The Colonizing Trick: National Culture and Imperial Citizenship in Early America

The Colonizing Trick: National Culture and Imperial Citizenship in Early America

The Colonizing Trick: National Culture and Imperial Citizenship in Early America

The Colonizing Trick: National Culture and Imperial Citizenship in Early America

Synopsis

An illuminating look at the concepts of race, nation, and equality in eighteenth-and nineteenth-century America, The idea that "all men are created equal" is as close to a universal tenet as exists in American history. In this hard-hitting book, David Kazanjian interrogates this tenet, exploring transformative flash points in early America when the belief in equality came into contact with seemingly contrary ideas about race and nation. The Colonizing Trick depicts early America as a white settler colony in the process of becoming an empire--one deeply integrated with Euro-American political economy, imperial ventures in North America and Africa, and pan-American racial formations. Kazanjian traces tensions between universal equality and racial or national particularity through theoretically informed critical readings of a wide range of texts: the political writings of David Walker and Maria Stewart, the narratives of black mariners, economic treatises, the personal letters of Thomas Jefferson and Phillis Wheatley, Charles Brockden Brown's fiction, congressional tariff debats, international treaties, and popular novelettes about the U.S.-Mexico War and the Yucatan's Caste War. Kazanjian shows how emergent racial and national formations do not contradict universalist egalitarianism; rather, they rearticulate it, making equality at once restricted, formal, abstract, and materially embodied.

Excerpt

The striking cover image the University of Minnesota Press has chosen for The Colonizing Trick, “An Available Candidate. The One Qualification for a Whig President,” is from an 1848 cartoon depicting either Zachary Taylor or Winfield Scott dressed in full military regalia, holding a bloodstained sword and sitting on a pyramid of skulls. Taylor and Scott were generals who led U.S. troops in the U.S.–Mexico War and were, by the time of the cartoon, seeking the Whig party’s nomination for president. The cartoon mocks them for the bloody qualifications they would bring to the presidency, and so makes a dramatic statement against the war. However, the sensational anonymity of the skulls carefully conceals important elements of the history to which the cartoon bears witness. Are these Mexican or U.S. victims? The question remains open, for many in the United States who expressed antiwar sentiments, regardless of party affiliation, did so in the name of, rather than in opposition to, racial nationalism. U.S. victory in the war opened the possibility that thousands of Mexicans would be incorporated into the United States as citizens, and, as I argue in chapter 4, U.S. politicians and citiwar sentiment opposed—indeed, many of those opposed to the war thirsted for more territory—as the potential threat to white citizenship. As the reader will see, the cartoon’s criticism may itself express a racially particularized vision of the very imperial U.S. citizenship The Colonizing Trick seeks to trace.

The following provided much needed institutional support for my research in its early stages: while I was at the University of California, Berkeley, the Rhetoric Department, repeatedly and generously; the Doreen B. Townsend Center; the Graduate Division; the Mangasar Mangasarian Fellowship Fund; the Armenian General Benevolent Union; and the Gulbenkian Foundation. I thank the University of California’s Humanities Research Institute and its entire staff for a most productive and enjoyable residential fellowship. In the past few years, the John Carter Brown Library, the National Endowment for the Humanities, Queens College, the Queens College English Department, the PSC–CUNY Research Foundation, the Africana Studies Department at Brown University, and the Center for Place, Culture, and Politics at the Graduate Center, City University of New York, all enabled the research that went into this book. I also thank librarians at Queens College, the Graduate Center, the New York Public Library, the Schomberg Center, Brown University, the John Carter Brown Library (especially director Norman Fiering, Susan Danforth, and Richard Ring), the University of Texas, Austin (especially at the Benson Latin American Collection) . . .

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