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Journal of Transatlantic Studies

, Volume 8, Issue 4, pp 385–409 | Cite as

Subject and citizen

  • Thomas E. SmithEmail author
Article

Abstract

The literature on the history of human rights recognises the long hiatus between the rights of man and citizen language articulated in the American and French Revolutions and the pronouncements contained in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948. This essay contributes to the understanding of this period by locating a transnational voice of protest in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. This protest argued for immediate civil and political rights for African peoples in the British Empire and in the United States as promised by the Anglo-American liberal tradition. While this protest encountered significant obstacles and did not immediately change behaviours, it augmented older protests based primarily on religion and, thus, contributed to the discourse of modern human rights.

Keywords

human rights imperialism reform black protest new liberalism post-emancipated studies 

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Notes

  1. 1.
    Lynn Hunt argues that the three conditions of human rights: naturalness, equality and universality ‘gained direct political expression for the first time in the American Declaration of Independence of 1776 and the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen of 1789’. See her recent work, Inventing Human Rights: A History (New York: WW. Norton, 2007), 21.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    For more on the relation of the state to modern human rights see, Jack Donnelly, Universal Human Rights: In Theory and Practice, 2nd Edition (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2003), 33–7 and 57–70.Google Scholar
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    Paul Gordon Lauren notes that this protection of natural rights was contained in the English 1689 Bill of Rights and strengthened by Locke and others philosophers, culminating in the creation of ‘positive national law’ by the end of the eighteenth century. See his, The Evolution of International Human Rights: Vision Seen, 2nd Edition (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2003), 14–21, quote on page 20.Google Scholar
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    For more on this retreat, Frederick Cooper, Thomas Holt and Rebecca Scott, Beyond Slavery: Explorations of Race, Labor and Citizenship in Postemancipation Societies (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2000), 19.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Cooper, Holt and Scott argue this point in Beyond Slavery, most specifically in the introduction.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    For an overview of the nature of modern citizenship, see Richard Bellamy, ‘The Making of Modern Citizenship’, in Lineage of European Citizenship: Rights Belonging and Participation in Eleven Nation-States, eds. Richard Bellamy, Dario Castiglione and Emilio Santaro (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004), 1–21. Bellamy locates the beginnings of modern citizenship in the transformations of the American and French Revolutions, as well as the Industrial Revolution.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    Jan Herman Burgers locates the antecedents in the inter-war period, when there was a distinct argument for minority rights that was of ‘historical significance as unprecedented limitations on national sovereignty under international law’. Jan Herman Burgers, ‘The Road to San Francisco: The Revival of the Human Rights Idea in the Twentieth Century’, Human Rights Quarterly 14, no. 4 (July 1992): 450. Kenneth Cmiel acknowledges, with qualification, that the turn of the century campaign against the transgressions in the Belgian Congo was a ‘bridge’ between anti-slavery activism and modern human rights.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    Kenneth Cmiel, ‘The Recent History of Human Rights’, American Historical Review 109, no. 1 (February 2004): 127.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. 8.
    While the idea that the United States has never been a colonial power - owed mostly to its defeat of the prototypical empire Great Britain in the American Revolution - is at the core of American exceptionalism, the United States has a long tradition of colonialism and Empire. Most recently, Thomas Bender forcefully dashes through the story of American anti-imperial exceptionalism with the blunt assertion: ‘The story of American empire dates from the initial European settlement of the Western hemisphere’. Further, Bender argues that W.E.B. DuBois’ problem of the color line (articulated at the Pan-African Conference of 1900) clues to the participation of the United States in the ‘European work of empire that began in the fifteenth century,’ which witnessed ‘white nations of the North Atlantic … dominate peoples of color’. See Thomas Bender, A Nation Among Nations: America’s Place in World History (New York: Wang and Hill, 2006), 189 and 191.Google Scholar
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    Reza Afshari uses the term ‘veritable revolution’ to describe the shift away from single-issue moral campaigns such as anti-slavery to the modern notion of human rights which recognises the existence of multiple and interdependent rights. One crucial measure of this shift is when an examination takes place concerning the relationship between the state and the citizen. See his, ‘On Historiography of Human Rights Reflections on Paul Gordon Lauren’s The Evolution of International Human Rights: Visions Seen’, Human Rights Quarterly 29 (2007): 6.Google Scholar
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    Lynn Hunt argues that during the nineteenth and early twentieth century ‘national frameworks’ chipped away at the universal implications embedded in The Declaration of Independence and The Declaration of the Rights of Man. Lynn Hunt, Inventing Human Rights: A History (New York: WW Norton and Company, 2007), 176–7.Google Scholar
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    This section draws on the work of Michael Freeden, especially his, The New Liberalism: An Ideology of Social Reform (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1978) and Liberal Languages: Ideological Imaginations and Twentieth Century Progressive Thought (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2005). Marc Stears also convincingly demonstrates the transatlantic nature of progressive liberalism in his, Progressives, Pluralists, and the Problem of the State: Ideologies of Reform in the United States and Great Britain, 1909–1926 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002). Most relevant to this essay in his Chapter One: ‘Conceptual Foundations.’Google Scholar
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    This movement did not forego the importance of the individual or the possibility of nonintervention; hence, the shift, not departure, from classical liberalism. Progressive liberalism provided the lasting contribution of social holism and state intervention to the liberal ‘cluster of concepts and goods’. For more on this topic, see Freeden, Liberal Languages, 14–17, quote on 15.Google Scholar
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    James T Kloppenberg, Uncertain Victory: Social Democracy and Progressivism in European and American Thought, 1870-1920 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986), rarely discuss race in relation to civil and political rights.Google Scholar
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    Gerrit Gong argues that the Berlin Conference started a standard of civilisation that came to not only define a system of rules for international relations, but also provided a ‘sacred trust of civilisation’ that established humanitarian standards. This trust relied on notions of tutelage that - despite significant exposition of the violence and exploitation of the civilising mission - remained in place in the twentieth century, most notably in Article 22 of the League of Nations Covenant and Article 73 of the United Nations Charter. Importantly, as Gong argues, the tutelage portion of the trust took on juridical applications, while the moral principles struggled to find legal enforcement. See Gerrit W. Gong, The Standard of ‘Civilization’ in International Society (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1984), 6–7 and 76–93Google Scholar
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    Social Darwinist Benjamin Kidd’s works, most notably Social Evolution (1894) and Control of the Tropics (1898) endorsed, unequivocally, Anglo-Saxons as the race best equipped to lead and to win the competitive struggle for worldwide progress. These works went through multiple printings on both sides of the Atlantic. In an 1898 speech, British Prime Minister Lord Salisbury divided the peoples of the world into the ‘living and the dying’. Found in Bernard Porter, Britannia’s Burden, The Political Evolution of Modern Britain (London: Edward Arnold, 1994), 121. Many other powerful people in the United States and the British Empire, including Theodore Roosevelt and Alfred Milner - High Commissioner of South Africa during the Boer War - agreed with aspects of the extinction implications of Social Darwinism. When necessary these men also mixed a veneer of paternalism to legitimise Anglo-Saxon imperialism. For Roosevelt’s views, see Thomas Dyer, Theodore Roosevelt and the Idea of Race (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1982). For Milner’s views see, Carroll Quigley, The Anglo-American Establishment: From Rhodes to Cliveden (New York: Books in Focus, 1981).Google Scholar
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    Ibid., 152. While John Kasson signed the Berlin Act, it was not ratified by the United States Senate due to worries that an international treaty would weaken the unilaterally established Monroe Doctrine. The United States did ratify the General Act of the Brussels Conference of 1890. Most view Brussels as an extension of Berlin. For more on the relationship of the United States to the Berlin Conference see, Peter Duigan, ‘The USA, the Berlin Conference, and its Aftermath: 1884–1885’, in Bismarck, Europe and Africa: The Berlin Africa Conference 1884–1885 and the Onset of Partition, eds. Stig Forster, Wolfgang J. Mommsen and Ronald Robinson (London: Oxford University Press, 1988), 321–31.Google Scholar
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    Found in Neta Crawford, Argument and Change in World Politics: Ethics, Decolonization and Humanitarian Intervention (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 209.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    Edward Said’s Orientalism (New York: Pantheon, 1978), of course, fundamentally exposed the nature of colonial ‘othering’ and identity. Other post-colonial perspectives tone down the totalising implications of Said by exploring the non-closure of Western discourse that allows the displacement of meaning, which ultimately speaks to the perhaps dominant, yet unstable, nature of colonial power. For more on these topics see Homi Bhaba’s works, especially ‘Signs Taken for Wonders: Questions of Ambivalence and Authority under a Tree Outside Delhi’, Critical Inquiry 12 (1985): 144–65 and ‘In the Spirit of Calm Violence,’ in After Colonialism: Imperial Histories and Postcolonial Displacements, ed. Gyan Prakash (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1995), 326-43. My thinking and this paragraph is also specifically informed by Roxanne Doty’s interpretations in her work, Imperial Encounters: The Politics of Representation in North-South Relations (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1996), especially Chapter Two, 27–51.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    Earlier, in 1866, the Pall Mall Gazette was incredulous of the uplifting of colonised peoples: ‘We have bungled Ireland; we have bungled India; we have bungled Jamaica; we have mismanaged Celts, Kaffirs, Hindoos, Maories, and Negroes, and all from the same case - because we refused to see that they were not Englishmen, or have fancied that we would make them Englishmen’, Pall Mall Gazette, 17 August 1866. Found in Christine Bolt, The Anti-Slavery Movement and Reconstruction: A Study in Anglo-American Cooperation (London: Oxford University Press, 1969), 149.Google Scholar
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    This admiration is discussed in Wilson Jeremiah Moses, Alexander Crummell: A Study of Civilization and Discontent (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989), 52–58.Google Scholar
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    Crummell influenced many, including W.E.B. DuBois, who dedicated a chapter to Crummell in his The Souls of Black Folk: Essays and Sketches (Chicago: A.C. McClurg and Co., 1903). For more on Crummell’s importance, see Moses, Alexander Crummell.Google Scholar
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    In an 1898 letter to John Bruce, Crummell made a direct allusion to wanton imperial administration when he denounced ‘the opportunists, spidery demagogues, both dead and living who, during the last 25 years have been riding on the back of Africa into 4th rate offices for self; and who have painted on the brazen foreheads “statesman” while the devil has quietly plastered upon their backs - “shams”’. Alexander Crummell to John Bruce, 21 January 1898 Group B - Letters Received: MS 15, John E. Bruce Papers, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, New York, NY. Hereafter referred to as the ‘Bruce Collection.’Google Scholar
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© Board of Transatlantic Studies 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of NevadaRenoUSA

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