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.
This article published in 1969 by Harold J. Counihan explicitly addresses the North Carolina state constitutional convention of 1835. Counihan address the reasons offered by legislators on whether or not to hold a convention (336-337), the Convention Act which that called for a convention to be held (337-338), the various constitutional reforms enacted, and the eventual passage of the amendments in a popular vote (361). Counihan’s analysis is important for my study, as he categorizes convention delegates in three different ways in order to see voting patters: for/against internal improvements, eastern/western, Whigs/Democrats. Some of the conclusions he comes to regarding the disfranchisement of African Americans change my perspective (346-348). First, he shows that thirty-five westerners and twenty-six easterners did not vote on the issue at all (347). Second, that all of the delegates agreed on some form of black suffrage; no one wanted to continue the status quo (346). Third, 62 percent of advocates of internal improvements voted against disfranchisement (348), and fourth, forty-nine eastern votes were the “backbone” of the resistance to black suffrage (348). I think it is going to be important for me to look closer at this break-down to see how urban easterners voted because I have been thinking that politicians in urban areas might see the black vote as an important demographic. This assumption goes against Counihan, though, as he asserts that “being labeled the Negro’s choice was one of the surest ways to end a promising political career (346).
Counihan’s article is certainly useful in that it offers an analysis of the convention and the new constitutional amendments. I think, however, that it won’t be particularly useful as a framework. I need to go back to the primary documents relating to the proceedings of the convention, so that I can offer my own analysis of the same sources. This article is also an example of the political history that excludes race or class, two aspects that I think will be of utmost importance if I am going to craft a good thesis about antebellum black suffrage.