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.

4 thoughts on “Research Proposal and More Secondary Sources

  1. Lucas,
    Sounds like you have a plan for the next month. My one suggestion on this post is to begin to think more about what you don’t like about the secondary sources — you (and many others) focus on how these sources can provide you with “models.” I’m hoping that as you read more, you will begin to focus on your critique of the existing literature. How are you going to look at things differently?

    1. Dr. Jones, thanks for the suggestion. Like you said in class, I agree that it is not enough to simply link myself to existing literature; I must reinterpret/complicate it somehow. Unfortunately, figuring that out is the hard part.

  2. I think that sounds like a good idea to focus on North Carolina. I’m interested to hear what you find to really get into the meat of your argument! Have you identified any collections in NC that look helpful?

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