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The Miscegenation of Richard Mentor Johnson as an Issue in the National Election Campaign of 1835-1836 Thomas Brown White American men of the antebellum era abhorred few, if any, things more than the danger of an "amalgamation" of their race with African Americans through interracial sexual relations.1 But their concerns about miscegenation between whites and blacks were usually not a major factor in national politics. However, in the election of 1836, the Democratic candidate for vice president was Representative Richard Mentor Johnson of Kentucky, who was revealed to be a "practical amalgamator." The opposition to the Democrats—an assortment of Antimasons, Whigs, and disaffected Democrats supporting three presidential candidates in different parts of the country—exploited Johnson's candidacy to make the menace of amalgamation into a national political issue. Its attacks compelled the Democrats, in turn, to deal with the issue of Johnson's private life in a manner designed to minimize the damage to their party, and perhaps even make an asset of a liability. The positions taken in the controversy over Johnson's miscegenation are of great value and interest, for the spokesmen of the opposing sides had to grapple with ' For attitudes toward amalgamation, see David H. Fowler, Northern Attitudes Toward Interracial Marriage: Legislation and Public Opinion in the Middle Atlantic and the States of the Old Northwest. I780-Î930 (New York: Garland, 1987), 147-220; James Kinney, Amalgamation! Race, Sex, and Rhetoric in the Nineteenth-Century American Novel (Westport , Conn.: Greenwood, 1985), 35-51; Leonard L. Richards, "Gentlemen of Property and Standing": Anti-Abolition Mobs in Jacksonian America (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1970), 31-33, 43-46, 166. The word miscegenation, which would eventually supplant amalgamation, was coined by Democrats in 1864, and used in their attempt to smear the Republicans as advocates of interracial sex and marriage. See [David Croly], Miscegenation: The Theory of the Blending of Races Applied to the American White and Negro (New York: H. Dexter, Hamilton, 1864); S. Kaplan, "The Miscegenation Issue in the Election of 1864," Journal of Negro History 34 (July 1949):274-343. Civil War History, Vol. XXXIX, No. 1, ° 1993 by The Kent State University Press 6 CIVIL WAR HISTORY some of the most deeply felt anxieties and concerns of potential voters. In doing so, they articulated assumptions and beliefs regarding race, sex, and gender that were seldom expressed in national political debate but were of fundamental importance in shaping the party ideologies and political cultures of their time.2 Johnson, a lifelong bachelor, had sexual relationships with a succession of slave women. The first of his slave lovers, and the one who figured most prominently in the campaign of 1835-36, was Julia Chinn, whom he acquired in the division of his father's estate. She bore him two daughters, Imogene and Adaline, and served as the head of his household at the "Great Crossings," his estate in Kentucky, during his frequent and lengthy absences. Apparently, Johnson treated his daughters much as planters treated their legitimate, "white" offspring—securing them educations, and seating them among guests at social functions at his home. But his greatest offense against Southern social proprieties was that he secured white husbands for Adaline and Imogene and deeded the couples parts of his estate. After Julia Chinn's death of cholera in 1833, Johnson had an affair with another of his slaves, Cornelia Parthene. This involvement resulted in no offspring, but it brought Johnson additional public embarrassment. In late June or early July 1835, about a month after his nomination for vice president, Parthene fled the Great Crossings accompanied by a niece of Julia Chinn. The two joined with two Indian men who had escaped the Choctaw Academy, located on Johnson's estate, in a desperate dash for Canada. The two couples were captured by agents sent by Johnson, but the Indian men were freed by an Ohio magistrate, and Chinn's niece escaped from a hotel room where she had been held in confinement. Only Parthene was returned to the Great Crossings; some said that she was severely disciplined and demoted from Johnson's parlor to his kitchen; others held that she was sold to a slave...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1533-6271
Print ISSN
0009-8078
Pages
pp. 5-30
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-04
Open Access
No
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