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Citizens of Convenience

The Imperial Origins of American Nationhood on the U.S.-Canadian Border
Lawrence Hatter

BUY Cloth · 288 pp. · 6 × 9 · ISBN 9780813939544 · $39.50 · Dec 2016
BUY Ebook · 288 pp. · ISBN 9780813939551 · $39.50 · Dec 2016

CHOICE Outstanding Academic Title, American Library Association (2017)

Like merchant ships flying flags of convenience to navigate foreign waters, traders in the northern borderlands of the early American republic exploited loopholes in the Jay Treaty that allowed them to avoid border regulations by constantly shifting between British and American nationality. In Citizens of Convenience, Lawrence Hatter shows how this practice undermined the United States’ claim to nationhood and threatened the transcontinental imperial aspirations of U.S. policymakers.

The U.S.-Canadian border was a critical site of United States nation- and empire-building during the first forty years of the republic. Hatter explains how the difficulty of distinguishing U.S. citizens from British subjects on the border posed a significant challenge to the United States’ founding claim that it formed a separate and unique nation. To establish authority over both its own nationals and an array of non-nationals within its borders, U.S. customs and territorial officials had to tailor policies to local needs while delineating and validating membership in the national community. This type of diplomacy—balancing the local with the transnational—helped to define the American people as a distinct nation within the Revolutionary Atlantic world and stake out the United States’ imperial domain in North America.


Citizens of Convenience is an important book in a number of fields: early American history, early Canadian history, diplomatic history, international relations, and Atlantic history. Hatter's scholarship on the impact of the Jay Treaty on intercultural trading relations and governance in the Great Lakes region is pathbreaking and will invigorate research in late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century North American and Anglo-Atlantic history. It is a deeply researched and eloquently written study of a critical era in North American history.

Elizabeth Mancke, University of New Brunswick, author of The Fault Lines of Empire: Political Differentiation in Massachusetts and Nova Scotia, ca. 1760–1830

Citizens of Convenience explores both a people and a place that have never received adequate historical inquiry. Hatter’s work constitutes the first cohesive analysis of the ambiguous status of the residents on the U.S.-Canadian borderlands. This book also constitutes a model execution of the recent international turn in early American history—it is clearly an important book in U.S. history, but it involves a clear analysis of Canadian and British history. A truly original work that offers revealing conclusions based on careful research and executed with crisp prose.

Peter J. Kastor, Washington University in St. Louis, author of William Clark's World: Describing America in an Age of Unknowns

Through mastery of a complex period of time and of a place that defies easy categorization, Lawrence Hatter has written a book that reminds us how contingent the birth of a nation, especially after revolution, can be and how the simple act of drawing a border could have profound implications for culture, economy, and power. Citizens of Convenience is a very important and timely piece of work.

Patrick Griffin, University of Notre Dame, author of America’s Revolution

Hatter’s book is marked by graceful writing and subtle analysis. It is a patient and careful historical reconstruction of diplomatic, political, and economic dimensions of citizenship.... His book’s achievement as a work of history is augmented by the timeliness of its questions about nation-states, immigration, and freedom of movement. Citizens of Convenience is a most impressive first book by a talented historian.

American Historical Review

Hatter interrogates the way the northern border of the United States functioned from the close of the American Revolution until the end of the War of 1812. He resurrects a fascinating if long-forgotten history of the Great Lakes Region that has important resonances with contemporary issues....Those interested in diplomacy, immigration and trade policies, and geopolitical maneuvering would be well-served by reading Hatter’s timely book.

Patrick Spero · Connections

Hatter’s work is meticulously sourced and elegantly written. Perhaps most importantly, Hatter fuses previous scholarship into a comprehensive and convincing picture of the centrality of Native actors—in the fur trade,in the early frustrating of America’s imperial ambitions and, crucially, in the War of 1812.... Overall,Hatter’s work is an excellent addition to Borderland Studies, and to the understanding of the often opaque relationship between the United States and Canada.

Western Historical Quarterly

Lawrence B. A. Hatter’s Citizens of Convenience is both nicely focused and impressively grand. Its narrative centers on British and Irish fur traders who came to Canada after 1763 and the legal difficulties they faced following the American Revolution. Hatter demonstrates that their experiences reveal "the story of how the northern border helped make the American people."

The Journal of American History

About the Author(s): 

Lawrence B. A. Hatter is Assistant Professor of History at Washington State University.

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