James Sanders

“‘All the Inhabitants of This America Are Citizens:’ Imagining Equality, Nation and Citizenship in an Atlantic Frame”

In 1822, at the very moment of Mexico’s troubled birth as a new nation state, a group of enslaved women wrote to Emperor Iturbide to demand their freedom. Liberty was their “natural right” as they understood the new nation had declared, “that all the inhabitants of this America are Citizens.” From Latin American nation states’ inception, popular groups (including those of indigenous and African descent) claimed citizenship in these strange new constructs. I will argue these claims had a significant influence in how the nineteenth-century public sphere imagined a “modern” nation. By the mid-nineteenth century, the Mexican and Colombian public spheres rang with declarations of their societies’ superiority (when compared to the United States or Europe) since they had adopted ideas of racial equality and universal (male) citizenship as central to the nation’s progress. Mexico’s El Globo asserted, “Our Republic is the model for democracies…. giving a lesson of progress to her powerful neighbor to the North, since she does not organize her social rankings according to tints of color nor racial distinctions….” While the U.S. was usually recognized as a model republic, Mexicans and Colombians felt North American racism and European monarchy were fatal flaws in U.S. and European claims to creating modern nations: placing anti-racism as a central element of modernity was impossible for most in the United States. The idea that equality and popular citizenship were central for the nation’s obtainment of modernity also would refract back and strengthen subalterns’ positions in the new nations. Late in the century, in part to counter these subaltern demands, the Mexican and Colombian states and their political elites reimagined modernity and nation away from equality and popular citizenship and toward stability and economic progress. This essay will explore how the idea of the nation in Colombia and Mexico become so enmeshed with ideas of popular citizenship and equality (in an Atlantic framework of the imagined inequality and limited citizenship of the United States and Europe).

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