American national identity is often said to be constituted by commitment to the liberal democratic principles of the "American Creed," not by ethnicity, religion, or territorial origins. Yet the history of American laws governing citizenship challenges this claim. In the nineteenth century, republican and ethnocultural conceptions of American identity sharply qualified the liberalism of American citizenship policies. Their success — visible, for example, in the Supreme Court's justifications for denying access to equal citizenship to women and to Chinese immigrants — raises troubling doubts about how far traditional liberal notions of political membership are likely to be sustained in practice.
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