Monthly Archives: April 2014

Research Proposal and More Secondary Sources

I was pleased with the criticism of my thesis proposal offered by Dr. Jones, Dr. Quigley, and Ms. Coldiron. The three of them shared ideas with me this past week that I know will lead to a stronger and clearer proposal. Dr. Quigley and Dr. Jones shared concerns with my discussion of causality. They both stressed that just because there might have been an ongoing crisis of masculinity as wealth drained from North Carolina, it is problematic for me to claim that individual delegates’ were driven to disfranchise free blacks to preserve their masculinity. Dr. Quigley also suggested to focus primarily on the racial aspect of disfranchisement, meaning that I should trace it to the ongoing evolution of white racial ideology in the South. He thinks I can make this the focus of my thesis, while still bringing in issues of class and gender when they come up in the primary sources. Finally, the thesis committee suggested that I only focus on North Carolina. There are more secondary sources on this state, the University of North Carolina’s Southern Historical Collection houses many more primary sources of North Carolina delegates’ than any other archive has relating to Tennessee. I think I would like to work on Tennessee’s disfranchisement in the future, though.

Since I am going to focus more on developments of race, I thought I would check out  some secondary sources on racial ideology in the antebellum South.

Lacy K. Ford, Deliver Us from Evil: The Slavery Question in the Old South (Oxford ; New York: Oxford University Press, 2009).

In his book, Deliver Us from Evil: The Slavery Question in the Old South, Lacy Ford traces the evolution of white southerners’ ideology over the “slavery question” from the Revolution to the Civil War. In doing so, he hopes to fill the historiographical void on the this subject since scholars have tended to produce work on specific places and at specific times. Ford argues that the conventional categorization of slavery changing from a “necessary evil” to a “positive good” is an oversimplification. Instead, he contends that there were three ideological shifts in whites’ perception of slavery. The first was “characterized by ambivalence and inaction among upper South whites” and lasted from 1776 to the closing of the foreign slave trade in 1808. The second phase, encompassing 1808 through Nat Turner’s slave rebellion in 1831, brought about differences between the upper and lower South. Slaveholders in the upper South sought to diffuse their society of slavery by emphasizing the domestic slave trade, and lower South some whites embraced the paternalistic view of slavery, while others sought to enact stricter policies. The third phase, after Turner’s rebellion, united southerners together because of shared hatred for abolitionism (5) Especially key to my study is Ford’s analysis of the North Carolina constitutional convention. He links delegates’ discussion on disfranchisement to the wider debate on the nature of slavery in the upper South. He concludes that North Carolina disfranchisement was yet another example of upper South whites’ desire to “whiten” society. His analysis will provide a model for me to follow, but I think I can add to Ford’s work by incorporating individual delegates’ personal opinions on the nature of slavery.

William W. Freehling, The Road to Disunion: Secessionists at Bay (New York: Oxford University Press, 1990).

William W. Freehling’s book is another work that will be important to my study on black disfranchisement. Like Ford, he trances developments in the Old South from the Revolution to 1854 (his second volume continues until the Civil War). Throughout his survey, Freehling focuses on white southerners’ ambivalence about slavery. He says that there was as “Upper South dream of sending blacks away” (162). Among other specific narratives, the Virginia constitutional convention of 1829 and the Virginia slavery debate are analyzed. In both of these chapters, Freehling highlights how class struggles and ideology of slavery were intermixed. I think this is similarly occurring in North Carolina since in the constitutional convention both disfranchisement and westerners’ desire to gain more control of the state legislature generate controversy.Thus, I will try to analyze North Carolina similar to the way Freehling looks at Virginia.

Thesis Proposal Draft

Writing my thesis proposal was much more difficult than I thought. For the entire semester, the project has been abstract. While I have thought, researched, and read about black disfranchisement in antebellum Tennessee and North Carolina, my argument and methodology remained malleable, meaning that I was constantly reworking them in my head. The proposal draft, however, forced me to put those abstract thoughts on paper. Even though I knew what I was going to write, the writing part took a lot of time and energy. I had to organize my thoughts and put them on paper. In the end, though, I think it really helped me. I finally have some concrete plan and can constantly refer back to it as I begin to finally sink my teeth into studying the disfranchisement of African Americans through the lens of class, race, and gender.

There are a variety of things I hope to add or strengthen in my next draft. The historiographical section, first, is probably the part of my proposal that needs the most work. I have three clear strands of literature that I hope to combine in my thesis. However, they are interrelated with one another. For example, the concept of herrenvolk democracy could be analyzed in the race or class historiographical strand. I need to figure out a way to get this across without making some arbitrary decision about classification.  I also hope to clarify my argument in my next draft. This was the first time I had fully explained the argument I am trying to make, and while crafting it, I realized there might be some parts that were unclear. Finally, I think I need hit harder on the significance of my project. Hopefully as I get more comfortable with the historiography, I will be able to incorporate more significance there, but I also want to write a convincing independent section on significance, too.