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Temperamental Differences

The Shifting Political Implications of Cousin Marriage in Nineteenth-Century America

Susan McKinnon


By focusing on the debate about cousin marriage that unfolded over the mid- to late-nineteenth century in the United States, this article explores the capacity of kinship to produce difference as well as sameness, exclusion as well as inclusion. I follow the cultural logic of temperaments through which the relative value of cousin versus non-kin marriages was debated. I also examine the rhetoric that linked these contrasting forms of marriage with contrasting political formations—specifically those of ‘backward’ hierarchical monarchies and ‘progressive’ egalitarian democratic republics. This marital and political logic was countered by the political economy of race, which made evident the forms of racial exclusion that defined the boundaries of marriage, national belonging, equality, and democracy in nineteenth-century America.