The People in Black and White: Popular Sovereignty and Race in American Political Thought
This dissertation addresses how and why popular sovereignty has been invoked to both entrench and contest racial hierarchy across the history of American political thought. I examine the development of this conundrum of race and peoplehood in four distinct contexts: the Founding, the Jacksonian era, the Jim Crow South, and the Black Freedom Struggle. As I show, racism emerged amid the democratic ferment of the American 18th century as a means of reconciling self-styled egalitarians to the persistence of chattel slavery beyond the Revolution. Rather than anchoring subordination in Old World notions of rank and status, racism carried a distinctively modern and democratic appeal because it located inferiority in subjectivity. I interrogate the dynamic practical complementarity of democratic politics and racism in chapters on Thomas Jefferson’s writings on race and slavery, and the rhetoric of popular authority in Jim Crow era lynchings. However, this union of racism and democracy was never beyond dispute. In chapters on David Walker’s abolitionism and the political thought of Black Power, I show how African-American political thinkers have productively seized upon a tension at the center of U.S. racial democracy, subversively invoking the revolutionary language of popular sovereignty to contest the polity’s racial order. The dissertation therefore shows that popular sovereignty has been a politically promiscuous political idiom, one that is capable of being mobilized for purposes both revolutionary and counterrevolutionary.
African-American Political Thought; American Political Thought; Democratic Theory; Political Theory; Popular Sovereignty; race; Political science
Kramnick, Isaac; Rana, Aziz
Ph. D., Government
Doctor of Philosophy
Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International
dissertation or thesis
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