BRIEF OF AMICI CURIAE Publications243_0 Part 5








“Vindicate the ways of God, to man”






Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1854 by


in the Clerk’s Office of the District Court of the. United States for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania


“The same morning as was sat by the Dalphin-foimtain, and threw harley bread to the lame swan; he gave us this precept, with its glosses: that for the truth, perspicuity is the only ornament of style; the rhetorical. and that in the matter of the, piled and handy nakedness (nuditas palastica) is better, for convection and dramatic drapery, for entertainment This plainness, which, said he again, la logical neatness, is grateful not to the popular, many, but to the philosophic few. He -then added somewhat abruptly, that public option is not the’ opinion of the public Seeing some of the younger of us smile he explained at once. He simply meant, he said, that the popular, changed the philosophic, opinion; or that in other word the thinkers rule, and must be first convinced. The conference on the Greek Styles then ended; and we all rose, and left the fountain.15

Warrantees’ right to philosophic or educational power, order, and liberty is not yet actualized. If justice economically authorized it; the educational means or power might be added to wages. If not this; any other method following justice.

But political independently of economic justice, does not now authorize the systematic education of warrantees, The warranteeism of the United States South, is that with the ethnical qualification. The existence-rights of both or of one of these races, now forbids to the other, this progress- right. The educational is at present antagonistic to the political system. This antagonism is accidental and temporary. It is not necessary or natural to warranteeism. It is due to a temporary outside fact This fact is from an error which confounds essentials and accidentals; which is rather aggressive against the greater good essential, than progressive from the lesser had accidental. It is bad opposition from good disposition. It is philanthropy in design, and misanthropy in deed. But between warrantors and warrantees, there is naturally no educational antagonism. The educational and economic systems, are synta-gonistic. So algo, the political and educational systems; but this, only after the political fact as it is, shall be the political fact as it ought to be.




In the United States South, the rights of Warrantees under the political system, we such as are just. Their political status is not wrong. It is right; it is from duty; it is a moral necessity. They have now the political power, order, and liberty to which they are rightly entitled; neither more nor less.

In the civil government of republics, the people are the sovereign. They are the supreme orderer. But republics are representative governments; the sovereign people constitute representatives. These representatives in their capacity as such, are magistrates; or supersovereign. In the political system, they are the orderers. They adapt and regulate. But all the people are not sovereign or supersovereign. Some only are sovereign. These are such alone as are peculiarly qualified. They must be males. They must be of a certain age. They must be of sound mind. They must be residents. In some commonwealth, property qualifications, are necessary; in some, religious qualifications. There may be other qualifications just or unjust.

All other people in the State, who are not sovereign people, are subsovereign. To this class belong women, minors, criminals, lunatics and idiots, aliens, and all others unqualified or disqualified.

Such, the three classes of people. In republics, all are represented. The representatives or orderers, represent and are responsible to their constituents, the sovereign people. But these are not constituents only; they likewise represent the class of subsovereign people; these are constituents of these. A man represents his family. This is special; he also represents the interests of other subsovereigns; this, his general duty.

The representation of all is thus actualized.

Duties are coupled to relations. By the common law, a, natural person’s relations under the civil government are public or private By the common law, private relations are those of master and servant, husband and wife, patent and child, guardian and ward.

In warrantee commonwealths, public relations are those of magistrates and people; or orderers and orderees. Magistrates are legislators, executors and adjudicators. To these the relations of the people, are those of orderees. The people are therefore, legislatees, executees and adjudicatees. The magistrates are adapters and regulators; the people, adaptees and regulatees.

In republics in which the warranteeism is that with the ethnical qualification, the warrantees are subsovereign. They, have not the right of sovereignty. That is not their due; it is unjust; it is wrong. Warrantees have the right of representation. But they have not the right of political constitution. Neither ought they; they are not entitled to it Subsovereignty is the right of warrantees. Their sovereignty is the wrong of warrantors, and others.

In the warrantee commonwealths of the United States who therefore, ought to be the sovereign people? Who ought to be the supreme power in the warrantee States? There, warranteeism with the ethnical qualification is ordained and established. What is the effect of this qualification ? The people are of two races. They are ethnically related to each other. But because every act has a moral quality; with every relation, duties are coupled. These races in their ethnical relations, differ from each other in beauty; in color; in the inclination, shape, and direction of the pile; in the conformation of their body, and in other physiological respects.

The black race must be civilly either (1), Subsovereign, (2), Sovereign, or (3), Supersovereign. If not Subsovereign, they must be co-sovereign. The white race may also be Subsovereign, sovereign, or supersovereign. If both races are promiscuously sovereign; that is co-sovereignty. The white race is now and has been sovereign; the black, subsovereign. This, the historical fact.

The black race ought not to be admitted to co-sovereignty. It. is wrong: it is in violation of moral duty.

These races physiologically must be either equal or unequal. They must be either peers ethnically, or not peers. If not peers ethnically, the black race must be either superior or inferior. If superior, their ethnical progress forbids amalgamation with an inferior race. If the white race is superior; their ethnical progress forbids intermix tare frith an inferior race.

But races must progress. Men have not political or economic duties only. They have hygienic duties. Hygiene is both ethnical and ethical; moral duties are coupled to the relation of races. Races must not be wronged. Hygienic progress is a right. It is a right, because a duty. But hygienic progress forbids ethnical regress. Morality therefore, which commands general progress, prohibits this special regress. The preservation and progress of a race, is a moral duty of the races. Degeneration is evil It is a sin. That sin is extreme. Hybridism is heinous Impurity of races is against the law of nature. Mulattoes are monsters The law of nature is the law of God. The same law which forbids consanguineous amalgamation; forbids ethnical amalgamation. Both are incestuous. Amalgamation is incest.

But the relation of the two races to each other, is moral: every relation has an ethical quality: ethics is ethnic. Moral hygienic duties must not be violated. For progress must he developed, and regress, enveloped. Polity therefore—the duty of the State—prohibits the sovereignty of the black race. Because, if the black race are sovereign, they must he. co-sovereign. If not politically subordinate or superordinate; they must be politically coordinate. But the black and white race must not be co-sovereign; they must not be politically coordinate. They must be, the one subordinate, and the other, superordinate. They must not be aggregated; they must be segregated. They must be civilly pure and simple from each other. This is a hygienic ethnical necessity. It is the duty, of caste to prevent amalgamation: it is, caste for the purity of races. for, political amalgamation is ethnical amalgamation, One makes the other: that is the immediate, invariable antecedent of this. Subsovereignty is necessary for segregation, and both necessary to duty.




Political amalgamation is sexual amalgamation: one is a cause of the other. There must be either caste or co-sovereignty: this is the alternative to that For power to rule, is power to marry, and the power to repeal or annul discriminating laws.

In States, the intercourse of sexes is either (1), Lawful or (2), Unlawful. Marriage is lawful intercourse. Of two races in a State, marriage may be (1), Between males and females of the same race; (2), Between males of one race and females of the other race; or, (3), Miscellaneously, between males and females of both races.

Of marriage, the motives or springs of action are such as are either (1), Matrimonial, or, (2), Extramatrimonial. Love is a matrimonial motive. Extramatrimonial motives are such as avarice or the desire of wealth; and ambition or the desire of power.

If therefore, marriage miscellaneously between too races, is lawful; the motives will he both matrimonial and extramatrimonial. Females of the inferior will elect males of the superior race. This, from natural preference, which is matrimonial; or from ambition, which is extra-matrimonial. Males of the superior race will from avarice, ambition, or other extramatrimonial motives, elect females of the inferior race. These motives are certain; and certainly of motive, is certainty of movement; certainty of cause, certainty of effect If therefore, intermarriage of races, is lawful; intermarriage will he actual the cause, curtain; the effect will he certain. The law must


Source Database: Encyclopedia of the United States in the Nineteenth Century


Miscegenation, the practice of interracial sex and marriage, became a social and political issue in British North America as early as the seventeenth century, when Maryland and Virginia banned marriages between whites and people of other races. Relations between white men and black women generally caused legislators far less concern than did relations between white women and men of color. The laws were designed to curtail formal relations that exemplified racial equality; interracial competition for white women; the birth of mixed-race children to white women; and access by people of color to property by means of marriage or inheritance.


By law and custom, interracial relations were discouraged in the United States, although the specifics varied from place to place and from time to time, and miscegenation laws were not always enforced. Some statutes established penalties of ten years or even life in prison; others imposed neither fines nor imprisonment. Among the thirteen original states, all had laws against interracial marriage except New Hampshire, Connecticut, New York, and New Jersey; Pennsylvania repealed its law in 1780, as did Massachusetts in 1843. Among the thirty-five new states that joined the Union by 1912, only Kansas, New Mexico, and Washington (aside from a brief period each prior to statehood), and Vermont, Minnesota, and Wisconsin failed to enact such laws. Some far western states demonstrated as much concern regarding whites’ marriages with people of Asian ancestry as with those of African ancestry.


The term “miscegenation” originated during the Civil War, replacing “amalgamation,” when two Democratic newspapermen from the New York World, David Goodman Croly (1829-1889) and George Wakeman (d. 1870), published a hoax pamphlet during the 1864 presidential campaign, designed to portray Republicans as avowed advocates of interracial sexual relations, particularly between black men and white women. The mere fabrication by Croly and Wakeman indicates how salient the question was, as Republicans in the 1860s struggled to foster enhanced rights of African Americans.


In 1865 to 1866, in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War and emancipation, southern white legislators displayed their continued commitment to white power and privilege by retaining miscegenation laws or even imposing greater penalties than before. During the Republican years of Reconstruction, however, those laws often came under political attack or were challenged on constitutional grounds. Mississippi, South Carolina, and Louisiana dropped their prohibitions of interracial marriage for a time during Reconstruction, and courts in Alabama, Louisiana and Texas briefly overturned miscegenation laws then. By the 1890s, however, those states had restored such laws and all the former Confederate states banned interracial marriage. Virginia had established a two- to-five-year term in the penitentiary for each partner in an interracial marriage; Alabama legislated a two- to-seven-year term.


Especially after the 1870s, courts almost uniformly ruled that miscegenation laws did not violate the Fourteenth Amendment’s clause requiring “equal protection of the laws.” The U.S. Supreme Court upheld a miscegenation statute in Pace v. Alabama (1883), a case in which Tony Pace, a black man, challenged an Alabama law that-in a legal environment in which he could not marry a white woman–established a higher penalty for his living with her outside marriage than he would have suffered had both parties been black or both white. Meanwhile, a number of northern states repealed their miscegenation statutes–lllinois in 1874; Rhode Island in 1881; Maine and Michigan in 1883; and Ohio in 1887–so such laws became an increasingly southern phenomenon. Miscegenation laws remained on the books in every former Confederate state until the U.S. Supreme Court outlawed them in Loving v. Virginia in 1967, when a white man and a black woman successfully challenged a Virginia law that made their marriage a felony.


Wallenstein, Peter


Hodes, Martha. White Women, Black Men: Illicit Sex in the Nineteenth-Century South. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1997.

Kaplan, Sidney. “The Miscegenation Issue in the Election of 1864.” Journal of Negro History 34 (July 1949): 274-343.

Wallenstein, Peter. “Race, Marriage, and the Law of Freedom: Virginia and Alabama, 1860s-1960s.” Chicago-Kent Law Review 70, No. 2 (1994): 371-437.

Williamson, Joel. New People: Miscegenation and Mulattoes in the United States. New York: Free Press, 1980.


Source Citation: “Miscegenation.” Encyclopedia of the United States in the Nineteenth Century. 3 vols. Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2001. Reproduced in History Resource Center. Farmington Hills, Ml: Gale Group.


Document Number: BT2350040259


Miscegenation and Intermarriage

Source Database: Encyclopedia of African-American Culture and History


The word miscegenation was coined during the presidential campaign of 1864 (from the Latin miscere, “to mix,” and genus, “race”) when the Democratic party asserted that Lincoln’s Republican party advocated sex and marriage across the color line. Like mulatto, probably derived from the concept of mules and hybridity, the word was pejorative in its historical context.


People of European ancestry and people of African ancestry began reproducing together in America from their earliest contacts in the seventeenth-century South, when white servants and black slaves lived and labored together. Census counts of “mulattoes” (a category used in some, but not all, nineteenth-century U.S. census schedules) were subjectively based upon appearance, and while documentation of frequency can also be gathered from court records, slave narratives, and personal writings, such statistics are ultimately based on conjecture and are always cast in terms of proportions of European ancestry in the African-American population. With that said, perhaps 15 to 25 percent of African Americans in 1860 had some European ancestry; and perhaps 75 percent of modern-day African Americans do.


Colonial authorities wrote statutes against liaisons between Europeans and Africans from the 1660s forward, punishing liaisons between white women and black men most harshly. Under slavery, these laws largely reflected white fears of free African Americans. Because a child’s legal status as slave or free followed the mother, when white women and black men reproduced together, their children would be free, but of partial African ancestry, thereby eroding racial slavery. On the contrary, children of slave women and white men were legally slaves, and usually remained enslaved throughout their lives.


Under the antebellum southern slave system, the sexual exploitation of black women by white masters and overseers, or the explicit or implicit threat of it, was a constant burden for slave families. Most liaisons between black women and white men were exploitive; resistance, on the part of black women and men alike, was ever present though often ineffective, and southern courts very rarely concerned themselves with the assault or rape of black women. These broad patterns differed markedly only in New Orleans, in which a system called placage, essentially concubinage, coupled free women of color with white men through formal dances.


Beyond testimony of cruelty, and the constant factor of unequal power between black women and white men, it is difficult to discern any uniformity of treatment; beyond entitlement on the part of masters, and anger and humiliation on the part of female slaves, it is difficult to discern the emotions that accompanied such relations in the context of a slave regime.


Under slavery, white southern communities displayed a degree of toleration for sexual liaisons between white women and black men, though this toleration was never as great as that displayed for the much more frequent master-female slave pairing. Sexual encounters with planter-class women presented the gravest dangers for black men, while dominant ideology was likely to cast lower-class white women as depraved agents of such illicit actions.


In the antebellum North, some states (though not all) had laws against intermarriage, and regardless of the law, liaisons between African Americans and whites remained socially taboo at least through the Civil War.


After Emancipation, the topic of liaisons between white women and black men entered Congressional debates about the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, with Democrats linking black male suffrage with fears of marriage to white women. Determined to retain a racial hierarchy, white Southerners then conflated the new political power of black men with sexual transgressions against white women. The Reconstruction years thus saw the development of full-scale white hysteria about black male sexuality, thereby commencing an era of terrorism and lynching that rapidly spread north and west.


In the decades following Emancipation, the sexual coercion and assault of black women by white men continued in the South, especially as Reconstruction drew to a close. Marriages across the color line were illegal in the post-Reconstruction South, while some Northern states had repealed those laws. Other laws, in both the North and West, ranged from declaring such marriages null and void, to imposing fines, to imprisonment; they were largely enforced against white women and black men only.


People of mixed European and African ancestry have never been considered a separate “race” in this country, although both the African American and white communities of antebellum New Orleans, Charleston, S.C., Mobile, Ala., and Savannah, Ga., recognized a “mulatto” or “brown” class. By the late nineteenth century, the “one-drop rule,” which proclaimed that anyone with any known African ancestry would be classified as black, prevailed nationally.


While the numbers of mixed couples have increased in the second half of the twentieth century, percentages are still small; the majority of mixed couples since the end of World War II have been white women and black men, a phenomenon that caused considerable racial tension in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 1970 there were 146 black-white married couples for every 100,000 married couples. In 1980 that number increased to 335 and in 1990, to 396. There are no reliable statistics on nonmarried couples. While recognizing legal sanctions as racist and a violation of rights, many African Americans have looked down on those who consorted with whites. As for dominant white attitudes, it was not until 1967, after nine years of trials and appeals in the case of Loving v. Virginia, that the United States Supreme Court ruled laws prohibiting marriages between blacks and whites unconstitutional; at that time, sixteen southern states had such laws.


The ongoing legacies of the legal and social history of this subject are apparent in issues ranging from the choice of racial categories on United States census forms, to the influence of racist ideology in sex crimes or alleged sex crimes, to antagonism from both white and black communities toward marriages and relationships across the color line.


Martha E. Hodes



Higginbotham, A. Leon, Jr. In the Matter of Color: Race and the American Legal Process: The Colonial Period. New York, 1978.

Hodes, Martha. “The Sexualization of Reconstruction Politics: White Women and Black Men in the South after the Civil War.” Journal of the History of Sexuality 3 (1993): 402-417.

Spickard, Paul R. Mixed Blood: Intermarriage and Ethnic Identity in Twentieth-Century America. Madison, Wis., 1989.

Williamson, Joel. New People: Miscegenation and Mulattoes in the United States. New York, 1980.


Source Citation: “Miscegenation and Intermarriage.” Encyclopedia of African-American Culture and History. 5 vols. Macmillan, 1996. Reproduced in History Resource Center. Farmington Hills, Ml: Gale Group.


Document Number: BT2312228471

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African Americans in New York City,


Leslie M. Harris

The University of Chicago Press

Chicago and London


The University of Chicago Press, Chicago 60637

The University of Chicago Press, Ltd., London

© 2oo3-by The University of Chicago

All rights reserved. Published 2003

Paperback edition 2004

Printed in. the United States of America

12 11 10 09 08 07 06 05 04 2 3 4 5

ISBN: 0-226-31774-9 (cloth)

ISBN; 0-226-31773-0 (paperback)


Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Harris, Leslie M.

In the shadow of slavery: African Americans in New York City, 1626-1863 / Leslie M. Harris.

p. cm.(Historical studies of urban America)

Includes bibliographical references and index.

isbn 0-226-31774-9 (cloth: alk. paper)

1. African Americans—New York (State)—New York—History. 2. New York (N.Y.)—History—Colonial period, ca. 1600-1775. 3. New York (N.Y.)—History— 1775-1865. 4. New York (N.Y.)—Race relations—History. I. Title. II. Series.


F128.9.N4H37 2003




The paper used in this publication meets the minimum requirements of the American National Standard for Information Sciences—Permanence of Paper for Printed Library Materials, ansi Z39.48-1992.

The Long Shadow of Southern Slavery: Radical Abolitionists and Black Political Activism against Slavery and Racism

In the 1830s, a new coalition of black and white middle-class reformers challenged the racial order of the nation. These “radical abolitionists” called for an immediate end to southern slavery, unlike the gradual emancipation that whites had enacted in the North, and without plans to colonize free blacks. Radical abolitionists also pledged to fight racism by elevating “the character and condition of the people of color” so that blacks could “share an equality with whites, of civil and religious privileges.” The activism of New York City blacks, together with blacks from other cities, inspired much of the radicalism among whites on the issues of slavery and racism. Free blacks’ vociferous opposition to colonization in the 1820s and 1830s, as well as their establishment of annual national conventions in 1830, led some white supporters of colonization, such as William Lloyd Garrison, to rethink and then reject colonization as a solution to America’s problems of slavery, racism, and black poverty. White abolitionists were also inspired by the religious revivalism of the Second Great Awakening. Arthur and Lewis Tappan, who came to New York City from New England, were among those whose intense religious experiences motivated them to work to expunge the sins of slavery and racism from the nation. For the Tappans, Garrison, and other white radical abolitionists, the struggle against slavery and racism was part of a larger struggle for the moral perfection of the United States. Slavery and racism were the most degrading of a host of sins of which they hoped to cleanse the United States, ranging from intemperance to sexual promiscuity to nonobservance of the Sabbath.1

Blacks agreed that slavery and racism were immoral, but their opposition to them came from the direct threat these sins caused to their well-being. In New York City the racism of northern whites limited blacks’ abilities to educate themselves and find well-paying jobs. As debilitating to blacks was the long reach of southern slavery. Fugitive slaves fled to New York City seeking freedom, and New York City blacks welcomed them into their communities. But southern slaveholders and their agents also traveled to New York in search of their former slaves. As southerners sought fugitives, all blacks, regardless of their status, were subject to capture, for it was whites’ words against blacks’ that they were free.

The interracial radical abolitionist coalition offered blacks powerful new allies in the struggle against slavery and for racial equality. The unprecedented racial equality preached and practiced by white radical abolitionists led blacks to support the organized abolition movement across evolving class lines. New York City middle-class black reformers who had cooperated with the Manumission Society during the emancipation era, such as Samuel Cornish and Peter Williams Jr., united with white middle-class abolitionists such as William Lloyd Garrison and Lydia Maria Child nationally and the Tappan brothers in New York City. Working-class blacks, too, found ways to contribute to the new movement. The tactics of the abolitionist movement, such as the creation of local auxiliary organizations both before and after the organization of the interstate American Anti-Slavery Society; the focus on individual contributions to the struggle against slavery, ranging from prayer and individual moral reform to raising money through sewing bees to the boycotting of products produced with slave labor; and the respect that white abolitionists and particularly William Lloyd Garrison held for black opinions on colonization and antislavery, led many blacks to pledge their support to the new movement.2

The radicalism of the abolitionist movement led to opposition from proslavery, colonizationist, and racist whites of all classes. These groups feared the power of the new abolitionist coalition to upset the racial hierarchy north and south. New York City had important economic ties to the South, and merchants feared the alienation of southern slaveholders. Working-class whites feared losing jobs to blacks and resented the efforts of the abolitionists and other evangelical reformers to impose a new morality on them. In New York City, these whites also feared the economic and political power of reformers like the Tappans, who represented a new middle class whose vision of economics, politics, and morality potentially threatened their livelihoods. Anti-abolition whites attempted to discredit the abolitionist movement by charging abolitionists with encouraging amalgamation, or racial mixture that included socializing in integrated settings, casual sex, and intermarriage. The charges of amalgamation highlighted some whites’ fears that blacks would achieve economic and political power in New York City through association with abolitionist whites. Such fears resulted in the 1834 anti-abolition riots, the worst riots in antebellum New York City.

The 1834 riots cooled the radicalism of New York City’s abolitionists. Black middle-class abolitionists refocused their efforts on the moral and material reform of the black community. White abolitionists who had not anticipated the violence with which their calls for racial equality would be met backed away from addressing the material problems of northern free blacks to focus on eradicating southern slavery. The abolitionist movement also divided over the ways blacks should work against slavery and for racial equality. Some of these divisions were class based. Because anti-abolition, colonizationist, and racist whites used the poverty of many free blacks and their allegedly immoral activities to support arguments for racial inequality, black and white middle-class abolitionists focused on working-class blacks as crucial to solving the problems of racism in the North and slavery in the South. For these abolitionists, the end. of slavery required not only that southern slaveholders realize their own sinfulness, but also that free blacks demonstrate their moral worthiness and equality. Thus, middle-class abolitionists focused on converting all blacks to the evolving middle-class ideals of moral arid social improvement, such as classical education, temperance, and religiosity. Middle-class abolitionists also tried to control the participation of the black masses in the struggle to protect fugitive slaves in New York City. Middle-class abolitionists advocated nonphysical ways to fight against slavery and for racial equality, such as moral suasion, nonresistance, and legal action, Abolitionists should convince others of the sinfulness of slavery through propaganda campaigns, petitions to government, and refusal to participate in economic systems that upheld slavery. Physical or defensive force should not be used to protect fugitives. Rather, blacks accused of being fugitives should fight for their freedom only through the courts. These were tenets of abolitionist activism aimed at everyone regardless of class or race, though in some cases, abolitionists explicitly attempted to limit the participation of blacks whom they deemed uneducated or unruly.3

Abolitionists, black and white, were participating in the process of defining middle and working classes, consciously and unconsciously. In their own eyes, they advocated a new moral standard for all, regardless of class. But the rejection of their moral ideologies by both black and white working classes, albeit for different reasons, meant that they developed new meanings of what it meant to be middle class, based on morality as well as economic success.4 When dealing with the economic, political, and social problems of blacks, both white and black abolitionists tried to conflate class and racial identities. By advocating certain ideological stances as best for blacks ‘as a race, abolitionists tried to remove the class implications of such ideologies. Both black and white abolitionists advocated moral and intellectual reform out of a sincere belief in its efficacy for solving the problems of race in America. But black middle-class abolitionists occupied a special relationship to the reforms aimed at the black working class, The fate of the black middle class or aspiring middle class was bound inextricably with that of the black working class in a society that saw all blacks as inferior and defined that inferiority partially in class terms. Black abolitionists, reacting to the race- and class-based assumptions of inferiority promulgated by the society at large, sought both to control the black working class and also to define themselves in relation to that class. Discussions of the problems of working-class blacks were often cloaked in the unifying language of racial community. Black middle-class reformers thus attempted to create a united black community that would be a reproduction of themselves: their own moral, political, social, and intellectual goals and desires. This kind of black community, they believed, could not be denied equality in the United States.

Middle-class abolitionists’ advocacy of certain tactics heightened class divisions among blacks. The solutions to racial inequality promulgated by both black and white middle-class abolitionists were increasingly markers of ideological differences between the black middle class and working class. A few blacks began to question the prescriptions for success spelled out by abolitionists. Some simply claimed working-class identities and pleasures privately, implicitly challenging moral perfectionism as the only way to prove black equality. Others, such as the porter Peter Paul Simons, publicly attacked moral suasion, nonresistance,- and intellectual elevation as ways to achieve racial equality. Simons advocated manly physical struggle and greater public roles for women, forcing more conservative black middle- class abolitionists such as Samuel Cornish to defend their political methods. Some black middle-class activists, most notably David Ruggles, founder of the New York Committee of Vigilance, attempted but failed to find a middle ground between the tactics of middle-class radical abolitionists and those of black workers in order to create a more inclusive movement against slavery and for racial equality. These tensions over the best tactics to fight slavery and racism were mirrored in the larger abolitionist movement and resulted in the split in the abolitionist forces by 1840.

■ ■ ■


For free blacks across the North, 1829 was a turning point to greater radicalism, That year, the American Convention of Abolition Societies openly declared its support of the American Colonization Society. In Cincinnati, Ohio, a three-day riot by whites who feared the increase in the free black population that had occurred there in the 1820s drove two thousand blacks out of the city to Canada. In September of that year, David Walker published his Appeal to the Coloured Citizens of the World, Walker, a runaway slave from North Carolina who had settled in Boston, set off a storm of fear among southern whites as his pamphlet, with its fiery call for physical action by blacks to achieve racial freedom and justice, turned up in the hands of free blacks and slaves there. Not all parts of Walker’s argument appealed to reform-minded blacks and whites. Black and white reformers, particularly religious leaders, probably agreed with Walker’s call to educated “men of colour” to “enlighten your brethren!” But blacks and whites questioned Walker’s justification of the violent uprising of southern slaves, even as a last resort against whites who refused to cease their abuse of blacks. Still, the increase in support for colonization, the Cincinnati riot, and Walker’s pamphlet called blacks to action and increased the number of whites sympathetic to immediate abolition and antiracism.5

For a few years prior to 1829, blacks in New York, Philadelphia, and Baltimore had toyed with the idea of holding a “national” convention of free people of color to address the pressing issues of the day: emigration to Canada or Liberia as well as the struggle for black freedom and racial equality in the United States. The events of 1829 spurred them to action. In September 1830, Philadelphian Richard Allen, founder and bishop of the A.M.E. Bethel Church, called a meeting to form an organization that would improve the condition of blacks in the United States but would also buy land and aid in the settlement of free blacks in Upper Canada. The majority of the delegates to the convention came from Philadelphia. Allen’s desire for leadership and tight control of the convention echoed his attempts to gain control over New York City’s black Methodist churches in the 1820s and discouraged the attendance of New Yorkers such as Christopher Rush, Samuel Cornish, and Peter Williams. But free blacks from Maine to Virginia watched with interest the first attempt by blacks to achieve an organized national presence, Although the convention movement largely reflected the goals and aspirations of black middle-class leaders throughout the antebellum period, it also served as a forum for cross-class debate of the issues of moral and economic improvement, emigration, and blacks’ role in the abolition of southern slavery.6

In 1831, the convention reassembled in Philadelphia with a broader platform of goals and broader geographical representation. (Allen had died a few weeks prior to the meeting.) New Yorkers Samuel Cornish, Peter Williams Jr.’, Henry Sipkins, William Hamilton, and Thomas Jennings were active participants, their numbers equaling that of the Philadelphians. In addition, delegates from Maryland, Delaware, Long Island, and Virginia attended and were joined in subsequent years by delegates from upstate New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Ohio, Maine, and Washington, D.C. White antislavery activists William Lloyd Garrison of Boston, Arthur Tappan of New York, Benjamin Lundy of Washington, D.C., and Simeon S, Jocelyn of New Haven, Connecticut, also attended the 1831 convention. All had recently or were soon to reject colonization and convert to the doctrine of immediatism, which called for the immediate abolition of slavery, without guarantees of compensation to slave owners, colonization of freed blacks, or any form of “apprenticeship” freedom for former slaves.7

The desires of free blacks and the perfectionist beliefs of religious revivalists like Charles Grandison Finney inspired this new group of white antislavery activists. Although William Lloyd Garrison was deeply affected by the religious revivalism of the 1820s and 1830s, his position against colonization also grew out of his contacts with the black Baltimore community while he assisted Lundy with his newspaper, the Genius of Universal Emancipation, in the late 1820s. In 1831, soon after he founded his own newspaper, the Liberator, Garrison traveled to black communities in half a dozen cities, including New York, pledging to devote his life to the service of blacks who had suffered at the hands of whites for so long. Additionally, Garrison publicized what he had learned on this tour about blacks’ anticolonization views in his 1832 work Thoughts on African Colonization. In the first half of the book, Garrison repudiated his previous alliance with the American Colonization Society. He devoted the second half of the book to blacks’ thoughts on colonization, as expressed in anticolonization meetings and resolutions in Philadelphia, New York, and other cities. Garrison’s willingness to listen to blacks’ thoughts about their own destiny and to allow them to shape his views on colonization, slavery, and racial equality led blacks to embrace Garrison wholeheartedly. Blacks provided the majority of the funds for the Liberator in its first years of existence and peddled the newspapers in cities across the North.8

In contrast, the conversion to the cause of immediatism of New York merchant Arthur Tappan and, later, his brother Lewis was based more on perfectionist religious ideology than on contacts with free blacks. Perfectionist reformers believed that the world around them could achieve moral perfection, free from sin. Eventually, the Tappans came to believe that slavery was the greatest of sins in the United States, but they were also concerned with other evils such as alcohol and prostitution. Their belief in perfectionism did not necessarily lead to greater faith in the abilities of blacks to survive in the United States. Although Arthur Tappan’s visit to the Convention of the Free People of Color in 1831 was a turning point in his awareness of the conditions and aspirations of northern free blacks, he did not openly reject colonization as a solution to slavery until two years later. The temperate Tappan’s disillusionment with the American Colonization Society stemmed partly from his knowledge of blacks’ opposition to colonization, but also from the fact that rum was the Colonization Society’s chief import into Liberia. When the society refused to stop shipping spirits to Liberia, Tappan resigned. Throughout the 1830s, both Arthur and Lewis Tappan held a more conservative attitude toward methods of achieving the abolition of slavery and the equality of blacks than did Garrison. Arthur Tappan initially favored an apprenticeship system to ease the transition from slavery to freedom in the South, such as the British had implemented in Jamaica and similar to gradual emancipation in New York. The New York-based antislavery newspaper founded by Arthur Tappan and Charles Denison, the Emancipator, was less fiery in its rhetoric than Garrison’s Liberator.9

The range of opinions between Garrison and the Tappans would be both a strength and a source of division in the national antislavery movement after 1834.10 In 1831, however, the formation of the interracial but white- dominated American Anti-Slavery Society was still a few years off, Blacks were more organized in their goals regarding slavery and racism than were whites. What Garrison, Arthur Tappan, and the others brought to the 1831 black convention was the possibility that they could provide money and property for the conventioneers’ plans to educate blacks. The white activists suggested that blacks and whites work together to create a college “for the liberal education of Young Men of Colour, on the Manual Labor System.” This manual labor school would combine moral and intellectual uplift with practical means to alleviate economic distress among laboring blacks, much as the African Free Schools had. “Young Men of Colour” educated on the manual labor system were to obtain both a classical education and “a useful Mechanical or Agricultural profession.” Such education would help alleviate the “present ignorant and degraded condition” of free blacks and “elevate the general character of the coloured population.” Blacks and whites would work together on the project, but blacks would control the school and form a majority of the school’s trustees. The school was never built. But the discussion around the manual labor school plan, as well as the reasons for its failure, reveal the evolving class and race ideologies of this new interracial coalition, which in a few years would lead the most radical attack on slavery and racism New York and the United States had yet witnessed.11

The manual labor school model on which the conventioneers based their plans was not initially designed to outfit individuals for careers as manual laborers. American theological seminaries adapted the manual labor school from European models, hoping this method of education would strengthen the bodies of students without impairing their mental abilities. The manual labor system theoretically would enable poorer students to work their way through school by farming, making and selling furniture, and perhaps even constructing school buildings. Middle-class abolitionists in the early 1830s turned to the manual labor system because they thought that the instruction of middle-class students in manual labor would alleviate the middle class’s growing distaste for physical labor. For middle-class abolitionists, the manual labor school was a way to decrease evolving class divisions and instill respect among the middle class for all in society.12

By 1834, most American educators had begun to question the combination of manual and intellectual pursuits in schools. “The calling of the laborer is as honorable, useful and important as that of the student, but these two callings do not require the same kind of training, either physically or intellectually; nor is the physical system of the student to be kept in the same condition with that of the laborer,” stated one.13 On a more practical level, students who had hoped to work their way through school often did not have the mechanical or agricultural experience to do so successfully. But the manual labor system remained popular through the 1850s at abolitionist schools such as the Oneida Institute in upstate New York and Oberlin in Ohio.14

Neither mainstream nor abolitionist manual labor schools were designed to prepare their students for manual labor occupations, but the dual nature of education (manual and mental) inherent in the structure of the manual labor system particularly suited black and white reformers’ goals for free blacks. At the 1831 convention, both blacks and whites saw the school as a way around the exclusion of free black male workers from skilled apprenticeships in the North. The school could employ skilled craftsmen who would train blacks outside of the racially exclusive apprenticeship system in northern cities. But providing intellectual and moral education to blacks was just as important to supporters of the school. The children of the poor would “receive a regular classical education, as well as those of their more opulent brethren.” The school would also provide an institutional basis for inculcating morals into free blacks. For middle-class blacks, the “present ignorant and degraded condition” of many working-class blacks reinforced the racist perceptions of blacks held by proslavery and colonizationist whites. Black reformers recognized that blacks had had few opportunities “for mental cultivation or improvement” but saw blacks’ lack of education as detrimental to the fight for racial equality.15 The black conventioneers identified the school as a way to combat whites’ claims of black inferiority.

The abolitionists’ focus on moral and intellectual training also reflected a desire to give blacks opportunities to move beyond working-class status. Black leaders of the 1830s believed that blacks’ low economic and social status reinforced whites’ racism. The American Colonization Society’s negative characterizations of northern free blacks as poor, as well as disproportionately criminal and reliant on public funds, encouraged this belief. In New York in particular, the 1821 suffrage law that gave political equality to blacks who proved their worth by achieving 250 dollars in property also implied that racism could be erased by movement beyond a lower-class status. These images and realities, combined with white workers’ refusal to work with blacks in skilled jobs, led the conventioneers to focus their energies on providing blacks not only with skilled training, but with something beyond skilled training—the intellectual skills and moral conditioning that they saw as necessary to move blacks economically, socially, and politically out of the realm of workers, into a more middle-class status. For New Yorkers, this would increase the number of black men who could participate in society as full, voting citizens.

The convention’s focus on improving blacks’ morality and class and citizenship status meant that the manual labor school project focused on the education and occupational training of young men. The all-male conventioneers never referred to the education of women in connection with the project. Many conventioneers may have felt that black women had already achieved a greater degree of morality than black men. Black women numerically dominated black church congregations, and in 1833 the conventioneers noted that “societies for mental improvement” had been established “particularly among the females.” But more important, women could not bring full citizenship status to the black community because no woman could vote. And to the degree that citizenship also implied public participation in political debate, many conventioneers may have believed that women should not speak in public.16

Such beliefs were shared by blacks in Boston, who had driven writer and orator Maria Stewart from the city in 1833. Stewart’s experiences in Boston and her migration to New York City illustrate the limits black people placed on black women’s political activism, She and her husband, James, a ship’s outfitter with a substantial income, were associates of David Walker. After James’s death in 1829 and Walker’s in 1830, Stewart’s religious commitment deepened, inspiring her to begin to work for greater justice and equality for blacks. In 1831, she went to the Boston offices of William Lloyd Garrison’s Liberator and presented Garrison with her first manuscript, a political essay encouraging blacks to demand their rights. Garrison was immediately drawn to Stewart and published many of her writings in his newspaper and later in pamphlet form. By 1832, Stewart had begun to deliver her addresses before secular, “promiscuous” audiences (audiences containing men and women). In both her writings and her speeches, she made women’s rights central to the struggles for black freedom and equality. But by 1833, the black community’s criticism of her outspokenness led Stewart to flee Boston, finding “no use for me as an individual to try to make myself useful among my color in this city.” Stewart settled in New York, worked as a schoolteacher, and participated in black women’s literary and benevolent societies. She may have lectured occasionally in the city, but the Colored American did not cover these events. Her public silence, whether real or created by New York City blacks’ conservative attitudes to black women’s participation in political activities, appears to have been typical of many of New York City’s black women. Black women were active in separate benevolent and literary societies in New York, but until the 1850s black men excluded them from public political leadership.17

Blacks did believe that women had an important role in improving the morality of the black community. In the 1830s, black male reformers and black women themselves created roles for black women as teachers in black schools and as organizers of benevolent and literary associations, These roles paralleled the mainstream emphasis on women’s roles as inculcators of moral values in children and ultimately in the wider society. Women did this through moral example and direct instruction in the domestic sphere. The domestic sphere also extended to associational gatherings on behalf of benevolent or intellectual causes, and these associations brought black women into the public sphere, albeit in initially proscribed ways. Black women were central to the first religious congregations but did not function as ministers or deaconesses in organized churches. Rather, women founded benevolent and literary societies under the umbrella of black congregations, and sometimes with the explicit leadership of men. In 1828, Peter Williams Jr. chaired the inaugural meeting of the African Dorcas Association and John Russwurm served as secretary. African Free Schools principal Charles Andrews had already drawn up a constitution for the association, which was to be composed of “Female[s] of Colour of a good moral character.” Manumission Society members lectured the meeting, which included women, on the need for the association, which would provide clothing for needy African Free Schools students. Four men, including Samuel Cornish, took the names “of all who feel desirous of joining the new Society.” Subsequently, the women elected their own officers and members and submitted notices to black newspapers announcing their meetings and encouraging cash and clothing donations, but they appear to have retained a male advisory board.18

Six years later, the founding of the Ladies Literary Society of the City of New York displayed the increased self-confidence of black women in public organizing. This confidence grew out of women’s involvement in the Dorcas Association; the two organizations shared leadership. Henrietta Ray served as secretary to the Dorcas Association as Henrietta Regulus; in 1834, she served as first president of the Ladies Literary Society. The Literary Society reflected the increased public speaking roles of women. Literary societies generally, black and white, allowed both men and women to practice the arts of written and oral expression. Members might read books or their own essays aloud, or even perform musical or dramatic pieces. These activities resembled familiar domestic–sphere activities, in which women might read aloud or perform for each other or for family members. Literary societies stretched the boundaries of the domestic sphere. Female literary societies allowed women to speak publicly, first among themselves, and then in front of audiences of men and women. Newspapers advertised their activities, inviting an unknown public, not simply family and close friends, to witness their readings and performances. Both men and women attended the third anniversary of the Ladies Literary Society, in which women gave addresses and performed music, poetry readings, and dramatic dialogues. The activities themselves, as well as their extensive coverage in Cornish’s Colored American, contrasted markedly with those of the African Dorcas Association a few years before.19

Black reformers believed that black women’s participation in literary and benevolent societies and maintenance of sheltered nuclear households could help all blacks achieve equality. But these activities and household practices were largely the domain of the middle class, For black reformers, the occupational and domestic lives of working-class black women could not move blacks ideologically or economically into the middle class or aid in the ideological struggle for black citizenship. Blacks and whites continued to view as degrading the domestic work most black women performed. Although sewing could lead women to own independent businesses as seamstresses or milliners, for most women needlework led them to labor at piecework, at home or in sweatshops. Theoretically, wages from such work might aid black families in improving their economic status, but in reality, employers paid black and white women’s work so poorly that their wages barely covered the basic necessities.20

At home, poor black women and their families relied on interfamilial networks of aid; their families were not sheltered in nuclear households. Living practices in which families shared apartments with single boarders or in which parents boarded their children with neighbors while they worked were common. Households were not delimited by biological ties, nor families by household spaces. Middle-class blacks were not immune to such arrangements. Henrietta Ray lived with Samuel Cornish and his wife for several years while her husband Charles worked as an agent and traveling reporter for Cornish’s Colored American. Other black activists also traveled as agents or lecturers for the abolitionist cause, leaving families at home. But middle-class blacks saw such arrangements as temporary and did not judge them as they did working-class living arrangements, Working-class blacks’ living situations were subject to intrusions by reformers such as Samuel Cornish, who visited black families to judge their fitness as part of the enrollment process of the African Free Schools. Working-class black families may have desired more privacy, or at least the ability to choose, but the fiscal fragility of their lives limited their options.21

The black male delegates to the Convention of the Free People of Color ascribed to middle-class views of men’s and women’s roles. They sought to make black men the sole breadwinners in their families. Black women should use their domestic skills to improve their own families, rather than working for white families at the expense of their own. These ideals were nearly impossible for the majority of black families to achieve—including the families of conventioneers themselves. But the convention’s focus on elevating the citizenship status of blacks through middle-class methods meant that the male conventioneers ignored the education of black women as part of the manual labor school project.

Although blacks from New York and Philadelphia shared the leadership of the Convention of the Free People of Color, New Yorkers dominated the leadership of the manual labor school project. The black delegates from Philadelphia had been relatively successful in carving out a niche in the urban economy there. Convention delegates such as William Whipper and James Forten parlayed their skills as woodsawyers and sailmakers into substantial fortunes. Robert Purvis inherited a large sum from his white father, a cotton broker who had moved from Charleston, South Carolina, to Philadelphia with his mulatto wife and children in 1819. Further, the link between property ownership and voting in Philadelphia was not explicit as in New York, Under Pennsylvania’s Revolutionary War—era constitution, anyone who paid a certain amount in taxes could vote, resulting in access to suffrage for 90 percent of Pennsylvania’s men. When Pennsylvania legislators revised the constitution in 1838, they kept tax payment as the basis of suffrage, but excluded blacks completely. Thus, white Pennsylvanians excluded blacks from the polls by threats and physical force before 1838, and by race afterward.22

In contrast, none of the New York delegates, with the possible exception of restaurateur Thomas Downing, were as wealthy as the Philadelphia delegates, Although both cities contained large numbers of poor blacks who needed skilled training, the New York delegates appear to have been more understanding of the difficulties of life for poor blacks than the Philadelphians, probably from personal experience. Samuel Cornish, general agent for the school, and members of the New York-based Executive Committee (Peter Williams Jr., Philip Bell, Thomas Downing, Peter Vogelsang, and Boston Crummell) were middle class or aspiring to that status. But few professional New York City blacks in the 1830s were able to maintain a middle- class standard of living without resort to some form of manual labor. The lives of some of these men were a mixture of middle-class status or aspirations and working-class occupations. Samuel Cornish had been the pastor of a black church as well as a founder of Freedom’s Journal and its successors, the Rights of All and the Colored American. But Cornish opened a shoemaker’s shop in 1836 to augment his income, Philip Bell was coeditor of the Colored American and kept an intelligence office, which for a fee matched up employers seeking domestic servants with employees. But he also peddled coal to make ends meet. Boston Crummell, the father of Alexander Crummell, the black minister and leader, harvested and sold oysters. He was prosperous enough to contribute funds to the founding of Freedom’s Journal and, it was rumored, to hire a white teacher to tutor his children outside of their classes at the African Free Schools. But his occupation ranked low in terms of social status,23 Perhaps because of their own precarious financial situations, these men sought to remove blacks from reliance on casual or unskilled labor, Such labor was poorly paid and would not help blacks attain the property necessary to vote. Additionally, wary whites of all classes continued to view unskilled or casual labor as degrading; thus, such labor was ideologically harmful to the cause of black equality.

Although New York’s blacks may have seen in the manual labor school an opportunity for the elevation of the black community beyond the working class, the reasons behind white support of the school were not the same. New York merchant Arthur Tappan’s support of the manual labor school project was part of his evolution from colonizationist to radical abolitionist, and his views on labor were bound up in that transformation. As a supporter of colonization in the late 1820s, Tappan was also a founding member of the short-lived Society for the Encouragement of Faithful Domestic Servants in New-York. Not coincidentally, the organization formed in 1826 as slavery drew to an end in New York, and as the first wave of Irish immigrants entered the city and moved into domestic work. The society’s organizers felt that “the number of faithful and respectable servants in our city, has, latterly, been quite inadequate to our wants.” Reasons for this shortage included “the very genius of our government,” a veiled reference to emancipation. Additionally, though, domestics may have tried to find jobs that paid better, that gave them greater independence, or as the society noted, jobs “which the pride of servants leads them to consider as being more reputable than their own.” Domestic work was difficult and dirty; additionally, female and male domestics feared physical and sexual abuse in the intimate home environment.

But most trying to employers was what they perceived as their servants’ “love of incessant change,” or the movement of domestics from household to household in search of better situations. Servants changed jobs for many reasons, including better wages, family obligations, or illness. Female domestics may have sought other jobs after marriage or opted to stay home with their own families. But the primary concern of Tappan’s organization was the disruption to middle-class households caused by domestics’ alleged “love of change,” rather than the conditions that led to such change. As the society stated in its first annual report, “we are very dependent upon our Domestic Servants for a large share of our daily family comforts . . . bad Servants are alone sufficient, if not to destroy, at least to mar, much of the calm happiness of domestic life.” The society tried to discourage domestics from leaving their jobs by rewarding “faithful and respectable” servants with cash prizes and public recognition. The society also established an intelligence office to assist both “masters and servants” in obtaining mutually pleasing situations. Through such rewards, the society hoped to inculcate domestic servants with pride in their work, even though it was humble. “There is nothing inherent in republicanism,” the society stated, “which incapacitates the humble in life from filling the unobtrusive, but not unimportant, station of servant, with proper humility and faithfulness. Such a person forms one of the connecting links by which society is bound together, and the meanest link in the chain is of cardinal importance to the rest.”24

Tappan remained on the board of managers of the Society for the Encouragement of Faithful Domestic Servants until it dissolved in 1830. But Tappan’s concern with inculcating workers with morality, good work habits, “loyalty,” and acceptance of low-paying, low-status occupations continued. Tappan supported an apprenticeship system for freed southern slaves, which would perform the same end of teaching newly free workers habits of industry. Thus, Tappan’s support of the manual labor school project may have come mostly from a desire to form loyal, moral workers, and less from a desire to elevate blacks to the middle class, Tappan’s goal to educate blacks did not necessarily mean that blacks should move beyond the working class.25 Probably none of the other white supporters of the school were initially concerned with such issues either.

The goals of the various constituencies in support of the manual labor school project in the 1830s were not forced to a resolution in practice, however, for the school was never built. Garrison, Arthur Tappan, and the other white visitors to the 1831 convention gave the black conventioneers one year to. raise the twenty thousand dollars necessary for the establishment of the school in New Haven, Connecticut. Tappan also bought land for the school near Yale University. But a protest rally of seven hundred of New Haven’s white residents against the school stalled the project in 1831. Samuel Cornish and his agents continued to collect money for the school but were unable to. find a new site on which to build. Most predominantly white towns in the northeast feared that the establishment of black schools would increase their black populations. Additionally, Arthur Tappan’ retreated from full support of the project, skeptical that other communities would welcome the school if the “friendly, generous, pious and humane” residents of New Haven had not. The newly formed New England Anti-Slavery Society also attempted to raise funds for the school, but was unsuccessful.26

Divisions among blacks as to the purpose of the school also contributed to the downfall of the project. In 1834, black Philadelphians took over leadership of the school project. William Whipper, Robert Purvis, James Forten, and other Philadelphians were less concerned with the material elevation of blacks than with the moral reform not only of the black community, but of the entire nation. Whipper led the establishment of the American Moral Reform Society, which at the 1835 convention gained control of the manual labor school project. The Moral Reform Society’s control of the school project led to a greater concern with the personal morality of blacks. The Philadelphians believed that moral improvement was the best way for blacks to improve their status. Although morality and economics were related in the minds of New Yorkers, the emphasis of the Philadelphians on individual moral reform provided fewer options for collective or material means to provide working-class blacks with employment. Samuel Cornish said of the society that they were “vague, wild, indefinite and confused in their views.” Not opposed to moral reform, Cornish noted that the Cranberry Moral Reform Society, auxiliary to the American Moral Reform Society, had in its constitution made “definite” plans to reform “the people of color of Cranberry” by giving “the rising generation a good education, and instructing them in some’ useful occupation; second, by the general diffusion of useful knowledge among all classes of adult persons; third, by promoting among us the moral virtues of Christian graces, and the refinements of civilized life.” Cornish and other black New Yorkers linked material improvement to moral improvement more strongly than most Philadelphia leaders.27

Additionally, the Philadelphians who founded the American Moral Reform Society did not want to build a school that would serve only blacks, Conventions, schools, and other organizations and institutions that invited only blacks to participate reinforced the lines of race, and thus racism. Despite the fact that blacks had far less access to skilled training than whites, the Moral Reform Society voted in 1836 that any schools the society tried to establish should not be designated solely for “the free people of color,” but should address “the white as well as the colored community,” Black improvement should be subsumed in the improvement of all of American society, Additionally, the words “of color” and “colored, implied degradation” and should not be associated with institutions and other efforts made by blacks for their improvement. The Moral Reform Society’s refusal to address problems specific to blacks led many blacks to reject the society and refuse to give funds to the school.28

The Moral Reform Society also contributed to the foundering of the black convention movement after 1835. The Philadelphians and New Yorkers had struggled throughout the 1830s over leadership of the convention movement, In 1836, the Moral Reform Society scheduled its first meeting in Philadelphia at the same time that New Yorkers in charge of the black convention had scheduled the annual meeting in New York. Although the New Yorkers ultimately did not hold a meeting that year, they also refused to attend the Moral Reform Society’s meeting. Such infighting led to the collapse of the convention movement. As the Moral Reform Society alienated blacks, and the convention movement collapsed, the manual labor school project lost a stable source of black support. The national effort for a black-controlled manual labor school lay dormant until the revival of the convention movement in the 1840s. At that time, a new set of more secular leaders and concerns would animate the discussion.29

As the national manual labor school project and the black convention movement foundered, New York City blacks established local societies and schools to work toward the original goals stated in the convention’s support school project: moral, intellectual, and occupational training for blacks. The most successful was the Phoenix Society, established in early 1833 by Samuel Cornish and his protégé, Theodore Wright. Wright, as with so many other black New York educators and reformers, had attended the African Free Schools in the 1820s. After completing his studies at the Princeton Seminary, he succeeded Cornish as pastor of the First Colored Presbyterian Church in New York City in 1828.30 African Methodist Episcopal Zion bishop Christopher Rush was named president of the society, and Samuel Cornish acted as general agent. White reformer Arthur Tappan acted as treasurer and provided financial support. The Phoenix Society would provide blacks of all ages with guidance in “morals, literature and mechanical arts,” through education, cultural activities, job training, and employment assistance Plans included lecture series and circulating libraries, employment centers to assist young men in finding apprenticeships and long-term employment, and material aid in the form of clothing or food to the more destitute, The society opened a high school for young men in 1833 and one for young women in 1836. The African Dorcas Association collected and repaired used clothing to distribute to poor children attending these schools, as they did for poor children attending the African Free Schools. The Phoenix Society also sponsored an Evening School for Colored People, and eventually a Sabbath school taught by Lewis Tappan. These schools rented rooms, including some in the Broadway Tabernacle, which New York evangelicals associated with revivalist Charles Finney and radical abolitionism built in the 1830s to replace the smaller Chatham Street Chapel, The school for young women was more successful in attracting students than was the school for young men, enrolling thirty-five at its height. This was probably because adolescent boys in black families could earn more money working than adolescent girls. Thus, families were more likely to allow girls to attend schools for longer periods than boys. But neither high school sustained steady enrollments, and by 1838 both schools had closed for lack of funds.31

Following the closing of the schools, the Phoenix Society continued as one of several literary societies in the city, These literary societies were usually single-sex. The Phoenix Society welcomed “young men, from fifteen years old and upwards,” as did the Philomathean Society and the short-lived Union Lyceum. The Ladies’ Literary Society welcomed married and single women. Both male and female societies featured a range of lectures, musical performances, and poetry recitals by members and guests. The Phoenix Society’s 1841 lecture series featured among its twelve speakers John Peterson, a black New York City school principal, speaking on geography, and James McCune Smith speaking on the “Circulation of the Blood.” At an anniversary meeting of the Ladies’ Literary Society, members composed their own speeches and dialogues on such topics as “the improvement of the mind” and “on First Appearance in Company” (probably a series of examples on how to introduce oneself properly at social occasions). Membership in such societies ranged from those who “had considerable advantages of education” to those who had less education but sought to “improve their leisure hours.” But middle-class, educated blacks, and particularly, black ministers and their wives, dominated the leadership of such societies. Cornish, Rush, Wright, and Peter Williams Jr. continued to lead the Phoenix Society. Henrietta Ray, the first president of the Ladies Literary Society and a deeply religious woman herself, was the wife of Charles B. Ray, who worked as a traveling reporter for the Colored American before becoming a Methodist minister (albeit after Henrietta’s death), As with plans to build black schools, the literary societies encouraged moral reform as well as intellectual growth.32

The emphasis New York’s black reformers placed on education grew out of two concerns: improvement of their own condition and the abolition of slavery and racism’. On the one hand, northern blacks needed to improve their economic, political, and moral condition for their own survival. “If there is any one thing which we can do more than others, in the elevation and enfranchisement of our colored people, it is education.” Reformers repeatedly urged blacks of all classes, but particularly the lower classes, to obtain education. They feared that blacks had been “too negligent on this subject” and had not taken sufficient advantage of the multiple opportunities of receiving education available to them, from private and public schools, to free Sabbath and evening schools, reading rooms, and literary societies. Although at times black reformers focused on the education of black men as crucial, as in the case of the manual labor school project, women’s moral and intellectual education too was important, so that they could fulfill roles as teachers and as mothers.33

New York City’s free blacks were also under pressure to prove the success of northern emancipation. Exclusion from schools and skilled training prevented northern blacks from displaying their full moral, intellectual, and economic potential and thus proving unequivocally that blacks could live as free and equal citizens in the United States. But institutions such as the Phoenix Society schools and manual labor schools could provide the opportunity for blacks to prove they were equal to whites. New York City supporters of these schools sought in particular to create a black working class along middle-class lines. The combination of moral, intellectual, and skilled-labor education would result in a class of artisan scholars who possessed high- status skilled jobs and in their spare time read and discussed literature, art, and the sciences as well as the pressing political issues of the day. They would be much like their middle- and upper-class brethren. Additionally, the Phoenix Society hoped that some of its students would be prepared to enter middle-class professions, Such achievements would not only improve the conditions of free blacks, but also prove the correctness and possibility of the goal of immediate emancipation of southern slaves.

Black reformers’ establishment of free black uplift and immediate emancipation as interrelated goals became a central part of the goals of the American Anti-Slavery Society (AASS), formed in December of 1833. In its constitution, the society pledged to “elevate the character and condition of the people of color, by encouraging their intellectual, moral, and religious improvement, and by removing public prejudice.”34 Radical abolitionists acknowledged that the “removal of public prejudice” involved the education and improvement of whites. But blacks would also have to prove their equality. For middle-class abolitionists, black and white, the simplest way to do this was to adhere to middle-class norms of moral perfection. Abolitionists repeated the dictum “Every coloured man has it in his power to promote emancipation, by his Example” to blacks of all classes.35 But reformers aimed their efforts particularly at working-class blacks, whose habits colonizationists held up as a sign of the inability of all blacks to participate as equals in American society. Both black and white abolitionists encouraged temperance and education for blacks. AASS conventioneers encouraged blacks in other cities to follow the example of New York blacks and form Phoenix societies for their moral and intellectual improvement.

The American Anti-Slavery Society emphasized mass mobilization of antislavery support. In the first three years of its existence, the society distributed over a million pieces of antislavery literature and submitted nearly six hundred thousand antislavery petitions to Congress, signed by nearly one million people. Southern congressmen found these petitions so threatening to slavery that they successfully passed a gag rule that tabled all anti- slavery petitions automatically and prevented congressional debates on slavery. Undeterred, abolitionists continued public discussion of slavery at the local level. Radical abolitionists addressed their efforts to everyone so that by 1837, men, women, and even children, black and white, had formed over one thousand local antislavery societies, with a combined membership of two hundred thousand by 1840. Abolitionists wished to eradicate the sin of slavery from the nation; to do so, they sought to demonstrate to individuals how the choices they made in their daily lives could either uphold slavery or help to end it. The clothes one wore, the foods one ate, where one chose to spend money, for whom one chose to vote, and where and with whom one chose to pray were all part of the struggle against slavery. Free produce campaigns encouraged consumers to avoid buying slave-produced goods such as sugar and cotton. Men should vote only for political candidates who opposed slavery. Those who could not vote, namely, blacks and women, should sign the petitions that antislavery societies continued to send to Congress, despite the gag rule, and to state legislatures. Women organized antislavery sewing bees and sold their creations to supporters of abolition at antislavery fairs; the proceeds funded antislavery speakers and the publications of the local and national societies. Abolitionists encouraged even the poor and children to contribute to antislavery causes through “penny-a-month” campaigns. And if nothing else were possible, the abolitionists encouraged antislavery prayer. Christians should “come out” of, or leave, religious denominations that continued to characterize slavery as God’s will.36

North and south, many whites found the radicalism of the abolitionists disturbing, even if they themselves opposed slavery. As the anti-abolitionist and colonizationist New Yorker David Meredith Reece said of the radical abolitionists, they were “not the creed and practice of Jefferson, Franklin, Rush, and John Jay, of the old school, for those laboured for gradual abolition, and were clearly right.” Yet, the radical abolitionists were gaining power and support at the same time as those members of the old antislavery school who had converted to colonization were unable to raise money for their cause.37

In New York City, blacks and whites, men, women, and children all formed local abolitionist societies. Among white societies, many of the new radical abolitionists had previously been colonizationists, As abolitionists, their criticisms of southern slave labor now assailed one of the cornerstones of New York City’s economy. As southern newspaperman J. D. DeBow stated, New York was “almost as dependent on Southern slavery as Charleston itself,” and the city far outstripped Boston and Philadelphia in its reliance on southern trade. New York producers sold clothing (including the “negro cloth” that slaves wore), shoes, and luxury items south. Southerners shipped cotton, tobacco, turpentine, pork, and other raw goods and produce to New York. The New York port served as a center from which merchants shipped cotton as well as other southern goods to points up and down the East Coast and to Europe. New York also served as the central point through which European goods were shipped south. Southern ports such as Charleston, Savannah, Mobile, or New Orleans often shipped goods directly to Europe themselves, but New Yorkers managed early in the nineteenth century to establish the New York port as a major force in shipments between the South and Europe. Ships filled with goods from the South landed on the wharves of the East River, where they were reloaded onto ships bound for Europe. New York shippers collected heavy tolls on these goods. New Yorkers also established shipping lines in southern ports and thus profited from shipments that went directly from southern ports to Europe. New Yorkers were able to do this because most southerners were fully absorbed with the wealth to be made through agriculture and the slave trade. Antebellum writers estimated that New Yorkers earned as much as forty cents on every dollar’s worth of southern cotton sold. New Yorkers sold southerners between 76 million and 131 million dollars in merchandise annually. New Yorkers also held part ownership in southern factories, plantations, and slaves through business and family connections. Finally, wealthy southerners and New Yorkers socialized together. Many southern merchants and planters made annual trips to New York City to purchase goods, and some brought their families with them, viewing such trips as social and cultural as well as business opportunities. Southerners also vacationed in New York state resorts, such as Saratoga Springs. The reliance of New York’s economy on the southern trade meant that working-class whites also depended on the continuation of the slave labor system.38

In New York City, proslavery, colonizationist, and anti-abolitionist whites’ attacks centered on Arthur and Lewis Tappan. Migrants from New England, the Tappan brothers were the most visible of a new generation of radical, moral perfectionist reformers in New York City who sought to expunge a range of sins from the nation, from prostitution in northern urban centers to drinking to nonobservance of the Sabbath to slavery in the South. But even before the Tappans converted to radical abolition, New York City elites had begun to view Arthur Tappan as a threat to their way of life. As leader of New York City’s Magdalen Society in 1831, Tappan linked economics and morality in a harsh criticism of city elites’ participation in prostitution. The Magdalen Society, an organization to reform prostitutes, initially gained the support of a range of the city’s religious, social, and political leaders. In the wake of Charles Grandison Finney’s first New York City revival in 1829, some reformers had begun to address the issue of prostitution, particularly in the Five Points area. Princeton divinity student John McDow all spent a year leading prayer meetings in New York City brothels before founding the New York Magdalen Society in 1830 to organize the reformation of prostitutes. Lewis and Arthur Tappan were among the leaders of the society and the most generous contributors to its House of Refuge for reformed prostitutes. Under Arthur Tappan’s presidency in 1831, however, the society’s efforts to reform prostitutes became a discussion of the moral standards not only of wayward women, but also of some members of the city’s elite, In the 1831 annual report, using statistics gathered by McDowell and written under Tappan’s leadership, the Magdalen Society charged that New York City contained ten thousand prostitutes, and that the clients of prostitutes belonged to some of the city’s most prominent and respectable families.39

Some New Yorkers were outraged at what they saw as the slandering of New York and its best families by an upstart group of New England reformers. But members of New York’s best families were not just clients to prostitutes, they were entrepreneurs in the business of brothels. John Livingston, brother of founding father Robert R. Livingston and one of the most successful landlords in New York, built his wealth through brothels. John Delaplaine, an importer; George Lorillard, a tobacco entrepreneur; and Matthew Davis, a Tammany Hall politician, all profited from prostitution. In fact, a coalition of these wealthy and politically powerful men had already defeated several proposals before New York’s Common Council to raze houses of prostitution in the Five Points. The Magdalen Society’s annual report pamphlet threatened to mobilize a new alliance to eradicate the brothels. City elites and politicos quickly responded. Former mayor Philip Hone and General Robert Bogardus, Manhattan’s wealthiest real estate speculator, held anti-Magdalen meetings, railing against the “social influence of New Englanders in the City,” Newspapermen and Tammany leaders James Watson Webb, editor of the Morning Courier, and Mordecai Noah fanned the flames against the Magdalen Society and Arthur Tappan. Newspapers from Webb’s Morning Courier to the Working Man’s Advocate denounced Tappan, and there were rumors that angry men would physically attack him and his home. Surprised and fearful of the repercussions of his activism, Tappan quickly withdrew from the society, which dissolved within the year.40

The new public discussion of sex and morality in New York City continued in connection with the abolitionist movement.41 The Magdalen Society controversy did not explicitly touch on issues of interracial sex. Two years later, however, the Tappans’ embrace of radical abolition, and the formation of the American Anti-Slavery Society, resulted in the centering of amalgamation, or interracial socializing and sex, in New Yorkers’ political landscape. Unlike the word “miscegenation,” which Democrats invented in 1863 for the express purpose of demonizing black-white relationships and discrediting the Republican Party, the word “amalgamation” has a history beyond American nineteenth-century racial politics. In Europe and the United States, “amalgamation” described the blending of any two or more distinct groups of people through intermarriage or through nonsexual cultural exchanges. The British in 1775 used the word to describe the earlier historic mixture of Normans and Saxons, In the United States in 1811, the Emperor of Russia asked John Quincy Adams whether immigrants to the United States “all amalgamate well together,” implying an acceptable intermixture of people. But by the mid-183os, the use of the word “amalgamation” in the United States chiefly suggested negative attitudes about black-white sexual and social relationships, from intermarriage to casual sex to dancing and other forms of socializing. The offspring of interracial sexual relationships were also held up to adverse scrutiny.42

The abolitionist controversy of 1830s New York City was central to this redefinition. In the 1830s, black and white abolitionists made interracial cooperation a hallmark of their efforts. Black and white abolitionists attended political meetings together, worshiped together, and sometimes visited each others’ homes. Within abolitionist organizations, such actions were riot without conflict. The Ladies’ New York City Anti-Slavery Society, for example, refused to allow black women to join, and throughout the antebellum period, as Theodore Wright stated, white abolitionists struggled to “annihilate, in their own bosoms, the cord of caste.” But as anti-abolitionist whites recognized, the professed principles of the abolitionists had the potential to upset the power balance between the races in New York City, as well as to threaten the business relationships between southerners and New Yorkers.43

The abolitionists’ political tactics and goals blunted the attempt by some whites to remove New. York’s blacks from the political process by denying them the vote, and indeed from the polity completely by colonizing them in Africa. In their actions and words, abolitionists expanded the meaning of politics by relying on moral suasion and by questioning universal white manhood suffrage and even the Constitution as the best examples of democracy and equality, Abolitionists also demonstrated that political tactics previously deemed fit only for whites could in fact be used by blacks also. Abolitionists presented forums in which black men (as well as black and white women) discussed the political issues of the day as equals with white men, and black and some white abolitionists worked to obtain equal suffrage for blacks, The most radical abolitionists, such as William Lloyd Garrison, blurred caste lines between blacks and whites even more, When visiting black organizations, Garrison often said that he visited “as a black man” or spoke to blacks “as one of you.”44 Such actions did not simply reduce white abolitionists to the level of blacks, as some anti-abolitionists charged, but raised the possibility of blacks’ equality to whites and forced the questioning of the nation’s political process. In New York City, the interaction between the wealthy Tappans and blacks particularly disturbed white workers. The Tappans were representative of the new capitalists who stripped workers of lucrative skilled jobs and attempted to reform them during their leisure hours. Some white workers supported the antislavery movement and other reforms promoted by the Tappans, but for many, the Tappans’ association with blacks, and their admonishments to white workers to support moral reform and racial equality, were unwelcome attempts to change white workers’ way of life, with little in return in the way of increased economic or political opportunity.45

Although black and white abolitionists did not intermarry in New York City or elsewhere, some abolitionists did attempt to redefine public attitudes toward interracial sex in two major areas: they favored the legalization of consensual interracial unions, as might occur among free blacks and whites in the North; and they opposed those that were forced by southern slaveholders on slaves. In Boston in 1832, white abolitionists William Lloyd Garrison and Lydia Maria Child began a highly public campaign to repeal the Massachusetts law that forbade interracial marriage. In Child’s words, “The government ought not to be invested with power to control the affections, any more than the consciences of citizens.” 46 Lydia Maria Child, in her 1833 Appeal in Favor of that Class of Americans Called Africans, was the first abolitionist to denounce in print the rape of slave women by slave masters. Other abolitionists followed suit. At the first anniversary meeting of the American Anti-Slavery Society, held at the Chatham Street Chapel in New York in 1834, delegate James Thome of Kentucky related his observations of the “[y]oung men of talents and respectability, fathers, professors of religion, ministers—all classes!” who consorted with slave women and contributed to the “overwhelming pollution!” of the South.47 As had been true with the Magdalen Society, abolitionists were again openly attacking the sexual practices of elites. That women, too, were joining the discussion made the attack even more disturbing to the middle and upper classes.

Probably all abolitionists opposed sexual relationships between slaves and slave masters, and some became comfortable speaking against such relationships in public. But few abolitionists sustained as strong a commitment to interracial marriage as did Child and Garrison. In New York City in the late 1820s, black reformers denied that respectable blacks would wish to marry whites or participate in other forms of interracial socializing but admitted that “dissolute” blacks were indeed guilty as charged. Samuel Cornish and John Russwurm also blamed whites for initiating the contact by frequenting black neighborhoods. They stated, “Our streets and places of public amusement are nightly crowded” with white prostitutes and their white male clients. In an article in Freedom’s Journal, a black writer calling himself Mordecai responded to charges by the racist and colonizationist newspaper editor Manuel Mordecai Noah that blacks wished to marry whites: “I am not covetous of sitting at the table of Mr. N——, to hold [him] by his arm in the streets,—to marry his daughter, should he ever have one—nor to sleep in his bed—neither should I think myself honoured in the possession of all these favours.”48 Arguments by blacks against interracial marriage sought to uncouple the link between black equality and interracial sexuality. According to these writers, interracial socializing was not “respectable” and thus not a suitable goal of blacks seeking political equality.

The attitudes of abolitionists toward interracial socializing, sex, and marriage were thus far from simple approval. For the vast majority of abolitionists, black and white, their support of political and even social interracial interactions did not mean that they wished to intermarry, and indeed abolitionists stated repeatedly that they did not wish to, Yet abolition’s opponents in New York City, many of whom had earlier opposed the Magdalen Society, now sexualized and redefined the issues of immediate emancipation and black equality as the desire of abolitionists to encourage amalgamation in New York City. The abolitionist coalition did participate in controversial actions: they cooperated with British abolitionists and held up Britain’s record of antislavery as a positive moral example, which angered the strongly anti- British New Yorkers; they advocated temperance, which angered some workers; and they called for strict observance of the Sabbath, which angered some businessmen. But the abolitionists’ alleged support of amalgamation became the most provocative rallying point for anti-abolitionists, leading to the violent riots of 1834. The riots distorted the abolitionists’ call for moral change into imagined sexual relationships between black and white abolitionists. For supporters of slavery and racial conservatives, charges of amalgamation were a means to discredit abolitionists’ demands to end slavery and include free blacks as equals in the political and economic life of the city.

Soon after Arthur Tappan’s defection from the colonizationists to the abolitionists in 1833, white New Yorkers who supported southern slavery and black colonization attacked the emerging abolitionist coalition. In October 1833, a mob encouraged and led by New York Courier and Enquirer editor James Watson Webb attempted to disrupt the organizational meeting at Clinton Hall of the New York City Anti-Slavery Society, a local precursor to the American Anti-Slavery Society. The abolitionists, fearing such activities, had vacated the hall early. The rioters proceeded to hold a mock meeting in which they seized an elderly black man, named him Arthur Tappan,

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Fig. 18 This anti-abolition cartoon was one of a series that depicted the political activism of abolitionists as leading ultimately to intermarriage, Courtesy of the American Antiquarian Society.


and forced him to preside over the meeting and make a speech. When the man declared, “I am a poor, ignorant man . . . but I have heard of the Declaration of Independence, and have read the Bible. The Declaration says all men are created equal, and the Bible says God has made us all of one blood. I think . . . we are entitled to good treatment, that it is wrong to hold men in slavery,” the mob interrupted him, denouncing immediate emancipation and “immediate amalgamation” before dispersing.49

The incident was only the first in a series of public altercations linking immediate emancipation, racial equality, and amalgamation. Throughout early 1834, New York newspapers printed numerous articles about the “fanatical” abolitionists and their opposition to colonization, and white editors frequently linked the abolitionists’ goal of immediate emancipation to amalgamation (figs. 18 and 19). James Watson Webb’s Courier and Enquirer led the attack on the abolitionist coalition, During the annual meeting of the American Anti-Slavery Society, held in New York in May 1834, Webb and other anti-abolitionist newspaper editors raised the possibility of black annihilation or amalgamation as reasons to support the colonization of blacks and

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Fig. 19 An anti-abolitionist depiction of a content interracial family at home. A man resembling abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison stands in the doorway, arm in arm with a black woman, as a white manservant prepares to offer tea, Courtesy of the American Antiquarian Society.


to denounce immediate abolition. As “Quo” wrote in the New York Journal of Commerce (which ironically had once been owned by the Tappans), slavery in the United States could end only in “Colonization, Amalgamation, or Annihilation” of black people. Annihilation would occur after full emancipation because “the free blacks do not increase at all; on the contrary, they dwindle away. . . They have not within them that stirring spirit which stimulates the white sons . . . to penetrate the West, and people the world with intelligence and enterprise.” Of the supposed alternative, amalgamation, Quo stated, “There will never be an honorable and virtuous amalgamation of the races. . . A deluge of pollution must engulph our country, at the thought of which the heart sickens,”50 Quo offered the solution to the problems of annihilation and amalgamation; colonization, But according to Webb’s Courier and Enquirer, abolitionists prevented colonization from occurring. They “enticed” blacks to stay in the United States with “the prospect of being speedily admitted to a social equality with the whites.” Abolitionists, the paper stated, “invite the blacks to dine with them; send their children to school with them; and, what we know to be a fact, invite and encourage them to seat themselves in the same pews with white ladies; to thrust themselves into their places in steamboats, and to obtrude their aromatic persons in places whence the customs of society, and, let us add, the instincts of nature, have hitherto banished them.”51

These debates over the place of blacks in society sparked physical confrontations between blacks and whites that led to full-scale rioting in early July.52 The July riots began with the harassment of black and white abolitionists by a crowd of “hundreds of young men” who disrupted the abolitionists’ Fourth of July celebration in Chatham Street Chapel. On July 7, a black celebration of New York’s Emancipation Day in the same chapel was disrupted by members of the Sacred Music Society, who claimed they had rented the chapel for the same night. The interruption ended with blacks routing the musicians from the church, amid epithets and broken furniture. News of the incident spread on July 8, and between July 9 and 12, whites rioted, destroying the homes of white abolitionist Arthur Tappan and the homes and churches of black Episcopalian minister Peter Williams Jr., white Presbyterian minister Samuel Cox, and white minister Henry G. Ludlow of the Spring Street Church, as well as homes and businesses of blacks who lived in the interracial Five Points area.53

The three days of violence constituted the largest riot of the antebellum years in New York City. Although blacks had been the victims of mob violence before, this was the first time the issue of amalgamation was the explicit concern and rallying cry. The riots were so violent not simply because of the explosiveness of the amalgamation issue itself, but because this was an issue, and abolitionists a population, against which members of all classes of white New Yorkers united. Because working-class blacks and whites shared neighborhoods, particularly in the Five Points area, where much of the disturbance was centered, the meanings of black citizenship and amalgamation were of particular concern to them. Working-class whites wished to demarcate themselves politically and economically from blacks. Many of the rioters were skilled workers who feared the economic as much as the social effects of the new regime represented by the Tappans. The rioting continued with the approval of anti-abolitionist newspaper editors, police, and elites. The union of these groups with the white working classes led to an intense level of destruction.54

The charge of amalgamation focused the rioters’ hostility, but the riots revealed fears of increasing black political and economic power. Rioters destroyed Arthur Tappan’s house because allegedly he had entertained blacks there. Mobs attacked Peter Williams’s and Henry Ludlow’s churches because of rumors that the ministers had performed interracial marriages. Riotous crowds struck twice at Samuel Cox’s church. Cox had denounced the practice of segregating black churchgoers in “negro pews” and had described Jesus Christ as a dark-skinned man. Gangs of men attacked black residences in the interracial Five Points area fairly indiscriminately, but singled out some examples of black affluence for special harassment. Mobs destroyed the African Society for Mutual Relief Hall and a black-owned barbershop and physically assaulted a black barber from another shop. Isaiah Emory, a black shopkeeper, received a threatening note. Another black storekeeper feared that two brick houses he owned would be destroyed.55 The working-class white mobs displayed a mixture of fear about interracial sex, antipathy toward sharing neighborhood space with blacks of any class, and particular resentment of attempts to elevate blacks to equal standing either with themselves or with middle-class white abolitionists, whether through intermarriage, through rhetoric, or through the efforts of blacks themselves.

The abolitionists were unprepared for whites’ violent denunciation of black citizenship rights in the 1834 riots. The riots led New York City abolitionists to tone down the radicalism of their claims for immediate emancipation and black equality. On Saturday, July 12, following the dispersal of the rioters, white abolitionists Arthur Tappan and John Rankin, on behalf of the Executive Committee of the American Anti-Slavery Society, posted handbills throughout the city that stated, among other points, “We entirely disclaim any desire to promote or encourage intermarriages between white and colored citizens.” Despite the abolitionists’ repeated petitions to Congress against slavery, the abolitionists also stated their support of states’ rights to decide the fate of slavery, claiming that abolitionists did not “ask of Congress any act transcending their constitutional powers; which the abolition of slavery by Congress, in any state, would plainly do.”56 Soon after, white abolitionists also beat a fast retreat on some aspects of the issue of black equality. On July 17 and August 19, Tappan, Rankin, and other abolitionists (including black abolitionist Samuel Cornish) stated again that they had not encouraged interracial marriage. But the abolitionists also defined additional limits on action for the cause of black citizenship and equality, in particular withdrawing from a defense of black use of public space. They refuted rumors that prior to the riots, abolitionists had encouraged blacks to take over the streets and search for white women. They stated that they had not “encouraged colored men to ride up and down Broadway on horseback or, . . . put themselves forward in public parades,” nor had they encouraged “‘fifty of those’ colored lads ‘who belonged to a Sabbath school before the abolition measures commenced’ to ‘parad[e] [in] the street with their canes and dandy dress, [and seek] white wives,'” Those who spread these rumors had used them to exaggerate the distinctions between older methods of social reform for blacks and the new radicalism of the abolitionists, and they had invoked sexuality to provoke fear of the new movement. Under the new moral reform regime, the anti-abolitionists claimed, blacks were running amuck. To combat these ideas, abolitionists retreated more firmly into moral reform ideology. They also disavowed blacks’ public parades, even more strongly than Samuel Cornish and Peter Williams had in 1827, thus effectively giving over the streets to whites.57

The abolitionist response to the riots confirmed the power of the mob and the weakness of black claims to racial equality, middle-class standing, and political power within and outside of the abolitionist movement. In strongly rejecting interracial marriage, New York’s black and white abolitionists implicitly disassociated themselves from William Lloyd Garrison’s continuing campaign to repeal the Massachusetts law against interracial marriage. Abolitionists through the Civil War drew a distinction between opposition to legal restrictions on interracial marriage and their own personal actions. But in the wake of the 1834 riots, the Tappans and other New York abolitionists, both black and white, did not risk such a complex statement, instead rejecting the possibility of intermarriage completely.58

Further, white abolitionists, with the possible exception of William Lloyd Garrison, began to draw distinctions between blacks and whites that depicted blacks as a group as unlettered, even as white abolitionists continued to associate with middle-class blacks in their organizations. Such distinctions defined the limits of black equality, and the limits of white abolitionists’ role in helping blacks achieve equality. For example, Bostonian Lydia Maria Child wrote in 1834, “On the subject of equality, the principles of the abolitionists have been misrepresented. They have not the slightest wish to do violence to the distinctions of society by forcing the rude and illiterate into the presence of the learned and refined.” Abolitionists only wished to give blacks the same rights enjoyed by “the lowest and most ignorant white man in America.” But the lowest white man increasingly saw himself as by definition above the level of blacks. Further, Child’s statement implied that all blacks, to a degree, were “rude and illiterate,” The views of Child and other white abolitionists, as historian George Fredrickson has noted, “could be used to reinforce the unfavorable free-Negro stereotype that was promulgated by colonizationists and defenders of slavery.”59 Thus, because white abolitionists themselves reinforced views of blacks as inferior, their attempts to grant social and economic equality to New York’s blacks were in disarray,

Black abolitionists, too, retreated from the radicalism of interracial political activism. On July 14, white Episcopalian bishop Benjamin Onderdonk ordered black Episcopalian minister Peter Williams Jr. to either step down from the American Anti-Slavery Society or resign his position as minister. Williams not only left the society, but denied that he had played an active role there. Although elected to the Board of Managers at the society’s inaugural meeting, Williams claimed that he “never met with that Board but for a few moments at the close of their sessions, and then without uttering a word.” Williams also claimed that when he was elected to the Executive Committee at the AASS meeting held in New York in May 1834, he had “replied that I could not attend to it, and have never attended but on one occasion.” The procolonization newspapers of the city published Williams’s retreat from the AASS “with unfeigned pleasure.”60

For black reformers such as Williams, the solution to the abolitionist controversy was for blacks to focus on the reform of the black community, without the physical presence of white abolitionists. White abolitionists were best equipped to pursue the freedom of slaves and the political rights of free blacks; and black abolitionists were best equipped to prepare blacks for freedom and equality. In the wake of the 1834 riots Williams said that he wished the American Anti-Slavery Society “all success” in ending southern slavery, but that his own role, as a black reformer, “was exclusively … to labor to qualify our people for the enjoyment of these rights.” Samuel Cornish was more blunt when he stated that “white men are not calculated to judge of the abilities and adaptedness of colored men. . . . [Y]ou know our coloured population but in certain spheres of life. The intelligent among us, can descend with them into their different walks and associations, and therefore can better estimate, them under their various circumstances.”61 Williams and Cornish saw themselves and other middle-class, educated blacks as a bridge between the black community and racial equality. Their education and morality meant they understood what black people needed to do to achieve equality in the eyes of whites; and the ties of race gave them a special understanding of the conditions, needs, and desires of blacks. In the black neighborhoods and churches, they had more day-to-day contact with blacks than white abolitionists. But they, too, viewed the mass of blacks as inferior to whites, and perhaps to themselves, and believed that blacks needed preparation and education for citizenship. Thus, their overall goals did not differ essentially from those of white abolitionists: classical education, moral improvement, temperance, and other ideals were part of the moral-reform, middle-class agenda for improving society overall.

The increasing conservatism of black and white abolitionists in the wake of the 1834 riots complicated enactment of the American Anti-Slavery Society’s credo of racial uplift. For black abolitionists, conservatism meant less emphasis on interracial interactions and greater support for black education—occupational, intellectual, and moral. But for white abolitionists, greater conservatism led to a retreat from funding practical reform efforts to address the material and educational needs of northern free blacks; instead, the American Anti-Slavery Society focused on ending southern slavery. The New York abolitionists led this change in focus. As historian Aileen Kraditor has pointed out, abolitionists such as the Tappans, in calling for racial equality, had been “more radical than they realized. . . . [T]heir demand for the abolition of slavery linked with the establishment of political and civil equality of the races would require an alteration in American society more drastic than they thought or were by temperament prepared for.” Thus, in the wake of the 1834 riots, the first commitment of white abolitionists such as the Tappans was to the eradication of slavery. The existence of racial prejudice was troublesome, but not as troubling as slavery, and “while accepting both . . . goals of… emancipation and eradication of race prejudice … [they] wished to demonstrate to the potentially friendly sections of the white population that abolition was compatible with most customs and institutions. . . [T]hey were willing to accept partial gains as steps toward the ultimate goals.” White abolitionists also believed that if slavery ended, racism, too, would fall, and the condition of free blacks would improve. Abolitionist Gerrit Smith, of Peterboro, New York, stated that “until this slavery ceases — this enslaving of a man simply because he has African blood in his veins — the free colored population of this country will not be able to exchange their present debasing mockery of freedom for freedom itself.” This belief that only the end of slavery would end white prejudice allowed many white abolitionists to stop working to improve the conditions of northern free blacks.62

As a result of these reconsidered goals, black and white abolitionists began to part ways. Black abolitionists continued to believe that the improvement of the condition of northern free blacks was as important as the abolition of slavery, and that the two goals were interrelated. They needed American Anti-Slavery Society funds to assist them in their uplift programs for free blacks. But the AASS refused to fund such programs. Of the society’s thirty-eight traveling agents, only three were assigned to “the interests of our free colored brethren,” and in 1838 the society reassigned these three agents to other duties. In 1836, black New York abolitionist Theodore S. Wright asked each of the local auxiliary societies to appoint standing committees that would introduce “our colored brethren to the useful arts” and hopefully establish contacts between blacks and “such mechanics as are willing to teach them trades, and treat them as they do their other apprentices.” But the local societies concentrated their efforts in Ohio or among black communities of Upper Canada, away from the East Coast cities where the abolitionist leadership was centered, and where black problems were among the most acute. Both in New York City and nationally, white abolitionists’ aid to free blacks, and particularly working-class blacks, was characterized by a lack of serious, stable funding to schools and other projects that would improve blacks’ conditions and by an emphasis on individual moral and intellectual uplift rather than material means to improve blacks’ status.63


By the late 1830s, some blacks had become disillusioned with black and white abolitionists’ methods of pursuing black freedom and equality. They were critical of the ways middle-class abolitionists, black and white, tried to reshape the racial identity of blacks as a group along middle-class lines. Although these black critics were not always working class themselves, the criticisms of those like black porter Peter Paul Simons and middle-class grocer David Ruggles allowed for greater discussion of class distinctions in the black community and greater involvement by the mass of blacks in the abolitionist struggle. They challenged moral reform, skilled labor training, and classical education as inadequate solutions to the problems of racism and poverty in New York City and slavery in the South. Accepting the goals of immediate abolition of slavery and racial equality for blacks, they subtly or explicitly criticized the means. The Stewards’ and Cooks’ Marine Benevolent Society, for example, freely served alcohol at its annual gathering, toasting with wine the temperance advocates William Lloyd Garrison and Arthur and Lewis Tappan for their assistance with abolition. Reporting on this event, a Colored American editor, either Samuel Cornish or Philip Bell, stated his belief that “the angel of temperance could wink” at this “indulgence” among “men, spared by the perils of the sea [and] united after long separation.” 64 But Bell and Cornish viewed other objections to moral reform as more threatening to the cause of racial equality. Peter Paul Simons openly condemned the moral reform approach to black problems in several speeches to black benevolent societies in the late 1830s.65 In his speeches and interactions with other abolitionists, Simons proudly clung to his own working- class identity, encouraged blacks to utilize their own collective resources, and criticized what he saw as the class-, color-, and education-based prejudices of some middle-class black leaders. His outspokenness created enemies among middle-class reformers such as Samuel Cornish and Philip Bell.

In an 1837 speech before the Daughters of Wesley, a black women’s benevolent society, Simons criticized those tenets of moral reform that asserted female inferiority and the inappropriateness of women’s activism in the public sphere. Although seeing benevolence as the “brightest gem that adorns the female character,” he also asserted women’s intellectual equality with men and criticized men and women who saw women as inferior: “those females who considers there judgment [sic] less, ought to be outcasts of all popular societies; for there [sic] influence might excite the same opinion, of self incapability in many a promising damsel, and I sincerely contend, that where a female feels this inferiority, she is but a dead member to the intellectual and cultivated society of mankind.”66

Simons submitted the speech to the Colored American for publication, but editors Samuel Cornish and Philip Bell refused to publish it, allegedly because it would take too long to edit. An angry Simons charged the editors with “Prejudice against color.” He claimed that Cornish and Bell had not printed his speech because he was not part of the “straight haired gentry” or a college graduate. Simons distributed these charges in letters he mailed to black New Yorkers. To prevent further charges of color prejudice, Cornish and Bell printed the speech without editing it. In a subsequent edition, Bell discredited the speech and its writer in an editorial. Bell stated that Cornish had considered the speech “not worth publishing” and that he himself had thought the speech “worthless trash,” Bell claimed that the speech was unintelligible and that Simons’s audience “could not understand it any more than if it had been Greek.” 67

Some of Cornish’s and Bell’s criticisms of the speech were true. In written form, the speech is difficult to follow, full of unnecessarily long words and awkward phrasing. But Simons was probably partially correct in raising the charge of “color prejudice” against the editors. To claim “color prejudice” was not simply to talk about skin color, but to allude to the class divisions among blacks, which sometimes followed skin color, as well as beliefs about who was worthy of leading the community. Samuel Cornish had previously displayed a certain snobbishness toward the efforts of working-class blacks to rise to positions of leadership in the black community. In an obsequious letter written to the trustees and faculty of the African Mission School at Hartford in 1829 and reprinted in his short-lived newspaper the Rights of All, Cornish “begged leave” to suggest to the school administrators that they not admit any adults “whose dispositions, associations, and talents are not peculiarly adapted to the work, whatever may be his moral and religious character.” More particularly, Cornish questioned “the propriety of taking up young men who have spent twenty or twenty five years as common servants. Their minds scarcely can have escaped the contracting influence of their servile condition, they must be ignorant of the interests of their brethren, and destitute of the nobler feelings of the soul.”68 No doubt Simons’s occupation as a common laborer, and the possibility that he was self-taught, made him less reliable as a leader in Cornish’s eyes.

Cornish and Bell’s need to either edit Simons’s speech or prevent its publication entirely was also an attempt to prevent embarrassment to the newspaper itself. White newspaper editors read black newspapers and sometimes reprinted and criticized the articles blacks wrote, interpreting the articles as inferior or as examples of blacks “putting on airs.” The possibility that Simons’s article could be used as another example of the ineptitude of blacks in running their own affairs, or their attempts to “put on airs” by using words that whites claimed blacks barely knew the meaning of and could not pronounce, no doubt led the editors to want to suppress the speech.

But Simons’s speech was also threatening to the editors because of its political message. It contained a more powerful and forthright assessment of women’s roles and abilities than the rather formulaic praise of women’s mutual aid societies generally found in Cornish’s and Bell’s newspapers, Some middle-class black’ reformers in the 1830s believed that the opportunity to provide their wives with a sheltered home environment could erase some of the stigma of slavery. Slave owners blurred blacks’ gender roles by forcing women to do men’s work, such as fieldwork, and men to perform domestic service. Additionally, slave masters often prevented women and men from caring for their own homes. In New York City, such blurring or eliminating of traditional gender roles continued under freedom when men labored as sailors, away from home for months or years, and women worked as domestic servants, forced to leave their own families to someone else’s care. Cornish particularly championed traditional gender roles for black men and women as an aspect of moral reform. An article in the Colored American described the ideal roles of men and women:


Man is strong—Woman is beautiful

Man is daring and confident—Woman is deferent and unassuming

Man is great in action—Woman in suffering

Man shines abroad—Woman at home


Such ideals bore little resemblance to the lives of most black women, who worked outside the home to supplement the meager incomes that men earned. Cornish and Bell may have withheld Simons’s speech in part for its potentially inflammatory rhetoric about the place of women, not only in the home, but as public participants in the political and social concerns of New York’s black community.69

The circumstances surrounding the printing of Simons’s speech in the Colored American provide one of the rare instances for an analysis of the differing meanings of literacy and education among different sectors of the black population. Simons, a laborer, stated implicitly that his achievement of literacy was not part of the creation of a leadership elite based on education, and he did not use-his education to exclude from political-power those with less education. But some blacks, particularly those of or aspiring to the middle class, viewed education as a passport to leadership and a lack of education as a disqualification,

Simons and the Colored American editors came into conflict again in 1839. In a speech before the African Clarkson Association, Simons attacked the political usefulness of moral and intellectual reform for the black community. He stated that “moral elevation . . . has now carried it’s good to a climax.” The high level of moral elevation that the black community had achieved contributed to an enervation of the community’s self-respect and pride. The emphasis on morality led to “blind submission” and “soft manners when . . . addressing those of pale complexions.” These submissive attitudes were the “roots of degradation” of the black community, not blacks’ alleged immorality and lack of education. For Simons, “moral elevation” was “designed expressly . . . to hinder our people from acting collectively for themselves.”70

Simons also saw “intellectual elevation” as of limited use in the struggle against slavery and racism. Many who were educated and held positions as preachers still worked at menial jobs. Further, the educated created “classes of distinction” and looked down upon those who held laboring jobs, despite that, according to Simons, “the majority of the means among us, you will find among the laboring class.” Both moral and intellectual elevation, as defined by middle-class abolitionists, disrupted the unity necessary to the black community in its struggle against racial prejudice and slavery. Simons ended with a call to death-defying action on behalf of the rights of blacks. “Physical and political efforts are the only methods left for us to adopt,” he stated, For Simons, fighting to the death affirmed the Christian belief in the afterlife, He stated that “if our forefathers held the truths of immortality of the soul before their eyes,” they would have fought to the death, and “there would have been no such thing as African slavery, for they all would have died one by one, before they would remain one day in the clutches of captivity,” In words reminiscent of David Walker’s fiery appeal ten years earlier, Simons called free blacks to demonstrate action! action! action! and our will to be, or not to be . . . this we must physically practice, and we will be in truth an independent people.”71

‘Although Simons’s speech echoed the call to action of David Walker’s Appeal, Walker had preserved a leadership position for educated men and had encouraged moral and intellectual improvement. Walker called for slaves to seize their freedom by violent action only as a last resort. During Walker’s life, he and Cornish were colleagues, with Walker serving as the Boston agent and occasional correspondent for Cornish’s Freedom’s Journal. Although Cornish approved of Walker’s stands on intellectual and moral improvement, he did not support Walker’s advocacy of slave rebellion, even as a last resort. Cornish was committed to the radical abolitionist tenet of nonviolence, as was Philip Bell. In the Colored American, the editors attempted to diffuse the implications of Simons’s speech. Forced to print it by the Committee of Arrangements of the African Clarkson Association, they included it as a paid advertisement. Cornish and Bell hastened to assure their readers that they did not support Simons’s critiques of intellectual and moral elevation. “A miserable. people shall we be indeed, when we learn to despise or ridicule moral and intellectual elevation,” they stated. “A miserable people are many of us now, who delight in traducing the wise and good among us, and in making efforts to bring their well directed, sacrificing efforts into disrepute.”72 But Simons’s speech indicated that for some blacks the time for Walker’s last resort to violent action was approaching. Many blacks, even some black reformers, were disillusioned with moral and intellectual improvement as the central method to achieve black freedom and equality.


As Peter Paul Simons attacked the moral and intellectual exclusivity of organized abolition, David Ruggles and the New York Committee of Vigilance maintained that the abolitionist tactics of nonresistance and legal redress were not the sole defense of blacks accused of being fugitive slaves. In 1835, David Ruggles and other blacks founded the Committee of Vigilance, which drew on the devices and resources, of both working-class and middle-class blacks and whites. During its seven years of existence, the Committee of Vigilance presented an alternative vision of black activism arid citizenship, combining the abolitionists’ sometimes abstract call for black equal rights with the concrete issue of kidnapping to create a mass movement among New York City’s blacks. Ruggles’s vision of black citizenship and mass power threatened not only anti-abolition whites, but also the New York Manumission Society and black and white radical abolitionists.

The fugitive slave issue blurred the boundaries of slavery and freedom for New York’s blacks. This issue affected working-class and poor blacks as it affected no other group of New Yorkers. Between the passing of the federal Fugitive Slave Act of 1793 and the better-known Fugitive Slave Law of 1850, black and white New Yorkers debated, in the courts, newspapers, and streets, the rights of fugitive slaves and free blacks against those of southern slaveholders and slave catchers, who sought and seized fugitive slaves and sometimes captured free blacks and classed them as slaves. The 1793 Fugitive Slave Act enforced the fugitive slave clause of the Constitution, which stated that fugitive slaves were not “discharged from such service or Labour” that they owed in one state because of the laws of the state to which they escaped. Thus, northern states had a legal responsibility to return escaped slaves to their masters in the South. But the 1793 law left it up to local courts to decide enforcement. In New York State, this left legal loopholes, which both proslavery and antislavery forces tried to exploit.

Between the passage of New York state’s 1810 emancipation law and 1841, southerners could bring their slaves into the state for up to a period of nine months without threat of having the slaves freed. Once the grace period expired, the state’s legislature and higher courts often went out of their way to free eligible slaves, But slaves had to find their way to the courts in order to press for their freedom, Further, local governments were not as open to blacks seeking freedom. Local authorities rarely required slave masters traveling with their slaves in New York to prove how long they had been in residence. In New York City, law enforcement officers and courts were notorious for their zealousness in upholding the claims of slave masters who wished to keep their slaves, or who traveled north to seek fugitive slaves, And both state and local agencies were required by federal law to return any proven fugitive slave to his or her master upon proof of ownership, regardless of the length of the fugitive’s residency in the state.73

Before the completion of emancipation in 1827, blacks and white antislavery activists were more concerned about the attempts of New York’s slave owners to recoup their imminent losses by selling their slaves south in evasion of the emancipation law of 1799 than with the status of fugitive slaves. In their efforts to prevent the sales of New York State slaves, the lawyers of the Manumission Society generally found the local courts and magistrates helpful. But once New York’s emancipation was complete, threats to the. freedom of New York’s blacks, as well as to the fugitive slaves who made their way north in a steady stream, became more pressing. The clear directive of the 1793 law, combined with the zealousness of some New York City law enforcers who made a profitable business of slave catching, resulted in a very real threat to the freedom of black New Yorkers. In December of 1828, Freedom’s Journal warned that “[t]he business of arresting our brethren as runaways is still daily occurring in this city. . . . [W]e have heard, that a Slaveholder, has hinted the determination of himself and others to have five hundred at least, out of this city, during the winter.”74

From the 1790s to the early 1830s, the New. York Manumission Society had provided legal aid to fugitive slaves and to free blacks accused of being fugitives. But as with the African Free Schools, the Manumission Society’s link to the American Colonization Society and its conservative stance on southern emancipation made it ineffectual in the eyes of many blacks in the 1830s. Many Manumission Society members pledged to uphold the 1793 Fugitive Slave Act that radical abolitionists and blacks clearly opposed. At least one Manumission Society member acted as a lawyer on behalf of southerners attempting to retrieve their slaves. As had been true in the 1790s, when the society refused to exclude members who were slaveholders, the society did not discipline this member,75 As the Manumission Society receded in importance, the radical abolitionists began to address the new challenges facing fugitive slaves and free blacks in 1830s New York.

By the 1830s, City Recorder Richard Riker and Third Ward Constable Tobias Boudinot had become the most well known members of what blacks and white abolitionists called the New York Kidnapping Club. Riker and Boudinot were responsible, along with Daniel D. Nash, John Lyon, and two Virginians, Edward R. Waddy and F. H. Pettis, for re-enslaving fugitives as well as enslaving some free blacks. Nash, Lyon, Waddy, and Pettis acted individually or in concert as agents for slave owners, advertising their services in southern newspapers and seizing suspected fugitives on the streets of New York. They then appeared before any federal or state judge, or more likely the local magistrate and known southern sympathizer Riker, to offer oral or written proof that the person was a slave. If the judge believed the proof, the slave catcher took the person south. Anyone interfering with this process was liable to a five-hundred-dollar fine, a suit for injuries, or both.76

There were many reasons why New York City’s black working class particularly identified with the issue of fugitive slaves. The anonymity of life among the largest community of blacks in the North attracted many fugitives, and the majority of those who came to New York City entered the community of workers. In addition to these fugitive southern slaves, black workers in New York included former New York slaves and those who still had enslaved kin in the South. Working-class blacks’ jobs often entailed high visibility in public places frequented by southerners. In hotels and restaurants, black workers served southerners, who often brought their enslaved personal servants north with them on their travels. Those black men who worked the docks often saw ships at anchor in the harbor with illegal slave cargo aboard. At home, a more open street culture during domestic and leisure activities left working-class blacks more exposed to kidnappers than were middle-class blacks, Hannah Conyers, a seven-year-old child whose parents had sent her to a public pump to collect water, disappeared; her parents believed she had been kidnapped by slave traders, A French family held ten-year-old Jane Green for two months, hoping to sell her south. Francis Dallam of Baltimore claimed fugitive slave Dorcas Brown, who had been a domestic for three years in New York City; despite Brown’s New York employer’s offer to buy her freedom, Dallam returned with Brown to Baltimore, Sailors who journeyed south both before and after the passage of South Carolina’s Negro Seamen Acts in 1822 were at the mercy of the crews with whom they shipped not to sell them ashore for a handsome profit, as happened to James Emerson. Black working-class men, women, and children, whether fugitives or free, were therefore particularly vulnerable to being kidnapped and sold into slavery. Although high-profile abolitionists or community leaders who were fugitives were also open to this risk, these blacks were often surrounded by powerful whites, who could provide hiding places or money to send them as far away as Canada or Europe. The travails of working-class blacks in particular were often uppermost in the minds of abolitionists concerned with kidnapping.77

The informal and formal community networks and institutions that blacks established during this period to meet the necessities of life also provided the basis for blacks’ day-to-day political action in the struggle against slavery. Black workers took fugitives into their homes and communities, providing food, shelter, and clothing. The African Society for Mutual Relief built a hidden cellar beneath its hall where fugitives could hide. Although some whites were also involved in these activities, most escaped slaves turned to those most like themselves, trusting the visible tie of race and the relative anonymity provided by communities of working and poor blacks for guidance to safety.

Not all blacks could be trusted. Some saw an opportunity for money in turning in other blacks to slave catchers. A fellow fugitive from Baltimore told Frederick Douglass upon his arrival in New York that “the black people in New York were not to be trusted, . . . [T]here were hired men on the lookout for fugitives . . . who, for a few dollars would betray [fugitives] into the hands of slavecatchers,”78 But throughout the antebellum period, the vast majority of fugitive slaves placed their trust for day-to-day subsistence and survival in other blacks. Harriet Jacobs fled the South in 1842, passing through Philadelphia and Brooklyn before arriving in New York City. After reuniting with her daughter and other friends who”had left the south years ago,” she found employment as a nursemaid in New York City.79 Although she kept her fugitive status secret from her employers, she participated in the “many impromptu vigilance committees” established for fugitives in New York: “Every colored person, and every friend of their persecuted race, kept their eyes wide open. Every evening I examined the newspapers carefully, to see what Southerners had put up at the hotels. I did this for my own sake. . . . I wished also to give information to others, if necessary; for if many were ‘running to and fro,’ I resolved that ‘knowledge should be increased.'”80 Some blacks used physical force to protect themselves and others from those seeking fugitives and to protest court decisions that resulted in the enslavement of blacks. When police officers arrested Peter Martin, he “made a vigorous resistance, and wounded one of the officers, but was overcome by superior force, and carried to Bridewell [prison], covered with blood and bruises.” When a magistrate ruled that fugitive slave William Dixon be returned south in 1837, a black mob took matters into their own hands. As police led Dixon down the courthouse steps, a crowd surrounding the courthouse attempted to rescue him, giving him a knife and a dirk to aid in his escape. Police soon recaptured Dixon, who later won his freedom on appeal.81

Middle-class abolitionists focused on legal efforts to protect fugitive slaves. Radical abolitionists were nonresistants—that is, they avoided physical confrontation in their efforts to attain freedom for fugitives. Many also objected to the purchase of slaves’ freedom. To some blacks, such attitudes limited the methods open to fugitives and free blacks to retain their freedom. David Ruggles’s New York Committee of Vigilance attempted to utilize the resource’s of blacks themselves, alongside the opportunities for political action and legal services that white radical abolitionists offered, The committee attempted to shape a political organization with more cross-class unity and participation from members of the black community, and with less focus on moral and intellectual elevation. Under the leadership of the fiery Ruggles (fig. 20), the Committee of Vigilance incorporated the methods and abilities of blacks of all classes. But Ruggles’s willingness to use extralegal methods to rescue fugitive slaves and kidnapped blacks resulted in division Within the organization and his ouster in 1839 by more conservative forces led by Samuel Cornish.82

Ruggles structured the committee’s activities to involve large numbers of the New York City black community. An Executive Committee of eight black men included Ruggles, Theodore Wright, ex-slave and restaurateur Thomas Van Rensellaer, Samuel Cornish, British-born abolitionists William Johnston and Jacob Francis, and grocer James W. Higgins. The committee employed a paid agent, usually Ruggles, to seek out fugitives and offer them


Fig. 20 David Ruggles, founder of the New York Committee of Vigilance. Courtesy of the Amistad Collection, Tulane University 


shelter and legal aid, The Executive Committee facilitated the legal work necessary to free fugitives by forging ties with white abolitionists as well as some Manumission Society members who were sympathetic to their cause and had legal expertise. But the Committee of Vigilance was not simply a top-down organization. In addition to the Executive Committee, the organization formed an Effective Committee, which consisted of one hundred men and women, each of whom as to collect dues from ten to twelve of his or her friends, This was a much larger number than participated formally in either the antislavery societies or the national black conventions. In this way, the organization involved almost 10 percent of the black community, which numbered between thirteen thousand and sixteen thousand at this time. The Effective Committee also Spread news of the Committee of Vigilance’s activities through word of mouth. More formal methods of keeping the community informed of important news and events were the Executive and the Effective Committees’ monthly meetings and anniversary celebrations. Ruggles also publicized the exploits of the New York Kidnapping Club, the successes of the Committee of Vigilance, and the plight of free blacks and fugitives through newspaper articles in the Emancipator, the Colored American, and in his own short-lived newspaper, the Mirror of Liberty, between 1835 and 1841, Newspaper publishers expected that these newspapers would be read aloud in meetings, workplaces, and neighborhoods and passed along to others. In this Way, the names and tactics of members of the Kidnapping Club spread throughout the community, The committee used the courts, the streets, and the press to enable blacks of all classes to save themselves and others from slave catchers. The committee saved approximately 1,373 fugitives and free blacks from slavery. In its most important legal victory in 1840, with the help of Manumission Society lawyers, the Committee of Vigilance won the freedom of William Dixon, and thus the right to trial by jury for fugitive slaves in New York.83

The Committee of Vigilance had the support of William Lloyd Garrison and other white abolitionists. But most important, it had the support of free blacks themselves. Thomas Van Rensellaer, chair of the organization in 1836, stated, “The colored people of the city [are] awake. . . . [I] never saw them pay in their money so freely and so promptly as to this committee. [I suppose] that the reason [is], that this [is] practical abolition.”84 David Ruggles himself drew many blacks to the Committee of Vigilance, Despite his nominal position as secretary, most within and outside the organization recognized him as its driving force. Born a free man in 1810 in Norwich, Connecticut, he came to New York at the age of seventeen and within two years had established a grocery business. In 1833, he gave up his business to become a traveling agent for the Emancipator, a position he retained until he founded and became the agent for the New York Committee of Vigilance.85 By the age of twenty-five, he was one of the most well known black leaders in New York City. Abolitionist Frederick Douglass, describing his arrival in New York City as a fugitive slave in 1838, stated that “Mr. Ruggles was the first officer on the underground railroad with whom I met after reaching the north, and, indeed, the first of whom I ever heard anything.”86

Ruggles was a man of action. In 1836, in attempting to rescue slaves from a Brazilian ship docked in New York, Ruggles was jailed and accused of assisting a slave to escape and of inciting a riot. His fiery temper, pointed newspaper articles, and most of all his dramatic attempts to rescue fugitives drew the wrath of New York’s proslavery whites. When Ruggles brought suit against a man illegally holding a black person enslaved in New York, the New York Express stated that Ruggles’s efforts to free the slave would “embarrass trade,” The New York Gazette also displayed disgust with Ruggles’s flouting of the fugitive slave laws and his transgression of racial boundaries: “Negroes with a white skin [meaning white abolitionists] are disgusting enough . . . but for native born citizens of the United States—without the advantage of black blood—to be harassed in this way by the genuine soot, is a little more, we trust, than will be submitted to.” 87 Ruggles’s actions also furthered divisions between New York Manumission Society members and abolitionist activists. When a newspaper mistakenly identified Ruggles as secretary of the Manumission Society, a member of the society pointedly replied, “Ruggles is a colored man, and is Secretary of a Vigilance Committee of colored persons in this city . . . who have no connection whatever with the Manumission Society.”88

Within the Committee of Vigilance, divisions erupted over the definition of “practical abolition.” In late 1836, the committee agreed to the resolution that “while we the people of color, are deprived of that bulwark of personal freedom, a trial by jury, it is vain to look for justice, in the courts of law.” The committee resolved to continue to fight for this right through legal means, such as petitioning the legislature and bringing new court cases before judges in hopes of a positive ruling.89 But after the negative verdict in the 1837 William Dixon case and the mob actions that followed, the committee divided over the use of physical force to defend fugitives from reenslavement. Samuel Cornish renounced the crowd’s tactics. He advised the “thoughtless” and “ignorant part of our colored citizens” to leave the care of such cases to the “intelligent and efficient Vigilance Committee” and its “eminent lawyers.” He singled out “those females” who “so degraded themselves” for “everlasting shame” and “[beg]ged their husbands to keep them at home for the time to come.” Cornish thus defined the Committee of Vigilance as an organization for the educated to aid working-class blacks, rather than an organization in which working-class blacks might participate, Blacks should avoid “going to the Courts at all, or assembling in the Park, on the occasion of fugitive trials—you can do no good, but much harm.”90

In contrast, Ruggles, in the wake of a trial later that year which failed to protect a black person from re-enslavement, proposed a resolution that the committee “cannot recommend nonresistance to persons who are denied the protection of equitable laws when their liberty is invaded and their lives endangered by avaricious kidnappers.” This statement tacitly endorsed the direct action some blacks took in New York and other cities to rescue those accused of being slaves. Committee members and ministers Theodore Wright, Charles B. Ray, and others opposed Ruggles’s proposal as “inconsistent with the peace principles advocated by the members of the [American Anti- Slavery Society], and to the spirit and tendency of every other resolution.” After a heated discussion and three separate votes on the resolution, “the chairman decided it carried to rejection.”91 The struggle among the Committee of Vigilance members reflected struggles within the wider antislavery movement. An angry mob had killed Illinois abolitionist newspaper editor Elijiah Lovejoy just a few weeks prior to the vote. Some abolitionists believed that Lovejoy, in his final hours, had betrayed abolitionist principles by physically defending his printing press against the mob, but neither Garrison nor the Tappans, both strong nonresisters, condemned Lovejoy, Without doubt, Ruggles, Ray, Wright, and Cornish were aware of the heated debates over nonresistance both before and after 1837. Ray, Wright, and Cornish’s belief that blacks should be nonresisters reflected their strong support of the nonresistance element of abolitionist moral reform, but their promotion of nonresistance also resulted from their reluctance to approve the use of public space and mass power by blacks as methods of displaying and achieving political citizenship and racial equality. Pragmatically, black mob actions could lead to worse violence against blacks, as they had already Witnessed in the 1834 riots and in the death of Elijiah Lovejoy.92

Unfortunately, though, other tensions tore the Committee of Vigilance apart by 1840 and permanently damaged Ruggles’s standing among other reformers in New York City. In 1838, John Russell sued the Colored American and the Committee of Vigilance for libel and won a judgment of 220 dollars. In 1837, Ruggles gave Cornish a letter that accused Russell of assisting in kidnapping three black men and placing them aboard a ship headed south, and the Colored American published the letter. Russell, a black man, owned a boarding house for black sailors; such an accusation could have destroyed his business. The judgment and legal fees resulting from the suit, totaling almost 600 dollars, bankrupted the Committee of Vigilance and severely damaged the finances of the Colored American.

Cornish blamed Ruggles for sending him the letter without checking to see if the information was correct. Cornish stated that he had always questioned Ruggles’s “judgement” and “prudence” and believed that his assistance to. fugitives was harmed by Ruggles’s attraction of “public fame” through his activities. Despite their differences, Cornish stated that he had “defend[ed Ruggles] against those who would have eaten him up.” But the fiasco of the false accusation ended the collegial relationship between Ruggles and Cornish. Despite Ruggles’s leading role in forming the Committee of Vigilance and attracting large numbers of blacks, Samuel Cornish forced his resignation in 1839. The committee’s activities lapsed until the formation of a state committee in 1848 with the Quaker abolitionist Isaac Hopper at its helm. The presence of Quaker leadership insured quieter, legalistic methods of rescuing slaves. Ruggles himself, who was going blind, lived in poverty in New York City until 1842, when Lydia Maria Child invited him to Northampton, Massachusetts. There, he founded the first hydropathic (water cure) center in the country after a course of treatment partially restored his eyesight. He remained in Northampton until his death in 1849.93

Meanwhile, William Seward’s term as governor of New York between 1839 and 1843 provided abolitionists and blacks throughout the state with stronger legal tools in their struggles on behalf of accused fugitives. During his campaign, Seward, a Whig, had given no hint of his support for blacks’ rights. Once in office, however, Seward signed into law a series of bills passed by the Whig-dominated legislature that gave fugitives in New York State greater rights than ever before, and more rights than blacks had in any other northern state at the time. In 1840, Seward signed a law guaranteeing alleged fugitives a jury trial, taking the power to return blacks to slavery out of the hands of proslavery individuals like Richard Riker. Additionally, county district attorneys had to defend accused fugitives in court. Finally, those bringing alleged fugitives to court had to provide a “penal sum” of one thousand dollars as guarantee against court costs in case the person seized was not a slave.

Another law Seward signed that year allowed the governor to appoint agents to negotiate the rescue of free blacks kidnapped and sold south, Until the Civil War, New York governors used this law to help illegally enslaved free blacks return to their homes in New York. In 1841, Seward signed legislation that repealed the law allowing southern slave masters to bring and retain their slaves in New York state for nine months. With this law, slaves brought to New York with their masters gained their freedom as soon as they touched New York soil. (Slaves who came to New York without their masters as runaways, however, had to be returned to their masters under the fugitive clause in the federal constitution.) Seward also openly refused to extradite to southern states black and white men accused of assisting slaves escaping slavery, gaining the enmity of many slaveholders. In four years, Seward and the state legislature expanded the rights of fugitives as far as was legal under the federal constitution.94


The 1830s tested the limits of radicalism of both black and white abolitionists. Middle-class abolitionists displayed the limits of their activism most. clearly in their attitudes toward the actions and needs of the black masses. The ways abolitionists addressed the material needs, legal rights, and political participation of working-class blacks were rooted in their own evolving middle-class interests. Further, white abolitionists’ focus on southern slavery, their own prejudices, and their fears of the racism of other whites led to a faltering of the project of full racial equality for free blacks by 1840.

By the end of the 1830s, some blacks believed that the abolitionists’ methods were inadequate to address the material needs and political desires of the mass of blacks. Despite attempts to silence Peter Paul Simons and David Ruggles, both men had pointed the way to alternative political actions on behalf of abolition and black equality that could involve greater numbers ‘ of blacks across class lines. After 1840, changes within the abolitionist movement allowed a more secular black leadership to gain influence and build on these ways for abolitionists to reach out to black workers.



Black-White Intermarriage in

American History, Literature, and Law

Edited by

Werner Sollors







Oxford New York

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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Interractalism: Black-white intermarriage in American history,

literature, and law / edited by Werner Sollors.

p. cm.

Includes bibliographical references and index.

ISBN 0-19-512856-7; ISBN 0-19-512857-5 (pbk.)

1 Interracial marriage—United States—History. 2.Miscegenation—United States—History, 3. Racially mixed people—United States—History, 4. Miscegenation—Law and legislation—United States—History. 5 Miscegenation in literature. 6, Racially mixed people in literature. I. Sollors, Werner.

HQ.1031.l8 2000

306,8460973—dc21 99-32521

9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2

Printed in the United States of America

on acid-free paper


In memoriam

A. Leon Higginbotham, Jr.

(February 25, 1928-December 14, 1998)


Miscegenation Law, Court Cases, and Ideologies of “Race” in Twentieth-Century America*



On March 21, 1921, Joe Kirby took his wife, Mayellen, to court. The Kirbys had been married for seven years, and Joe wanted out. Ignoring the usual option of divorce, he asked for an annulment, charging that his marriage had been invalid from its very beginning because Arizona law prohibited marriages between “persons of Caucasian blood, or their descendants” and “negroes, Mongolians or Indians, and their descendants.” Joe Kirby claimed that while he was “a person of the Caucasian blood,” his wife, Mayellen, was “a person of negro blood.”1

Although Joe Kirby’s charges were rooted in a well-established—and tragic— tradition of American miscegenation law, his court case quickly disintegrated into a definitional dispute that bordered on the ridiculous. The first witness in the case was Joe’s mother, Tula Kirby, who gave her testimony in Spanish through an interpreter. Joe’s lawyer laid out the case by asking Tula Kirby a few seemingly simple questions:


Joe’s lawyer: To what race do you belong?

Tula Kirby: Mexican.

Joe’s lawyer: Are you white or have you Indian blood?

Kirby: I have no Indian blood.

……………………… …………………… ………………..

Joe’s lawyer: Do you know the defendant [Mayellen] Kirby?

Kirby: Yes.

Joe’s lawyer: To what race does she belong?

Kirby: Negro.


Then the cross-examination began.


Mayellen s lawyer: Who was your father?

Kirby: Jose Romero.

Mayellen’s lawyer: Was he a Spaniard?

Kirby: Yes, a Mexican.

Mayellen’s lawyer: Was he born in Spain?

Kirby: No, he was born in Sonora.

Mayellen’s lawyer: And who was your mother?

Kirby: Also in Sonora.

Maellen’s lawyer: Was she a Spaniard?

Kirby: She was on her father’s side.

Mayellen’s lawyer: And what on her mother’s side?

Kirby: Mexican.

Mayellen’s lawyer: What do you mean by Mexican, Indian, a native [?]

Kirby: I don’t know what is meant by Mexican.

Mayellen’s lawyer: A native of Mexico?

Kirby: Yes, Sonora, all of us.

Mayellen’s lawyer: Who was your grandfather on your father’s side?

Kirby: He was a Spaniard.

Mayellen’s lawyer: Who was he?

Kirby: His name was Ignacio Quevas.

Mayellen’s lawyer: Where was he born?

Kirby: That I don’t know. He was my grandfather.

Mayellen’s lawyer: How do you know he was a [S]paniard then?

Kirby: Because he told me ever since I had knowledge that he was a Spaniard.


Next the questioning turned to Tula’s opinion about Mayellen Kirby’s racial identity.

Mayellen’s lawyer: You said Mrs. [Mayellen] Kirby was a negress. What do you know about Mrs. Kirby’s family?

Kirby: I distinguish her by her color and the hair; that is all I do know.22


The second witness in the trial was Joe Kirby, and by the time he took the stand, the people in the courtroom knew they were in murky waters. When Joe’s lawyer opened with the question “What race do you belong to?,” Joe answered “Well. . . .” and paused, while Mayellen’s lawyer objected to the question on the ground that it called for a conclusion by the witness. “Oh, no,” said the judge, “it is a matter of pedigree.” Eventually allowed to answer the question, Joe said, “I belong to the white race I suppose,” Under cross-examination, he described his father as having been of the “Irish race,” although he admitted, “I never knew any one of his people.”33

Stopping at the brink of this morass, Joe’s lawyer rested his case. He told the judge he had established that Joe was “Caucasian.” Mayellen’s lawyer scoffed, claiming that Joe had “failed utterly to prove his case” and arguing that “[Joe’s] term racialism to be broad enough to cover a wide range of nineteenth-century ideas, from the biologically marked categories scientific racists employed to the more amorphous ideas George M. Fredrickson has so aptly called “romantic racialism.”9 Used in this way, “racialism” helps counter the tendency of twentieth- century observers to perceive nineteenth-century ideas as biologically “determinist” in some simple sense. To racialists (including scientific racists), the important point was not that biology determined culture (indeed, the split between the two was only dimly perceived), but that race, understood as an indivisible essence that included not only biology but also culture, morality, and intelligence, was a compellingly significant factor in history and society. 

My argument is this: During the 1920s, American racialism was challenged by several emerging ideologies, all of which depended on a modern split between biology and culture. Between the 1920s and the 1960s, those competing ideologies were winnowed down to the single, powerfully persuasive belief that the eradication of racism depends on the deliberate nonrecognition of race. I will call that belief modernist racial ideology to echo the self-conscious “modernism” of social scientists, writers, artists, and cultural rebels of the early twentieth century. When historians mention this phenomenon, they usually label it “antiracist” or “egalitarian” and describe it as in stark contrast to the “racism” of its predecessors. But in the new legal scholarship called critical race theory, this same ideology, usually referred to as “color blindness,” is criticized by those who recognize that it, like other racial ideologies, can be turned to the service of oppression.10

Modernist racial ideology has been widely accepted; indeed, it compels nearly as much adherence in the late-twentieth-century United States as racialism did in the late nineteenth century. It is therefore important to see it not as what it claims to be—the nonideological end of racism—but as a racial ideology of its own, whose history shapes many of today’s arguments about the meaning of race in American society.


The Legacy of Racialism and the Kirby Case


Although it is probably less familiar to historians than, say, school segregation law, miscegenation law is an ideal place to study both the legacy of nineteenth- century racialism and the emergence of modem racial ideologies.11 Miscegenation laws, in force from the 1660s through the 1960s, were among the longest lasting of American racial restrictions. They both reflected and produced significant shifts in American racial thinking. Although the first miscegenation laws had been passed in the colonial period, it was not until after the demise of slavery that they began to function as the ultimate sanction of the American system of white supremacy. They burgeoned along with the rise of segregation and the early-twentieth-century devotion to “white purity.” At one time or another, 41 American colonies and states enacted them; they blanketed western as well as southern states.12

By the early twentieth century, miscegenation laws were so widespread that they formed a virtual road map to American legal conceptions of race. Laws that had originally prohibited marriages between whites and African Americans (and, very occasionally, American Indians) were extended to cover a much wider range of groups. Eventually, 12 states targeted American Indians, 14 Asian Americans (Chinese, Japanese, and Koreans), and 9 “Malays” (or Filipinos). In Arizona, the Kirby case was decided under categories first adopted in a 1901 law that prohibited whites from marrying “negroes, Mongolians or Indians”; in 1931, “Malays” and “Hindus” were added to this list.13


Mixed Race America and the Law


A Reader



Kevin R. Johnson

New York University Press




New York and London


© 2003 by New York University

All rights reserved.


Library of Congress Cataloging-in -publication Data.

Mixed race America and the law: a reader I edited by Kevin R. Johnson,

p. cm. — (Critical America series)

Includes bibliographical references and index.

ISBN 0-8147-4256-4 (cloth: alk. paper) —

ISBN 0-8147-4257-2 (pbk: alk. paper)

1.Racially mixed people—Legal status, laws, etc.—United States.

2.Mescegenation—United States. 3. Racially mixed people—

Government policy—United States.

I. Johnson, Kevin R. II. Critical America.

KF4755, M59 2002

346.7301′ 3—dc21 2002011775


New York University Press books are printed on acid-free paper, and their

binding materials are chosen for strength and durability.


Manufactured in the United States of America

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1


American Mestizo

Filipinos and Anti-Miscegenation Laws in California


Leti Volpp

… By the time the Supreme Court finally declared anti-miscegenation laws unconstitutional in Loving v. Virginia, thirty-nine states had enacted anti-miscegenation laws; in sixteen of these states, such laws were still in force at the time of the decision. While the original focus of these laws was primarily on relationships between blacks and whites, also prohibited were marriages between whites and “Indians” (meaning Native Americans), “Hindus” (South Asians), “Mongolians” (into which were generally lumped Chinese, Japanese, and Koreans), and “Malays” (Filipinos). Nine states—Arizona, California, Georgia, Maryland, Nevada, South Dakota, Utah, Virginia, and Wyoming—passed laws that prohibited whites from marrying Malays. The statutes varied in their enforcement mechanisms: some simply declared miscegenous marriages void; others punished them as felonies.


I. California: Asian Invasions


In 1850 California enacted law prohibiting marriages between white person’s and “negroes or mulattoes. Twenty-eight years later, a referendum was proposed at the California Constitutional Convention to amend the statute to prohibit marriages between Chinese and whites. While the so-called Chinese problem was initially conceptualized as one of economic competition created by the importation of exploitable laborers without political rights the issue of sexual relationship between whites and Chinese also functioned as prime site of hysteria.

Invoked were fears of hybridity. John Miller state delegate speculated that the lowest most vile and degraded of the white race were most likely to amalgamate with the Chinese resulting in hybrid of the most despicable mongrel of the most detestable that has ever afflicted the earth Miscegenation was presented a public health concern for Chinese were assumed by most of the delegates to be full of filth and disease. Some argued that American institutions and culture would be over whelmed by the habits of people thought to be sexually promiscuous perverse lascivious, and immoral. For example, in 1876 various papers stated that Chinese men attended Sunday school in order to debauch their white, female teachers. In response to the articulation of these fears, in 1880 the legislature prohibited the licensing of marriages between “Mongolians” and “white persons.”2

The next large group of Asian immigrants—those from Japan—was also the subject of antagonism, leading to further amendment of the anti-miscegenation laws. While the impetus for tension was, again, economic, two prime sites of expressed anxiety were school segregation and intermarriage. Those who sought school segregation depicted the Japanese as an immoral and sexually aggressive group of people and disseminated propaganda that warned that Japanese students would defile their white classmates. The Fresno Republican described miscegenation between whites and the Japanese as a form of “international adultery,” in a conflation of race, gender, and nation. In 1905, at the height of the anti-Japanese movement, the state legislature sealed the breach between the license and marriage laws and invalidated all marriages between “Mongolian” and white spouses.3


II. “Little Brown Men”


Tension over the presence of Chinese and Japanese had led to immigration exclusion of Chinese and Japanese laborers through a succession of acts dating between 1882 and 1924. Because industrialists and growers faced a resulting labor shortage, they began to import Filipinos to Hawaii and the mainland United States. Classified as “American nationals” because the United States had annexed the Philippines following the Filipino-American War, Filipinos were allowed entry into the country. On the mainland, a majority of Filipinos resided in California, with sizable numbers also in Washington and Alaska. By 1930 the number of Filipinos on the mainland reached over forty-five thousand. During the winter they stayed in the cities—working as domestics and gardeners, washing dishes in restaurants, and doing menial tasks others refused. In the summer they moved back to the fields and harvested potatoes, strawberries, lettuce, sugar beets, and fruits. . . .

On the mainland, 93 percent of all who emigrated from the Philippines were males, the vast majority between sixteen and thirty years of age. While some scholars have focused on patriarchal Asian values as the reason for early Asian migration being an almost exclusively male phenomenon, others have pointed to labor recruiting patterns and the specifics of immigration laws themselves as restricting the immigration of Asian women. United States capital interests wanted Asian male workers but not their families, because detaching the male worker from a heterosexual family structure meant he would be cheaper labor.

The Filipinos lived in barracks, isolated from other groups, allowed only dance halls, gambling resorts, and pool rooms of Chinatown as social outlets. They led ostracized lives punctuated by the terror of racist violence. Many restaurants and stores hung signs stating, “Filipinos and dogs not allowed.”4 Anxiety about what was called the “Third Asian Invasion” was expressed primarily around three sites: first, the idea that Filipinos were destroying the wage scale for white workers; second, the idea that  


Sex, Marriage, Identity, and Adoption


Vintage Books

A Division of Random House, Inc.

New York


Copyright © 2003 by Randall Kennedy


All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. Published in the United States by Vintage Books, a division-of Random House, Inc., New-York, and simultaneously in Canada by Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto. Originally published’in hardcover in the United States by Pantheon Books, a division, of Random House, Inc., New York, in 2003.


Vintage and colophon are registered trademarks of Random House, Inc.


Grateful acknowledgment is made to the following for permission to reprint previously published material: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.: Excerpt from The Collected Poems of Sterling A. Brown edited by Michael S. Harpec

Copyright © 1980 by Sterling A. Brown. Reprinted by permission

of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.


The Library of Congress has cataloged the Pantheon edition as follows:

Kennedy, Randali

Interracial intimacies: sex, marriage, identity, and adoption / Randal] Kennedy,

p. cm.

Includes bibliographical references and index.

1.Interracial Marriage—Law and legislation—United States, 2. Miscegenation—Law and legislation—United States, y. Interracial adoption—United States.

L Title.

KF511.K46 2003 346.73016—DC21 2001072786

Vintage ISBN: 07375-70164-4


Book design by Johanna S. Roebas


Printed in the United States of America

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1


This book is dedicated to my dutiful, wise, loving parents,

Henry Harold Kennedy Sr. and Rachel Spann Kennedy.

From the early eighteenth century onward, all antimiscegenation laws in British North America prohibited blacks and whites from marrying one another Other like prohibitions were imposed upon Native Americans and people of Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, Indian, and Hawaiian ancestry.** Since the founding of the United States, there have been no laws enacted against Christians marrying Jews or against interethnic marriages. In the nineteenth century, many groups that are now classified as ethnic “whites” were thought of as distinct races, among them Jews, Irish, Italian’s, and Hungarians. Despite the intense social discriminations sometimes practiced against specific ethnic identities—think, for example, of signs reading “No Irish need apply”—state governments never prohibited interethnic marriages among whites. This fact further underscores the unique status of “color” in American life. Although social pressures have been widely brought to bear to discourage, interethnic marriage, state power was mobilized only when authorities feared that people might marry across the color line.

Antimiscegenation laws varied widely by jurisdiction. Prior to the Civil War, officials in some states punished only whites for crimes of interracial intimacy. This approach was probably rooted in two beliefs: first, that blacks were too irresponsible and too inferior to punish, and second; that it was whites’ responsibility to protect the purity of their own bloodlines. This latter belief was closely related to yet another status distinction embedded in antebellum laws regulating intimacy: a gender differential. White women were anointed as the primary gatekeepers of white racial purity, and as such, they became the members of the white community who could, with self-evident justice, be most severely penalized for racial transgressions. Violations included, in ascending order of perceived perfidiousness, having sex across racial lines, marrying across racial lines, and giving birth to a mixed-race baby. Hence, the racial regulation of intimacy has not only pitted white people against colored people; it has also set men against women, both across racial lines and within racial groups.

After the Civil War, to comply with new federal requirements regarding formal racial neutrality, some state authorities felt compelled to mete out to blacks who married interracially the same punishment that was imposed on their white spouses.18 No less ironic Was the fact that in at least some jurisdictions, antimiscegenation laws were likely enforced more stringently after the Civil War than before it. The institution of slavery had given the collective ego of whites such a massive. boost that many of them were willing to overlook infractions of racial regulations, even to the extent of turning a blind eye on interracial romantic involvements. The abolition of slavery, however and the assertion of civil and political rights by blacks during Reconstruction, dealt a tremendous blow to the racial self-esteem of southern whites in particular. Many compensated by insisting upon a relentless and exacting observance of both formal and informal rules of racial caste. One hallmark of this period was enhanced criminal enforcement of antimiscegenation laws and every other restriction that reinforced the lesson of white supremacy and black subordination, white purity and black contamination.19

Some states, for example, punished those who performed interracial marriages. Mississippi went even further criminalizing not only, interracial marriage but even the advocacy of “social equality or of intermarriage between whites and negroes.”* Punishments for the vio