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Lincoln and Citizenship

Lincoln and Citizenship

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Mark E. Steiner


Hardcover (Other formats: E-book)
192 pages, 5 x 8, 9 illustrations

Concise Lincoln Library


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  • Table of Contents

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

About the Book

Exploring Lincoln’s Evolving Views of Citizenship
At its most basic level, citizenship is about who belongs to a political community, and for Abraham Lincoln in nineteenth-century America, the answer was in flux. The concept of “fellow citizens,” for Lincoln, encompassed different groups at different times. In this first book focused on the topic, Mark E. Steiner analyzes and contextualizes Lincoln’s evolving views about citizenship over the course of his political career.
As an Illinois state legislator, Lincoln subscribed to the by-then-outmoded belief that suffrage must be limited to those who met certain obligations to the state. He rejected the adherence to universal white male suffrage that had existed in Illinois since statehood. In 1836 Lincoln called for voting rights to be limited to white people who had served in the militia or paid taxes. Surprisingly, Lincoln did not exclude women, though later he did not advocate giving women the right to vote and did not take women seriously as citizens. The women at his rallies, he believed, served as decoration.
For years Lincoln presumed that only white men belonged in the political and civic community, and he saw immigration through this lens. Because Lincoln believed that white male European immigrants had a right to be part of the body politic, he opposed measures to lengthen the time they would have to wait to become a citizen or to be able to vote. Unlike many in the antebellum north, Lincoln rejected xenophobia and nativism. He opposed black citizenship, however, as he made clear in his debates with Stephen Douglas. Lincoln supported Illinois’s draconian Black Laws, which prohibited free black men from voting and serving on juries or in the militia. Further, Lincoln supported sending free black Americans to Africa—the ultimate repudiation and an antithesis of citizenship.
Yet, as president, Lincoln came to embrace a broader vision of citizenship for African Americans. Steiner establishes how Lincoln’s meetings at the White House with Frederick Douglass and other black leaders influenced his beliefs about colonization, which he ultimately disavowed, and citizenship for African Americans, which he began to consider. Further, the battlefield success of black Union soldiers revealed to Lincoln that black men were worthy of citizenship. Lincoln publicly called for limited suffrage among black men, including military veterans, in his speech about Reconstruction on April 11, 1865. Ahead of most others of his era, Lincoln showed just before his assassination that he supported rights of citizenship for at least some African Americans.


Mark E. Steiner, professor of law and associate dean at South Texas College of Law Houston, is the author of An Honest Calling: The Law Practice of Abraham Lincoln. Steiner received both his law degree and a doctorate in history from the University of Houston. He twice has been awarded Fulbright scholarships. Steiner is actively involved in pro bono efforts to assist immigrants on the path toward citizenship.


"In Lincoln and Citizenship, Steiner explores how Lincoln’s views on the obligations and privileges of citizenship changed as he progressed from frontier legislator to wartime president. . .Steiner offers a reasoned, well-researched, and succinct assessment of Lincoln’s view of citizenship, a complex concept in a rapidly changing era."—S. J. Ramold, CHOICE

"Steiner's analysis is deeply rooted in primary sources, and these sources are more accessible than ever before. . .Laudably, Lincoln and Citizenship quotes Lincoln extensively. Readers come away from this book confident in the knowledge that they have read a fair sample of Lincoln's own words regarding citizenship."—Kelley Boston Clausing, The Annals of Iowa

“Mark E. Steiner’s book offers a sophisticated examination of the way African American abolitionists and community leaders pressured President Lincoln to recognize their citizenship rights. By placing Lincoln’s views on colonization within the context of his evolving ideas about race and nation, Steiner’s analysis is an important and much-needed contribution to scholarship on Abraham Lincoln.”—Ousmane K. Power-Greene, author of Against Wind and Tide: The African American Struggle against the Colonization Movement
“This volume brings together in a highly useful, concise way decades of scholarship on Lincoln and citizenship and manages to add new insights and details as well. This is the starting point for any study of Lincoln and race, Lincoln and rights, and, of course, Lincoln and citizenship.”—Michael Vorenberg, author of Final Freedom: The Civil War, the Abolition of Slavery, and the Thirteenth Amendment
“Steiner's welcome volume provides a crisp, lucid account of Lincoln's political evolution. Steiner reveals that Lincoln's broad ‘creedal’ conception of natural rights, grounded in the Declaration of Independence, was in tension with his narrow view of civil and political rights; Steiner then accounts for the contingent factors that moved Lincoln from the Republican party's mainstream in 1860 into its vanguard in 1865, when Lincoln issued his unprecedented call for black suffrage. With its nuanced treatment of immigration and race relations, this accessible book is both an excellent overview for students and an insightful, original contribution to Lincoln scholarship.”—Elizabeth R. Varon, author of Armies of Deliverance: A New History of the Civil War

“An attorney, law professor, immigration specialist, former associate editor of the Lincoln Legal Papers, and author of the best book on Lincoln’s legal career, Mark E. Steiner is uniquely qualified to describe and analyze Lincoln’s evolving views of citizenship. Because that subject has been inadequately treated by previous historians, this thoroughly researched, convincingly argued book is an especially welcome addition to the Lincoln literature.”—Michael Burlingame, editor of Sixteenth President-in-Waiting: Abraham Lincoln and the Springfield Dispatches of Henry Villard, 1860–1861
“In this well-written work, Steiner traces the development of Lincoln’s racial policies from a moderate antislavery position to his final support for Black voting rights. Along the way he also covers Lincoln’s thinking on other aspects of citizenship, including access to the federal courts, state racial codes, immigration, and gender. The author has made a major contribution to scholarship on the development of Lincoln’s political thought.”—Burrus M. Carnahan, author of Act of Justice: Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation and the Law of War
“Mark Steiner’s book offers a comprehensive analysis of Lincoln’s changing views on the meaning of American citizenship. Lincoln and Citizenship explores the changing relationship between citizenship and suffrage. Relying on Lincoln’s words, this copiously researched study connects Lincoln’s changing views on the meaning of citizenship to the developing views of Americans.”—Charles M. Hubbard, editor of Lincoln, the Law, and Presidential Leadership