free blacks before the civil war -- 6/6/22

Today's selection -- from A Wicked War by Amy S. Greenberg. In the 1830s and 1840s, even free states took extraordinary steps to limit the rights of free blacks:
“The Illinois state constitutional convention [met] in Springfield in order to revise the state constitution. Among the most serious issues they faced was whether to enshrine into the constitu­tion the ban against the 'immigration and introduction, under any circum­stances, of free negroes into the state.' That the new constitution would explicitly restrict voting to 'white citizens' was a foregone conclusion. Dur­ing Abraham Lincoln's first term in the state legislature, he voted in favor of a resolution that 'the elective franchise should be kept pure from contami­nation by the admission of colored voters.' That resolution passed, 35-16.
"Laws restricting the immigration of free blacks into midwestern states were long-standing and widespread, but they were enforced only sporadically before the 1830s. In 1819 and 1829 the Illinois legislation had attempted and failed, to limit immigration to whites. But starting in the 1830s, rising racism led northern and western states under Democratic control to increase their enforcement and pass increasingly restrictive laws limiting the political and social rights of free African Americans. Black people in Illinois could neither marry white people nor testify against them in court. Public schools in Illinois excluded black children. Abraham Lincoln was on record as opposing the 'injustice' of slavery in the legislature in 1837, but  he was even more open in his opposition to abolition societies 'and the doctrines promulgated by them.' Like virtually every other politician in Illinois in the 1840s, Abraham Lincoln appealed to racial prejudice in order to advance his political beliefs. In 1836 and 1840, he accused Martin Van Buren of favoring black suffrage. Had he still been in the statehouse, Lincoln might well have voted to ban black immigration into the state. But this was by no means a foregone conclusion. Amending the state constitution was a serious matter and required sustained debate."



Amy S. Greenberg


A Wicked War: Polk, Clay, Lincoln, and the 1846 U.S. Invasion of Mexico


Vintage Books, a division of Random House


Copyright 2012 by Amy Greenberg


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