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From Legal Rights to Citizens' Rights and Alien Penalties: Migrant Influence, Naturalization, and the Growth of National Power over Foreign Migrants in the Early American Republic Open Access

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This dissertation argues for the development of a national citizenship during the years after U.S. independence, when citizens' rights were carved out of alien legal penalties during the political crises of that period. For white aliens, these crises were temporary, but in the case migrants whom Americans did not acknowledge as white, the crisis was continual and part of a broader struggle against racial discrimination. Rather than passively accept their treatment, both white and non-white migrants actively worked to preserve existing rights and resisted penalties imposed upon them. At times they were successful in doing so, despite nativist hostility. Thus, this dissertation demonstrates both how the national government moved to establish laws of citizenship earlier than has generally been acknowledged by scholars at the same time that it demonstrates how migrants participated actively in shaping the outcomes of laws about citizenship. This dissertation draws on a number of sources, but grounds its arguments in evidence of migrant actions, pulled from compulsory registration documents required by the Alien and Sedition Acts and also instituted during the War of 1812. These sources are supplemented by the personal correspondence of migrants, petitions to government officials, newspaper articles, missionary accounts of foreign migrants, legislative debates, and other sources by or about foreign migrants from the early American republic.

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