Just Secondary Sources This Week

Ford, Lacy K., Jr. “Making the ‘White Man’s Country’ White: Race, Slavery, and State-Building in the Jacksonian South.” In Race and the Early Republic: Racial Consciousness and Nation-Building in the Early Republic, 135–158. New York: Rowman and Littlefield, 2002.

In this article, Ford primarily discusses the constructed nature of race in the Jacksonian South. A key term he uses is “racial modernity,” which means the reconsideration of race in this period that denied the “viability of a biracial republic,” doubted the efficacy” of efforts to uplift African Americans, and questioned the white man’s responsibility for the black race (136). Ford hopes to use this essay to apply whiteness studies to the South and discuss the coming of racial modernity.According to Ford, the Nat Turner slave revolt served to heighten tensions and force southern politicians to deal with the issue of slavery and free blacks (138). He organizes his essay along geographic lines, mentioning the Upper South, Middle South, and Lower South. According to Ford, the Upper South sought to “whiten itself” through emancipation and colonization, and the Lower South simply tried to prevent slave revolts and other uprising. The Middle South, however, the states of Tennessee and North Carolina, were influenced by ideas from Upper and Lower states, and the discussion of race centered on whether or not free blacks should have a vote (139). Thus, the debate in NC and TN’s constitutional conventions exemplify Ford’s argument. Ford also stresses the connection between intrastate sectionalism and political alliances in these debates.

For me, Ford’s article will be very useful. His argument centers on the whitening of the South, something that delegates sought to do by excluding African Americans from voting. I have not looked at whiteness studies yet, but after reading his article, I really think they should be one of the petals of my bedraggled daisy. His footnotes will be useful and should provide me with a list of whiteness sources.

Keyssar, Alexander. The Right to Vote: The Contested History of Democracy Inthe United States. New York: Basic Books, 2000.

Although I have several different angles through which to view black disfranchisement, the primary issue in my thesis has to do with voting: what it means, who does it, who does not do it, etc. For this reason, Alexander Keyssar’s The Right to Vote will be essential to my study. In the book, he traces suffrage from the founding of the United States to the modern day. Because his study is so encompassing, he does not deal with black antebellum disfranchisement in the South, and only spends a third of a chapter on antebellum black suffrage in general. Like other historians, Keyssar makes the point that disfranchisement was a political issue. Once the Federalists/Whigs lost power, the Republicans/Democrats took the vote away from African Americans because blacks identified with the Whigs/Federalists (54). He also argues that blacks were not a problem to white politicians until their population began to increase, but when it did, there was a greater incentive for disfranchisement (56). Keyssar provides a chart of each state’s disfranchisement in this section of the book, which helped me get a broad view of antebellum black suffrage. Although this book only touches on antebellum black disfranchisment, Keyssar’s work helps me get a sense of the larger picture of changing suffrage requirements, of which free blacks are just one facet.

Wright, Gavin. The Political Economy of the Cotton South: Households, Markets, and Wealth in the Nineteenth Century. 1st ed. New York: Norton, 1978.
In her book Manliness and Civilization, Gail Bederman shows that ideas of masculinity changed in the late nineteenth century because of the economic pressures faced by white men. Many sources I have read suggest that Upper South elites faced a similar financial crisis in the 1830s, as slaves continued to be sold to slaveholders in the Deep South. In hopes of gaining more information on the economic transition, I looked to Gavin Wright’s The Political Economy of the Cotton South. Unfortunately, his study primarily deals with the distribution of cotton production and slave distribution in the 1850s in the context of secession. He does mention how slaves were “pulled” south because of agricultural demands, but does not spend a significant amount of time on the subject (121). Also, cotton is essential to his study, but the North Carolina elites did not raise as much cotton as other southern planters. Thus, Wright’s book’s dated analysis and focus on cotton production in the 1850s make it less useful than I was hoping for.

8 thoughts on “Just Secondary Sources This Week

  1. Lucas,
    You say that your thesis is primarily concerned with voting rights, who has them, etc. Yet when you presented your primary document you situated the disenfranchisement debate in a whole range of issues — economics, east-west power differential, whiteness. I wonder if you are examining the broad context to explain voting rights, or are you using the disenfranchisement debate to explain something about the context..something about the intersection of gender and race? About the relationship between economics and citizenship? Perhaps I’m reading too much into that sentence in your discussion of Keyssar?

    1. Gosh, Dr. Jones, you really presented me with a tough question. I guess I would have to say that external factors all seemed to shape disenfranchisement, so by getting to the bottom of the reasons white elites restricted black suffrage, I will be able to comment on the broader context. Does that make sense? Do you think it is realistic?

  2. I like your thoughts on incorporating whiteness and masculinity into your study. Do you know if there are any records for slaves sold further south from NC, etc. during this period? I would maybe consider looking more into the slave revolt fears, even if Ford argues that was more a Deep South thing. Maybe some of the sources you’re looking at for Dr. Quigley’s class on Floyd and other governors after Nat Turner would be useful here too.

    1. Tom, both of those suggestion are great ideas. Maybe there is a database somewhere or at least a collection of slave sales during this time. I also agree that I might need to see North Carolinians’ response to the Nat Turner slave revolt, especially those elites from the northeastern part of the state near the VA line.

  3. I also had a less than useful book this week, mainly because I had been reading similar information in other books.

    I was wondering if you would use whiteness studies after all, since you said last week that historians on your topic, I believe, are trying to move away from it. But if you are going to look at race and masculinity, perhaps whiteness studies will be useful after all.

  4. Glad the Ford and Keyssar were useful. I think it would definitely be good to read some stuff on whiteness and think about how it might help you. Like republicanism (another concept that you might want to address in some way) whiteness was the next big thing for a while back there.

    You’re right to approach whiteness not as the ultimate point of your study, but rather as a way to understand the motivations for disfranchisement. On that note, it would be good to look at George Fredrickson’s The Black Image in the White Mind–written before whiteness was a word, but a foundational text in the history of American racism during this period, particularly the idea of herrenvolk democracy, which I think is going to be important for your research.

    1. Thanks for the suggestion, Dr. Quigley. Are some of the ideas in whiteness studies similar to that of works on masculinity? Based on the work of Gail Bederman, I feel like they must be related.

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