Friday, May 1, 2020

Bonner, "Remaking the Republic"

The University of Pennsylvania Press has released Remaking the Republic: Black Politics and the Creation of American Citizenship (March 2020), by Christopher James Bonner (University of Maryland). A description from the Press:
Citizenship in the nineteenth-century United States was an ever-moving target. The Constitution did not specify its exact meaning, leaving lawmakers and other Americans to struggle over the fundamental questions of who could be a citizen, how a person attained the status, and the particular privileges citizenship afforded. Indeed, as late as 1862, U.S. Attorney General Edward Bates observed that citizenship was "now as little understood in its details and elements, and the question as open to argument and speculative criticism as it was at the founding of the Government."
Black people suffered under this ambiguity, but also seized on it in efforts to transform their nominal freedom. By claiming that they were citizens in their demands for specific rights, they were, Christopher James Bonner argues, at the center of creating the very meaning of American citizenship. In the decades before and after Bates's lament, free African Americans used newspapers, public gatherings, and conventions to make arguments about who could be a citizen, the protections citizenship entailed, and the obligations it imposed. They thus played a vital role in the long, fraught process of determining who belonged in the nation and the terms of that belonging.
Remaking the Republic chronicles the various ways African Americans from a wide range of social positions throughout the North attempted to give meaning to American citizenship over the course of the nineteenth century. Examining newspapers, state and national conventions, public protest meetings, legal cases, and fugitive slave rescues, Bonner uncovers a spirited debate about rights and belonging among African Americans, the stakes of which could determine their place in U.S. society and shape the terms of citizenship for all Americans.
A few blurbs:
"Remaking the Republic is a must read for anyone seeking to understand how citizenship has evolved in the United States. Christopher James Bonner show us how black Americans were the first architects of national belonging in the early republic. His ambitious research tells a story about how they countered the racism of colonization schemes and black laws with a shrewd insistence upon their rights as citizens. This inspiring quest contains indispensable lessons about the past and for our own time."—Martha Jones

"By taking us inside black activists' multifaceted fight for inclusion across much of the nineteenth century, Christopher James Bonner has crafted one of the most compelling, comprehensive stories about black citizenship in all its many manifestations to date."—Anne Twitty
More information is available here.

-- Karen Tani