Before the Civil War, colonization schemes and black laws threatened to deport former slaves born in the United States. Birthright Citizens recovers the story of how African American activists remade national belonging through battles in legislatures, conventions, and courthouses. They faced formidable opposition, most notoriously from the US Supreme Court decision in Dred Scott. Still, Martha S. Jones explains, no single case defined their status. Former slaves studied law, secured allies, and conducted themselves like citizens, establishing their status through local, everyday claims. All along they argued that birth guaranteed their rights. With fresh archival sources and an ambitious reframing of constitutional law-making before the Civil War, Jones shows how the Fourteenth Amendment constitutionalized the birthright principle, and black Americans’ aspirations were realized. Birthright Citizens: A History of Race and Rights in Antebellum America tells how African American activists radically transformed the terms of citizenship for all Americans.
Martha S. Jones is the Society of Black Alumni Presidential Professor and Professor of History at Johns Hopkins University, and Co-President of the Berkshire Conference of Women Historians. She is the author of Birthright Citizens: A History of Race and Rights in Antebellum America (2018) and All Bound Up Together: The Woman Question in African American Public Culture (2007) and an editor of Toward an Intellectual History of Black Women (2015.) For more information visit marthasjones.com.