Cody Nager is a research fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover History Lab and teaches courses to undergraduates. His scholarship and teaching focuses on how interactions between the diverse people of America and the broader Atlantic world shaped structures of racial inequality, economic development, political rights and national identity in the United States. He received his doctorate in history from the Graduate Center, City University of New York in Spring 2023. Prior to Stanford, he was a dissertation fellow at the University of Pennsylvania’s McNeil Center for Early American Studies and taught at the City College of New York and the CUNY School of Law.
His manuscript, Determined to be American: Regulating Migration and Citizenship in the Early American Republic, 1783–1815 investigates how the new nation’s precarious international and domestic position shaped debates over migration which divided Americans into political parties supporting different visions for the nation’s future. The migration of free and enslaved individuals was central to the nation’s economic development, its relationship with the broader world, and the place of slavery in American society. Internationally, the nation was buffeted by the turmoil of the Atlantic world, such as the French and Haitian Revolutions, ongoing slave resistance, and the Napoleonic Wars. Domestically, emigres and refugees fleeing the Atlantic turmoil and instability in the continental interior due to indigenous resistance and continuing European colonial designs threatened to destabilize the country. These threatening circumstances forced Americans to decide who could reside in the new nation, how they would be incorporated within the national body politic, and who would be excluded and on what basis. Migrants, especially the enslaved, forced Americans to confront a panoply of political leanings, economic circumstances, and ideologies. Americans thought selecting the “right” immigrants would bring economic success while picking the “wrong” ones would take the jobs of hardworking residents, occupy fertile western lands with unproductive population, and expand slavery. As the international and domestic position of the United States shifted throughout the nation’s first three decades, Americans evaluated and reevaluated who constituted the proper migrant. The continuous reassessment of migration regulations due to these shifting international and domestic conditions shaped the politics of migration, dividing Americans into parties, escalating the conflict between their visions for the nation’s future and forming battle lines in clashes over migration regulation that continue to this day.
His next project investigates the relationship between race and migration, focusing on how racial minorities leveraged uneven enforcement of federal migration and naturalization policy to access rights from which they were legally excluded. While the Naturalization Act of 1790 restricted the process to free white men, the act left the enforcement, including the definition of whiteness, to local courts, creating opportunities for enterprising individuals. When the United States purchased Louisiana, many from the significant free Black population of the territory worked to circumvent the racialized naturalization process. Many of these gaps remained long after the early Republic. In the 1840s, the contested whiteness of Irish immigrants presented local courts with new challenges regarding race and naturalization. While migration was absorbed into the federal purview during Reconstruction, even afterwards gaps remained. The interwar years and the 1924 National Origins Act created new opportunities for local exploitation. The 1965 Hart-Celler Act, crafted amid growing migration from Africa, Asia and South America, again complicated the enforcement boundaries of race and naturalization. The recent rise of sanctuary cities shows that debates over race, federalism and migrant opportunity continue to this day. By detailing the origins in the early Republic, the project aims to recontextualize current debates over race and migration policy.
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