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Languages of transnational revolution: The ‘Republicans of Nacogdoches’ and ideological code-switching in the U.S.-Mexico borderlands

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The settler-colonial and republican principles of early U.S. politics tend to be studied as paradoxical ambitions of American nation-building. This article argues that early republican thought in the United States developed through what I call ‘ideological code-switching’, a vernacular practice that allowed popular actors to strategically vacillate between anti-colonial and neo-colonial discourses as complementary principles of revolutionary change. I illustrate these claims by tracing a genealogy of anti- and neo-colonial thought from the founding of the United States to its transnational emergence in the U.S.-Mexico borderlands. I demonstrate that ideological code-switching first appeared as a rhetorical strategy among the Federalist debates, where Publius argued for the feasibility of expansionist republics via a hemispheric account of American exceptionalism. These appeals to hemispheric unity remained salient into the nineteenth century among groups like the ‘Republicans of ‘Nacogdoches’, a militia comprised of Indigenous, Mestizo, and White actors that mobilized an attack on Spain and founded the Republic of Texas in April of 1813. Drawing on archival research, I turn to the U.S.-Mexico borderlands as an example of the way marginalized groups instrumentalized links between anti- and neo-colonial politics to envision their position in the rapidly evolving landscapes of transnational revolution.

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Many thanks to James Farr, Mary Dietz, Adam Dahl, Catalina Rodriguez, Emily Nacol, Loubna El Amine, Kyle Jones, Alicia Nuñez, Crystal Camargo, Zorimar Rivera Montes, and Leonardo Gil Gomez for their comments and encouragement on previous versions of this paper. Thanks as well to Andrew Schaap and the reviewers at Contemporary Political Theory for their constructive and critical feedback. Previous versions of this paper were presented at the Association for Political Theory Conference, the American Political Science Association Annual Meeting, and the Graduate Political Theory Workshop at Northwestern University.

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Correspondence to Arturo Chang.

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Chang, A. Languages of transnational revolution: The ‘Republicans of Nacogdoches’ and ideological code-switching in the U.S.-Mexico borderlands. Contemp Polit Theory 21, 373–396 (2022).

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