Yale The Constitution and Quest for National Citizenship – This is a Discovery Civics course- Summary needed on Chapter 5 in bullet form- Enough to fill (b

Yale The Constitution and Quest for National Citizenship – This is a Discovery Civics course- Summary needed on Chapter 5 in bullet form- Enough to fill (but not to clog or overload) 7-9 sildesThe book is Civic Ideals, and I will upload a pdf with Chapter 5. Yale University Press
Chapter Title: The Constitution and the Quest for National Citizenship
Book Title: Civic Ideals
Book Subtitle: Conflicting Visions of Citizenship in U.S. History
Book Author(s): Rogers M. Smith
Published by: Yale University Press. (1997)
Stable URL: https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt32bh0k.9
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Civic Ideals
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The Constitution and the Quest
for National Citizenship
Nothing is more revealing about the Constitution’s relationship to
American political identity than the original document’s failure to
say much about citizenship. Its great motivating aim, to “form a
more perfect Union,” compelled its framers to be silent or ambiguous on many crucial but controversial issues of civic statuses.
The 1787 text mentioned citizenship three times as a requirement
for federal offices, though only the elective ones. It gave Congress
the power to establish a uniform rule of naturalization. It also referred to citizenship in assigning jurisdiction to the federal courts,
and in a “privilege and immunities clause” derived from the Articles of Confederation.1 Otherwise, citizenship was not expressly
addressed. The Constitution more often spoke of persons, though
it always used masculine pronouns. It frequently referred discreetly
to slavery. Twice it spoke of “Indians.”2 But the Constitution did
not define or describe citizenship, discuss criteria for inclusion or
exclusion, or address the sensitive relationship between state and
national citizenship. Even treason was defined only as “levying
War” against the United States, or “adhering to their Enemies,” by
a “Person.” The Constitution did not say that one must be a citizen
to be a traitor—or a justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.3
The constitutional lawyer Alexander Bickel therefore rhapsodized that “the concept of citizenship plays only the most minimal role in the American constitutional scheme…. The original
Constitution presented the edifying picture of a government that
bestowed rights on people and persons, and held itself out as bound
by certain standards of conduct in its relations with people and persons, not with some legal construct called citizen.” Bickel, a brilliant
Jewish immigrant, celebrated this “idyllic state of affairs.” But, in
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The Constitution and National Citizenship
truth, the Constitution said little about citizenship owing to the status’s pivotal,
not minimal, importance. Issues of state versus national identity and slavery, especially, were so explosive that the framers avoided raising them whenever possible and left them largely unresolved. They dared clash openly only over the less
volatile issue of restrictions on access to national office for the foreign-born, and
there more ascriptive views prevailed. The civic conflicts thus left unsettled
would profoundly shape the course of the new nation. And despite America s receptivity to brilliant immigrants, the Constitution’s silences long permitted ascriptive denials of rights not explicitly protected by its provisions.4
The Roots of Ambiguity
Because most American elites agreed with state policies that limited full citizenship to propertied white men, the civic issues that divided them pivoted on
whether popular sovereignty and citizenship would be primarily located in the
states or the nation, and on the equally basic question of whether the regime
would permit slavery. Those clashes were inextricably intertwined with conflicts
between traditional republican and liberal conceptions of political identity. The
Articles of Confederation had established a union of liberal republics in which
state-centered republicanism predominated but slavery was confined to the
south. The Constitution replaced it with a union embodying a more nationcentered and liberal republicanism. But the political price of that change included preserving many state powers and providing slaveholders new national
Barring a recession in 1786-87, the Confederation period was overall an era
of rapid economic growth. Nonetheless, its structural problems made the Confederation Congress ineffective in important regards. It was incapable of commanding state compliance with its fund-raising, diplomatic, and military endeavors, often unable even to gather a quorum after 1783. Some state legislatures,
moreover, gave large landholders, financiers, and commercial elites real cause for
alarm by experimenting with inflationary paper money, interfering in court cases
involving land titles and contracts, and providing massive debtor relief. Even the
economic successes of the Confederation disturbed the more aristocraticminded gentry. They feared the collapse of public virtue via a pervasive pursuit
of gain. Many were also appalled by how the new states seemed dominated by
scheming, untrustworthy “new men.”
Consequently, these segments of the nation’s elites believed that the Confederation was a failure, jeopardizing the whole revolutionary endeavor. They initiated the Philadelphia Convention. Congress only endorsed amending the Articles in order to give the national legislature more authority over interstate and
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The Constitution and National Citizenship
foreign commerce, where its weakness had made it virtually unable to negotiate
treaties with European nations or native tribes. But while commercial interests
formed a vital unifying concern, delegates arrived with a shared sense that yet
more far-reaching changes were in order.5
By analyzing the convention’s votes and debates, Calvin Jillson has shown that
the delegates were divided philosophically between supporters of an extended
national republic, who tended to come from the Middle Atlantic states, and adherents of traditional small republics, who came primarily from upper New England and the deep South. Proponents of a new nation-centered republicanism
like James Madison and Alexander Hamilton also favored commercial expansion
and relatively inclusive conceptions of American civic identity, though they cared
far more about the former. They qualify as “liberals” in that they minimized direct participation in self-go ver nance in favor of enhanced national peace and
prosperity, to be guaranteed by an elite-guided, unified foreign policy, uniform
commercial regulations, and both civil and military protection of certain individual liberties. They favored rights which would encourage the exercise of men’s
economic and intellectual capacities, thereby improving the nation’s material
conditions and elevating its civilization. Their liberal nationalist vision implied
the primacy of national citizenship.
They had allies on at least some issues in every region, for all the regional political cultures mixed liberal, republican, and inegalitarian ascriptive features in
their thinking, albeit in conflicting combinations that forced compromises. Despite its localism, New England was more receptive to commerce and more egalitarian than the slaveholding South. The southerners were, however, less obsessed
with religious conformity. Less ideological cleavages also intervened, including
positions like that of New Jersey’s William Paterson, who did not object to new
national powers so much as the domination of smaller states by larger ones. Thus
both the politics of the convention and its handiwork were complex, not expressive of any single, coherent conception of the new nation. Agreement was
nonetheless possible because the convention as a whole centered on the more nationalistic end of a political spectrum that extended to the highly localistic views
of many state, town, and rural elites who opposed the Constitution.6
The most extreme adherents of localism, like Patrick Henry, refused even to
participate in the convention. Those who came generally shared certain background experiences that fostered more nationalistic perspectives. Some were
born abroad, and thus did not have such strong affective ties to particular states
(Alexander Hamilton and James Wilson). Others had been educated in Europe,
somewhat eroding their provincialism (John Dickinson, even South Carolina’s
John Rutledge). Probably the most powerful factor, shaping men like Washington and Madison, was service as officers in the Continental Army or as members
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The Constitution and National Citizenship
of Congress. Those experiences made many talented young men vividly aware of
the many needs that nation-building might meet, while also giving larger compass to their ambitions.7
Their Anti-Federalist opponents were more diverse, but most cast themselves
as valiant men of the people combating privileged, wealthy elites. Yet many possessed wealth and local status that exceeded that of most nationalists, in part because they were generally older. Even more typically, many were, in Forrest
McDonald’s words, “state-centered men with local interests and loyalties,” leaders at lower political and social levels who lacked the desire or the resources to
compete for national posts, and who feared the loss of their prerogatives. They
tended to be less educated and more parochial, often because they lived in regions
with less access by road, ship, or post to the wider world. But if they were
parochial, they were also representative: most American men were so uninvolved
in larger affairs that three-quarters of the adult male population did not vote in
the elections for the state conventions that ratified the Constitution—a low
turnout that probably aided the nationalist cause.8
And though their outlooks reflected their circumstances and interests, the
Anti-Federalists could deploy many principled and popular liberal republican
arguments. They yielded little to the nationalists in their doubts about the reliability of public virtue, their concern for stability, and their attachment to property rights. Though many favored primarily agrarian republics over primarily
commercial ones, the more moderate opponents and supporters of the Constitution were not far apart on those issues. But Anti-Federalists saw all the evils and
corruptions to which governments were prone as more likely to occur if republican state citizenship gave way to a less engaged membership in a vast national
polity ruled, inevitably, by a distant few. Hence they favored, at most, more collective power to negotiate commercial treaties and limit state protectionism, but
not any alteration of the basic sovereignty of the states.9
The nationalists who predominated at Philadelphia confronted these views
constantly, because all knew of their popular power, because few delegates were
entirely free of them, and because some, like the Maryland maverick Luther Martin and New York’s John Lansing, vociferously advocated them. All these concerns
compelled the Constitution’s framers to adopt several great and many small compromises, especially between centralists and decentralists, large and small states,
and opponents and advocates of slavery.10 Because questions of the nature and
locus of American citizenship affected all these issues, it is not surprising that the
delegates also compromised on citizenship matters. Indeed, if the extension of
citizenship to the lower classes was the central problem of state-building in nineteenth-century Western Europe, the clash between state and national citizenship
and interlocked conflicts over racial hierarchies in a consensual republic would
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The Constitution and National Citizenship
prove to be the central problems of nineteenth-century American state-building.
In discussing how the Constitution frames those problems, I will also note how
citizenship issues were discussed at the convention and in the Federalist Papers,
recognizing that its authors desired a more truly national and liberal republic
than the one they were so skillfully marketing.
Naturalization. The Constitution proclaims itself the creation of “We the People
of the United States,” words that suggest a national political community and one
not necessarily confined to citizens. Yet it was written and ratified by representatives selected by the people as citizens of the several states. Hence the ambiguity
over whether the nation or the states constituted the primary form of political
community in America was there from the start.
The one power over citizenship directly granted to Congress—the naturalization power in Article I, section 8—provides an equally good example of how
the Constitution remained unclear on the basic locus of citizenship. Again, the
process of naturalization, though not the term, is consistent with the consensual
view of civic membership common to both liberalism and republicanism; yet the
term, though not its American meaning, originates with ascriptive common-law
views. In itself, then, the naturalization power reveals little about the notions of
citizenship that the Constitution embodies.
The power was assigned to Congress because, as Madison argued in the Federalist, the “dissimilarity in the rules of naturalization” resulting from disparate
state actions “has long been remarked as a fault in our system.” With the aid of
the Confederation’s poorly worded privileges and immunities clause, “obnoxious” aliens could gain citizenship in one state requiring recognition in all states,
even when they were banned from some. Hamilton contended in Federalist #32,
as Charles Pinckney had at the convention, that the congressional power to “establish a uniform rule” must thus “necessarily be exclusive; because if each State
had power to prescribe a DISTINCT RULE, there could not be a UNIFORM RULE.”U
But in its final form the Constitution did not expressly give Congress an exclusive power over naturalization. The states arguably still possessed concurrent
jurisdiction to naturalize, so long as they did not violate any congressional criteria. In keeping with convention references to admissions of undesirable foreigners, Roger Sherman later argued that the national power was meant only to prevent “improper” state naturalizations, not to permit foreigners to “be received on
easier terms” than some states wanted. On this view, sufficient uniformity could
be achieved through congressional laws setting minimal guidelines for state naturalizations, leaving further criteria to the states. That position would mean that
the states retained much power to decide who would become American citizens.
Hence the Constitution’s language left open the question of how far authority to
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The Constitution and National Citizenship
determine which aliens would become citizens had been shifted from the states
to the nation.
Even so, the Constitution did give shape to U.S. civic identity. Its main thrust
was to make Americans citizens of a large, commercial, national republic. That
type of nation was such a startling innovation that the Philadelphia delegates and
the Federalist devoted much energy to defining and defending it, in ways now familiar yet still perhaps not wholly persuasive.
The Constitution’s National Republican Citizenship
In introducing the Virginia Plan for a new government at the convention, Edmund Randolph said that its “basis” must be “the republican principle,” and the
framers’ commitment to republicanism is evident enough in the text of their
handiwork. The reality ofthat commitment was nonetheless challenged by statecentered patriots like Patrick Henry, and it has been disputed since by those who
find the Constitution insufficiently democratic. Yet if republicanism means popular government, then the Constitution qualifies. It establishes a government in
which all official positions and powers are derived, however indirectly, from popular choices. Article I, section 9, also prohibits the United States from granting
any titles of nobility, or permitting its officeholders to hold titles or offices bestowed by any king, prince, or foreign state, a provision Hamilton called “the cornerstone of republican government.” Article I, section 10, adds that the states may
not bestow titles of nobility, and Article IV, section 4, requires the United States
to “guarantee to every State in the Union a republican form of government.” But
the nature of republican government is not defined beyond repudiation of
monarchy and aristocracy, and the Constitution’s form reveals that much traditional republican thought was also being repudiated by its enactment.12
Plainly, it is not popular government so much as the commitment to small republics, and thus to the preeminence of the states, that is sharply modified if not
rejected by the constitutional system. To be sure, the small states won representation as equal units in the Senate and made that feature permanently immune
to amendment in Article V, the only explicit constraint on future popular sovereignty that the Constitution contains. The states also retained all governmental
powers not granted to the new federal institutions. Hence the question of their
ultimate sovereignty was left unresolved, rather than settled in the negative. But
there were many features that pointed almost irresistibly to the primacy of national political authority and identity, from the “necessary and proper” clause of
Article I, section 8, to the designation of the national courts as referees of the federal system in Article III, section 2, to the “supremacy” clause of Article VI.13 Even
the popular nature of the system was suspect, because under the Constitution’s
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The Constitution and National Citizenship
arrangements the people never directly participate in any nonelectoral national
decision. From the standpoint of the republican notions of small size and democratic governance enshrined in the Confederation and repeatedly invoked by
the Anti-Federalists, these features meant that the Constitution was not genuinely republican.
Consequently, it was perhaps the central task of the Constitution’s proponents, including the authors of the Federalist, to defend the republican character
of the new system. “Publius” acknowledged, as the framers at Philadelphia had,
that the public would not support anything other than republicanism, that the
“fundamental principles of the Revolution” demanded it, and that, if republics
were not strictly required by rational principles, it was nonetheless “honorable”
to “rest all our political experiments on the capacity of mankind for self-government.” The Federalist Papers succeeded in making a plausible case for the Constitution’s republican character, but only by proposing a different conception of
republicanism than the more traditional ones espoused by its critics.
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