Political Theory 43 (2):208-233 (2015)

David Walker’s famous 1829 Appeal to the Colored Citizens of the World expresses a puzzle at the very outset. What are we to make of the use of “Citizens” in the title given the denial of political rights to African Americans? This essay argues that the pamphlet relies on the cultural and linguistic norms associated with the term appeal in order to call into existence the political standing of black folks. Walker’s use of citizen does not need to rely on a recognitive legal relationship precisely because it is the practice of judging that illuminates one’s political, indeed, citizenly standing. Properly understood, the Appeal aspires to transform blacks and whites, and when it informs the prophetic dimension of the text, it tilts the entire pamphlet in a democratic direction. This is the political power of the pamphlet; it exemplifies the call-and-response logic of democratic self-governance.
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DOI 10.1177/0090591714523623
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