The Problem of Citizenship in the American Revolution

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Abstract

This essay explores the different ways historians have struggled to understand the emergence of citizenship in the American Revolution. From pieces of an empire of subjects, the United States of America became a republic of citizens, which promised real changes in the relationship of the government to the governed. Why did the vision of ‘citizens’ have such appeal? What did it mean to be a citizen, and who in fact could be an American citizen? How can we understand the limits placed on the boundaries of citizenship? Historians have struggled to find the best route to answer those questions. Dealing with a concept which impacts intellectual, political, legal, and cultural histories of the moment, and drawing upon scholarship on race, nationalism, ethnicity, and regionalism, the problem of citizenship opens and combines seemingly distinct literature in numerous ways. The rich body of work which informs this problem also allows students to begin recognizing the broader significance of the emergence of citizenship regimes in an Age of Revolutions.

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