“Hindoo Marriage” and National Sovereignty in the Early-Nineteenth-Century United States

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Book Chapter

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marriage, kinship, Hindoo marriage, Joseph Story, sati, child marriage, print culture, international law, national sovereignty

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This essay explored the concept of sovereignty in relation both to the legal definition of marriage within the emergent field of private international law and representations of “Hindoo” marriage in the early nineteenth century. I argue that in establishing national sovereignty the United States, paradoxically, had to give up a bit of sovereignty in order to be recognized as a sovereign nation. This was apparent in legal writings on marriage, wherein influential jurists like Joseph Story argued that a marriage legally recognized in one country was valid everywhere, even if it violated the domestic laws of a new nation. In order to deal with this paradox the cultural apparatus – in this case, print culture – worked to supplement the law. Missionary writings on supposedly “Hindoo” marriages and marital relations such as sati, child marriage, and infanticide supplemented the law by marking these kinds of relations, which would potentially have been legal in the US, as outside the logic of liberal democracy.

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Citation / Publisher Attribution

“Hindoo Marriage” and National Sovereignty in the Early-Nineteenth-Century United States, in N. Eustace & F. J. Teute (Eds.), Warring for America: Cultural Contests in the Era of 1812, University of North Carolina Press