New York University Public Law and Legal Theory Working Papers

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Symposium on “Dignity Takings,” in Law & Social Inquiry (2016)


Taking a cue from Bernadette Atuahene’s concept of “dignity takings” and her insight that government expropriation inflicts more than economic injury, this essay analyzes how American revolutionaries defined political membership, penalized and expropriated British loyalists, and then allowed some to join the American polity in the decade after the Revolution. Many recovered their property, professions, and legal privileges. However, because most loyalists could choose to remain loyal or join the Revolution, they did not lose human dignity as Atuahene defines it. Case studies of two reintegrating lawyers, Richard Harison and William Rawle, explore loyalism, the loss of dignities that loyalists suffered, and some paths toward reintegration. Their appointment as federal attorneys helped make the government conversant in the common law, British statutes, and the law of nations, which in turn supported the Federalist goal of reintegrating the United States into the Atlantic World: achieving, in other words, national dignity.

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