Secondary Sources on Race and Class/Masculinity

Brown, David. Race in the American South: From Slavery to Civil Rights. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2007.

David Brown and Clive Webb’s book Race in the American South serves to populate a petal of my bedraggled daily that I yet to explore: race. In their book, the authors trace the development of race from colonization of the Chesapeake to the Civil Rights Era. In doing so, they stress the dynamic and changing nature of racial constructions. They also carefully acknowledge that race is not the only lens through which to view the Antebellum South but that “changing formulations of gender, especially in the way concepts of masculinity and femininity have reinforced, and sometimes challenged, the racial order” (3, 5). Though Brown and Webb do not discuss free blacks in depth, they state that “free blacks proved a very troublesome presence in the antebellum South, when to be white was to be free and to be black was supposedly to be slave” (2). Herrenvolk democracy, the term first used historically by George M. Fredrickson, and whiteness studies are another means of analysis that Webb and Brown discuss in their book (whiteness on p. 8; herrenvolk democracy on p. 101-106).

For my thesis on black disfranchisement, Brown and Webb’s book will be a key secondary source. Their work has given me several ideas as I move forward. First, I really think I need to focus on herrenvolk democracy. At the time of the constitutional convention, white slaveholders were being challenged politically by poorer yeomen farmers. Thus, a herrenvolk democracy perspective might suggest that planters disfranchised blacks to unite all whites in suffrage. Second, Brown and Webb write about the “abolitionist attack” on slavery and the subsequent forcible “southern response that increasingly promoted a racial defense of slavery” (103). Were issues of abolitionism prominent in either North Carolina or Tennessee? Was disfranchisement part of this “forcible assault”? This might have challenged southern slaveholders’ notions of masculinity and racial identity. Third, the authors claim that “masculinity was also critical,” as “it was gender as much as race that served to unite yeomen with wealthier slaveholders” (110). I need to find out more about gender as a unifying force.

Ford, Lacy K. Origins of Southern Radicalism: The South Carolina Upcountry, 1800-1860. New York: Oxford University Press, 1988.

On the surface, Lacy Ford’s Origins of Southern Radicalism has nothing to do with black disfranchisement in North Carolina. I read this book, however, to find an analysis of southern elites’ ideas of masculinity, and it was helpful. Ford touched on a variety of points with respect to South Carolina that I find occurring in North Carolina. First, he argues that “slave ownership became a widely-recognized symbol of social mobility…Slaves became a symbol as well as a source of prosperity” (14). Thus as white elites struggling with contracted debt had to sell their slaves, they suffered doubly from the economic embarrassment of debt and the loss of their symbol of prosperity. Secondly, Ford discusses how the ” pull of cheap land and quick profits in the Southwest” caused South Carolina to lose a significant portion of its citizens (39). This in turn gave the newer southern states more political power, and elites “viewed the shift of comparative advantage of cotton production away from South Carolina and the resulting loss of human capital as a serious long-run problem” (42). Similarly, Ford also goes on to discuss the tenuous nature of the southern economy based on the economic cotton market (91).

As I begin looking at primary sources of delegates to the North Carolina and Tennessee convention, I want to look for sources that speak to the economic troubles delegates were facing at the time. The economy of neither Tennessee nor North Carolina was based primarily on cotton, but perhaps a similar trend was occurring in tobacco production. I think I also need to check tax documents to see if delegates’ finances were in a gloomy predicament, causing them to have to sell slaves.

1 thought on “Secondary Sources on Race and Class/Masculinity

  1. This looks good Lucas. I think you’re right that Herrenvolk democracy will be a key concept, and I know you are already planning to look at George Fredrickson on that topic. Lacy Ford’s more recent book would also be a very useful one to look at: Deliver us from Evil. It’s a massive study of changing attitudes towards slavery in southern politics before the Civil War.

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