The rhetoric of common enemies in the racial prerequisites to naturalized citizenship before 1952

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2013-05
Authors
Coulson, Douglas Marshall
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Abstract

This dissertation examines the rhetorical strategy by which groups unite against common enemies as it appears in a series of judicial cases between 1878 and 1952 deciding whether petitioners for naturalization in the United States were "free white persons" as required by the United States naturalization act at the time. Beginning in 1870, the naturalization act limited racial eligibility for naturalization to "free white persons" and "aliens of African nativity and persons of African descent." Based on the conclusion that Asians were neither "white" nor African, many courts interpreted these provisions to reflect a policy of Asian exclusion. As the distinction between "white" and Asian became increasingly disputed, however, the racial eligibility requirements of the act raised difficult questions about the boundaries of whiteness. I examine the rhetorical strategies adopted in a series of these cases between World War I and the early cold war involving Asian Indian, Armenian, Kalmyk, and Tatar petitioners who were represented as political or religious refugees at risk of becoming stateless if they were denied racial eligibility for naturalization in the United States. I argue that by representing the petitioners in the cases as victims of persecution by the nation's adversaries, the cases reflect a rhetorical strategy of uniting against common enemies which is also prevalent in the legislative, executive, and judicial discourse surrounding the act. I argue that the prevalence of this rhetorical strategy in racial prerequisite discourse suggests that a martial ideal of citizenship often influenced racial classifications under the act and that by recognizing the ways in which this discourse adapted to the rapidly changing enmities of the early twentieth century, a rhetorical interpretation of the cases offers advantages over other interpretive approaches and highlights the value of a rhetoric of law.

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