez-faire tradition.

    But what would our account of state building in the twentieth century look...

  14. List of Contributors
    (pp. 295-296)
  15. Index
    (pp. 297-312)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 313-314)