Manifesting America: The Imperial Construction of U.S. National Space

Manifesting America: The Imperial Construction of U.S. National Space

Manifesting America: The Imperial Construction of U.S. National Space

Manifesting America: The Imperial Construction of U.S. National Space

Synopsis

The expansion of the U.S. in the antebellum period relied on the claim that the nation's boundaries were both self-evident and dependent on the consent of those enclosed within them. While the removal of American Indians and racism toward former Mexicans has been well-documented, little attention has been paid to the legal rhetorics through which the incorporation of these peoples and their territories was justified, portraying them as actively agreeing to come under the authority of the U.S. Yet even as the creation and extension of U.S. jurisdiction functioned as an imperial system, it did not go unchallenged by dominated populations. In Manifesting America, Mark Rifkin explores how writings by Native Americans and former Mexicans protested the legal narratives that would normalize their absorption into U.S. national space. Focusing on Indian removal in the southeast and western Great Lakes regions as well as the annexation of Texas and California, the monograph tracks the confrontation between U.S. law and the self-representations of once-alien peoples newly subjected to it. Institutions in the U.S. legitimized conquest by creating forms of official recognition for dominated groups that reinforced the logic and justice of U.S. mappings. But the imposed mappings continued to be haunted by the persistence of earlier political geographies. Examining a variety of nonfictional writings (including memorials, autobiographies, and histories) produced by imperially displaced populations, Rifkin illustrates how these texts contest the terms and dynamics of U.S. policy by highlighting specific forms of collectivity and placemaking disavowed in official accounts. Persuasively argued and anchored with judicious research, Manifesting America provides an overdue chapter in the history of resistance to U.S. imperialism.

Excerpt

In City of Sherrill v. Oneida Indian Nation (2005), the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that land bought by the Oneidas does not fall under their sovereignty and therefore is not exempt from municipal taxation. the court reached this conclusion despite its acceptance of the following facts: the Oneida Indian Nation is a federally recognized tribe; the land in question historically had been under Oneida control as part of their “reservation”; and the property unlawfully was sold to whites in 1807 after most of the Oneidas had moved west due to pressure exerted on them by the state of New York, reinforced (or at least not mitigated) by the federal government. the majority opinion, written by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, offers a twofold argument. Oneida sovereignty cannot be recognized as extending over this territory because to do so would unsettle longstanding legal schemas, and the delay in the assertion of native claims to this territory eliminates the possibility of recovering exclusive authority over it now. “The fact that oin [Oneida Indian Nation] brought this action promptly after acquiring the properties does not overcome the Oneidas’ failure to reclaim ancient prerogatives earlier or lessen the problems associated with upsetting New York’s long-exercised sovereignty over the area. OIN’s claim concerns grave, but ancient, wrongs, and the relief available must be commensurate with that historical reality” (1491). Put another way, official narratives of U.S. jurisdiction have disavowed alternative mappings and sovereignties for too long for them to be acknowledged now, and the failure of peoples dispossessed in the consolidation of U.S. national territoriality to remedy their own displacement bars them from regaining substantive control over their lands. the court’s perversely tautological propositions in this case illustrate rather dramatically the ways that U.S. national policy and identity . . .

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