Regional Interests and the Development of Migration Policy in the American Republic, 1776-1798
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Migration policy in the early American republic was heavily conditioned by the regional variations among its constituent states. Far from the popular characterisation of the United States as an ‘asylum for mankind,’ early political debates on migration were complicated by competing, and often conflicting, notions of citizenship, partisanship, and popular participation. This thesis sheds light on this tumultuous period, analysing the influence of state legislation, regional interest, and local experiences of migration on national policymaking. It considers the constitutional balance of power between states and the federal government in determining the jurisdiction of migration policy, exploring how competing regional ideologies on migration expanded into national political conflict on a range of issues, from foreign policy to slavery. The thesis also considers how migration policy contributed to, and was shaped by, divisions on US citizenship. When policymakers argued for a particular approach to migration on the national stage, they were equally asserting their own regional conceptions of American identity. The rise of partisanship during the 1790s exacerbated this conflict. Nascent parties not only adopted regional ideologies on migration; they actively assimilated them into distinct policy agendas, reflecting a particular vision of American society and who that ought to include. Lastly, the thesis considers how the public reinforced regional interests on migration by actively engaging with state and national debates. The emergence of the press and local societies saw political discourse thrive in the public sphere, giving significant lobbying power to those outside of the halls of political office, including un-naturalised migrants. Altogether, the dissertation examines how varying approaches to migration shaped these themes in different ways across the Union, and, in doing so, brings to light the profound impact of regional interest on the development of policymaking within the United States’ unique federal framework.
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