Abstract

Abstract:

Responding to Desmond S. King and Rogers M. Smith's 2005 article, "Racial Orders in American Political Development" and new scholarship tracing racial fluidity, this article argues for an evolving "patchwork" of state and local legal-political formations regulating slavery and citizenship in the period 1790-1860. By 1840, this decentralized form of nation-building had generated six distinct regional orders from Upper New England to the Lower South. The patchwork was further complicated by three different versions of triracialism: a recognized "brown" mulatto caste in southern seaboard enclaves; dozens of local peoples ("triracial isolates") across the south and Mid-Atlantic, each claiming a peculiar identity other than black, white, or red; finally, that, with considerable regularity, white southerners recognized some people as "not-white" but also not-black. The essay concludes by arguing that, for African Americans, this exceptional heterogeneity provided multiple escape hatches from the subordination imposed by white supremacy, fostering a worldly politics that transcended all borders, local, state, and national.

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Additional Information

ISSN
1553-0620
Print ISSN
0275-1275
Pages
pp. 45-81
Launched on MUSE
2020-02-20
Open Access
No
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