Category: Muster

How the Federal Government Came to Control Immigration Policy and Why it Matters

How the Federal Government Came to Control Immigration Policy and Why it Matters

The Civil War and Reconstruction transformed immigration policy in the United States, marking the transition from a sub-national to a national policy for regulating the admission, exclusion, and removal of foreigners. Before that turning point, Congress played almost no role in regulating immigration, other than naturalization policy (for white people) and passenger acts setting conditions on ships. The Civil War eliminated some of the worst abuses of the old state-level system. Ironically, however, the newly empowered federal state created during Reconstruction could restrict immigration much more comprehensively than any state—as Chinese laborers soon discovered to their detriment.

In the era of slavery, states and towns used their police power to control mobility within and across their borders and set their own rules for community membership. In the Northeast, states and cities imposed taxes and bonds on foreign paupers. Ship captains passed along the cost to passengers in higher fares. Local jurisdictions deported the poor out state and sometimes overseas. In the Old Northwest (today’s Midwest), state and territorial governments used bonds and taxes to exclude and monitor free Black people. Southern states policed the movement of African Americans, both free and enslaved, and passed laws imprisoning black sailors visiting from other countries and from other US states.[1]These local measures rested on the states’ sovereign power to regulate their internal affairs. Insofar as they affected foreigners, they constituted the immigration policy of the United States in the antebellum era.

Historic official document allowing a free African American woman entry into Missouri.
Figure 1: As a condition of her entry into the state of Missouri, Lydia Medford, described as a thirty-year-old “washer,” entered into a bond of $10 with, with two men providing security for her good character and behavior. Washington University in St. Louis, Freedom Bonds Collection.

When it came to regulating mobility before the Civil War, local police power prevailed over federal commerce power. Defenders of slavery supported fugitive slave laws but resisted any other form of federal authority over mobility across and within their borders. If Congress had the power to control immigrant admissions, they feared, it could potentially use that power to  control the movement of free black people and perhaps even the interstate slave trade.Migration, in other words, presented a political and constitutional problem in a slaveholding republic.[2]

The Civil War, with the secession of eleven states from the Union and the abolition of slavery, removed the political and constitutional obstacles to a national immigration policy. Yet, in the absence of slavery, Congress would not have regulated—let alone restricted—immigration earlier. Even though the abolition of slavery cleared a path for the emergence of a national immigration policy, in other words, it did not make that policy inevitable.

Nobody before the end of the nineteenth century, not even the Know-Nothings in the 1850s, wanted to restrict European immigration numerically. Some nativists in the antebellum era called on Congress to extend the waiting period for naturalization, or to regulate migration by paupers, but to no avail. When the Supreme Court invalidated the immigration laws of New York and Massachusetts as violations of the Commerce Clause in Henderson v. New York(1875), state officials responded by demanding, crafting, and implementing a new federal law. The Immigration Act of 1882—the first general immigration law in US history—followed the model  set by the states, imposing a head tax on all passengers and excluding the most vulnerable. Yet admission was the norm for European immigrants throughout the nineteenth century, and it remained so until the 1920s.[3]

Chinese immigrants fell into a different category. In Chy Lung v. Freeman, decided simultaneously with Henderson in 1875, the Supreme Court invalidated a California immigration law taxing Chinese immigrants. A short-term victory for those who challenged the law, Chy Lung also signaled that Congress could exclude foreigners much more effectively than any state. Anti-Asian restrictionists pressured Congress to pass the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882, which discriminated on grounds of race and class by barring Chinese laborers from entering the United States for ten years. The era of national immigration control was underway.[4]

It was at this time, also, that immigration came to be defined as a matter of national security In Chy Lung, the Court noted pointedly that allowing “a single State” to make determinations regarding entry and removal would allow that state to “embroil us in disastrous quarrels with other nations.” In Chae Chan Ping v. United States (1889)—better known as the Chinese Exclusion Case—the Court moved beyond the commerce power and ruled that authority to control immigration was inherent in national sovereignty. “Every nation, to preserve its independence, had to guard against “foreign aggression and encroachment,” Justice Field wrote in Chae Chan Ping. It did not matter whether the threat came from the actions of a foreign nation “or from vast hordes of its people crowding in upon us.”[5]

Cartoon by Thomas Nast published in Harper’s Weekly on April 1, 1882, a month before the Chinese Exclusion Act became law. At the “Temple of Liberty,”  a soldier reads from a huge document labeled “US Passport” to a forlorn Chinese immigrant in traditional garb with an exaggerated queue. The soldier’s uniform and the fortress evoke imperial Europe, while the caption rebukes the United States for abandoning its tradition as a haven of liberty and a refuge for all.
Figure 2: Cartoon by Thomas Nast published in Harper’s Weekly on April 1, 1882, a month before the Chinese Exclusion Act became law. At the “Temple of Liberty,” a soldier reads from a huge document labeled “US Passport” to a forlorn Chinese immigrant in traditional garb with an exaggerated queue. The soldier’s uniform and the fortress evoke imperial Europe, while the caption rebukes the United States for abandoning its tradition as a haven of liberty and a refuge for all. “E pluribus unum (except the Chinese).” Chinese in California Virtual Collection: Selections from the Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.

In Chae Chan Ping, the Supreme Court assigned power over immigration to the “political branches” of the federal government—Congress and the executive—which could admit or exclude foreigners as they saw fit, with minimal interference by the courts. On the basis of this plenary power, rooted in Chinese exclusion, the national government has since controlled US immigration policy as, in the first instance, a matter of national security.[6]

States and cities today can no longer determine whom to admit, exclude, or deport from the country. Any attempt to do so intrudes on federal power, as established by 150 years of law. But local jurisdictions can and obviously do continue to regulate immigrants’ lives after arrival. Many of them support federal immigration policies, cooperate with national agencies such as the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), or call for more restrictive and punitive laws. Texas’s recent SB4 law has precedents in California’s Proposition 187 (1994) and Arizona’s Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act (SB 1070) (2010). Measures like these deliberately blur the lines of authority and seek not just to regulate immigrants within states but to deter immigration per se.[7]

Justice Antonin Scalia, dissenting in Arizona v. U.S. (2012), pointed approvingly to the antebellum laws “restricting the immigration of certain classes of aliens, including convicted criminals, indigents, persons with contagious diseases, and (in Southern States) freed blacks.” As a sovereign state, Scalia claimed, Arizona had “the inherent power to exclude persons from its territory.” The majority disagreed and struck down most of SB 1070’s provisions, though they upheld the power of state police to investigate immigration status.[8]

While states and cities cannot defy federal immigration law, neither can the federal government order them to participate in enforcing that law. Many local jurisdictions today seek not to monitor or expel immigrants but to integrate them and protect them from federal surveillance. There are clear echoes here of the personal liberty laws of the antebellum era, which operated as a state-level counterweight to oppressive national power.

The real counterweight in the nineteenth century, however, came from the opposite direction. The Civil War and Reconstruction decisively tilted the balance of power away from states toward the federal government in the name of racial justice. Although Chinese immigrants remained ineligible for US citizenship, their American-born children were birthright citizens under the Fourteenth Amendment. That amendment also extended equal protection and due process not just to citizens, but to all legally resident persons under the jurisdiction of the United States, including unnaturalized immigrants. The expanded federal government that protected these new rights, however, also secured control over immigration policy and proceeded to regulate and restrict immigration to an extent beyond the reach of any individual state.

[1] Hidetaka Hirota, Expelling the Poor: Atlantic Seaboard States and the Nineteenth-Century Origins of American Immigration Policy (New York: Oxford University Press, 2017); Kate Masur, Until Justice Be Done: America’s First Civil Rights Movement, from the Revolution to Reconstruction (New York: Norton, 2021); Michael A. Schoeppner, Moral Contagion: Black Atlantic Sailors, Citizenship, and Diplomacy in Antebellum America (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2019).

[2] Kevin Kenny, The Problem of Immigration in a Slaveholding Republic: Policing Mobility in the Nineteenth-Century United States (New York: Oxford University Press, 2023).

[3] Henderson v. Mayor of City of New York, 92 U.S. 259 (1875); Kenny, Problem of Immigration in a Slaveholding Republic, 112–20; 191–93, 205–06; Hirota, Expelling the Poor, 181, 184–92; Mae M. Ngai, Immigration and Ethnic History (Washington, D.C.: American Historical Association, 2012), 4.

[4] Chy Lung v. Freeman, 92 U.S. 276 (1875); Kenny, Problem of Immigration in a Slaveholding Republic, 193–94; Texas Senate Bill No. 4, An Act Relating to the Enforcement … of State and Federal Laws Governing Immigration (2017). In March 2024, US Solicitor General Elizabeth B. Prelogar cited Chy Lung in her argument before the Supreme Court seeking to block Texas’s SB 4 law, which criminalizes unauthorized entry into the United States. Mexico’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs made the same point about the danger of individual states controlling national borders in a press release on March 19 responding to the Supreme Court’s refusal to block SB 4.

[5] Chy Lung v. Freeman, 92 U.S. 276 (1875); Chae Chan Ping v. United States 130 U.S. 581 (1889).

[6] This plenary power doctrine provided the basis for a national immigration policy in the United States. In Trump v. Hawaii (2018), the Court upheld the so-called travel ban on Muslim immigrants based on the precedent set in Chae Chan Ping 120 years earlier.

[7] California Proposition 187, Illegal Aliens Ineligibility for Public Benefits Verification and Reporting Initiative Statute (1994); Arizona SB 1070, The Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act (2010).

[8] Arizona v. U.S. 567 U.S. 387 (2012).


Previewing the March 2024 JCWE

Previewing the March 2024 JCWE

Questions of slavery, freedom, and violence are at the heart of this journal issue. For decades, historians have described how enslaved people during the Civil War saw new possibilities for escape with the presence of US military forces nearby, and how profoundly their actions shaped the course of the war and the dynamics of postwar freedom. The articles published here advance our understanding of these crucial dynamics, contributing new insights about the lives of enslaved people, emancipation and military occupation in the border states, the impacts of postwar violence on the process by which US presidents are elected, and the history of the Ku Klux Klan, an organization that has come to epitomize organized white supremacy in the United States.

Focusing on Missouri, Iain Flood’s “Proving Disloyalty: Enslaved People and Resistance in Missouri’s Guerrilla Households” demonstrates enslaved people’s intimate familiarity with enslavers’ households in an area where most slaveowners were relatively small farmers. This intimacy meant they could be coerced into supporting pro-Confederate guerrilla networks but also that they had information that could be valuable for US forces. Flood shows how enslaved people created a “second supply line” by carrying intelligence out of guerrilla households and into the hands of US soldiers. Army officers recognized that value of such information and promised freedom in exchange.

In “Reconstruction, Racial Terror, and the Electoral College,” Michael W. Fitzgerald and Mark Bohnhorst offer a new history of Reconstruction-era debates about the selection of presidential electors. Absent a clear mandate in the US Constitution, antebellum states increasingly codified the idea that electors were chosen by popular vote, not by the legislature. But in 1868, amid white southerners’ violent campaigns to suppress the Black vote, Florida canceled its presidential canvass and had its legislature select electors, and Alabama considered doing the same. These developments prompted the introduction in Congress of a sixteenth constitutional amendment that required popular selection of electors. Although the amendment enjoyed bipartisan support and passed the Senate, it died in the House. Fitzgerald and Bohnhorst’s account helps us understand a part of the American constitutional order that, unfortunately, has become newly relevant since the chaotic 2020 election.

Katherine Lennard’s article, “Brother Dixon: College Fraternities and the Ku Klux Klan,” uses the life of Thomas Dixon Jr. (1864–1946) to discuss the complex interpenetration of secret societies, white college fraternities, and the Ku Klux Klan in the years after the Civil War. Dixon, who wrote popular and controversial novels glorifying the Klan in the early twentieth century, was a member of the fledgling Kappa Alpha fraternity at Wake Forest College. Lennard demonstrates that Dixon’s stories about the Klan drew heavily on the iconography of white college fraternities and on their exclusionary, intimidating practices. In representing the Klan this way, Dixon distanced it from its original incarnation as a lawless, pro-Confederate, white supremacist organization and made it appear more familiar to members of the college-educated white elite across the United States.

In his review essay, “Possessed: Understanding the Lives of Enslaved Americans,” Christopher Bonner provides a sweeping examination of recent scholarship on slavery and enslaved people, with an emphasis on the crucial question of how historians balance attention to structure with focus on the agency of the enslaved. Bonner points to Stephanie Camp’s Closer to Freedom: Enslaved Women and Everyday Resistance in the Plantation South (2004) as an essential work that has informed much subsequent scholarship on how enslaved people managed to make meaning, find pleasure, and leave traces of their lives in circumstances where their choices and actions were drastically constrained. Bonner’s essay will help readers understand current dynamics in the field and appreciate the significance of continuing to try to understand how enslaved people experienced the world.

We are pleased to announce a number of editorial transitions. This issue is the last to which Luke Harlow contributed as associate editor of review essays and Kathryn Shively as associate editor for book reviews. Harlow served in that role for five years, demonstrating his commitment to a broad view of the field and to careful editing in essays like Chandra Manning’s state of the field on religious history to Alaina Roberts’s essay on the history of Black people in and around the Five Tribes of Oklahoma to Cameron Blevins and Christy Hyman’s review of digital history work. Harlow extended his time in the position to help the editorial team manage the challenges of the early years of COVID. Shively oversaw the book review section for three years and heroically continued to solicit books and find reviewers—with unstinting attention to diversity in both the books we reviewed and the reviewers we invited—even in the depths of the pandemic. Each was a complete pleasure to work with, and we are immeasurably grateful for their service to the journal. We wish them the very best as they move on to other projects. From 2021 to 2023, Mikala Stokes, a PhD candidate at Northwestern, assisted Shively with the book review section, supported by funding from the Northwestern University Department of History. Stokes now moves on as well, and we applaud her as she works toward completion of a dissertation on Black men, family relationships, and political activism in the antebellum North.

We are delighted to welcome Catherine Jones (UC Santa Cruz) and Megan Bever (Missouri Southern State University) as review essay editor and book review editor, respectively. As we write this editors’ note, Bever and Jones have been in position for a couple of months already. We are excited for their continuing contributions. Finally, we thank Edward Green, a Penn State PhD candidate, for stepping in as editorial assistant over the summer, and we welcome Heather Carlquist Walser back into the role she ably filled earlier in our tenure.

Kate Masur and Greg Downs

Kate Masur is an associate professor at Northwestern University, specializing in the history of the nineteenth-century United States, focusing on how Americans grappled with questions of race and equality after the abolition of slavery. Greg Downs, who studies U.S. political and cultural history in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, is a professor of history at University of California--Davis. Together they edited an essay collection on the Civil War titled The World the Civil War Made (North Carolina, 2015), and they currently co-edit The Journal of the Civil War Era.

Beyond the Book Review: A Conversation with Chad Pearson

Beyond the Book Review: A Conversation with Chad Pearson

Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of recorded interviews between the JCWE book review editor and the authors of the works reviewed in the journal.


Those who study the Civil War and Reconstruction are all too familiar with acts of terror, especially those committed by white vigilantes bent on securing Democratic political dominance and white supremacy. In Capital’s Terrorists: Klansmen, Lawmen, and Employers in the Long Nineteenth Century (University of North Carolina Press, 2022), Chad E. Pearson examines Reconstruction-era violence through the lens of labor suppression and finds continuity between the goals and tactics of the Ku Klux Klan and other organizations, such as Law and Order Leagues and Citizens’ Alliances, who used violence to combat organized labor. In this interview, Chad Pearson, who is an assistant professor of history at the University of North Texas, discusses his study with Megan Bever, book review editor for the Journal of the Civil War Era. Professor Pearson discusses the study’s broad chronological scope—it reaches back as far as the Second Seminole War and extends into the twentieth century—his case study approach, which takes the reader far beyond the Reconstruction South to Missouri, Idaho, and Pennsylvania. In addition to discussing the role of the Klan in violently reining in disaffected laborers, Pearson also discusses how Civil War service and free labor ideology wove their way through the late nineteenth-century managerial organizations that benign-sounding language of open shops and citizenship to disguise acts of terrorism.

The full recorded discussion can be found here.


Author Interview: Hidetaka Hirota

Author Interview: Hidetaka Hirota

Today we share an interview with Hidetaka Hirota who edited the December 2023 JCWE special issue on the transpacific connections in the Civil War era. Hidetaka Hirota is an associate professor of history at the University of California, Berkeley. He is the author of Expelling the Poor: Atlantic Seaboard States and the Nineteenth Century Origins of American Immigration Policy (2017).

What interested you in doing this special issue on the transpacific connections to the Civil War era? 

The project is rooted in my scholarly interests in the Civil War era, U.S. immigration history, and transnational history. Originally trained as a historian of transatlantic immigration in the mid-nineteenth century, I have followed trends in the field of the Civil War era and been particularly interested in attempts to internationalize the Civil War era by placing developments in the United States within broader geographical and transnational contexts.

At the same time, as my current research pays increasing attention to Asian immigration and Pacific history, I developed growing interests in Civil War America’s connections with Asia and the Pacific. This dimension has received relatively scant attention in international Civil War scholarship, which tends to focus on the relationship between the United States and the Atlantic World, although there are important works that examine the perceptions of Asian labor and Asian immigrants’ experiences in the Civil War era, such as Moon-Ho Jung’s study of the importation of Chinese workers to the post-emancipation South. Inspired by these works, I have become deeply interested in how race, labor, empire, and gender in the nineteenth-century United States were shaped by engagements with Asia and the Pacific. When Kate Masur and Greg Downs, the editors of the Journal of the Civil War Era, asked me if I’d be interested in developing a special issue on Civil War America’s relations with Asia and the Pacific, I eagerly accepted their invitation.

What are the key takeaways that you hope that readers might gain from the special issue?

I hope that readers see how transpacific connections were integral to U.S. history in the Civil War era. The special issue illuminates two themes. One is the emergence during the 1860s and 1870s of new discourses that challenged dominant gender and racial ideologies in the nineteenth-century United States because of diplomatic exchanges with Japan and Black Americans’ transpacific migration to that country. The other is the rights of Asians in the United States in the Civil War era. The meanings and boundaries of freedom and citizenship for Asians might sound familiar to colleagues in the field, but the special issue shows how transpacific systems of human trafficking and the United States’ overseas expansion provided important contexts in which Asian immigrants pursued their rights in postbellum America.

Beyond these specific themes, I hope that the special issue invites historians to consider Asia and the Pacific as they study the United States in the Civil War era more generally. I also want to see more integration of Asian American history into Civil War era scholarship. The purpose of the special issue is to stimulate, rather than conclude, inquiries along these lines. Focusing on the Japanese and Chinese contexts with strong attention to the Pacific rim, the special issue has an admittedly limited scope. I’d particularly look forward to seeing more research on Pacific Islanders in Civil War America.

After this forum, what’s next? Can you provide our readers with a preview of your current research project? 

I am currently working on a book project that examines the fundamental tension in U.S. history between nativism against foreigners and demand for their labor. Opponents of immigration criticized foreign workers for allegedly lowering American wage standards and threatening Americans’ employment. And yet, the industrial, commercial, and economic development of the United States created insatiable demand for immigrant labor. My project traces how this tension evolved over the importation by American employers of contract workers from Asia, Canada, Mexico, and Europe between the 1880s and the 1920s. Viewing imported workers as unfree, servile people, organized labor pressured the federal government to pass the Foran Act in 1885. Known as the alien contract labor law, it criminalized the importation of contract workers from abroad and punished their importers with fines and imprisonment. For the next four decades, government officials extensively applied the alien contract law to prevent labor importation, while capitalists and business owners constantly evaded the law to obtain foreign labor.

By examining racial, economic, and gender discourse on foreign labor, the transnational business of importing contract workers, and federal officials’ efforts to enforce the alien contract labor law, my project illuminates how a national immigration regime emerged in the United States at the turn of the twentieth century. Antipathy to contract workers from Japan, India, Canada, Mexico, and diverse European countries in this period was founded upon the racist and nativist view of Chinese labor as a form of slave labor in the Civil War era. My project, in this sense, illuminates the legacies of the era for the development of U.S. immigration policy.


Hilary N. Green

Hilary N. Green is the James B. Duke Professor of Africana Studies at Davidson College. She previously worked in the Department of Gender and Race Studies at the University of Alabama where she developed the Hallowed Grounds Project. She earned her M.A. in History from Tufts University in 2003, and Ph.D. in History from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2010. Her research and teaching interests include the intersections of race, class, and gender in African American history, the American Civil War, Reconstruction, as well as Civil War memory, African American education, and the Black Atlantic. She is the author of Educational Reconstruction: African American Schools in the Urban South, 1865-1890 (Fordham, 2016).

Author Interview: Tian Xu

Author Interview: Tian Xu

Today we share an interview with Tian Xu, who published an article in the December 2023 JCWE, titled “Chinese Women and Habeas Corpus Hearings in California.” Tian Xu is a postdoctoral fellow at SUNY Buffalo’s Baldy Center for Law and Social Policy. His work has been published in Journal of American Ethnic History and The New Rambler.

What interested you in contributing to this special forum on the transpacific connections to the Civil War era?

During the Civil War era, transpacific communities started to take roots in the American West. These communities of course became enmeshed in the American sociolegal debates over slavery and freedom, but they were also active participants in the country’s everyday search for meanings of enslavement and emancipation. This encounter fascinates me. I have chosen the lens of legal mobilization to understand how transpacific subalterns, in this case, Chinese women migrants, navigated the Civil War era legal devices to further their own life plans.

What are the key takeaways that you hope that readers might gain from your article on Chinese women’s use of the law for demanding rights and justice in California?

I hope this article could decenter terms like rights and justice and attract readers’ attention to alternate concepts like survival strategy and agency. The Chinese women in this article migrated under the shadow of a transpacific marketplace of human trafficking. The dearth of primary sources makes it hard to ascertain the actual degrees of freedom they managed to enjoy through legal action. For them, California’s courts and their openness to nonwhite population’s use of habeas corpus writs offered an imperfect but nonetheless useful legal space to voice their preferences in life. Nonetheless, these preferences were constrained by patriarchal expectations within and without the courtroom. Not unlike Barbara Fields’ Black Marylanders, what Chinese women demanded (and what they could get) was “no fixed condition but a constantly moving target.”[1]

The women’s actions were met with at least two competing imperial approaches of governance carried out by American authorities. The first approach sought to regularize the sociolegal status of Chinese women and fit them into the emancipationist, patriarchal civic ideals of the Civil War era. The question of how this approach panned out is covered by the article’s discussion over domestic habeas corpus cases in the antebellum and Civil War decades. The second approach gave up on inclusion and sought to expel Chinese women as unworthy immigrants at America’s gates. The immigration cases after the Civil War, especially the legal battles that led to the famous Chy Lung case, reflect the preponderance of this approach’s persuasion. My article identifies the 1870s as a key decade when the exclusionist strategy overshadowed the emancipationist one. But this does not mean that the latter ceased to function. In practice, the tensions and overlaps between the two continued to create room for Chinese women’s legal action. I would be grateful if readers see the contested nature of this historical development.

After this forum, what’s next? Can you provide our readers with a preview of your current research project?

I am currently working on two projects that speak to each other. The first is a book project about the Pacific genesis of immigration lawyering in America. Chinese migrants and Chinese Americans played a central role in this history. I am making the case that the durability of anti-Asian laws since the 1870s put lawyers at the center of a transpacific “migration industry” and gave rise to the first modern immigration bar in the United States. The second is a project that compares immigration lawyering for the Chinese with military pension lawyering for Black Union families after the Civil War. The comparison explicates the role of race in the expansion of the US administrative state, which created immigration and welfare barriers for minority groups but also gave rise to meaningful, racially specific legal service markets. Instead of characterizing such lawyering as civil rights action, I am interested in how these lawyers’ work served to legitimate unjust laws and/or unjust law enforcement while facilitating resistance.


[1] Barbara J. Fields, Slavery and Freedom on the Middle Ground: Maryland During the Nineteenth Century (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1985), 193.

Hilary N. Green

Hilary N. Green is the James B. Duke Professor of Africana Studies at Davidson College. She previously worked in the Department of Gender and Race Studies at the University of Alabama where she developed the Hallowed Grounds Project. She earned her M.A. in History from Tufts University in 2003, and Ph.D. in History from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2010. Her research and teaching interests include the intersections of race, class, and gender in African American history, the American Civil War, Reconstruction, as well as Civil War memory, African American education, and the Black Atlantic. She is the author of Educational Reconstruction: African American Schools in the Urban South, 1865-1890 (Fordham, 2016).

Author Interview: Beth Lew-Williams

Author Interview: Beth Lew-Williams

Today we share an interview with Beth Lew-Williams, who published an article in the December 2023 JCWE, titled “Chinese Naturalization, Voting, and Other Impossible Acts.” Beth Lew-Williams is an associate professor of history at Princeton University. She is a historian of race and migration in the United States, specializing in Asian American History.

What interested you in contributing to this special forum on the transpacific connections to the Civil War era? 

Rarely have I identified as a historian of the Civil War era, despite my focus on the mid-nineteenth century. I come to the Civil War era field via Asian American history and the Pacific West. These fields have been treated as peripheral for a long time. But JCWE is taking a new, broader approach to the field and I’ve been inspired by their work. So when Hidetaka Hirota came to me with the idea of this special issue, I saw it as an important challenge for both the authors and the readers.

What are the key takeaways that you hope that readers might gain from your article on Chinese naturalization and voting rights? 

In the nineteenth-century, US naturalization law said that Chinese immigrants could not become citizens.  Historians have assumed that the law described reality. But in fact, I found that thousands of Chinese immigrants naturalized before 1900. This raises a host of new questions: How did the Chinese manage to naturalize and why did they do so? What does this say about the nature of US citizenship and alienage? If the Chinese found ways to naturalize, did they also find ways to vote?

What I’ve uncovered is a quiet story of resistance which I think deserves attention from scholars teaching the Civil War era. Rather than presuppose that Chinese were easily excluded from citizenship and voting, we should pay attention to their struggle for rights, their wins as well as their losses, and the overlap with more familiar stories of Black citizenship and disenfranchisement.

After this forum, what’s next? Can you provide our readers with a preview of your current research project? 

I’m nearing completion of my second book, currently titled John Doe China Man (forthcoming, Harvard University Press)It examines hundreds of state and local laws regulating Chinese migrants in California, Oregon, and Washington during the late nineteenth century.

When it comes to the history of Chinese in America, the border has caught our eyes and held them. Chinese migrants’ attempts to cross the border, and America’s attempts to stop them, is the story we have told and retold. But long before Chinese faced the first exclusion laws, they endured a racial regime within America, and long afterwards as well. My next book is the history of that racial regime and the lives it touched.


Hilary N. Green

Hilary N. Green is the James B. Duke Professor of Africana Studies at Davidson College. She previously worked in the Department of Gender and Race Studies at the University of Alabama where she developed the Hallowed Grounds Project. She earned her M.A. in History from Tufts University in 2003, and Ph.D. in History from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2010. Her research and teaching interests include the intersections of race, class, and gender in African American history, the American Civil War, Reconstruction, as well as Civil War memory, African American education, and the Black Atlantic. She is the author of Educational Reconstruction: African American Schools in the Urban South, 1865-1890 (Fordham, 2016).

Author Interview: Stacey Smith

Author Interview: Stacey Smith

Today we share an interview with Stacey L. Smith, who published an article in the December 2023 JCWE, titled “The Colored American Asiatic Traveler”: Peter K. L. Cole and American Empire in Japan.” Stacey L. Smith is an associate professor of history at Oregon State University. She is the author of Freedom’s Frontier: California and the Struggle over Unfree Labor, Emancipation, and Reconstruction (2013). At present, she is currently writing a book on African Americans on the Pacific Coast of North America.

What interested you in contributing to this special forum on the transpacific connections to the Civil War era? 

My main research interest has always been to bridge the fields of Civil War era history and the history of the American West. I have long argued that US territories along the Pacific have played important, but largely unexplored, roles in the histories of slavery, the Civil War, and Reconstruction. I am especially interested in unearthing how the transformation of racialized notions of citizenship, one of the major outcomes of the Civil War and Reconstruction, was the product of events occurring in the West as well as in the North and in the South.  People from Asia, the Pacific Islands, and Latin America who migrated to and across the North American West via the Pacific Ocean were critical actors in reshaping US immigration and naturalization laws, labor policies, and international relations in this period. Laws targeting these immigrants, including the 1870 Naturalization Act, the 1875 Page Law, and the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, significantly redefined who was eligible for US citizenship, who was a “free laborer,” and even who could live in the United States without facing constant harassment. Looking at the fight over Pacific citizenship alongside the struggle for African American citizenship rights in the South brings to light the complex, interwoven histories of North, South, and West.

What are the key takeaways that you hope that readers might gain from your article on Peter Cole’s travels to Japan?

Peter Cole was a free African American man who traveled around the world and learned half a dozen languages, including Cantonese and Japanese. He lived in China in Japan for almost two decades between the 1850s and 1870s, with his longest residence being in the treaty port of Yokohama, Japan, between 1866 and 1873. He also worked for US consuls and foreign ministers in both places while running his own merchant business and writing for English-language newspapers in Yokohama and San Francisco.

Cole’s unique life serves as a vehicle for understanding African Americans’ fraught relationship with US imperialism and settler colonialism. Cole very much understood himself as an agent of US empire in the Pacific. He envisioned himself working alongside his white compatriots to open Japanese markets to American commerce, and to “civilize” and Christianize Japanese people. His writings frequently elided notions of racial difference between Black and white people while widening African Americans’ distance from Japanese nationals. He often identified himself and his fellow Black Yokohamans simply as “Americans,” “foreigners,” or even “Europeans,” who were diametrically opposed to Japanese “natives” in terms of religion, education, modernity, and civilization.

My central argument is that despite Cole’s participation in American imperial projects, and some initial acceptance of Black Yokohamans into the white community in Japan, white supremacist settler colonial logics ultimately excluded him from benefiting from the spoils of empire. Once back in the United States, Cole tried for years to get a position in the diplomatic corps of the US State Department. He was repeatedly overlooked for any positions, he said, because of his color. Despite his high level of literacy, his cosmopolitan experiences, and his multilingualism, he was eventually reduced to working as a manual laborer, steamship steward, and boardinghouse keeper. Cole’s life ultimately gives us new insights into Black Americans’ complex relationship with settler colonialism. They could be both agents of empire and denied belonging in an American settler state built fundamentally on notions of white domination over non-white others.

After this forum, what’s next? Can you provide our readers with a preview of your current research project? 

My current book project is about African American civil rights activists in California from the Gold Rush of 1848 through the end of Reconstruction. I look at how African Americans fought for access to public education, testimony rights, suffrage, and eventually the desegregation of all public facilities. California is an unusual setting to study the nineteenth-century Black freedom struggle because African Americans were the smallest racial minority there behind Chinese nationals, Mexicans, and Native Americans. Whenever they challenged race-based exclusion, California African Americans had to maneuver carefully around anti-Chinese, anti-Indian, and anti-Mexican racism to make a special claim to citizenship based on their own American birth, civilization, and Christianity. They weren’t often successful in this endeavor. California refused to ratify the Fourteenth Amendment and outright rejected the Fifteenth Amendment, mostly on the grounds that these pieces of legislation would enfranchise Chinese people in addition to African Americans. My goal is to explore African Americans’ distinctive tactics, obstacles, arguments, and politics for combatting anti-Black racism in the most racially diverse place in nineteenth-century America.

My work on Peter Cole emerged from this project. As I studied African Americans on the Pacific Coast, I became increasingly intrigued by the presence of so many Black world travelers in places such as San Francisco, Portland (Oregon), and Victoria (British Columbia). My next book project beyond my current one will explore African American migration to and across the Pacific Ocean in the nineteenth-century. Using biographies of Black transpacific migrants such as Peter Cole, it will analyze African Americans’ relationship to US and British imperial projects in Asia, North America, and Polynesia.

 Thank for these responses!

Hilary N. Green

Hilary N. Green is the James B. Duke Professor of Africana Studies at Davidson College. She previously worked in the Department of Gender and Race Studies at the University of Alabama where she developed the Hallowed Grounds Project. She earned her M.A. in History from Tufts University in 2003, and Ph.D. in History from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2010. Her research and teaching interests include the intersections of race, class, and gender in African American history, the American Civil War, Reconstruction, as well as Civil War memory, African American education, and the Black Atlantic. She is the author of Educational Reconstruction: African American Schools in the Urban South, 1865-1890 (Fordham, 2016).

Preview of December JCWE and the Transpacific Connections Forum

Preview of December JCWE and the Transpacific Connections Forum

In the late nineteenth century, opponents of Asian immigration on the West Coast claimed slavery was being resurrected in the United States. The escalation of industrial capitalism in the postbellum years had already established the perception among American workers that capitalists were attempting to enslave them as exploitable labor. As one labor leader put it in 1887, a capitalist was “a traitor worse than was Jefferson Davis in 1861.”[1] On the West Coast, the growing numbers of Japanese laborers, whom white Americans viewed as servile and degraded, reinforced the anticapitalism discourse on the rebirth of slavery. One California newspaper claimed “Japan’s pauper” laborers would introduce a new form of slavery in the state, “a system far worse than existed in the sunny South in slavery days.”[2] The association between Japanese immigration and slavery was especially intense because many Japanese laborers migrated from Hawai’i, where Americans in the continental United States believed a labor arrangement similar to slavery existed. The sugar industry in Hawai’i had long relied on the labor of foreign contract workers. Although the physical punishment of servants and laborers had been prohibited since 1850, abuse and whipping remained unchecked in practice. Americans keenly observed the conditions of contract labor in the islands, characterizing it as a form of slavery. A newspaper in San Francisco, for instance, pointed to “the existence of virtual chattel slavery” on the sugar plantations in Hawai’i.[3] Planters maintained that the existing labor relations were necessary for the survival of the sugar industry, but Americans dismissed this argument as identical to the one “used before our civil war in America, by the Southern planters, in order to justify slavery.”[4] Californians argued that the Japanese working under slavery in Hawai’i would bring the institution to the United States. As the United States increasingly engaged with Asia and the Pacific through immigration, restrictionists on the West Coast invoked slavery and the Civil War to justify the exclusion of Asians.[5]

Japanese immigration in the late nineteenth century, however, was hardly the first instance where the United States’ transpacific connections intersected with the issues and legacies of the Civil War. Throughout the Civil War era, US contacts with Asia and the Pacific directly affected the course of American history, stimulating the nation’s commercial and territorial ambitions, contributing to the development of American capitalism through the labor of Asians and Pacific Islanders, and adding new layers to national debates over immigration and citizenship in the age of emancipation. Historians have examined the racist perceptions of Chinese immigrants as servile coolies equivalent to slaves in the antebellum period—a precursor of later anti-Japanese prejudice—and the importation of Chinese workers into plantations in the post-emancipation South. As Moon-Ho Jung, Stacey L. Smith, Mae Ngai, and Kevin Kenny have demonstrated, the prejudiced identification of Chinese workers as slaves justified the restriction of Chinese immigration as an antislavery measure.[6] Beyond these subjects, however, scholarship on the Civil War era in its international context has concentrated on the relationship between the United States and the Atlantic World, overlooking events unfolding in Asia and the Pacific. The “Atlantic framework,” as Steven Hahn observes in his synthetic history of the long-nineteenth-century United States, “greatly underestimates the importance of the Pacific as an increasingly powerful field of force.”[7]

This forum examines how US interaction with Asia and the Pacific shaped race relations, gender ideology, diplomacy, and legal rights in the United States during the second half of the nineteenth century. The authors specialize in the history of the American West, African American history, Asian American history, the history of the US empire, immigration history, and legal history. By examining the first Japanese diplomatic mission to the United States, the experience of Black migrants in Japan, Chinese women’s habeas corpus litigations, and the naturalized citizenship of Chinese Americans, the forum integrates Asia and the Pacific into Civil War–era scholarship. By doing so, it also calls for more research on the nineteenth century in Asian American historiography, which pays disproportionate attention to the twentieth century.[8]

Three strands of historiography inform this forum. The first is the international history of the Civil War era. Historians have long examined slavery and emancipation in comparative perspectives, the transatlantic dimensions of abolitionism, and Union and Confederate diplomacy during the Civil War.[9] The “transnational turn” in US historiography over the last two decades has significantly accelerated the trend of interpreting social, political, and ideological developments in the United States during the Civil War era in broader contexts. Some of the most intensively studied subjects include diplomacy, perceptions of the Civil War outside the United States, intersections between Confederate and European assertions of nationalism and self-determination, parallels in the process of nation building among the United States, Canada, and Europe, and the transatlantic and hemispheric history of abolitionism and emancipation.[10] The field is also developing new interests in Latin America, especially Mexico, as a destination for fugitive slaves and former Confederate emigrants.[11] All of these studies have substantially deepened our understanding of abolitionism, wartime nationalism, and the origins, meanings, and consequences of emancipation in the United States. Nevertheless, this scholarship has predominantly focused on Europe and the Americas, mostly overlooking Asia and the Pacific, except for occasional references to the Taiping Rebellion in China as another (and even bloodier) civil war in midcentury and the Meiji Restoration of 1868 in Japan as a case of nation building coterminous with the Reconstruction of the United States.[12]

This forum’s examination of the transpacific aspects of Civil War–era history is also guided by a second vibrant strand of the field: the American West during the Civil War and Reconstruction. The West has long been overlooked or reduced to relative insignificance in Civil War–era scholarship, with the exceptions of such key moments as the Compromise of 1850. As historians seek to stretch the geographical scope of their analysis beyond North and South, however, they increasingly put the West into the narrative of the Civil War era, interpreting events happening in or arising from the region as part of a wider social, political, and legal story at the national level. Western historian Elliott West, for example, proposed the concept of “Greater Reconstruction,” which views the Civil War and Reconstruction as a “continental process” shaped by the experiences of not only white and Black Americans but also indigenous peoples, Mexicans, and Chinese immigrants.[13] In light of this approach, the Thirteenth Amendment’s application to southwestern peonage, federal exclusion laws that denied naturalized citizenship to the Chinese, and federal policy for breaking up indigenous lands and granting US citizenship to Native Americans can all be understood as parts of the national government’s attempt to establish the United States’ territorial sovereignty in the postbellum period.[14]

Scholarship on the West has significantly broadened our perspectives on the Civil War era, but some aspects remain underexplored. In her recent review essay of the field, Stacey L. Smith, one of the authors in this forum, points out that while this scholarship has extensively explored US wars against indigenous peoples in the West, it often fails to fully investigate the ways racial diversity in the West shaped citizenship and state power in the Civil War era, an analysis that would require historians to pay more attention to the experiences of Chinese immigrants, Mexicans, and African Americans who migrated to the West from other parts of the country. “Civil War West” scholarship also places a strong emphasis on the Great Plains and the Southwest, but, like international Civil War scholarship, it tends to overlook the Pacific Coast.[15] To better understand the federal government’s imperial ambitions to expand commercial opportunities outside North America, and the kind of polity it sought to consolidate in the United States in the postbellum period, historians of the Civil War era need to investigate more substantively the politics of Chinese immigration and the experiences of the Chinese in the American West. This forum takes up this task.[16]

Pacific history provides the third main context of this forum. One of the major emphases in historical scholarship over the last two decades is on social, cultural, economic, and political integrations through exploration, migration, trade, diplomacy, and conquest in the Pacific World—a region that embraced East Asia, Southeast Asia, Oceania and the Pacific Islands, and North and South America. Pacific history examines diasporic movements and interactions of peoples from and within these regions, including migrant workers, voyagers, missionaries, and explorers; maritime traffic systems; circulations of culture, capital, and ideas; Asian, European, and American commercial ventures across the Pacific; and local, regional, and global forces that promoted these developments. Like its Atlantic counterpart, Pacific history has different spatial framings depending on its practitioners. Some historians focus on specific locations, such as the Pacific Rim and the Pacific Islands, while others highlight networks across the Pacific. Regardless of the place of analytical focus, Pacific history necessarily links Asian history, US history, and Asian American history, and it is these connections that inspire the present forum.[17]

The Civil War era in US history corresponds with a critical juncture in Pacific history. Adam McKeown has called the 1850s “the apex of Pacific integration.” The California gold rush, along with other gold rushes in North America and Australia, was one of the events that contributed to a “global boom in trade and mobility” in this period, stimulating international migration from multiple parts of the world and the transpacific dissemination of the goods produced by migrants. Chinese immigration to the American West was a major part and consequence of this process.[18] As Gregory Rosenthal has recently shown, midcentury Pacific integration was also characterized by the diasporic movement of Hawaiian migrant workers, who left Hawai’i in search of employment and opportunities in equatorial Pacific Islands, Alaska, and North America, including gold rush California. With their labor and the commodities they extracted and circulated across the Pacific Ocean, these indigenous workers helped facilitate “transoceanic capitalist integration.” Rosenthal thus argues that “nineteenth-century California was an integral part of the Hawaiian Pacific World.”[19]

The US government also participated in Pacific integration when it “opened” Japan by pressuring the Tokugawa Bakufu to end its isolation policy. Charged by the federal government with a mission to secure agreements from Japan for fair treatment of American shipwrecked sailors and provision of fuel and supplies to US ships operating in the Pacific, Matthew C. Perry arrived in Japan with his fleet in 1853. Perry’s gunboat diplomacy resulted in the signing of the Treaty of Peace and Amity in 1854, which recognized US demands for the protection of American sailors, the supply of coal and provisions, the establishment of a US consulate, and most-favored nation status. By the end of the decade, the United States had also obtained a trade agreement with Japan, establishing American commercial and strategic presence in East Asia and the Pacific.[20]20 While ultimately helping trigger the collapse of Tokugawa rule, the opening of Japan contributed significantly to the transpacific movement of people, including laborers, diplomats, sailors, and merchants.

This forum examines transpacific connections in the Civil War era by pursuing two central themes. The first half investigates the emergence during the 1860s and 1870s of new discourses that challenged dominant gender and racial ideologies in the nineteenth-century United States, as a result of diplomatic exchanges with Japan and Black Americans’ transpacific migration to the country. The second half analyzes the experiences of Chinese immigrants to explore a second theme: the rights of Asians in the United States in the Civil War era. These two themes are by no means exhaustive. The forum might have brought Oceania into the scope of analysis, for example, by including work on the migration of Pacific Islanders.[21] Focusing only on the Japanese and Chinese contexts, with strong attention to the Pacific rim, the four articles collected here represent a particular thread of Pacific history, a small sample among many possibilities in the study of transpacific connections in the Civil War era.

The first two articles analyze the impact of transpacific connections on nineteenth-century American gender and racial ideologies. Ikuko Asaka’s piece examines a diplomatic visit by Japanese samurai to the United States in 1860 to exchange treaties ratified between the two countries. Investigating how the Japanese delegation was treated by white Americans and described in newspapers and magazines, Asaka argues that the Japanese men’s visit disrupted the normative gender dualism of men and women in antebellum American society, which attached privilege and power to maleness, especially that of white people. Reflecting white men’s racist and orientalist view of Asians, newspapers and magazines presented the Japanese diplomats as female figures, based on their dress and demeanor, and underscored the femininity of their sensibilities. The press also condemned white women who appeared at reception sites to greet the Japanese emissaries for intruding into formal diplomatic areas. Yet, despite these assertions of white men’s racial and gender superiority, the Japanese were welcomed at decidedly male public spaces, such as the State Department and the White House, which implied recognition of the Japanese men’s masculine political authority in American society. Asaka analyzes journals of the Japanese delegates to demonstrate that they also upset the normative denial of public roles to women by interacting with white women on the streets and in other urban spaces, allowing them to help foster friendship between the United States and Japan, a subtle but significant form of diplomatic activity. Illuminating the coexistence of the orientalist feminization of the Japanese men and the confirmation of their maleness as public officials, Asaka argues that the Japanese diplomatic mission created a new configuration of gender and sexuality that defied the existing structure of political power and privilege in late antebellum America. Pacific diplomacy thus provided crucial moments when the predominant assumptions about race, gender, and sexuality collapsed.

In the second article, Stacey L. Smith examines a group of Black Americans living in Japan during the 1860s and 1870s, focusing on the experience of Peter K. L. Cole, who resided in the treaty port of Yokohama between 1866 and 1873 as a merchant, diplomatic aide, and reporter for the Elevator, a Black San Francisco newspaper. Witnessing the modernization and westernization efforts of Japan, the Civil War, Reconstruction, and overseas  expansion of the United States, Cole developed distinctive ideas about race and Black Americans’ place in the US empire. He envisioned Black Americans as equal partners with white Americans in expanding American commercial interests in East Asia and the Pacific. Cole elaborated on this idea in ways that countered the stigmatization of Black Americans in the United States. Adopting a Western sense of cultural and moral superiority over Asians, he presented Black Americans as full-fledged members of the civilized United States. He often referred to Black Americans in Japan as “foreigners” or “Americans,” not by any racial designation, so that they could be aligned with other Europeans and white Americans as a single group of modernized people, as opposed to the backward Japanese. Cole also applied ideas of settler colonialism to the Japanese, who he thought should be assimilated into modernity, just like Native Americans in the United States. Ultimately, Cole’s claims to interracial supremacy were silenced as a system of class segregation developed by wealthy white British merchants alienated Black residents in Yokohama, the majority of whom were in trades, such as clerical workers and shopkeepers, scorned by the elite. Nevertheless, Cole’s negotiation of the cultural map of Japan shows that some Black Americans took part in the consolidation of US presence in East Asia and the Pacific. Historians of Reconstruction have produced a robust body of scholarship on Black Americans’ claims to equality and belonging to the United States after the Civil War on the basis of their birth on American soil, military service during the war, and contributions to the cultivation of land through their labor. The United States’ transpacific expansion allowed Black Americans to make these claims in different ways by asserting their roles as agents of US empire abroad.

Chinese immigration to the United States was one of the most important consequences of Pacific integration in the mid-nineteenth century. The last two articles of the forum uncover little-known aspects of the debates over Chinese immigrants’ freedom and legal rights in the Civil War era related to habeas corpus and naturalization, with particular attention to the transpacific contexts of this history. Tian Xu’s article examines connections between Chinese habeas corpus petitions against sexual commerce and the detention of Chinese immigrant women in California from the 1850s to the 1880s. Habeas corpus petitions allowed Chinese immigrants to challenge Chinese exclusion law and secure entry to the United States in the late nineteenth century. Xu sheds light on the less familiar aspects of the Chinese habeas petitions by revealing how they provided Chinese women in California with a legal device for freedom from Chinese brothel owners and human traffickers, who participated in transpacific networks of sexual commerce. Habeas corpus, however, could also work against the interests of Chinese women, in the case of immigrant detention. When the interests of California government officials, Chinese merchant leaders, and Christian missionaries in restricting the importation of Chinese prostitutes converged, the habeas hearing became a site where the moral character of Chinese women was tested, leading to the detention and exclusion of those deemed “lewd and debauched.” Xu’s article thus highlights the diverse forms of legal encounters between transpacific systems of human trafficking and the regulation of morality in the American West. Building on recent scholarship’s recognition that freedom was contested over multiple groups of people, including Black Americans, Native Americans, Mexicans, Chinese immigrants, women, and the poor, across the United States during the Civil War and Reconstruction, the article puts Chinese women in California into the broader landscape of struggles for freedom in the period.

In the final article, Beth Lew-Williams reconsiders Chinese immigrants’ relationship with US naturalization law. Historians have viewed the inability to naturalize as a defining characteristic of the Chinese experience in the nineteenth-century United States. The conventional narrative is that Radical Republicans’ proposal to make naturalization law colorblind during Reconstruction failed due to California politicians’ fear of extending US citizenship to the Chinese, leaving them as permanent aliens. As Lew-Williams reveals, however, despite the legal bar, a significant number of Chinese immigrants across the United States managed to naturalize to the extent that nearly 7 percent of the Chinese-born population in the country obtained US citizenship by 1900. In light of this fact, Lew-Williams urges historians to examine how the Chinese were able to naturalize and the historical implications of this accomplishment, rather than uncritically taking Chinese migrants’ alien status for granted. Many Chinese naturalized at courthouses within the contiguous United States, but America’s territorial expansion into the Pacific also opened a new route to US citizenship for the Chinese. The Hawaiian Organic Act of 1900 naturalized former citizens of the Republic of Hawai’i, turning its citizens of Chinese descent into US citizens. US citizenship also made a transpacific life possible for Chinese Americans by allowing them to leave and reenter the United States, a kind of movement denied to most Chinese immigrants under the exclusion laws. At the same time, Lew-Williams recognizes the fundamental fragility of the naturalized citizenship of Chinese Americans, who were subjected to constant threats of denaturalization, which could happen through collaboration between US diplomats in China and the secretary of state in Washington, DC. Nevertheless, the story of Chinese naturalization enriches the political and legal historiography of Reconstruction by demonstrating that Chinese alienage was not as absolute as historians tend to think. Together, the articles by Xu and Lew-Williams show that transpacific connections provided an important context in which Asian immigrants pursued their rights in postbellum America.

As a whole, this forum invites historians to consider Asia and the Pacific as they study the United States in the Civil War era. Migration and diplomacy are organizing concepts in this volume. Future research could pursue those themes, or it could take other approaches and focus on other subjects. For instance, much remains to be investigated concerning how ideas and practices of unfree labor traveled across the Pacific world.[22] And much more could be done to explore links between Hawai’i as the producer of sugar and California as the processing center in explorations of commercial and imperial visions in the post–Civil War Pacific.[23] The rich field of the Civil War era, in short, could be even richer with more perspectives from Asia and the Pacific.

[1] Thomas A. Klug, “The Detroit Labor Movement and the United States–Canada Border, 1885–1930,” Mid-America 80 (Fall 1998): 222.

[2] San Francisco Call, June 12, 1892.

[3] Salt Lake Semi-Weekly, July 6, 1897; Edward D. Beechert, Working in Hawaii: A Labor History (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 1985), 40–57.

[4] House of Representatives, Ex. Doc. 176, 48th Cong., 1st Sess., pt. 2, 835 (1884).

[5] For a recent study of immigration in the Civil War era, see the forum on the subject in the September 2021 issue of the Journal of the Civil War Era. Katherine Carper and Kevin Kenny, “Introduction: Immigration in the Civil War Era,” Journal of the Civil War Era 11 (September 2021): 311–16, and following articles by Michael A. Schoeppner, Katherine Carper, Kevin Kenny, and Lucy E. Salyer.

[6] Moon-Ho Jung, Coolies and Cane: Race, Labor, and Sugar in the Age of Emancipation (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006); Stacey L. Smith, Freedom’s Frontier: California and the Struggle over Unfree Labor, Emancipation, and Reconstruction (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2013); Mae Ngai, The Chinese Question: The Gold Rushes and Global Politics (New York: W. W. Norton, 2021); Kevin Kenny, The Problem of Immigration in a Slaveholding Republic: Policing Mobility in the Nineteenth-Century United States(New York: Oxford University Press, 2023).

[7] Steven Hahn, A Nation without Borders: The United States and Its World in an Age of Civil Wars, 1830–1910 (New York: Viking, 2016), 3.

[8] There are exceptions to the trend of Asian American historiography’s focus on the twentieth century. Most recent ones include Sue Fawn Chung, Chinese in the Woods: Logging and Lumbering in the American West (Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 2015); Beth Lew-Williams, The Chinese Must Go: Violence, Exclusion, and the Making of the Alien in America (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2018); Kazuhiro Oharazeki, Japanese Prostitutes in the North American West, 1887–1920 (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2018); Gordon H. Chang, Ghosts of Gold Mountain: The Epic Story of the Chinese Who Built the Transcontinental Railroad (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2019); Ngai, Chinese Question; Mark T. Johnson, The Middle Kingdom under the Big Sky: A History of the Chinese Experience in Montana (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2022).

[9] Eric Foner, Nothing but Freedom: Emancipation and Its Legacy (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1983); Richard Blackett, Building an Antislavery Wall: Black Americans in the Atlantic Abolitionist Movement, 1830–1860 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1983); Peter Kolchin, Unfree Labor: American Slavery and Russian Serfdom (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1990); Jay Sexton, Debtor Diplomacy: Finance and American Foreign Relations in the Civil War Era, 1837–1873 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005).

[10] For studies on these subjects, see Thomas Bender, A Nation among Nations: America’s Place in World History (New York: Hill & Wang, 2006); Edward Bartlett Rugemer, The Problem of Emancipation: The Caribbean Roots of the American Civil War (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2008); Don H. Doyle, ed., Secession as an International Phenomenon: From America’s Civil War to Contemporary Separatist Movements (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2010); David Armitage et al., “Interchange: Nationalism and Internationalism in the Era of the Civil War,” Journal of American History 98 (September 2011): 455–89; Paul Quigley, Shifting Grounds: Nationalism and the American South, 1848–1865 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012); Andrew M. Fleche, The Revolution of 1861: The American Civil War in the Age of Nationalist Conflict (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2012); Robert E. May, Slavery, Race, and Conquest in the Tropics: Lincoln, Douglas, and the Future of Latin America (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013); David T. Gleeson and Simon Lewis, eds., The Civil War as Global Conflict: Transnational Meanings of the American Civil War (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2014); Don H. Doyle, The Cause of All Nations: An International History of the American Civil War (New York: Basic Books, 2015); Matthew Karp, This Vast Southern Empire: Slaveholders at the Helm of American Foreign Policy (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2016); Ikuko Asaka, Tropical Freedom: Climate, Settler Colonialism, and Black Exclusion in the Age of Emancipation (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2017); Paul Ortiz, An African American and Latinx History of the United States(Boston: Beacon, 2018); David Prior, ed., Reconstruction in a Globalizing World (New York: Fordham University Press, 2018); Enrico Dal Lago, Civil War and Agrarian Unrest: The Confederate South and Southern Italy (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2018); Gregory P. Downs, The Second American Revolution: The Civil War–Era Struggle over Cuba and the Rebirth of the American Republic (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2019); Ann L. Tucker, Newest Born of Nations: European Nationalist Movements and the Making of the Confederacy (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2020); Jewel L. Spangler and Frank Towers, eds., Remaking North American Sovereignty: State Transformations in the 1860s (New York: Fordham University Press, 2020); David Prior, ed., Reconstruction and Empire: The Legacies of Abolition and Union Victory for an Imperial Age (New York: Fordham University Press, 2022); Evan C. Rothera, Civil Wars and Reconstructions in the Americas: The United States, Mexico, and Argentina, 1860–1880 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2022).

[11] Todd W. Wahlstrom, The Southern Exodus to Mexico: Migration across the Borderlands after the American Civil War (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2015); Alice L. Baumgartner, South to Freedom: Runaway Slaves to Mexico and the Road to the Civil War(New York: Basic Books, 2020); Alan P. Marcus, Confederate Exodus: Social and Environmental Forces in the Migration of U.S. Southerners to Brazil (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2021).

[12] Bender, Nation among Nations; Armitage et al., “Interchange”; Richard Carwardine and Jay Sexton, eds., The Global Lincoln (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011).

[13] Stacey L. Smith, “Beyond North and South: Putting the West in the Civil War and Reconstruction,” Journal of the Civil War Era 6 (December 2016): 572–74; Elliott West, “Reconstructing Race,” in The Essential West: Collected Essays (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2012), 100–126.

[14] Smith, “Beyond North and South,” 567. Representative studies of the West in the Civil War era include Heather Cox Richardson, West from Appomattox: The Reconstruction of America after the Civil War (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007); Leonard L. Richards, The California Gold Rush and the Coming of the Civil War (New York: Knopf, 2007); Ari Kelman, A Misplaced Massacre: Struggling Over the Memory of Sand Creek (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2013); D. Michael Bottoms, An Aristocracy of Color: Race and Reconstruction in California and the West, 1850–1890 (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2013); Smith, Freedom’s Frontier; Adam Arenson and Andrew R. Graybill, eds., Civil War Wests: Testing the Limits of the United States (Oakland: University of California Press, 2015); William S. Kiser, Borderlands of Slavery: The Struggle Over Captivity and Peonage in the American Southwest (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2017); Megan Kate Nelson, The Three-Cornered War: The Union, the Confederacy, and Native Peoples in the Fight for the West (New York: Scribner, 2020); Kevin Waite, West of Slavery: The Southern Dream of a Transcontinental Empire (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2021); William S. Kiser, Illusions of Empire: The Civil War and Reconstruction in the U.S.–Mexico Borderlands (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2022).

[15] Smith, “Beyond North and South,” 584–85.

[16] Some scholars’ works must be noted as important exceptions to the neglect of Chinese immigration in Civil War–era scholarship. See Najia Aarim-Heriot, Chinese Immigrants, African Americans, and Racial Anxiety in the United States, 1848–1882 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2003); Edlie L. Wong, Racial Reconstruction: Black Inclusion, Chinese Exclusion, and the Fictions of Citizenship (New York: New York University Press, 2015); Lucy E. Salyer, “Reconstructing the Immigrant: The Naturalization Act of 1870 in Global Perspective,” Journal of the Civil War Era 11 (September 2021): 382–405; Kenny, The Problem of Immigration in a Slaveholding Republic, 145–56, 179–202, 208–13.

[17] Matt K. Matsuda, “The Pacific,” American Historical Review 111, no. 3 (2006): 758–80; Gary Y. Okihiro, Island World: A History of Hawai’i and the United States (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008); Matt K. Matsuda, Pacific Worlds: A History of Seas, Peoples, and Cultures (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012); David Igler, The Great Ocean: Pacific Worlds from Captain Cook to the Gold Rush (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013); David Armitage and Alison Bashford, eds., Pacific Histories: Ocean, Land, People (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014); Janet Hoskins and Viet Thanh Nguyen, eds., Transpacific Studies: Framing an Emerging Field(Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2014); Gary Y. Okihiro, American History Unbound: Asians and Pacific Islanders (Oakland: University of California Press, 2015); Paul A. Kramer, “A Complex of Seas: Passages between Pacific Histories,” Amerasia Journal 42, no. 3 (2016): 32–41; Lon Kurashige, ed., Pacific America: Histories of Transoceanic Crossings (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2017); David Armitage, Alison Bashford, and Sujit Sivasundaram, eds., Oceanic Histories (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2018); Matt K. Matsuda, A Primer for Teaching Pacific Histories: Ten Design Principles (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2020); Henry Knight Lozano, California and Hawai’i Bound: U.S. Settler Colonialism and the Pacific West, 1848–1959 (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2021); Jinah Kim and Nitasha Tamar Sharma, “Center-to-Center Relationalities: At the Nexus of Pacific Islands Studies and Trans-Pacific Studies,” Critical Ethnic Studies 7, no. 2 (2021),

[18] Adam McKeown, “Movement,” in Armitage and Bashford, Pacific Histories, 150; Ngai, Chinese Question.

[19] Gregory Rosenthal, Beyond Hawai’i: Native Labor in the Pacific World (Oakland: University of California Press, 2018), 1, 14. On Pacific Islanders, see also Nicholas Thomas, Islanders: The Pacific in the Age of Empire (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010); David A. Chang, “Borderlands in a World at Sea: Concow Indians, Native Hawaiians, and South Chinese in Indigenous, Global, and National Spaces,” Journal of American History 98, no. 2 (2011): 384–403; Bronwen Douglas, Science, Voyages, and Encounters in Oceania, 1511–1850 (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014); David A. Chang, The World and All the Things upon It: Native Hawaiian Geographics of Exploration (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2016); Juliann Anesi et al., “(Re)centering Pacific Islanders in Trans-Pacific Studies: Transdisciplinary Dialogue, Critique, and Reflections from the Diaspora,” Critical Ethnic Studies 7, no 2 (2021),

[20] Matsuda, Pacific Worlds, 233–38.

[21] Anesi et al., “(Re)centering Pacific Islanders in Trans-Pacific Studies.”

[22] For instance, in a recent journal article, Christopher Florio examined attempts by overseers on southern plantations to export the practices of American slavery to British India in the 1840s. Christopher M. Florio, “From Poverty to Slavery: Abolitionists, Overseers, and the Global Struggle for Labor in India,” Journal of American History 102, no. 4 (2016): 1005–24.

[23] Lozano, California and Hawai’i Bound, 80.

Hidetaka Hirota

Hidetaka Hirota is an associate professor of history at the University of California, Berkeley. He is the author of Expelling the Poor: Atlantic Seaboard States and the Nineteenth-Century Origins of American Immigration Policy (2017).

Congratulations to the 2023 Anne Braden Prize Winner

Congratulations to the 2023 Anne Braden Prize Winner

Formal headshot portrait of woman in black top. The Southern Historical Association is delighted to announce the winner of the Anne Braden Prize: Kimberly Welch, “The Stability of Fortunes: A Free Black Woman, Her Legacy, and the Legal Archive in Antebellum New Orleans,” JOURNAL OF THE CIVIL WAR ERA 12 (December 2022): 473-502. This prize, which was first awarded in 2022, recognizes the best article on a topic in Southern women’s history. This year’s selection committee was composed of Professors Joan Cashin (chair), Brandi Brimmer, and Lori Glover.

The prize citation is as follows: Professor Welch tells a compelling story about Eulalie Mandeville, a free black woman who navigated through the white-controlled legal system in antebellum Louisiana to protect her rights.  An inheritance dispute broke out in 1846, when Mandeville’s white partner, Eugene Macarty, died.  She used a brilliant strategy, making savvy use of the documentary record, to fend off Macarty’s white relatives and safeguard her children’s future.  She prevailed in court and was able to keep her assets.  Professor Welch explored over three hundred and fifty pages of testimony, and she presents her argument in clear, graceful prose.  Her well-crafted article casts new light on issues of gender, race, and the workings of the court system in the Old South. 


Hilary N. Green

Hilary N. Green is the James B. Duke Professor of Africana Studies at Davidson College. She previously worked in the Department of Gender and Race Studies at the University of Alabama where she developed the Hallowed Grounds Project. She earned her M.A. in History from Tufts University in 2003, and Ph.D. in History from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2010. Her research and teaching interests include the intersections of race, class, and gender in African American history, the American Civil War, Reconstruction, as well as Civil War memory, African American education, and the Black Atlantic. She is the author of Educational Reconstruction: African American Schools in the Urban South, 1865-1890 (Fordham, 2016).

USCT Kin’s Generational Battle for Equality

USCT Kin’s Generational Battle for Equality

Even before the Civil War began, African Americans were fighting for racial and social equality. Often, historians focus on the lived experiences of African Americans residing in southern states to understand how African Americans fought to reframe society to become more inclusive. It is vital that we also acknowledge the complexities and experiences of northern African Americans as well. Anti-Blackness was never isolated to one region. Even in states where slavery was eventually abolished, racism continued evolving.

Pennsylvania was an example of a northern state that sought to normalize and codify white supremacy. Antebellum state policies, laws, and racial attitudes demonstrates the difference between being opposed to slavery and being for racial equality.  African Americans had faced attempts to restrict them—even if not enslaved—for decades. One such family was the Rothwell family, who lived in Chester, Pennsylvania, who navigated life (including anti-Blackness) in a free state.

1838 was a significant year in African American experience in Pennsylvania. In May 1838, when Philadelphian anti-abolitionists burned down Pennsylvania Hall, a newly opened “Temple of Free Discussion” where a diverse collection of abolitionists and women’s rights advocates congregated.[1] Anti-abolitionists then burned African American homes, religious institutions, schools, and businesses as they violently expressed their racist views. To be clear, this was neither the first nor the last white-led race riot in Philadelphia. That same year the state legislature revised the definition of “freemen” to be exclusively white and male, and explicitly both racialized and gendered voting rights which continued until the passage of the Fifteenth and Nineteenth Amendments. By the fall, voters (who were primarily white men) approved the new state constitution.[2] Thus, it was evident that many white Pennsylvanians did not believe in racial equality.

For the Rothwell family who were African Americans living about nineteen miles south of Philadelphia, 1838 was a memorable year due to the birth of Alfred (a future Civil War soldier in the Third United States Colored Infantry (USCI)). Due to actions beyond their control, including birth, Alfred lived in a state that demonstrated hostility (sometimes violently) towards African Americans. He would spend his life battling racism while trying to live on a day-to-day basis.

Life for the Rothwells and Black Pennsylvanians dramatically changed after the state legislature decided (for various reasons) to formally ban slavery in 1847. African Americans undoubtedly celebrated the new policy, primarily as it provided more opportunities for human rights activism. For Isaac Rothwell, Sr. (Alfred’s father), the humanitarian and grassroots social activism connected to, according to a descendant, “using his sailing expertise to help hide Blacks seeking freedom.”[3] Perhaps Alfred continued down the path while working as a fisherman (before he enlisted).

It is also essential to recognize that employment on northern waterways was an anomaly for many Pennsylvanian African Americans. Philadelphia, for instance, was a city where many African Americans found it extremely difficult to find in any occupation beyond unskilled labor. Historian W.E.B. Du Bois stated that “Everyone knows that in a city like Philadelphia[,] a Negro does not have [the] same chance to exercise his ability or secure work according to his talents as a white man.”[4]  Looking northward toward New York City, white—employers and customers—used numerous methods to limit employment opportunities for African Americans. Thus, northern African Americans working semi-skilled or skilled occupations resisted occupational racial discrimination daily.

Life for northern African Americans, including the Rothwell family, fundamentally changed after U.S. Congressmen (in both free and slave states) negotiated terms to protect the “rights” of enslavers nationwide which fundamentally threatened the life and liberty of all African Americans. Efforts to protect African Americans who fled from their enslavers dramatically increased after the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. The revised federal law simultaneously protected the rights of enslavers to their “human property” while making any African Americans (sometimes with baseless claims or kidnapping) a potential victim, who was rarely (if ever) allowed to testify on their behalf. Additionally, the federal policy strengthened its punishments for those found in violation of not enforcing the law, including exorbitant fines and lengthy jail sentences. Thus, the Rothwell family’s activism was critical in saving lives while directly opposing the racist federal law because they were in direct violation of a federal law that prioritized white enslavers “property” ownership over the humanity of African Americans.

Despite this racial climate, Alfred still created a meaningful life. He married Elizabeth Harris in 1857. Between 1858 to 1862, the couple had three children—James, Isaac, and Hannah. Life for the growing family was difficult for numerous reasons as they tried to survive and combat racism. Little did their family know that their lives would forever change when the Civil War began.

In the years leading up to the mobilization of USCT regiments, many white people (including numerous northerners) questioned if African Americans would make good soldiers saying they lacked the courage. Their flawed assertion ignored that African Americans demonstrated bravery in their battles against white supremacy Any person questioning the willingness of African American men to serve in the U.S. military ignored the fact that Black men served in the U.S. Navy throughout the war’s entirety.

USCT recruits were a diverse group with a legion of reasons to become U.S. Army soldiers. For some African American men, soldiering allowed them to simultaneously refute denigrations of their manhood while making public demands for full and equal national citizenship. Other men desired to engage in armed combat to destroy slavery. Some men needed the one-time cash injections that some enlisted men could amass during the enlistment process. Unfortunately, enlistment records rarely reveal what motivated young men, such as the Rothwells—Alfred, Isaac, Jr., and Samuel—and George Potts, all to enlist in the Third USCI in July of 1863. Regardless of their motivations, their actions had the potential to impact the men’s kin as well, for the Rothwells and Potts they were families that now had personal connections to Pennsylvania’s first (of eleven) USCT regiments.

Families, and the larger community, were critical supporters of the war effort, and numerous war propagandists agreed. African American women, more specifically, received frequent public praise from a racially diverse group of northerners for their prominent role in getting able-bodied men to enlist. For instance, Pennsylvanian Congressman William D. Kelley proclaimed that African American mothers, such as Elizabeth Powell and Sarah Potts, and wives, such as Elizabeth Rothwell, were vital to the war effort.[5] The Weekly Anglo-African (published in New York City) printed similar statements in widely circulated newspaper articles.

For Alfred’s young family, however, his enlistment disrupted their already destabilized family economy since he was his family’s only documented full-time wage earner. His July 4, 1863 enlistment immediately ended his civilian wages. He also never received his $100 enlistment bounty due for his service. Additionally, throughout his military career, he received seven dollars monthly due to U.S. War Department policies. At the same time, white soldiers (of the same rank, in the same army, and doing the same work) made thirteen dollars per month. Not only was his life cheapened, but it also directly impacted Alfred’s wife and three young children, who would rely on his soldier’s income to survive. Incorporating the material realities of northern African American families when discussing the consequences of soldiering ultimately provides more depth and better uncovers the complexities of familial life (in and outside of the military).

The training process was complex, and for many enlisted men and their kin, the forced familial separation did not cease them from seeking to remain connected to each other. For northern African American women, like Emilie Davis, visiting and supporting USCT soldiers was a priority, but not solely for the spectacle of seeing African American men in U.S. Army uniform.[6] In many instances, African Americans used various forms of public transit, placing themselves in volatile (and sometimes life-threatening) situations as they tried to support men who trained. Northern African American women made U.S. Army camp visits routine occurrences.  Mary Leighton (the wife of Benjamin Davis) brought their infant son, Jerome to Camp William Penn to spend time together. Little did the young family know it would be the last time they would all be together, as Benjamin would die as a prisoner of war later that year. Perhaps Elizabeth Rothwell also brought her children to camp. However, raising multiple children alone may have limited her ability to see Alfred, highlighting how familial dynamics became even more chaotic during the war.

The Rothwell family forever changed on August 26, 1863. As part of the Third USCI’s siege on Fort Wagner at Morris Island, South Carolina, Alfred was killed while digging a trench. Thomas R. Rockhold, a first sergeant in the Third USCI, spoke to Alfred as he said his last words. According to Rockhold, Alfred proclaimed, “Goodbye dear wife. Please don’t grieve for (me), for I died in a good cause.”[7] Assuming that Alfred’s last words were actual, then it meant that he wanted to assure his kin that he had what some historians refer to as the “Good Death.” In short, dying servicemembers expressed their adoration for their relatives or partner before dying. It is important to note that the “Good Death,” at its core, was meant to provide some solace to grieving individuals who could theoretically take pride in the symbolic and meaningful sacrifices.[8] While it is certainly understandable why people on the home front might want, even need, the knowledge of their kin thinking of them at the end, the fact remains that they were still dead. Unfortunately for Elizabeth, she was now a widow raising three young children.

Immediately following the tragic news, Elizabeth successfully received a widow’s pension of eight dollars per month. The money was undoubtedly a welcomed addition to her household, but it would never replace the loss of Alfred. Like countless Civil War widow pensioners, Elizabeth, receiving the money also meant that she, per Congressional laws, stipulated that she must remain celibate (and void acting in “a manner unbecoming of a woman”) for the remainder of her life. Otherwise, she could lose her pension and possibly face jail time for pension fraud. In short, widow’s pensions (through federal policies and oversight) sought to control women’s private and intimate lives. She did not apply for the children to receive minors’ pensions in 1863 for unknown reasons.

Even though politicians and federal government agencies attempted to control Elizabeth’s life, she made decisions that gave her agency over her family. In 1868, she wed Robert Anderson, demonstrating that she lived on her terms.[9] It also meant that, after getting married, she lost her widow’s pension, as stipulated through pension laws. Perhaps in response to the changes to their family size and finances motivated the Rothwell children (under Elizabeth’s guidance) to apply for minors’ pensions, which all three children had approved. Each pension (of eight dollars monthly) continued until each child turned sixteen, with Hannah’s being the last one to end in 1878).

Their collective minor’s pensions illustrate that Elizabeth remained committed, to the best of her abilities, to ensuring some financial stability for her family. Even in the face of unending racial discrimination, she ensured that her children graduated from the Soldiers’ Orphan School in Bridgewater, Pennsylvania. Isaac and James Rothwell were so proud of their scholastic endeavors that they shared their diplomas with the Bureau of Pensions, in 1916.

In 1919, Elizabeth passed away. She left behind a legacy of fighting racial and gender discrimination. Her life was so inspiring that one of her descendants, Michelle Marsden, conducted years’ worth of self-funded familial research that took them to numerous archives as they sought to discover more about their ancestors. Conducting this personal research was difficult and time-consuming, but their commitment to reclaiming the histories of their kin kept them going. It is important that scholars not only illuminate Marsden’s efforts, similar to other USCT descendants, but also recognize that our work as scholars have the potential to either empower or do harm to the kin and communities of USCT soldiers, even today.[10]

[1] History of Pennsylvania Hall, which was Destroyed by a Mob, On the 17th of May, 1838 (Philadelphia: Merrihew and Gunn, 1838), 12, 70—72, 122.

[2] Nicholas Wood, “ ‘A Sacrifice on the Altar of Slavery’: Doughface Politics and Black Disenfranchisement in Pennsylvania, 1837—1838,” Journal of the Early Republic, Vol. 31, No. 1 (Spring, 2011), 75, 77, 79, 81, 84, 87.

[3] R.J.N. Blackett, The Captive’s Quest for Freedom: Fugitive Slaves, the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law, and the Politics of Slavery (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018), 42-55.

[4] W.E.B. Du Bois, The Philadelphia Negro (reprint edition. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1996), 98.

[5] Address at a Meeting for the Promotion of Colored Enlistments, Philadelphia (Philadelphia: n.p., 1863), 4.

[6] Notes from a Colored Girl: The Civil War Pocket Diaries of Emilie Frances Davis, ed. Karsonya Wise Whitehead (Columbia, South Carolina: The University of South Carolina Press, 2014), 44.

[7] Letter from Thomas R. Rockhold, on August 27, 1863, in Alfred Rothwell, Third USCI pension file.

[8] Drew Gilpin Faust, The Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2008), 17.

[9] 1917 Pension Bureau document, in John Poulson, Third USCI pension file.

[10], Accessed on 8/24/2023.

Holly A. Pinheiro, Jr.

Holly A. Pinheiro, Jr. is an Assistant Professor of History at Furman University. He received his bachelor’s degree (2008) from the University of Central Florida. Later, he earned his master’s degree (2010) and doctoral degree (2017) from the University of Iowa. His research focuses on the intersectionality of race, gender, and class in the military from 1850 through the 1930s. His monograph, The Families’ Civil War, is forthcoming June 2022 with the University of Georgia Press in the UnCivil Wars Series.  You can find him on Twitter at @PHUsct.