January 20, 2021 at 8:26 am

O’Keefe Authors Book on Immigrants and Citizenship in Early America

John O'Keefe, portrait

Dr. John O’Keefe

Dr. John O’Keefe examines the topic of foreign migrants and citizenship during the formative years of the United States in his new book, Stranger Citizens: Migrant Influence and National Power in the Early American Republic (Cornell University Press, 2021).

O’Keefe is Associate Professor of History at Ohio University’s Chillicothe campus.

In Stranger Citizens, O’Keefe highlights the efforts migrant groups made to participate in the process that defined the nature of citizenship during the late 1700s and early 1800s. At the time, lawmakers within the young United States sought to legislate citizenship and shape the new government’s power to regulate it, including the power of deportation. Various groups of immigrants engaged in a parallel effort, lobbying the national government, working with government officials, and protesting unfavorable policies to create forms of citizenship that would prove more welcoming to them. Among the groups O’Keefe discusses are immigrants of color and women, who managed to soften rigid notions of the American citizen and gain a foothold in the negotiation of citizenship rights that unfolded. In the process, they also challenged existing notions of racial and gender subordination.

O’Keefe’s analysis of the history of citizenship rights in the United States rejects the traditional top-down narrative that privileges the actions of political leaders and courts. Instead, his book illuminates a process that was much more complex and involved a diverse cast of historical actors. This rich history of citizenship teaches us that the founding of the United States was the work of men and women of different racial, ethnic, and social backgrounds. It reminds us that immigrants were part of the making of this country at its beginning as much as they are in our present.

Thanks to generous funding from the Sustainable History Monograph Pilot and the Mellon Foundation, Stranger Citizens is available as an Open Access (OA) e-book edition from Cornell Open ( and other Open Access repositories.

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