The Race for America

Black Internationalism in the Age of Manifest Destiny

By R. J. Boutelle

286 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 10 halftones, 1 table

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-7663-0
    Published: October 2023
  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-7662-3
    Published: October 2023
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-1-4696-7664-7
    Published: September 2023

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Awards & distinctions

Finalist, 2024 Pauli Murray Book Prize, African American Intellectual History Society

As Manifest Destiny took hold in the national consciousness, what did it mean for African Americans who were excluded from its ambitions for an expanding American empire that would shepherd the Western Hemisphere into a new era of civilization and prosperity? R. J. Boutelle explores how Black intellectuals like Daniel Peterson, James McCune Smith, Mary Ann Shadd, Henry Bibb, and Martin Delany engaged this cultural mythology to theorize and practice Black internationalism. He uncovers how their strategies for challenging Manifest Destiny's white nationalist ideology and expansionist political agenda constituted a form of disidentification—a deconstructing and reassembling of this discourse that marshals Black experiences as racialized subjects to imagine novel geopolitical mythologies and projects to compete with Manifest Destiny.

Employing Black internationalist, hemispheric, and diasporic frameworks to examine the emigrationist and solidarity projects that African Americans proposed as alternatives to Manifest Destiny, Boutelle attends to sites integral to US aspirations of hemispheric dominion: Liberia, Nicaragua, Canada, and Cuba. In doing so, Boutelle offers a searing history of how internalized fantasies of American exceptionalism burdened the Black geopolitical imagination that encouraged settler-colonial and imperialist projects in the Americas and West Africa.

About the Author

R. J. Boutelle is assistant professor of English at the University of Cincinnati.

For more information about R. J. Boutelle, visit the Author Page.


"A highly researched and compellingly written study,The Race for America uses a novel approach in examining Black transnationalism across the continent through the prism of Manifest Destiny. Through his analysis of Black literature, newspapers, brochures, correspondence, and the Colored Convention movement, R. J. Boutelle expertly details the intricate history of how Black writers in the United States actively shaped debates on the geopolitical development of the singular idea of America."—Marlene L. Daut, author of Awakening the Ashes

"The Race for America is a thoroughly compelling project, illuminated by detailed readings of canonical and underread texts as well as a fluid and inventive engagement with theory. With attention to both literary history and a conceptual verve, Boutelle has given us a timely intervention in the debates about the transnational genealogies of Black intellectual and political life of the nineteenth century."—Ivy G. Wilson, author of Specters of Democracy: Blackness and the Aesthetics of Nationalism

"In this deeply researched book, R. J. Boutelle disentangles the complex literary history of Black transnationalism, offering new ways to understand debates around Blackness and US expansion and international relations. A compelling contribution to American hemispheric studies."—Gretchen Murphy, University of Texas at Austin