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1862: Four Attorneys General and the Meaning of Citizenship

1862: Four Attorneys General and the Meaning of Citizenship

Chapter:
XVII. 1862: Four Attorneys General and the Meaning of Citizenship
Source:
A Community Built on Words
Publisher:
University of Chicago Press
DOI:10.7208/chicago/9780226677224.003.0018

The issue of whether African Americans were to be counted as members of the body politic that Judge Ruffin raised suggestively through his language in State v. Mann was squarely addressed by his contemporaries in a variety of settings, not least in a series of opinions by federal attorneys general stretching from eight years before Mann until a month before the Emancipation Proclamation. In 1821, Attorney General William Wirt received a request for advice from the secretary of the treasury, William Crawford, acting on behalf of the collector of customs at Norfolk, Virginia. Federal law mandated that the master of an American-flag vessel be a “citizen of the United States,” and Crawford's inquiry was whether a free African American resident in Virginia satisfied this requirement. Wirt began his opinion by assuming that Congress had intended its statutory use of the expression to carry the same meaning as in the Constitution.

Keywords:   African Americans, Judge Ruffin, State v. Mann, federal attorneys general, William Wirt, federal law

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