From poor law to immigration law: Changing visions of territorial community in Antebellum Massachusetts

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Abstract

With a focus on the antebellum period, this paper explores how the Commonwealth of Massachusetts came to restrict individuals' access to, or presence within, its territory in terms of citizenship, thereby dislodging older constructions of territorial community at the town level that had been organized in terms of "settlement" or "inhabitancy", a concept of long standing in the Massachusetts poor laws. While this process-the replacement of a territorial community at the town level by a territorial community at the state level-might be explained loosely in terms of the imperatives of coping with mass immigration during the first half of the nineteenth century, such an explanation would be insensitive to historical specificities. An examination of the legislative discourse of the period suggests that it was in fact driven by concerns about resolving a somewhat different problem, the persistence of an older vision of territorial community at the town level that had the effect of repeatedly subverting the emerging vision of territorial community at the state level. In other words, the state's vision of a territorial community organized in terms of citizenship, something with which we are utterly familiar today, could only be brought into being by quite forcibly stamping out the towns' vision of a territorial community organized in terms of settlement. As will be argued in the conclusion, this stamping out exposes the contingency of the state's vision of a territorial community organized in terms of citizenship and, thereby, the pernicious uses to which the state routinely puts citizenship.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)61-85
Number of pages25
JournalHistorical Geography
Volume28
StatePublished - Dec 1 2000
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • History
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)

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