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Smith, James M'Cune. 'Citizenship' in 'The Anglo-African Magazine 1:5 (May 1859)' . New York, N.Y. : T. Hamilton, 1859. [format: newspaper], [genre: article; history]. Permission: Northern Illinois University
Persistent link to this document: http://lincoln.lib.niu.edu/file.php?file=angloafrican1.html


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-- 145 --

because Dred Scott was a ‘negro who had no rights which white men were bound to respect.’

The easy rapidity with which this atrocious sentiment passed from tongue to tongue, and the sudden possession which it took of the public mind, create any but hopeful feeling in regard to public virtue or integrity. The anaesthesia which suffered the black man's rights to be swept away — as the public thought — by the sweep of a pen or the utterance of a sentence, will soon be so profound as to regard with equal indifference the abstraction of white men's rights. Nay, does not the history of Kansas prove that such a state of apathy or indifference has already overtaken the public mind? ‘Our goods, but not our principles are for sale’ is a splendid apothegm — so long as any principles survive.

The other circumstance alluded to bears a like relation to our actual position in the path of progress; it shows, that if we are fast, active and advancing, we are nevertheless — superficial; more conversant with the small change of minute facts than with the weightier affairs of profound reflection. In the hurry to discuss the far famed opinion of Justice Taney, we have devoted all our time and attention, from Justice Curtis down to our New York Assembly men, to rebutting this opinion with facts; the broad principles which underlie the discussion, the high argument which should have stirred anew with refreshing influence the deep slumber of decided opinions on the relation which individuals bear to the state, and the limits of the power of the judiciary to alter such relations, have not yet been, nor are they likely to be, reached — because, forsooth, only negroes are supposed to be concerned. A good deal of sympathy has been poured out with pharisaic air, upon the poor disfranchised negro, while no ken has been sharp enough to discern that the whole body politic has received a wound none the less deep, because unfelt. The public mind, swept and garnished from all living perception of justice and mercy, became an easy possession to the seven who constituted the working majority of the Supreme Court.

Leaving to abler hands to discuss the broader bearings of this subject, we propose to examine a single term — citizenship — on which, it will readily be seen the whole question hangs. What is Citizenship?

Singularly enough this term is a species, of which language has not yet furnished the generic term; clear proof, notwithstanding our boasted advance in all things, of our imperfect development in the matter of civil government. The relation which the individual bears to the state has no general expression in language. A subject expresses the relation of a person to a monarchical form of government; a citizen expresses the relation of a person to an elective form of government, that of a city, or a state. A citizen of London, may be a subject of the King of Great Britain. Louis 6th first granted in 1113 certain franchises which made the inhabitants of Nayon citizens; and Henry I. of England by similar grant made the dwellers of London citizens thereof. There is really no difference between citizen and denizen, the latter being the Welsh radical having the force of the latin civis.

As the Constitution of the United States does not define the word citizen, [1]the definition must be sought in the exact meaning of the word itself, altogether independently of the Constitution. Herein, after all, lies the great and only safeguard against the corruption or centralization which grow out of a written constitution. Language, and words with their distinct meaning at the time of its adoption are the only record to which we can safely go back as a barrier against new and forced or false interpretations.

Aristotle defines a citizen to be metochos kriseos kai arches, ‘a partner in the Legislative and judicial power.’ The chief characteristics of citizens among the Athenians were good birth, hereditary transmission of privileges, the possession of land and the performance of military service. So precious was the right of citizenship, that it required a vote of 6000 citizens to admit a stranger to the rights of
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Smith, James M'Cune. 'Citizenship' in 'The Anglo-African Magazine 1:5 (May 1859)' . New York, N.Y. : T. Hamilton, 1859. [format: newspaper], [genre: article; history]. Permission: Northern Illinois University
Persistent link to this document: http://lincoln.lib.niu.edu/file.php?file=angloafrican1.html
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