William A. Link, David Brown, Brian E. Ward, Martyn Bone, eds. Creating Citizenship in the Nineteenth-Century South. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2013. 304 pp. $74.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-8130-4413-2.
Reviewed by Sarah Bowman (Yale University)
Published on H-CivWar (November, 2014)
Commissioned by Bonnie Laughlin-Schultz
Negotiating Belonging: Citizenship as Contestation in the Nineteenth-Century South
In their introduction to Creating Citizenship in the Nineteenth-Century South, William A. Link and David Brown announce a tripartite purpose for the volume. They seek to remedy the paucity of literature on citizenship in the antebellum South and the New South, to promote an expansive definition of citizenship, and “to bring together historians and literary scholars in conversation” (p. 15). These goals are ambitious, to say the least.
Their effort is largely successful. The diversity of the essays in the volume results in a certain lack of focus, yet it opens up new avenues for exploring an array of questions about the way southerners in the period constructed, and contested, citizenship. The inclusion of literary scholarship helpfully frames notions of citizenship as cultural products shaped by literary texts as much as by legal definitions. Alongside this focus on the social and cultural creation of citizenship, the essays, taken together, imply that in the nineteenth-century South citizenship was as much a process as it was a category, continually forged and reforged as different groups negotiated their status in southern society.
In their introduction, William A. Link and David Brown provide a helpful overview of scholarship on U.S. citizenship, state the goals of the volume (noted above), frame “contestation” and “exclusion” as dominant themes of citizenship in the nineteenth-century South, and give extensive summaries of each of the essays. Four essays cover the antebellum period, three consider the Reconstruction era, and four give “global and interdisciplinary perspectives” on citizenship, largely focused on Reconstruction and its aftermath (p. 11). Scholars of the Civil War will note that there are no essays treating the question of Confederate citizenship.
Opening the antebellum section, Daina Ramey Berry’s “’Ter Show Yo’ de Value of Slaves’: The Pricing of Human Property” posits a relationship between citizenship and commodification. Extending Walter Johnson’s work on the slave market as a site of self-making for both masters and slaves, Berry frames it as a crucial arena for slaveowners to enact their citizenship. Her investigation of slaves’ own understandings of citizenship as expressed through the market is less clearly elaborated.
In “Rewriting the Free Negro Past: Joseph Lumpkin, Proslavery Ideology, and Citizenship in Antebellum Georgia,” Watson Jennison focuses on the use of history to shape categories of citizenship. Jennison cogently argues that Georgia jurist Joseph Lumpkin “erased free blacks from Georgia’s early history” in legal opinions that severely restricted the status of free blacks in the antebellum period (p. 42). Jennison thus expands the compass of southern memory studies, which tend to focus on the postbellum era.
Emily West scrutinizes voluntary enslavement petitions by free blacks as a response to the antebellum encroachments on their citizenship in her contribution, “Free People of Color, Expulsion, and Enslavement in the Antebellum South.” West finds in these records evidence that free blacks envisioned citizenship as “a process of belonging” and prioritized personal attachments over legal entitlements (p. 65).
In “Citizenship, Democracy, and the Structure of Politics in the Old South: John Calhoun’s Conundrum,” a state-by-state investigation of southern political reform in the Jacksonian era, David Brown joins scholars who question the extent of democratization in the period. He points out the continued political dominance of planters in longer-established states on the eastern seaboard and in Louisiana and highlights the centrality of local government, whose reform “was long, drawn out, and often incomplete” (p. 87).
James J. Broomall adds to the growing literature on the role of emotions in U.S. history in “Personal Reconstructions: Confederates as Citizens in the Post-Civil War South.” He connects ex-Confederates’ private emotional reconstructions to public transformations in postwar southern society, arguing that the despair and loss of manhood the former soldiers experienced profoundly informed the transition into peace.
William A. Link examines contests over citizenship in postwar Atlanta in “Citizenship and Racial Order in Post-Civil War Atlanta,” and finds an “ambiguous” outcome for the freedpeople (p. 147). While southern whites ensured the dominance of white supremacy, and the Freedmen’s Bureau’s helpfulness to the freedpeople depended on its leadership, African Americans “gained a toehold” in the city nonetheless (p. 147).
The competing definitions of loyalty in petitions to the Southern Claims Commission are the subject of Susana Michele Lee’s “The Antithesis of Union Men and Confederate Rebels: Loyal Citizenship in the Post-Civil War South.” Lee asserts that former opponents both equated citizenship with whiteness and masculinity, despite differences over whether loyalty meant wartime loyalty to the Union or the postwar resumption of loyalty. The shared notion of white male citizenship ultimately aided the retreat from Reconstruction. Lee thus adds yet another dimension to the scholarly understanding of sectional reconciliation; both Lee and Broomall contribute to scholarship on the centrality of gender to the process of Reconstruction.
The volume then turns interdisciplinary perspectives on citizenship. Jennifer Rae Greeson’s “Dark Satanic Fields: Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Industrialization, and the U.S. Imperial Imaginary,” reframes the book as primarily a novel of “metropolitan modernity” (p. 176). According to Greeson, Harriet Beecher Stowe displaced the ills of market-driven industrialization onto the South. This relocation, she argues, enabled the book’s northern readers to grieve over the transformations in citizenship wrought by the market revolution and to recoup their sense of independence through “imperial mastery” of the South (p. 175). Greeson’s well-wrought excavation of the changing meanings of northern citizenship remains somewhat out of place in a volume devoted to citizenship in the South.
Adding to an already rich scholarship on the centrality of narratives of Reconstruction in the culture and politics of the postwar period, Scott Romine highlights the “literary dimension” of Reconstruction in “Fables of the Reconstruction: The Citizen as Character” (p. 202). Romine contends that literary representations of characters eventually helped unravel Reconstruction’s accomplishments. By the early twentieth century, the ascendancy of printed depictions of African Americans as incapable of citizenship had “recuperated whiteness as a prerequisite of national belonging” (p. 205). Romine might have paid more attention to the early differences between southern and northern texts on Reconstruction.
In “White Supremacy and the Question of Black Citizenship in the Post-Emancipation South,” Daryl Michael Scott envisions “ethnoracial nationalism” as the dominant ideology of the Reconstruction and post-Reconstruction South (p. 224). He contrasts this white nationalism with the North’s (and the Populists’) “civic nationalism,” which was premised on inclusive citizenship (p. 225). Scott urges scholars to view white supremacy as nationalist and as “an ideology of governance” (p. 238). In another of several interventions, Scott finds “viscosity” rather than Woodwardian “fluidity” in race relations in the post-Redemption, pre-disfranchisement South (p. 233). Scott’s reframing of southern white supremacy is provocative, but he perhaps discounts the extent to which historians have, in fact, viewed Redemption as a movement to deny black citizenship, have framed U.S. nationalism as inextricably bound up with race, and have seen legal and political structures as central to white supremacy in the post-emancipation South.
In the final essay, “Tolentino, Cable, and Tourgée Confront the New South and the New Imperialism,” Peter Schmidt gives close readings of selected passages from Filipino Aurelio Torentino’s anti-imperialist Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow (1903), George Washington Cable’s Lovers of Louisiana (1918), and the northerner Albion Tourgée’s Reconstruction novel Bricks without Straw (1880). He sees them as critiques of their era’s “dominant narratives of citizenship” (p. 267) at home and abroad that force scholars to consider the imbrication of southern Progressivism with the United States’ new imperialism.
Schmidt’s connections between these three disparate texts may be an example of what Michael O’Brien has in mind when, in the epilogue, he notes that proponents of the new southern studies “seek out unexpected juxtapositions, which may or may not be demonstrable to a dogged historicist” (p. 274). O’Brien’s larger point is a critique of new southern studies for overemphasizing the freedoms of globalization and for abandoning the still relevant frame of the nation-state.
Given the editors’ stated emphasis on “the roles of marginalized people” (p. 5), the reader might have expected more attention to the status and strategies of women and Native Americans and more discussion of the post-Reconstruction perspectives of African Americans. Given the breadth of the subject matter, the editors might have done more in the introduction to develop a conceptual framework to knit the essays together.
Despite these issues, Creating Citizenship in the Nineteenth-Century South is a thought-provoking foray into the subject. Scholars of U.S. citizenship and of the nineteenth-century South will find the book a useful addition to the field, especially in its framing of citizenship as not merely a matter of legal enactments or electoral politics, but also as a process of social and cultural negotiations and exclusions.
. Walter Johnson, Soul By Soul: Life Inside the Antebellum Slave Market (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999).
If there is additional discussion of this review, you may access it through the network, at: https://networks.h-net.org/h-civwar.
Sarah Bowman. Review of Link, William A.; Brown, David; Ward, Brian E.; Bone, Martyn, eds., Creating Citizenship in the Nineteenth-Century South.
H-CivWar, H-Net Reviews.
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