My research explores how racial formation intersects with political economy within imperial and colonial contexts in and through law. I am currently at work on the following projects:
Corporation, Property, Sovereignty:
The Settler Colonial and Revolutionary Origins of the Modern Corporation in America
(Book Manuscript In Progress)
This manuscript addresses a question that has regained urgency in the aftermath of cases like Citizens United v. FEC: how did the modern corporation begin securing the constitutional and legal protections it enjoys in the U.S.? I extend the question further: can we consider this development alongside the comparative political economy of constitutional and legal protections for racialized subjects? Much of the extant literature on the modern corporation typically ascribes these developments to a general commitment to market liberalism by elite justices like John Marshall. By contrast, my project disinters how the modern corporation was developed through legal debates over the use of corporations and charters as primary institutions for the settling of and speculation in Native land in the wake of the American Revolution. Drawing on archival research and secondary sources, I contextualize the landmark case of Dartmouth v. Woodward alongside the other landmark cases of Fletcher v. Peck, Terrett v. Taylor, and Johnson v. M’Intosh. I find that the legal emergence of the modern corporation in the U.S. cannot be fully understood without this overlooked history. The upshot of the Marshall Court’s long jurisprudence was to severely curtail the rights of Native Americans even as private corporations became increasingly protected from state accountability. I conclude by exploring how this account can help us reassess recent cases like Citizens United.
An article from the project, entitled ‘The Division of an Empire’: Dartmouth v. Woodward Revisited,” is also currently in preparation. This paper shows how Dartmouth was foundationally also about protecting the continued settler colonization and speculation of Native land through corporations and charters—ventures that justices like John Marshall and Joseph Story were privately involved and invested in—in the wake of Revolutionary-cum-republican arguments for abolishing colonial-era charters and corporations.
I am additionally working on two companion articles on Thomas Jefferson's critique of yet reliance on the corporate form:
Corruption and the Problem of Perpetual Property:
The Political Economy of Thomas Jefferson's Theory of Generations
(Revised and Resubmitted, American Political Science Review)
Thomas Jefferson's theory of generations has typically been understood as a form of democratic theory. By contrast, I argue that the main aim of Jefferson's theory is to secure the diffusion of the material means of independence and sovereignty for the living generation, via a renovation of the republican device of agrarian laws. In doing so, Jefferson argues against the material corruption of the American republic and what I call institutions of perpetual property as primary mechanisms of that corruption. Recontextualized appropriately, Jefferson's theory points to a radical legacy from the American Revolution: one where the prospect of inviolable rights to property and inheritance requires intervention to re-secure the material preconditions for the independence, equality, and sovereignty of citizens. To the extent we continue to take what the founders said seriously, Jefferson’s views on corruption and the problem of perpetual property have important implications for our own time.
Anglo-Saxons, Incorporated: Property, Race, and Time in Jefferson's Settler Republic
This paper advances a revisionist interpretation of Thomas Jefferson’s theory of generations and his famous claim that “the earth belongs in usufruct to the living.” While debates and invocations over the theory as a democratic, radical, and constituent theory remain perennial, no study has considered it within the settler colonial context of the American Revolution and Early Republic. Recontextualizing the theory accordingly, I argue here that Jefferson’s theory of generations both is underwritten by and aims to regenerate an underlying continuity: Americans as a corporate, perpetual, and settler colonizing Anglo-Saxon people. With his theory, Jefferson indeed sought to theorize revolutionary discontinuity, but from and for a longer continuity largely overlooked by the existing scholarship. Such a recontextualization helps foreground the continuing settler colonial preconditions of the Revolution, Jefferson’s theory, and the democratic theories they have inspired. It also allows us to conceptualize and critique the land, territory, and public things, such as the universities established through the Morrill Land-Grant Acts, of America as a "usufruct" based on the historical and ongoing dispossession of Native Americans passed on from generation to generation.