Monthly Archives: February 2014

Primary Source and Secondary Sources on NC Politics

The primary source I will be looking at this week is the Proceedings and Debates of the of the Convention of North-Carolina Called to Amend the Constitution of the State.  This document chronicles all of the debates, issues, votes, and resolutions of the North Carolina Convention of 1835, and gives the county where delegates hailed from.  It is especially important because, unlike convention documents from other states, the Proceedings and Debates actually record the speeches of the delegates.  Analyzing the speeches will provide me with the best way to recreate the reasons for black disfranchisement and the other issues that delegates dealt with at the convention.

Although other issues were more important to the delegates, like the reapportionment of political power to the western half of the states, I will be looking at this document because of the description of the debate that took suffrage away from African Americans. In the debate, some delegates argued that blacks were so inferior to whites that there was no way they should have the right to vote, but others thought that to take away the vote would be to limit free blacks’ ability to advance themselves (I realize this is a vague statement. I need to find out what this mean. Did it mean social or economic advancement or some other kind?). Tied up in this was the idea that blacks were not citizens, so suffrage should be out of the question for them and that disfranchisement was better for all parties since suffrage put free blacks at the mercy of white “demagogues.” Also, I hope to find manuscript collections of the key players in the debate:  Daniel, Gaston, Bryan, Edwards, Macon, Branch, Meares, Wilson, Cooper, Speight, Holmes, Giles, Crudup, Guinn, and McQueen. Possibly these men provide information about their opinions of black disfranchisement in their private papers. There might also be some political/geographical correlation based on the delegates’ voting patterns. Regardless of how I approach black disfranchisement, this document will be essential to my study.


Watson, Harry. Jacksonian Politics and Community Conflict : The Emergence of the Second American Party System in Cumberland County, North Carolina. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1981.

In his book Jacksonian Politics and Community Conflict, Harry Watson uses the case study of Cumberland County, North Carolina, to trace the development of the second two-party system.  Essentially comparing the Whigs and Democrats, Watson argues that party lines were important on a national scale, but the differences in the two parties can best be seen at the local level. He claims that the difference between the Whigs and the Democrats arose “over questions of political economy” (14). The Whigs sought to industrialize Cumberland County and firmly attach it to the market economy, while the Democrats preferred to strive for a “yeoman’s utopia (14).  Also important to Watson is the stages of political development  development in the two party system: first is Jackson’s disruption to the Era of Good Feelings, second is when leaders drew on existing “community values” based on “regional, ethnic, and class alignments” to create rival voting blocs. and third is when county voters accepted these constructed political identities after the election of 1836 (15). Watson contends that economic change was the primary catalyst for the development of the two-party system (15).

My takeaway from this work has to do with the political aspect of black disfranchisement.  In his book, Watson references several newspaper articles and legal proceedings that mention how African Americans’ vote could be bought for barbeque and whiskey (45, 95). The sources seem to make the case that African Americans tended to vote for Whigs, rather than Democrats (191).  This is important because I think one of my “daisy petals” has to be politics, and unlike some of the more traditional works on North Carolina politics, Watson stresses the need to look at political developments at the local level. I will certainly use Cumberland County as one of the local places I look to see reasons for black disfranchisement. His book also goes well with Edwards’ The People and Their Peace.

Kruman, Marc. Parties and Politics in North Carolina, 1836-1865. La.: Louisiana State University Press, 1983.
Although I am specifically focusing on North Carolina before and during the constitutional convention of 1835, Kruman’s Parties and Politics in North Carolina will be a valuable source for my thesis.  Like Watson, Kruman focuses on the politics of North Carolina in the latter half of the antebellum era, but while Watson looks at the development of the second party system at the local level, Kruman’s study encompasses the entire state of North Carolina. He argues that ideas about the market made the Whigs and the Democrats different in North Carolina, with the Whigs striving for government involvement in internal improvements and the Democrats advocating for a hands-off approach of governance (5). Intrastate sectionalism is also key for Kruman.  He highlights the differences between the eastern coastal plains, the Piedmont, and the mountainous areas, but makes the case that the eastern portion was itself divided between the elite aristocracy in the south and middle east and the grain farmers of the northeast that wanted internal improvements (8-9). Although Kruman does not mention issues of gender, he does touch on the political and socioeconomic crisis that the eastern elites were faced with, as westerners sought to “usurp” their power and as slaves were traded to lands in the Lower South (7).. I think I should explore this crisis further in hopes of finding references to masculinity that might help explain black disfranchisement by these same eastern elites.

Finding Aids, Secondary Sources, and New Ideas (all in one post this time for Tom’s convenience)

New Ideas

This week for our U.S. from 1877 class, we had to read Gail Bederman’s Manliness and Civilization.  In this book she discusses some “crises” of masculinity in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  After reading it, I wonder if some of the reasons white elites decided to disfranchise African Americans had to do with changing ideas of masculinity.  Maybe elites were reacting to the challenge to their political and economic power presented by the lower classes that had previously not been able to vote.  I hope to keep these ideas in mind as I examine primary sources.

Primary Sources

This week, I also found two manuscript collections that might be important to my thesis: the Bryan Family Papers, and the William Gaston Papers.  Wiliam Gaston and John H. Bryan were members of the North Carolina constitutional convention of 1835, and they both hailed from the town of New Bern on the east coast.  Interestingly though, Bryan was for disfranchisement but Gaston supported the voting rights of free blacks.  This contradiction might help me understand the reason for disfranchisement.  Here are the links for them:,William.html and

The two collections, along with those of many other convention attendees, are located at the University of North Carolina.  So I guess my tip for finding primary sources like these is to check out the universities and other archives that are located in the geographical area being studied.  Likely archives in these areas will contain collections relating to some aspect of the local/state history.  For example, if I was working on southwestern Virginia I would check with Virginia Tech, UVA, the Virginia State Library, and the History Museum of Western Virginia in Roanoke.


Franklin, John Hope. The Free Negro in North Carolina, 1790-1860. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1995.

In this book, historian John Hope Franklin offers a historical survey of the economic, political, social, and legal status of free African Americans in antebellum North Carolina.  He begins his study in the colonial days and ends at the outbreak of the Civil War. This book is dated, as it was originally published in 1943, so there is not much of an argument.  Nevertheless, it is an essential secondary source for my thesis for several reasons.  First, Franklin demonstrates that, though concentrated in counties along the Atlantic coast, free blacks did not live in urban areas as much as their counterparts in the other southern states (7).  This does challenge some of my ideas, but I am a bit skeptical because many of the references Franklin gives to show black suffrage come from cities and towns.  Maybe it is the case that the small population of free African Americans in towns were the only part of the population that exercised the franchise.  Second, Franklin gives the names of several prominent and politically active black men: John C. Stanley, Thomas Day, and John Chavis (31, 106-107).  I think it would be beneficial to examine these three men because they, more than other free African Americans, may have left manuscripts that detail their political experiences.  Third, Franklin traces the black disfranchisement in the constitutional convention of 1835 in great detail (105-115).  He provides some wonderful maps that he argues shows the sectional nature of black disfranchisement, and Franklin elaborates on some of the white delegates that were against black disfranchisement.  I could possibly check on possible manuscript collections from these men.  Throughout the book, Franklin also provides citations to helpful sources.  His use of court records, both local and the North Carolina state supreme court, and voting records causes me to wonder if there could be some legal proceedings involving black suffrage.  Finally, there are references to  individual counties and cities that have a politically-active free black population: Halifax County, New Bern, and Fayetteville.

Malone, Christopher. Between Freedom and Bondage Race, Party, and Voting Rights in the Antebellum North. New York: Routledge, 2008.

Regardless of my framework, this book by Christopher Malone is going to be essential to my thesis.  In Between Freedom and Bondage, Malone discusses antebellum black suffrage in four northern states: New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts.  He contends that each state approached black disfranchisement (and franchisement in the case of Rhode Island) in different ways, but the four states still demonstrate similarities about the reasons for their treatment of free blacks.  He argues that there are three interrelated factors that led to disfranchisement.  First, there had to be socioeconomic conflict between free blacks and the white working class (11).  Second, there had to be white politicians that were willing/needed to arouse support from these white working class. The political elites “sought advantage by piecing together racial narrative out of the conflict and the institutional means they sought to solve the problems that the conflict presented” (11).  Political elites thus shaped the antagonistic spirit of the white working class to serve their purposes.  For example, he claims that Democrats in Pennsylvania successfully disfranchised African Americans because they supported the Whigs (13). After politicians used socioeconomic problems to their own advantage, black disfranchisement depended on the “discursive structure of racial coalition formation,” meaning that white elites had to believe in racial ascriptivism rather than paternalism. (14-15). He defines racial ascriptivism as the idea that “blacks were essentially different from, and thereby inherently inferior to, whites” (17).  Referencing Foucault he shows that the discourse of political power could shape the identity and the interests of the voting coalitions (15).

I think this book will provide a great framework for me as I work on black disfranchisement in North Carolina and Tennessee.  I had some unformed ideas similar to Malone, but his book helped me articulate them.  I am really interested to see if his argument applies to black disfranchsement in the South.  I am skeptical that there were important socioeconomic conflict in North Carolina between poor whites and free blacks because the population, white and black, was so much more dispersed in the South.  If there was conflict, I wonder if state politicians used it to their advantage because North Carolina was on of the lease democratic states.  The political reasons for disfranchisement seems similar in the North and the South, as many of the white delegates to the NC constitutional convention that voted for disfranchisement came to be Democrats and those voting against disfranchisement usually became Whigs.  Also, I am thinking about replacing New York in my study with Pennsylvania.  Like NC and TN, Pennsylvania took the vote away from free blacks in the mid-1830s, whereas New York disfranchised blacks in the mid-1840s.  Does anyone have any thoughts on this?

As far as sources go, Malone really focuses on traditional sources of political history, like laws, supreme court documents, congressional debates, and primary sources written by white elites.

Research Question and Databases

Research Question:  Why did white delegates to the North Carolina constitutional convention of 1835 and to the Tennessee constitutional convention of 1834 revoke black suffrage? (Note: I am still trying to decide whether to explore disfranchisement in New York.)

I realize on the surface this appears to be an obvious question: they did this because African Americans were not citizens and their suffrage was only due to a loophole in previous state constitutions.  Certainly this is true, but I think there are issues at play here that are much more surprising.  First, that white elites would actually allow African Americans to vote at all is odd.  Various scholars I have read discuss how political power was exerted much more on the local level than either at the state or national level in the antebellum U.S.  Thus, there must be a reason why whites consented to free black suffrage.  Was this related to party affiliations or class dimensions?  From some preliminary research, I think it definitely has to do with urbanization, as blacks could definitely vote in cities and towns in North Carolina but were much less likely to do so in the rural areas.  Secondly,  the vote to disfranchise African Americans only passed in North Carolina by a vote of 65 to 61.  This is an incredibly close margin.  Why were there 61 white, elite North Carolinians that wanted blacks to keep voting?  As I work on this project, I hope to find out answers to the main question through first answering the secondary ones.


This week, I also searched online databases to try to find articles relevant to my topic. I thoroughly searched worldcat and JSTOR, and I briefly skimmed America: History and Life. Similar to previous searches, I was disappointed by the lack of secondary sources addressing my topic even after I used different search terms.  “Free black disfranchisement,” “African American antebellum suffrage,” “African American suffrage in North Carolina and Tennessee,” “free blacks in antebellum North Carolina,” and “politics of antebellum African Americans” were all terms I tried, but I still did not find many sources.  I think in total I uncovered five useful articles that addressed some aspect of antebellum disfranchisement in North Carolina and Tennessee.  I also search for black disfranchisement in New York and found a few articles.  Hopefully these will help me determine whether I should include this northern state in my study.  I guess on the one hand, it is good that I did not find articles specific to my topic because it shows that there certainly is a place in the historiography for my work; however, it is difficult in that I will have to be especially creative in situating my thesis within the existing framework.  I guess I will have to look at a variety of secondary that have to do generally with race, citizenship, and politics in Jacksonian times and probably even later time periods.  I think bibliographies of published works will be a better place for me to find sources that database mining.

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.

Orth and Newby. The North Carolina State Constitution

Orth, John V, and Paul Martin Newby. The North Carolina State Constitution. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2013.
Because the state constitution was amended to exclude African Americans from voting, constitutional history is relevant to my study. This work is actually an in-depth analysis of North Carolina’s current state constitution, but it does provide some good information about former state constitutions.  Orth and Newby argue that the delegates to the constitutional convention of 1835 essentially replaced class with race as the primary suffrage requirement (3). The 1776 constitution allowed all men to vote, regardless of race, as long as they met the property requirement.  To vote for the state senate, one had to own fifty acres of land; to vote for the house, any man could vote so long as they were a taxpayer (6).  Also important for my study, the authors discuss the “borough town” issue, as the towns of Edenton, New Bern, Wilmington, Fayetteville, Salisbury, Hillsborough, and Halifax each sent a representative to the House separate from the county delegate. This is a good place to start looking for black suffrage, I think. Based on some previous research, free southern blacks tended to reside in cities and towns, so maybe there are references in these towns’ newspapers to black political activity. Orth and Newby also make the interesting point that after being disfranchised, free blacks were still counted as whole persons for representation, though not allowed to vote (15).  By excluding blacks from voting yet still including them in the total number for representation, city whites that usually did not receive support of free African Americans would have an incentive to disfranchise them.

Counihan. “The North Carolina Constitutional Convention of 1835: A Study in Jacksonian Democracy”

Counihan, Harold. “The North Carolina Constitutional Convention of 1835 : A Study in Jacksonian Democracy.” The North Carolina Historical Review 46, no. 4 (1969): 335–364.

This article published in 1969 by Harold J. Counihan explicitly addresses the North Carolina state constitutional convention of 1835.  Counihan address the reasons offered by legislators on whether or not to hold a convention (336-337), the Convention Act which that called for a convention to be held (337-338), the various constitutional reforms enacted, and the eventual passage of the amendments in a popular vote (361).  Counihan’s analysis is important for my study, as he categorizes convention delegates in three different ways in order to see voting patters: for/against internal improvements, eastern/western, Whigs/Democrats.  Some of the conclusions he comes to regarding the disfranchisement of African Americans change my perspective (346-348).  First, he shows that thirty-five westerners and twenty-six easterners did not vote on the issue at all (347).  Second, that all of the delegates agreed on some form of black suffrage; no one wanted to continue the status quo (346).  Third, 62 percent of advocates of internal improvements voted against disfranchisement (348), and fourth, forty-nine eastern votes were the “backbone” of the resistance to black suffrage (348).  I think it is going to be important for me to look closer at this break-down to see how urban easterners voted because I have been thinking that politicians in urban areas might see the black vote as an important demographic.  This assumption goes against Counihan, though, as he asserts that “being labeled the Negro’s choice was one of the surest ways to end a promising political career (346).

Counihan’s article is certainly useful in that it offers an analysis of the convention and the new constitutional amendments.  I think, however, that it won’t be particularly useful as a framework.  I need to go back to the primary documents relating to the proceedings of the convention, so that I can offer my own analysis of the same sources.  This article is also an example of the political history that excludes race or class, two aspects that I think will be of utmost importance if I am going to craft a good thesis about antebellum black suffrage.


Last semester, Dr. Nelson introduced us to the bibliography program Zotero.  I was hesitant at first, but as I grew more familiar with the program, I realized that it was much easier to keep track of sources than a three-ring binder.  The bibliography creator is another wonderful feature and saves the researcher from the tedious business of correctly citing sources.  Of course Zotero does sometimes make mistakes in the correct format, but usually it makes life much easier.  I also like the note-taking component where I can save specific notes of the source and come back to them later.  I plan to stick with Zotero as I complete my thesis.

Edwards. The People and Their Peace

Edwards, Laura F. The People and Their Peace: Legal Culture and the Transformation of Inequality in the Post-Revolutionary South. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2009.

This book highlights the transformations of the legal culture in North Carolina and South Carolina from the Revolution to 1840.  Edwards’ argument is really interesting as she claims that local laws, although mostly ignored by legal scholars, were actually had more impact on people’s daily lives than did state laws.  She uses the term “keeping the peace” to describe the working of local laws.  Unlike those at the state level, maintaining the peace was of utmost importance by whatever means were necessary.  This means that there was little precedent in the interpretation of laws or that they differed based on locality.  Edwards again contends that state laws were much more abstract and focused most on issues of property because the white men in the legislatures  had more property than other residents of the state.  As the nineteenth century wore on, these state laws began to come more into play at the local level.  As a result, more concrete interpretations and rulings occurred at the local level than previously.

As a source base, Edwards relies on court cases and other legal documents from three counties in both North Carolina and South Carolina.  By comparing all these cases to one another, she is able to prove the discrepancies of local law interpretation and enforcement and that keeping the peace was the ultimate goal regardless of a legal basis.

I think this book will be influential in how I explore the topic of black disfranchisement.  Although Edwards only touches on issues specifically relating to the North Carolina convention of 1835 and subsequent state-wide revocation of suffrage for African Americans, her argument will make me more aware that what laws were passed in Raleigh did not necessarily represent the practices of the entire state.  Because of this, I think I will have to look at the actual practice of black suffrage in localities where it occurred and was prohibited.  Court cases might also be a good source base.  Maybe a free person of color sued for not being allowed to vote, or because of intimidation or violence because of his voting behavior.  Thus, this work only confirms that I cannot simply rely on the debate in the Journal of the Constitutional Convention but must go outside the boundaries of state politics.