Alienable Rights: Negative Figures of US Citizenship, 1790-1868


Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowships




This dissertation traces the rhetorical development of US citizenship, as it was conceived through figures of political dispossession—both systematic exclusion and voluntary renunciation. Moving between fiction (by Rowson, Hawthorne, Douglass, Stowe, and Hale), legal debates, and political philosophy, it examines how writers and legislators used negative exempla to both formulate and unsettle emergent definitions of citizenship. While citizenship has often been understood as a virtual form of “property”—which obtained specificity through its distinction from both chattel slavery and a gendered domestic sphere—the literary and legal texts in this dissertation establish dispossession as an organizing principle of the antebellum political imaginary.