The Meaning of Citizenship

Angela Powell

HY 203-034

The Meaning of Citizenship

A citizen is defined as a native member of a state or nation who owes allegiance to its government and is entitled to its protection.[1] This is a simple definition with the meaning that a person could call a country their home, but for early Americans being known as a citizen or having citizenship was only defined for certain people. Some people thought it meant having liberty or freedom or independence from not only other people, but also from other countries. Now it is assumed that liberty, freedom, and citizenship go hand in hand, but for early Americans that was not the case. Throughout the history of the United States, the meaning of citizenship has been defined differently among various groups of people living in America.

In the beginning, citizenship was granted to only one group of people living in Americathe white man. A white man could own property and he was allowed to be a citizen and offered the right to vote. Later that changed to every white man who paid taxes. America was giving "more rights for whites which meant taking away rights from blacks and women.[2] The white man could do practically anything in America and these men "started to create a political identity as citizens, while women weren't able to participate.[3] It seemed that having a political view on how the country was functioning was the white mans rights as citizenship and these rights were meant for no one else.

White women were not allowed in politics. They were to stay at home and obey their husbands; and really seem dumb to anything having to do with politics. Slaves were treated even worse than the women of course. They did not even have a right to their body, it was just a piece of property that was traded and sold like anything else.[4] Although women had little education, slaves had none and it was an "unpardonable offense to teach slaves to read in this Christian country.[5] America was becoming more of a racist country to anyone that was not a white man, than a Christian country that offered liberty and freedom.

Things slowly and eventually started to change and it started with women. Women started to play a role in politics after the Revolution. It opened new opportunities for women across the country. Their influences in writing, reading, and actually being able to think for themselves were huge accomplishments for America. It was a time when the importance "for women to become part of society because they couldn't vote[6] was being recognized by the white men. "These developments raised the stakes for women immensely,[7] and women had a sense of feeling like citizenship was just around the corner. White men began thinking about what it would be like if women were given the opportunity to vote and even gave the women of New Jersey that gift to a "small portion of the women in the state[8] Although it was just an experiment it was step for citizenship.

Women who became really into politics were known as "female politicians[9] and though this was good for women, men started seeing this as a threat. To men, women were supposed to stay at home and support not only their husband's decisions politically, but also their sons. Women were not supposed to know or even understand politics and to men, they needed to get out and stay at home raising children and focusing on "the internal appearance of her house[10]. While some people did not agree with this "criticism of women who were interested in electoral politics mounted;[11] yet at the same time women "were told that they still had a political role to play.[12] Men seemed to fear powerful political women and saw it as a risk to their "national manhood.[13] Women involved in politics was destroying families because some did not agree with their husbands or sons; however, women never really backed down. Women still played their part in politics by actually participating in things initialized by men such as boycotts; however, men tended to repeatedly need justification for excluding women in politics.[14] Though it was controversial at the time, women continued to support their views in politics by attending gatherings in order to keep their social standards and of course for their political parties.[15]

Women seemed by this point to be gaining some form of freedom from men if not citizenship of their country, but for slaves citizenship was not even thought of. During the slave trade people started questioning the meaning of equality written in the Constitution and wondering about slaverywas it really right? Slavery became a huge debate in America. It was so controversial that it was kept out of politics which left people thinking about the "human institution of slavery[16] for themselves. Slaves"spouses, children, families were traded with no restrictions[17] and the "rights to life seemed inconsistent with slavery.[18] Slavery was no longer being considered a part of every American's life, but instead was being questioned as to whether or not these people should be considered Americans too.

Anti-slavery supports and abolitionists continued to attempt to give slaves the rights they earned as citizens of America, but it was a tough battle to fight. They were convincing Americans that "slavery was a mistake[19] and as Americans they needed to "work for the free people of color[20] as they had worked without reward. Slaves were not allowed to vote for anyone or anything, their opinion did not matter. They were not allowed to testify in front of a judge, which let whites get away with murder literally.[21] Free blacks were "only hired in unskilled labors and faced hostility;[22] and fear of getting kidnapped just to be returned to a slaveholder was an everyday terror. In 1850, a Fugitive Slave Law was admitted which actually encouraged kidnapping of blacks so that they would be returned to their slaveholders. This law was very corrupt in every way possible and benefitted only the white men and never the slave.[23] Although it took a good time longer before slaves were considered free American citizens, the fact that people were even questioning slaves' rights was a big triumph for the country. Slavery seemed to be the reason people began to look back at the Constitution and wonder who and what it was truly written for and what the Constitution really meant when it spoke of equality, freedom, liberty, and citizenship.

Some people of America considered that being free was being known as a citizen, but "freedom was for whites[24] and having a "white nation meant freedom.[25] Freedom was about "being independent and "economically independent from the government's interference.[26] It was about the industrialization of the country and expansion westward for a large portion of Americans. Having economic freedom was the most important thing and that opportunity was only given to certain selective people. Other people of the country tended to realize that moral freedom was more important. Freedom was not about "doing whatever you wanted; instead, it was about self-control and being in control of your actions.[27] Having freedom was having free will and social reform and these people were supposed to change the way society thought about equality, liberty, and freedom of course. Equality and freedom; however, were not interchangeable. But the point was that at least people were beginning to think about what the definitions intended and how they were to affect all Americans according to the Constitution.[28]

In conclusion, the meaning of citizenship was clearly defined differently according to who you were or what you did in early America. The important fact still remains: at least people were curious enough about the true meaning of citizenship that they felt it needed changing to make things right for the country. Though it did take a long, long while for things in America to become how they are today, citizenship was still developing at this time.

[1] Dictionary definition

[2] Abruzzo lecture 10/29/2009

[3] Abruzzo lecture 9/29/2009

[4] Abruzzo lecture 11/5/2009

[5] Douglas pg. 32

[6] Abruzzo lecture 11/10/2009

[7] Zagarri pg. 45

[8] Zagarri pg. 31

[9] Zagarri

[10] Document 8.9

[11] Zaggari pg. 146

[12] Zaggari pg. 146

[13] Zaggari pg.110

[14] Zaggari ch. 5

[15] Zaggari ch. 3

[16] Abruzzo lecture 11/5/2009

[17] Abruzzo lecture 11/5/2009

[18] Abruzzo lecture 11/3/2009

[19] Abruzzo lecture 11/3/2009

[20] Document 10.8c

[21] Abruzzo lecture 11/3/2009 and 10/29/2009

[22] Abruzzo lecture 11/5/2009

[23] Abruzzo lecture 11/17/2009

[24] Abruzzo lecture 10/29/2009

[25] Abruzzo lecture 11/3/2009

[26] Abruzzo lecture 11/3/2009

[27] Abruzzo lecture 11/10/2009

[28] Meagan McChesney Discussion 11/13/2009

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