Debate in the field of historical sociology on the subject of American citizenship and nationality tends to support one of two theories. The exceptionalist argument holds that American nationalist discourse has historically been based on the universal ideals of liberty enshrined in the Constitution, and has been inclusive in character. Critics contend that this was not the case – arguing that the narrative of American national identity has typically been grounded on exclusive ethno-cultural criteria like race, religion or language. This essay attempts to demonstrate that the truth encompasses, yet transcends, both positions. This is not because there were conflicting parties in the nineteenth century nationality debate – indeed, there was a great deal of elite consensus as to the meaning of American nationhood prior to the twentieth century which simultaneously affirmed both the universalist and particularist dimension of Americanism. How to explain this apparent contradiction, which Ralph Waldo Emerson termed "double-consciousness?" This paper suggests that the nineteenth century popularity of dualistic statements of American nationhood, and the eclipse of such conceptions in the twentieth, is a complex sociological phenomenon that can only fully be explained by taking into account the development of institutional reflexivity in the United States
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