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.
In this article, Emily West discusses the citizenship of free people of color in the antebellum South. She specifically focuses on what she calls “voluntary enslavement,” meaning when free African Americans would petition wither the state legislature or county courts to allow them to become slaves of a particular master. These petitions “blur the lines” between slave and free black (70), and demonstrates different conceptions of citizenship. For example, some free people of color realized that they could not financially support themselves or their families, alluding to the idea of an economic aspect of citizenship (72). West then explores some of the reasons why free people would chose slavery. First, they could have done so to remain close to their family since state legislatures were debating on the forced expulsion of African Americans from states (69). This is particularly likely because petitions “clustered” around times of these debates. Second, they might have been threatened or tricked into slavery (71), or, and the most likely reasons West gives, is that free people of color chose enslavement to for family reasons (73). Maybe a black man’s family were slaves and their owner was about to take them west, or a free black woman wished to remain in a relationship with a white man. Regardless of the reason, this demonstrates that free people of color did not think of slavery and freedom as polar opposites. They were sometimes more motivated by familial concerns, rather than trying to fight for citizenship (77). My takeaway from this article is that freedom for African Americans might not have been preferable to slavery, that as the nineteenth century wore on the status and toleration of free people of color diminished, and that I need to keep free black women in mind as I undertake my research.
Jennison, Watson. “Rewriting the Free Negro Past: Joseph Lumpkin, Proslavery Ideology, and Citizenship in Antebellum Georgia.” In Creating Citizenship in the Nineteenth-Century South, edited by William A. Link, David Brown, Brian Ward, and Martyn Bone, 42–63. Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 2013.
In this article, Jennison explores an attempt by a late-antebellum Georgia state judge to essentially rewrite the history of free blacks in Georgia. Through his court decisions, Lumpkin, the judge, ignores the judicial precedence in Georgia of free people of color sometimes having certain citizenship rights. He essentially equates free blacks as slaves (45-46). Thus, they cannot be citizens (47). In doing so though, Jennison contends that Lumpkin refuses to acknowledge a tradition of granting citizenship to some free blacks, from treating free people of color as foreign nationals (49) to restrict corporal punishment, etc. (50-51). There are mainly two significant takeaways for me from this article. First, white toleration of free blacks differed across the state, and usually correlated to cities with a higher slave population, like Savannah and Augusta (54-55). Free African Americans were not tolerated where their labor likely competed with the white working class, like Atlanta. I need to see if a similar correlation exists in NC and TN and explore the reason for it. Secondly, free people of color were not a monolithic group, but differed economically as well as socially. Jennison references some free blacks that had more wealth than most whites in GA (56-57).