Examining the application of racial restrictions to grants of citizenship along with the emergence of the bundle-of-rights conception of property, this article explores a panoply of naturalization claims in which courts discussed a petitioner's eligibility for citizenship as a "free white person." To lend a measure of credibility and resolve to those naturalization determinations, federal and state courts relied upon the protocols of a nineteenth century object-centered, conception of property. Consequently, the emergence of a new, relational property paradigm - the bundle-of-sticks notion - compelled the judiciary to adopt a series of shifting standards for establishing race and citizenship, ranging from physical appearance and geographic origin to the ethnography of family lineage. In order to stabilize the legal meaning of white identity, however, the courts ultimately determined race by reference to a petitioner's reputation in the local and national community. By relying on reputation to signify whiteness, the judiciary both reflected the new relational regime of property and extended the reach of that regime by adopting a modern discourse that rendered personal identity not as inherent, but as a condition of the community. The writer's interpretation of these naturalization claims moves beyond the standard observation that the law constructed race to suggest, instead, a formative role for the competing conceptions of property in understanding judicial deliberations on whiteness and national identity.
J. A. Douglas,
The "Priceless Possession" of Citizenship: Race, Nation and Naturalization in American Law, 1880-1930,
Duq. L. Rev.
Available at: https://dsc.duq.edu/dlr/vol43/iss3/4