Category Archives: Citizenship

Brown. “Citizenship, Democracy, and the Structure of Politics in the Old South.”

Brown, David. “Citizenship, Democracy, and the Structure of Politics in the Old South: John Calhoun’s Conundrum.” In Creating Citizenship in the Nineteenth-Century South, edited by William A. Link, David Brown, Brian Ward, and Martyn Bone, 84–108. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2013.

In this article, David Brown argues that the supposed democratization that swept across the antebellum South in the 1830s did not result in universal suffrage.  Using state-specific works, he shows how each state south of the Mason-Dixon line responded differently to calls for universal white male voting rights.  Though proslavery politicians often equated whiteness as the “bedrock of universal suffrage,” this was not the case (85). He says that “to characterize citizenship as solely a matter of whiteness is to ignore ways in which elites remained influential (100). Brown shows that the newer states along the Gulf and in the trans-Appalachian region were more likely to institute more democratic measures, beginning with Alabama’s state constitution in 1819 (86).  Local politics, however, remained in the hands of the elite regardless of the state, as few democratic reformed applied at the local level (87).  This was especially true in North Carolina, as one historian called local politics a “squirarchy” (97).  Though not dealing specifically with black disfranchisement, this article is important to my thesis.  Because reading this article, I assumed that Tennessee and North Carolina had similar democratic structures since Tennessee was once a part of North Carolina.  Yet elites exerted less control on Tennessee politics, which Brown says was due to the lack of a “black belt” region, than in North Carolina (88).  The discussion of North Carolina is relevant because it shows that elites took away black voting rights and did not really grant universal white suffrage either.  Also local elite actually determined who could or could not vote, another reasons why I need to look at black suffrage in the local context (101).  The article is a goldmine of sources, as well.