Work of the Fellows: Monographs

Birthright Citizens: A History of Race and Rights in Antebellum America

By Martha S. Jones (NHC Fellow, 2013–14)

Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2018

From the publisher’s description:

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 tells how African American activists radically transformed the terms of citizenship for all Americans.

Awards and Prizes
Liberty Legacy Foundation Award (2019)
John Phillip Reid Book Award (2019)
Littleton-Griswold Prize (2019)
Best Black-History Books (2018)
History / Law / African American History / Legal History / Citizenship / Antebellum Era / Dred Scott v. Sandford /

Jones, Martha S. (NHC Fellow, 2013–14). Birthright Citizens: A History of Race and Rights in Antebellum America. Studies in Legal History. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2018.