Abstract : How can we deal politically, morally with the dilemma statelessness poses ? We have long thought that the solution to statelessness lay in more flexible forms of citizenship. But what if citizenship is not the solution but the problem ? Citizen rights and human rights, liberalism’s twin offspring, frequently war with one another. What does their opposition tell us about the limitations of liberalism’s commitment to universal rights ? Returning to the origins of modern citizenship in the Age of Revolution, exploring the tensions between liberalism’s promise of universal rights and fundamental patterns of racist exclusion may further our understanding of the exclusionary nature of citizenship and liberalism’s failure to address it. 
Keywords : citizenship, human rights, instruments of exclusion, Age of Revolution, race/slavery
The bitter opposition between citizenship rights and human rights, sovereign states and the stateless millions poses one of the most pressing dilemmas facing the world today. Over 42 million political, economic and religious refugees wander stateless across a global south ill-equipped to deal with them at the same time that, with great popular support, the European Union and the United States frantically barricade their borders against them. How can we deal politically and morally with the dilemma statelessness poses to those of us blessed with the rights and privileges of citizenship ?
We have long thought that the solution to statelessness lay in more flexible and inclusive forms of citizenship. But what if citizenship is not the solution ? What if citizenship is the problem ? Citizenship, Engin Isin argues, is and always has been an exclusionary instrument empowering certain individuals (citizens) to exclude others (refugees, immigrants) from the cornucopia of rights and privileges citizenship promises.  As a consequence, citizen rights and human rights, although twin offspring of radical Enlightenment liberalism, all too frequently war with one another. What does their opposition tell us about the limitations of liberalism and the Enlightenment’s commitment to universal equality and unalienable rights ?
How did it all begin, this war between liberal republics (and their citizens) and the stateless millions, able to claim only the frail and unenforceable reed of human rights ? It began, I argue, with the Age of Revolution and the emergence of those radical new political instruments, the modern republic and the modern citizen. These, in their turn, were grounded on the Enlightenment insistence that all men were equal and endowed with unalienable natural rights which the new republics were called into being to protect. And so from the beginning, natural rights and a nation-based vision of rights were indissolubly linked.
The first problem the new republics faced was deciding to whom among their diverse inhabitants they would grant the rights of citizenship, whom they would exclude. From this perspective, rights would seem to be tied to republican nation states. But from another perspective they were not. Revolutionary eras are messy times. As Atlantic revolutionaries debated the rights and extent of national citizenship, they simultaneously saw their particular revolution as part of a world revolutionary moment when, as one Irish revolutionary claimed, “the whole moral world … [was] convulsed to its centre, … when the European, the Ethiop and the inhabitant of the Indian Peninsula … as it were by common consent” threw off the burden of tyrannical governments and asserted their natural rights. . From this perspective, natural rights, transcending national borders, were world encompassing, universal. Common to all, they were, consequently, common to each. Embedded in the individual, they were his, no matter what country he inhabited or whether the people of that country acknowledged his individual rights or not. Natural rights thus coexisted within multiple divergent spaces : as the rights of citizens, within specific republican nation states ; universally, as all men’s natural rights ; and micro-politically, embedded within each individual. Will thinking of rights as performed and thus co- existing within multiple, divergent spaces help us think through the quintessential liberal conundrum – the inherent conflict between citizen rights and human rights ? Will it help us envision citizen rights as less exclusionary, more open to all individuals’ claims to human rights ?
Focusing on the Age of Revolution we come upon a second, deeply puzzling aspect of eighteenth-century rights discourse– not so much a conundrum, this time, as a paradox. The Age of Revolution, of man’s universal, unalienable rights, was also the Age of Chattel Slaver,y the economies of the great European empires and the United States being grounded on the buying and selling of human beings and the products those enslaved beings produced. Slavery in the Age of Revolution ! Simultaneously an oxymoron and a historical commonplace ! How did revolutionary republicans respond to the challenge the United States Declaration of Independence, Tom Paine’s Rights of Man and finally the Haitian Revolution posed to their deep-rooted economic and social commitment to slavery ? Will puzzling out how ardent white advocates of universal rights justified excluding black men (and, for that matter, all women, regardless of color) from those rights further our understanding of the ways, today, Europeans and Americans declare “illegal” those from the Global South who seek safety and human dignity within a global economy their exploitation helped create ? 
The Age of Revolution, stretching from the 1680s to the 1820s, saw successive political uprisings tear the Atlantic world asunder — from British North America to Gran Columbia, from Paris to Guadeloupe, Saint Domingue and Ireland. These uprisings challenged both the concept of absolute monarchies and the imperial systems they spawned ; saw the establishment of modern post-colonial republics throughout the Americas ; for the first time in history, questioned the legitimacy of human slavery ; and, bringing all these revolutionary challenges together, began the torturous process of constituting the modern republican citizen. If political sovereignty resided in the will of “the people” and not in the assertions of absolute monarchs or distant empires, a series of questions suggested themselves : what rights could the new citizens claim and who could claim them ? Did an individual’s claims to unalienable rights transcend the geopolitical state or did the protection of these rights ultimately depend on claims to citizenship in a particular state ? Is the right to have rights universal and unalienable, crossing color as well as national boundaries ? How are these two questions interrelated ? A cultural analyst, I think of the processes by which modern concepts of rights and citizenship came into being as a complex layering of dialogic exchanges crisscrossing the eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century Atlantic as revolutionaries and counter-revolutionaries, diplomats and merchants, slaves and common sailors moved back and forth between the US., French, Irish and Haitian Revolutions. Especially in the age of wind and sails, the story of their exchanges could scarcely have been simple or straightforward. Rather, like the currents and winds of the Atlantic, they followed a convoluted and idiosyncratic path. I ask you to follow me as my story appears to meander from Britain to the Americas, back to Europe and then, simultaneously, west across the Atlantic and north to the first (and last) of Britain’s overseas colonies – Ireland – seeking to catch the ideas, fears and desires Atlantic republicans exchanged with one another as revolution after revolution disrupted their worlds. 
Let us begin our explorations with what most scholars consider the foundation text of liberalism and the Age of Revolution, John Locke’s Two Treatises on Government, tracing the tensions those two treatises established between the natural right of all men to life and liberty and Locke’s defense of white men’s property rights in enslaved African bodies. As we will soon discover, Enlightenment philosophers were unable to think about freedom without simultaneously thinking about slavery. We will be guided on our way by suggestions garnered from the writings of political philosopher, Robert Bernasconi.  Arguing for man’s natural rights to equality and liberty, Locke’s Treatises, Bernasconi argues, inscribed two radically different forms of slavery : political slavery, which is imposed by tyrannical sovereigns, violates man’s natural rights and must be resisted, violently if necessary ; and chattel slavery which Locke defined as a legitimate form of property ownership and thus a protected economic right (even though Locke also admitted that slavery constituted an ongoing state of war between slaves and their masters.)
In the First Treatise, which opens with the famous sentence – “Slavery is so vile and miserable an Estate of Man, and so directly opposite to the generous Temper and Courage of our Nation ; That ‘tis hardly to be conceived, that an Englishman, much less a Gentleman, should plead for’t.”  – Locke passionately refutes Robert Filmer’s defense of the political powers associated with absolute monarchies, and, in particular, Filmer’s assertion that “a Prince hath an absolute Arbitrary, unlimited, and unlimitable Power over the Lives, Liberties and Estates of his … Subjects ; so that he may take or alienate their Estates, sell, castrate, or use their Persons as he pleases, they being his slaves … [who should] submit peaceably to that Absolute Dominion, which their Governors had a Right to exercise over them.”  In section after section of the First Treatise, Locke dissects and rejects Filmer’s logic, insisting that the exercise of “absolute “ “arbitrary” and “unlimitable” political “Dominion” by a monarch constitutes political slavery which every man has the natural right to resist. Stridently, Locke insists on ‘the Natural Liberty and Equality of Mankind” – a claim that is echoed in both the United States’ Declaration of Independence and France’s “Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizens.” In this way, Locke politicized, “liberty” and “slavery,” situating them within the political state and the exercise of political authority.
But in the Second Treatise, Locke introduces – and legitimates — a second, radically different form of slavery, Atlantic or chattel slavery, that is, slavery that is not political, but rather economic and domestic. In the process Locke racializes liberty as the white man’s property and slavery, as the African’s destiny. At the beginning of the Second Treatise, sect. 2, Locke states quite clearly that the powers of a monarch over his people are quite different from those of “a Lord over his slave.” While the monarch’s political power over his subjects was carefully limited, the slave holder had “absolute power and authority over his slave.” In this way, Locke gave to the slaveholder the very “arbitrary and Absolute Domain” he denied to the political sovereign. He could do so precisely because with this second form of slavery Locke has moved from the issue of political rights and the power of the sovereign state to the private rights of individual property owners. The slave, as represented in the Second Treatise, Chapter IV, is either a captive in a just war or a criminal subject to capital punishment. In either case, faced with the choice of death or enslavement he sensibly chooses enslavement. But as a slave, he no longer is a man with sovereign political rights or claims to citizenship. Writing as slavery became a dominant form of labor around the Atlantic, Locke insisted that the slave had become a form of property that could be sold at the will of his owner and whose children will inherit his condition. As Jennifer Welchman points out, within the Second Treatise, “the term `man’ no longer denotes any human being, but only those human beings who are persons [within acknowledged political states]…. Children born to non-persons are neither the children of men nor entitled to claim rights natural of men.”  Slaves thus exist outside the political sphere ; private property, they are stateless objects. Seventeenth-century Europeans could not imagine Europeans as stateless. Nor could they imagine enslaving fellow Europeans. But they easily imagined Africans as existing in an uncivilized state of nature, as stateless and as slaves.
Deep contradictions underlay Locke’s justification of racialized chattel slavery – especially his insistence that the enslaved were either perpetrators of unjust wars or criminals guilty of capital crimes. On the most obvious level, many of the enslaved carried from Africa to the Americas were children, women or elderly men, whom none would claim had participated in any sort of war, just or not – and few of whom could be imagined as homicidal criminals. But, Bernasconi argues, logic did not drive Locke’s argument.  Rather Locke introduced this second form of slavery in order to legitimate the grant of “Absolute power and authority,” that is the right of life and death, granted slave owners in the Fundamental Constitution of Carolina, which Locke had written earlier, in 1669, in response to the demands of slave holders from Barbados who wanted to be assured of maintaining absolute control over their slaves should they move to the Carolinas.
Locke racialized claims to freedom in a second fundamental way, embedding freedom and rights in the “state of society,” that is, the political state – and, as already suggested, making that state white, European. Of course, claims to life and liberty originated in the state of nature, but that state was a contradictory, dangerous and violent place. Home to natural rights and freedom, it was also home to slavery. Devoid of policing and judicial instruments, no man’s life, liberty or property was safe from attack there. To rest securely in their natural rights, individuals formed political states designed to protect their natural rights. In this way, Locke embodied political, economic and social rights in the political state, seemingly unable to imagine rights – or Europeans — outside protective apparatuses of the nation state. But it was not everyone’s rights that Locke imagined protected there – only the rights of those who had survived the state of nature with their liberty and property intact. All those who had lost their natural rights through enslavement or, if women, marriage or concubinage, were excluded from participation in the social contract. They could not claim membership in the political state. Their rights were consequently not protected there. Thus Locke recognized the exclusionary nature of the political state – and its Europeanness — at the same time as he left slaves and slavery in a state of nature which increasingly took on the appearance of Africa. A line was being drawn between Africa and Europe in terms of claims to political self-governance and individual liberty, a line that has proven remarkably impervious to modification.
I will discuss the relevance of Locke’s politicization and racialization of slavery to early cosmopolitan concepts of universal political rights, especially among Enlightenment radicals, and ultimately to the construction of the US as a poor white man’s refuge shortly, but first I want to introduce a second, seemingly unrelated, piece of the jigsaw puzzle of slavery and freedom, citizen rights and human rights. I refer to the long shadow the Haitian Revolution cast over the Atlantic world. Haitian revolutionaries espoused a far more radical form of Enlightenment liberalism than either the US or French Revolutionaries. While the US Revolution established the principle of popular sovereignty and the French Revolution abolished monarchy and aristocracy, it was not until slaves rose up in bloody – and successful — revolution in the richest plantation slave economy in the world that the right of “all men” to life and liberty found full constitutional expression.  Haiti was the first nation to permanently abolish slavery, to denounce “the aristocracy of the skin,” to counter Europe’s insistence on the barbarity of Africa with its insistence on the freedom and equality of all men. In Robin Blackburn’s words, Saint Domingue’s revolutionaries redeemed the Age of Revolution. 
Redeemed the Age of Revolution — and terrified it — not only because of the ruthlessness with which rebellious slaves seized and maintained their freedom – burning plantations, entire cities to the ground, brutally torturing and executing slave holders, raping women. What the watching white world found far more terrifying, Blackburn argues, was the former slaves’ adoption of emancipation as state policy –along with the tangible proof they provided that formerly enslaved Africans and Afro-Caribbeans could not only defeat Napoleon’s army (which no European army had achieved), but establish an independent country based on the principle of self-governance ; outwit European nations at the diplomatic game ; engage actively in global commerce ; and restore law, order and economic productivity to a ravaged country. While Jefferson had begun by calling Haiti’s leaders, including Toussaint Louverture, “Cannibals of the terrible republic,” he eventually admitted that Saint Domingue’s “blacks are established into a sovereignty de facto & have organized themselves under regular laws and government.”  No longer stateless objects of property, as Locke imagined them, they had remade themselves citizens of the United States’ new black sister republic.
What a terrifying realization for white Americans and Europeans. In a world of rapidly changing political and social constellations, race had functioned as the one stabilizing constant, a constant an independent black Haiti violently destabilized. Again Robin Blackburn : “the awesome scale of events in Saint Domingue instilled a sort of permanent panic in the minds of new world slave owners, leading them to redouble their security and fortify their links to potential allies.” 
The desire to build such links had an immediate impact on the development of political parties in the young US republic. Fusing a determination to protect the slaveholders of the US south with his deep-seated commitment to the rights of white men, Thomas Jefferson, slave owner, author of the US Declaration of Independence, spokesman for a radical and cosmopolitan vision of white men’s rights, designed a political strategy to weld the American South’s planter elite to politically and economically radicalized segments of northern US society. Jefferson’s strategy, Blackburn explains, while defending slavery, “offered enhanced rights and status to white citizens and in so doing helped to adapt the colonial patronage complex by linking American slavery and American freedom to the new formula of a `white republic.’”  Especially in the years following Haitian independence, liberty and republican citizenship became the marker of whiteness within radical political circles in the US, Britain and the Continent while violence and chaos were projected as the characteristics of those black men bold enough to assert their political rights and agency.
It is at this point that radical Irish revolutionaries enter our picture as key players in Jefferson’s strategy of proclaiming the United States a freedom-loving white man’s republic. Few among the Age of Revolution’s political émigrés were more radical than members of the United Irishmen Society who sought asylum in the United States following Britain’s savage suppression of their efforts to establish an independent Irish Republic, significantly during the very years that saw the successful rebellion of Saint Domingue’s enslaved population (1791-1803).
What had been going on in Ireland during these years of political conflict and change ? The years immediately following the US Revolution had seen growing political awareness develop first among Ireland’s Protestant bourgeoisie and then gradually among its largely illiterate Catholic peasantry. Demands for reform of Britain’s trade policies, the establishment of an Irish Parliament and Catholic emancipation grew ever more strident. Initially successful these demands ultimately led to a hardening of British rule in Ireland, the arrest or forced emigration of journalists, educators and other leaders of the movement and by the 1790s — very much inspired by the French Revolution and the writings of such British radicals as Tom Paine, Edwin Godwin and other members of the London Corresponding Committee — to an armed revolution that sought to unite Irishmen across religious and class divisions ; expel the British from Ireland and establish an independent Irish republic based on universal manhood suffrage. Repeatedly engaging British forces, Irish revolutionaries were as repeatedly defeated. Arrests and executions, dramatic prison escapes and emigration followed (1792-1794, 1796-1797, 1803). 
Radical leaders’ experiences first as insurgents in Ireland and then as politically active émigrés in the United States led a number of the more radical, strongly influenced by Tom Paine’s Rights of Man, to embrace the concept of “cosmopolitan” or universal citizenship, insisting that all men were endowed with unalienable rights to life and liberty, that these rights were invested in the individual, and thus transcended national boundaries. Wherever free men resided, John Burk, one of the United Irishmen’s most radical leaders, insisted they were “virtual citizens” of that country, regardless of the reaction of the actual government.  In the United States, Federalist reaction was extraordinarily harsh. William Cobbett accused Burk and his fellow United Irish émigrés of spearheading “an infernal combination” whose aim was “an insurrection against the government of America.  Cobbitt expressed the sentiments of many ardent Federalists, including President John Adams. In reaction to the influx of radical Irish refugees, in 1798, Adam’s Federalist controlled Congress passed in rapid succession, a stringently exclusionary Naturalization Act ; the Alien Act, authorizing the deportation of all aliens suspected of ‘treasonable or secret’ inclinations ; the Alien Enemies act, authorizing the imprisonment or deportation aliens in time of war ; and the Sedition Act. This last act severely limited freedom of the press. Twnety-five opposition newspaper editors and printers were prosecuted for seditious libel. Burk was among those convicted. His radical New York newspaper, the Time-Piece,was shut down, and Burk was forced to flee to Virginia, where Jefferson’s friends protected him.  Such opposition only strengthened Burk’s defiant cosmopolitan insistence on rights and citizenship. “From the moment the stranger puts his foot on the soil of America,” he insisted, “his fetters are rent to pieces … he becomes a FREEMAN … civil regulations may refuse him the immediate exercise of his rights [nevertheless] he is virtually a citizen.” 
Such an understanding Margaret Mc Aleer writes, “allowed these Hiberian `citizens of the world’ to shift seamlessly from one national struggle to another, providing both a framework and legitimacy for their continued political activism,” an activism they exercised as editors of Jeffersonian newspapers and as Republican political operators.  
Certainly this was true of fellow radical Irish émigré William Duane, who, as editor of the Philadelphia Aurora, became the leading spokesman for the radical northern wing of Jefferson’s Republican Party. Other radical Irish activists, Thomas Branagan (whom we will discuss in greater detail shortly) and union organizer James Geoghan, worked to politically organize the urban poor, inviting all “who had suffered in the cause of freedom” and believed that “a free form of government and uncontrouled [sic] opinion on all subjects, to be the common rights of all the human species….” to join the American Society of United Irishmen. These efforts played an important role in the 1796 and 1800 Jeffersonian victories, carrying Jefferson to the White House.
These “Hiberian citizens of the world” had arrived in the United States just as the significance of events in Saint Domingue began to burst upon the awareness of the Atlantic world. The French National Assembly abolished slavery throughout the French empire in 1794 ; Toussaint Louveture and his black army joined forces with Liger Sonthonax in 1795 and a year later Toussaint was appointed Governor General of Saint Domingue, the highest ranking official on the island. By 1799 Saint Domingue had become, as Jefferson so grudgingly put it, a “sovereignty de facto … organized …under regular laws and government.” By 1804, revolutionary blacks had defeated Napoleon’s crack army and established an independent government based on the universal rights of man to freedom and self-governance. How did radical Irish celebrants of a universal vision of unalienable political and social rights, but now new formed as Jeffersonian partisans, respond to events in Saint Domingue – the ultimate test of a universalist vision ?
While at first some of the most radical of the Irish émigrés, William Duane, for instance, denounced chattel slavery and praised the slave uprising in Saint Domingue, by 1793 and 1794, that is after black revolutionaries burnt Saint Domingue’s capital, Le Cap, to the ground, slavery had been abolished, and thousands of terrified whites had fled, many to US port cities, most Irish radicals, having become Jeffersonian political operatives, curtailed their criticisms of slavery and their praise of Saint Domingue’s revolution. 
To trace the torturous process by which these radical believers in universal liberty and political cosmopolitanism became defenders of Saint Domingue’s slave holders and advocates of an exclusionary white nation-state, its borders closed to the “dusky peoples” of the world — let us look at the writings of two of their most radical spokesmen, John Burk and Thomas Branagan.
John Burk’s History of the Late War in Ireland, published in 1799, bitterly denounced British imperialism, stridently insisted on Ireland’s right to independence, and, strongly influenced by Tom Paine’s Rights of Man, called for universal male suffrage, regardless of religion or wealth . The book opens with a passionate attack on British imperialism. “The fiend of despotism had made a lodgement in the country, and stretched his enormous members throughout every part of it, every village had its subaltern tyrant, the insolent agent of colonial tyranny.  Burk then proceeds to detail the ruthlessness with which the British suppressed the Irish revolution, imprisoning “some not yet 16 years of age,” “in dungeons, weighted down, bowed to the earth, each by 200lb weight of irons,” (pp. 47, 30-31, 139-140) their fate, to be executed as common felons. “The gaols were crouded [sic] with victims. The people were imprisoned in tenders, transported or executed without trial.” (pp. 63-64) In the aftermath of the battle of the Battle of Ballinamuck, 2000 Irishmen who had surrendered to the British were summarily massacred. Fields and cottages were burnt, peasants from large swaths of Ireland dispersed. “The whole panoply of free quarters, floggings, half-hangings and house-burnings was used to terrify the population into giving up their weapons,” historian David Wilson reports, and continues : “by the time it was over, at least 30,000 people had been killed ; that was more than the entire death toll of the French … Reign of Terror, which lasted for three years in a population almost six times that of Ireland.” 
At times, Burk’s recital resembled descriptions of the punishments inflicted on Caribbean slaves. It was normal British practice, Burk reported, to seize those suspected of United Irish sympathies and flog them, up to 150 lashes on the bare back. “In many parts of the country,” Burk continued, “those infernal tormentors were accustomed to dip their scourge in salt and water between the strokes, to render the smart more intolerable, and on many occasions the unhappy victim has been held prostrated on his face, whilst dry pepper and salt was trodden into his lacerated back and shoulders….” (p. 74) Executions grew ever more brutal. Many captured patriots, Burk reports, were “butchered !!! Their heads were cut off, their bowels were torn, reeking from their bodies, and thrown in their faces. “ (p. 55) “The incessant spectacle of headless trunks and mutilated and bloody limbs, “ Burk continued, “was in vain resorted to as an auxiliary, to stop the progress of the Union.” (p. 63-64)
The similarities between his descriptions and the ways slave revolts were suppressed throughout the Caribbean could not have escaped Burk’s attention – nor could have the determination of Saint Domingue’s former slaves to maintain their liberty in the face of France’s equally determined efforts to restore the empire and slavery. Yet Burk makes no reference to Saint Domingue. Only once, and then in passing, does he refer to persons of color fighting for their freedom – and then it is to people far removed from the Americas : “the Ethiop and the inhabitant of the Indian Peninsula,” (p. 5) in the latter case, like the Irish victims of British imperialism.
Nevertheless Saint Domingue haunts Burk’s text, albeit in convoluted and perhaps ironic ways. Burk’s references to “headless trunks and mutilated and bloody limbs,” to “bowels torn, reeking from their bodies” re-inscribes two contradictory 18th- century rhetorical tropes : British abolitionists’ descriptions of the cruelty exhibited by sadistic slave owners and, the very reverse, the tales of torture and horror fleeing Saint Domingue planters brought to the United States’ seaports. 
Consciously and unconsciously, Burk assumes a dual identity, or at the very least ‘speaks from both sides of his mouth.’ He positions the tortured bodies of Irish revolutionaries just as British abolitionists positioned the bodies of abused slaves – as victims of the greed and violence of British colonizers and soldiers. At the same time Burk assumes the rhetoric of Saint Domingue’s planter/settlers (and of terrified Jeffersonians), as they accused “murderous” and “savage” slaves of committing barbaric attacks upon innocent white women and children.. Burk thus simultaneously represents the British in the same way as white abolitionists presented slave holders (as “infernal tormentors”) and as Saint Domingue white planters represented rebellious slaves – as sadistic murders, whose treachery knew no bounds. In spite of Burk’s attempt to exclude race and chattel slavery from his text, boundaries between oppressed whites and blacks and between sadistic oppressors and the sadistically oppressed grow threateningly porous and uncertain. Yet through all these rhetorical slippages, Burk himself remains white, assuming alternatively the rhetoric of white British critics of slavery or of French critics of slaves. The bold celebrant of a cosmopolitan vision of citizenship and human rights never assumes the position of the racialized subaltern other.
There is a second point I want to make about Burk’s argument. By the time he wrote his History in 1799, Burk has discarded his earlier cosmopolitan vision of citizenship. Never in his History does this early advocate of cosmopolitan citizenship appeal to the universal rights of man to justify the United Irishman’s resistance to British tyranny. Rather Burk works within a narrow nationalist framework. United Irishmen, he insists time and again, were not brigands and murderous mobs (terms British conservatives used when describing both Paris’ sans culottes and Saint Domingue revolutionaries) seeking to overthrow legitimately established political and social order. They were citizens of a liberty-loving nation unjustly occupied by a tyrannical empire. The United Irishman Societies had re-established “provincial and national legislatures ; their ambassadors were received by the most powerful and enlightened nation of Europe [the French Republic] ; an immense army had been organized, justice dispensed, injuries punished, property secured…. ; in a word, a democratic republic was in full operation … exhibiting all the eccentricities of a national character … which here shines forth in the greatest splendor.” (p. 13) The United Irishmen’s struggle for independence, Burk insisted, mirrored not the Haitian or French radically expansive revolutions but the US Revolution’s safely nationalistic vision of rights tied to citizenship in a particular nation-state (p. iii).
However, the actual pronouncements of the United Irishmen Society made in Ireland in the early 1790s (which Burk cites at length in his History), did just the opposite, referencing not the US Revolution but French cosmopolitanism, praising the French Revolution as the “spectacle of a great people, shaking off the tyranny of ages, and standing forth as the champions of the liberties of mankind.” (p. 15) (ital. mine) Having emigrated to the United States and become a Jeffersonian, Burk became a nationalist. Political rights were coterminous with membership in a republican nation state.
In many ways, Thomas Branagan took the far more radical path. Far from ignoring the horrors of chattel slavery (having participated I them as a slave trader in Africa and a plantation overseer), Branagan was obsessed by them. In1804 he published a lengthy attack on Atlantic slavery, A Preliminary Essay on the Oppression of the Exiled Sons of Africa… and then in the following year, two book length epic poems on the evils of slavery : Avenia and The Penitential Tyrant and a political analysis of slavery’s impact on the new US republic, Serious Remonstrances, Addressed to the Citizens of the Northern States…....  .... Preliminary Essay … [on] the Exiled Sons of Africa details the horrors of the slave trade in Africa, the terrors of the Middle Passage and the atrocities perpetrated by slave owners in the Caribbean. He writes, he says, in a cosmopolitan, universalist mode, to vindicate “the unalienable rights of men of every nation and colour.” (p. 6) But while all men crave liberty, Branagan points out, one particular race had been systematically robbed of life and liberty, routinely tortured, sadistically exploited economically and sexually. “The wretched Africans,” Branagan continued, “are not merely enslaved, they are, in instances innumerable, oppressed, and starved, and tormented, and murdered.” (p. 29) He then proceeded to detail conditions of enslavement in the Caribbean, moving from the British to the Dutch islands and on to Surinam. Along his route, Brannagan describes horrific scenes reminiscent of Burk’s description of British savage reprisals in Ireland. “[F]logging[s] with a cart-whip …,” were commonplace, he explained, as were “trying two or three together, [with] a large iron ring round the ankle, an iron color, with prongs, round the neck, confinement in a dungeon … breaking of bones ; … beating out the eyes … castration, etc.” (p. 87)
Focusing on the physical horrors of slavery, however, permits Branagan to elide his original concern with slave owners’ denial of Africans’ political rights (“the unalienable rights of men of every nation and colour” his introduction celebrates.) Rather, Branagan deploys the apolitical rhetoric of pathos and the pastoral to represent enslaved Africans as suffering victims, longing to return to a romanticized and bucolic Africa. Branagan’s writings thus fall into a pattern increasingly inscribed by nineteenth century white abolitionists – an appeal to the sympathies ; the interweaving of religious piety with theatrical displays of horror ; representations of slaves as victims of inhumanity rather than as men tyrannically denied their unalienable political rights – and thus equal sharers in a universal republican brotherhood. And so we see that our radical Irish émigrés have not only moved away from their earlier insistence on universal human rights to a more conservative defense of nation-based political rights, but from a focus on rights of any sort to the pain of human suffering.
I want to draw your attention to an even more arresting aspect of Branagan’s Preliminary Essay, his representation of slavery in the French Antilles. Writing in 1804, the year Dessoline and Christophe defeated Napoleon’s army and declared an independent black Haiti, Branagan makes absolutely no reference to the Haitian Revolution. It is as if the most dramatic event of the Age of Revolution, the successful rebellion of half a million slaves against one of the most vicious slave systems in the world, and those slaves’ hard fought victory over the armies of Europe’s three great empires, had never happened ! Rather, Branagan begins his chapter on Saint Domingue with the amazing statement : “We now enter on a more pleasing task. To the immortal honour of the French government, it must be acknowledged that, of all the European powers who have slaves in the West-Indies, they use their slaves with the greatest humanity.” Lest we think he is referring the to French Republic’s abolition of slavery, Branagan quickly adds, “I speak of the French government previous to the late revolution” – France’s, that is. (The Haitians’ revolution is never mentioned.) (p. 89) He then continues “The happy consequence was, they were orderly, sensible, honest, and faithful to their masters.”
What are we to make of this fantastical representation, the obliteration of ten years of brutal warfare, the ending of slavery, the establishment of an independent black nation state. We should note as well that Branagan not only effaces the Haitian Revolution, he makes no reference to the existence of slavery in the US south. Is this the Jeffersonian poetics that radical Irish émigrés adopted as part of their emersion into US party politics – a poetics of obscurantism, effacement and denial ? Aspects of Branagan’s full length epic poem, Avenia only add to our confusion. Published in 1805, the year after Haitian independence, Avenia celebrates a victorious battle waged by virtuous Africans against marauding Christian slave traders. Branagan names the leader of their successful resistance, Louverture, and the villainous slave trader, Louverture’s sadistic adversary, Leclerc. Absent from his analysis of Caribbean slavery, Saint Domingue dominates this epic representation of Africans’ struggle for liberty and self-governance. As telling, and confusing, is the narrative voice Brannagan assumes throughout the epic – he speaks in the voice of a noble African princess. Is it that Branagan can celebrate Africans’ struggles against slavery as long as those struggles take place in Africa – but that the struggles of freedom-loving Africans resident in the Americans are too troubling to surface on the pages of his books ? Branagan’s repeated reference to enslaved Africans as “the exiled sons of Africa,” not as African Americans or Afro-Caribbeans is thus quiet telling.
Branagan’s Serious Remonstrances, Addressed to the Citizens of the Northern States…, also published in 1805, offers further clues for deciphering Branagan’s pattern of racialized ambivalence and effacement. In Serious Remonstrances, Branagan presents himself as a spokesman for the northern, radical wing of Jefferson’s Republican political coalition. Denouncing the artificiality of pedantic elegance, he states time and again that he seeks to speak not to the learned but directly to his fellow citizens, and thus dedicates Serious Remonstrances to “all the true friends of Liberty, particularly the Agricultural, Mechanical, and Commercial Citizens of the Northern States who are the bulwark of our Nation, and the pillars of our Constitution ; and … who by their distinguished exertions in advocating the rights of man, have done immortal honor to … the Republican cause.” He writes, he continues, to “call… up the spirit of ‘76’ and enhance… the love of his fellow citizens for their children’s liberties, and their country’s rights.” (Advertisement, p.v ; Dedication n.p.)
But Branagan then disrupts the normative Jeffersonian script by harshly condemning chattel slavery as violating America’s revolutionary principles. Indeed, Branagan goes further, Denouncing slavery“as barbarous as it is unjust.” (p. 28), he condemns southern planters (the core component of Jefferson’s political coalition) “as the despotic enemies of true liberty” and demands the immediate abolition of slavery, north and south. “In this free country … where so much precious blood has been spilt in the cause of freedom …,” Branagan continues, unveiling the dark underside of the Jeffersonian coalition, “it is a fact as stubborn as melancholy that these republicans whose bosoms glow at the name of liberty … have not only established but consolidated the most horrid despotism, and riveted the chains of the most diabolic slavery that ever tormented and disgraces the human species.” (p. 25) “An … incitement to indolence, licentiousness, concupiscence, pride, treachery, fraud, falsehood.” Branagan continues, slavery ”debases and contaminates the immortal soul as [it]…torments and lacerates the mortal body…” (p. 32-33)
Fusing such a passionate condemnation of slavery and slave holders with an equally passionate celebration of the rights of the laboring classes, Branagan undermined the very heart of the Jeffersonian political coalition he embraced. How, why did he do this ? Rather than helping us sort out the ideological contradictions running through Branagan’s Preliminary Essay. Serious Remonstrances appears only to add to them. But let us look at his dedication to the Serious Remonstrances a bit more carefully. Towards the end of his lengthy Dedication, Branagan announces his book has two main objectives. As he states it : “To consider their [his fellow “Citizens of the Northern States”] happiness in particular and the political emancipation of the African race in general, is the primary object of this performance.” (xii-xiii) This is a grammatically awkward fusion into “one object “of what appear to be two quite separate concerns – the happiness of his fellow American citizens and the emancipation of the African race. Indeed, appearing at the end of pages of praise for liberty loving artisans and farmers of the US North, the emancipation of the African race seems an add-on, an afterthought.
More significantly, Branagan draws a sharp grammatical distinction between his fellow citizens, whose happiness and posterity are his principle concern, and the African race. His fellow citizens rested their claims to unalienable rights including the pursuit of happiness rested on their American citizenship. Africans, grammatically distinguished from citizens, could only turn to their natural, their human rights. Counterposing citizen rights and human rights resting solely on natural law, Branagan draws a powerful distinction.
The body of Serious Remonstrances underscores the significance of this distinction as Branagan quickly follows his demand for the emancipation of all slaves within the United States with an equally strident demand for their immediate deportation. The natural rights of the African race do not include residence in the United States (even though, for many of them, but not for Branagan and his fellow Irish immigrants, this is the country of their birth).
Let us look with some care at Branagan’s plan to deport all members of the African race. Branagan’s plan, unlike that of other advocates of colonization, does not propose deporting freed slaves to Africa, but rather to a new black state that would be situated within the lands the United States had just acquired from France as part of the Louisiana Purchase. This new black state, Branagan was quick to state, would be located on the American continent and thus part of America, but would be as far removed from white settlements as the geography of the vast continent made possible. This new state, he remarks, “might be established upwards of 2000 miles from our population. It is asserted that the most distant part of Louisiana is farther from us than some parts of Europe.” (pp. 19, 17-19, 35-42, 64-65,76-77, 89, 98-99, 104)
Branagan’s proposed black state would be governed by African Americans, initially appointed by the President of the United States, as the governors of new territories were appointed. It would be independent of the United States, though the United States would advance it money and other support until it had established itself as a self-sufficient agrarian nation-state, comprised of small, independent yeomen farmers. It would thus mirror Jefferson’s vision of the United States as a yeoman republic. “Thus many an honest [black] family would be provided for comfortably, who are now in penury and want, and many others would gain at least a competency.”(p. 18) A black governed state, it would accept as settlers any whites who would be willing to be governed by blacks. Here we find what is, in effect, a two state solution to the challenge slavery posed to white American cosmopolitanism — the establishment of separate white and black American republics. Located at the farthest reaches of the Louisiana Purchase, they would be geographically connected, both situated on the American continent, but as distant as that vast continent made possible. Of course, Branagan’s imagined black republic would not only provide a dark mirror to his consequently pure white United States but, ironically, to the new American state Branagan feared to even mention – Haiti. However, farther removed from the United States than Haiti and the child of white benevolence not savage warfare, engaged in northern yeoman small scale family farming rather than large scale capitalist production of exotic exports, Branagan’s new black American state would constitute a far, far safer twin than Haiti.
Branagan’s motivations for suggesting this radical form of colonization soon becomes clear. The 3/5th compromise (by which in addition to their white citizens, 3/5ths of a state’s slave population counted towards the state’s representation in the House of Representatives and the Electoral College) increased slave state representation by a number greater than the total allotted to the free states of New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Connecticut combined. (pp. 28-31) In a mixture of sympathy for enslaved Africans and rage at the planter elite, Branagan continues,“It irritates me when I remember that the tyrants of the South, gain an ascendancy over the citizens of the North, and enhance their paramount rights of suffrage and sovereignty, accordingly as they enslave and subjugate the inoffensive, the exiled sons of Africa. I am astonished at the stupidity of our citizens, in suffering such palpable villainy to be rewarded by political, as well as pecuniary gratifications.” (p. xiii) Expelling all blacks to a new black American state would remove the South’s political advantage, restore equality – and cohesion — to a white United States.
But a second, more hidden, emotion lurks behind Branagan’s political anger at the South’s political advantage. It is fear, fear of “exiled Africans’” justified rage towards whites who have enslaved them. Enslaved Africans, Branagan points out,
are forced to submit to laws that bereave them of liberty, life and property. These laws, and the legislatures or government that framed them, are their mortal, their most implacable enemies…. I ask any man of common sense, must not such persons and their progeny, be irresistibly stimulated to endeavor [sic] to regain their liberty and punish their murderers ? Must not the most superficial recollection of their wrongs, enhance a propensity for revenge in the free blacks, now in the North ? Can they forget the injuries their ancestors met with from Americans, and when they remember that they were robbed, enslaved and murdered, can they help feeling an involuntary disgust to their tyrants, their children, their color and their country ? It is impossible ! (p.41, 43)
Northern whites cannot rest secure while any person of African descent remains in the United States. The shadow of Saint Domingue finally enters the picture – its burning plantations, its raped women, its murdered children, its capital in flames, its white planters in flight ! As Robin Blackburn argued, Saint Domingue is the dark shadow that haunts white America.
As does the uncertainty of racial classifications and racial boundaries, of racial sameness and racial difference. It is precisely because Branagan believes that there is no difference between the rights and the feelings of African Americans and European Americans, that he insists on the expulsion of African Americans from this white man’s paradise of hoped-for equality and rights. African and European Americans, Branagan states at the very beginning of Serious Remonstrances, have the same rights to life, liberty and self governance ; they feel the same rage towards those who murder their children, rape their wives ; and, it turns out, that both poor blacks and poor whites are economically exploited by the same northern bourgeois who employ both African Americans and Irish girls as domestic. Lastly, they share the same sexual desire – for young working-class white girls. This is a very dangerous collapse of the hierarchy of racial differences that ordered the eighteenth-century Atlantic world – a racialized hierarchy that the Enlightenment’s celebration of ALL men’s unalienable rights and the escalating radicalism of successive Atlantic revolutions put under erasure.
Let me clarify my argument. I propose that the intensity of the ambivalence and fear Branagan felt at his own radical undoing of racial difference not only drove his plan to expel all persons of color from the geopolitical borders of his white republic. It surfaced even more intensely in the sexual alarms rampant on virtually every page of Serious Remonstrances. If persons of color were not expelled. Branagan insisted in increasingly strident tones, they would seduce and marry innocent white working-class women, destroying the purity of the new white republic. Not insignificantly, Branagan fuses his horror of racial mixing with bitter attacks on the northern elite’s economic exploitation of the immigrant and working poor. In Branagan’s lexicon little distinguished northern merchants and bankers from southern planters. The one mirrored the other as the tyrannical oppressor of the laboring poor. Except, Branagan quickly adds, the northern elite were not only economically exploitative. In many cases, they were personally responsible for the moral corruption of the daughters of the white laboring classes. Young immigrant girls, Branagan explains, were frequently forced by economic necessity to work as domestic servants in the homes of the North’s wealthy merchants and professionals, where they were made to work side by side with African Americans — even sleeping in the same bed with African American women ! Familiarity eroded their sense of racial distinction, and they soon voluntarily entered into sexual relations, even marriage, with their fellow black employees. (pp. 66, 70-75)
In horrified tones Branagan describes how this happens and the worse scenario it portends. “It is not my design nor wish, to exhibit the horrid depredations, rapes, assassinations, robberies, thefts, etc committed by the negroes after their arrival in the cities of the North,” Branagan begins, adding with seeming sensitivity to the feelings of his readers, “no farther than to prove the utility … of my [colonization] plan, I will drop this disagreeable part of the subject, which …irritates me … especially when I remember the inconceivable injury many an honest citizen’s child meets with after his decease, when the poor orphan is sent to a gentleman’s kitchen as a place of greatest security, especially if he [the gentleman] professes religion. And then the rich man without the least care or concern, consigns a respectable girl to be an associate for negroes… Reader, if thou are a father, look at thy little smiling daughter ; and then in sympathetic thought, survey the many wicked impoverished white women, who have been deluded, and are now married to negroes, living in little smoaking [sic] huts, despised and scorned by both blacks and whites ; for it is certain, decent black people shun their company as despicable, as much as whites.” (pp 102-104)
There is so much that can be said about even this one part of the sexual alarms that run through so much of the Serious Remonstrances. The challenge liberal universalism and the Age of Revolution posed to systems of racial difference – and which the Haitian Revolution held up to white eyes as a terrifying eventuality – will not be silenced or expelled — especially since anger at the economic exploitation of blacks and white immigrants is so intertwined with sexual outrage. Even this sexually violent tirade only reinscribes racial sameness as Branagan’s last sentence tells us that both blacks and whites are alike in condemning as “despicable” those who would sexually refuse difference.
The convoluted implications of his own arguments tortured Branagan. Nevertheless, unlike Jefferson, he never compromised his insistence on the sameness, the equality of all men. But at the same time, he could not live with this insistence – or more pointedly with THEM. Sameness, not difference, was the principle that tested his ideological and moral metal – AND was at the same time the principle he was most committed to defending.. Turn where he would he could not escape white liberalism’s fundamental contradiction — its simultaneous celebration and dread of the universal, of sameness. In the end, denouncing both southern planters as “tyrants” and the northern commercial elite as the exploiters of the laboring classes, Branagan espoused a radical economic democracy that fused Tom Paine’s vision of the rights of man to his own economic critique of modern capitalism, envisioning the United States as a poor white man’s republic, a promised land for the oppressed of Europe. (p. 107) His (br)other, “exiled sons of Africa” (aka African Americans), he paid off in the fanaticized coin of an illusionary separate but equal nation-state as far removed from white America as geography –and in our own times, border guards, guard dogs and klieg lights — would permit.
Let us return to our opening concern : the war between citizen rights and human rights. Has this historical exercise helped us to think outside this centuries-old liberal conundrum ? Branagan’s solution to his commitment to the universality of rights and to racial sameness was to deny citizenship to those whose sameness, whose equality he most feared. The EU’s and the United States’ current immigration policies echo Branagan’s resolution. The question the 42 million displaced persons raise is can we think beyond Branagan’s solution of deportation to imagine a world in which the right to residence is coupled to the unalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, to the four freedoms the Second World War was ostensibly fought to secure ? Can we imagine a world in which residence, while not necessarily carrying all the rights of political citizenship, does open the possibility of economic and legal rights ?