December 2019 (vol. 9, no. 4)

December 2019 (vol. 9, no. 4)

Volume 9, Number 4
December 2019


Guest Editor’s Note

Rachel A. Shelden

Introduction: Federalism in the Civil War Era

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Laura F. Edwards

The Legal World of Elizabeth Bagby’s Commonplace Book: Federalism, Women, and Governance

As this article argues, federalism was practiced in a particular institutional context in the period between the Revolution and the Civil War, one built on the overlapping jurisdictions that defined the colonial legal order. States and the federal government shared authority with localities, where governing business often was done in legal venues. With authority so widely dispersed, different bodies of law operated simultaneously in different parts of the governing order, a situation that has been obscured by the fact that not all were documented in writing. In particular, those bodies of law operative at the local level gave people without the full range of rights more access to arenas of governance than has been assumed in the historiography, although access varied widely. The implications recast our understanding of all Americans’ relationship to governance in this formative period of U.S. history and of the Civil War’s implications, particularly for women.

Keywords: coverture, law, Federalism, statutes, civil law, criminal law, property, women, slavery, race, domestic violence, local government, state government, federal government

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Matthew Karp

The People’s Revolution of 1856: Antislavery Populism, National Politics, and the Emergence of the Republican Party

The election of 1856 saw the emergence of the Republican Party and the political realignment that produced the Civil War. While these events are often interpreted as a defensive response to proslavery aggression, in Kansas and elsewhere, this essay emphasizes the extent to which they reflected the victory of antislavery agitation in national politics. The Republican campaign of John C. Fremont was built around a populist assault on the Slave Power as an entrenched elite: politicians and activists from Henry Wilson to Frederick Douglass celebrated mass mobilization against corrupt legal authority, arguing that a sovereign popular will could not be constrained by cautious appeals to “law and order.” This consciously revolutionary campaign had even more revolutionary implications. Although they were defeated on election day, Republicans made themselves the dominant party in the North, transforming national politics into an existential contest over the future of slavery.

Keywords: Republican Party, Election of 1856, Antislavery, Populism, Slave Power, Kansas, John C. Fremont, Frederick Douglass, Henry Wilson, San Francisco, Vigilance Committee

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Jack Furniss

Devolved Democracy: Federalism and the Party Politics of the Late Antebellum North

This essay maps the ways that antebellum politics and parties operated as federal systems and reveals the significance of this for understanding the rise of the Republican Party. Drawing on evidence from the late 1850s, it offers a guide to the ideas, structures, and mechanisms that made American politics operate as a federal system. Using federalism as a frame forces us to rethink common assumptions about the Third Party System and to see northern politics as competitive, turbulent, and regionally distinct. Acknowledging how federalism served as the scaffolding of political competition changes our view of the political parties. Adapted to the devolved and dispersed nature of American elections, parties functioned federally, composed of national, state, and local iterations that communicated and collaborated but acted largely without interference. The success of the Republican Party becomes a story not just of the triumph of antislavery principles but of the party’s flexibility and skill in morphing its identity and messaging to suit local conditions.

Keywords: federalism, politics, parties, federal system, governance, Republican Party, antebellum, nineteenth-century

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William A. Blair

Vagabond Voters and Racial Suffrage in Jacksonian-Era Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania eliminated black suffrage during its constitutional convention of 1837-1838. Although racism was a motivating force, white supremacists also reacted against the flood of so-called vagabond voters: migrants and transients unleashed by the economic changes of the Jacksonian era. Transient voters who had to move to find work became more typical in this period of expanding white suffrage. Bias against immigrants–including native-born men from other states–thus merged with hatred of African Americans as concerns for Democrats, as racial exclusion became one of the means by which to handle a constellation of elements that were viewed as having the potential to create disorder in power arrangements.

Keywords: Pennsylvania black suffrage, transient voters, migrants, immigrants

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Kate Masur

State Sovereignty and Migration before Reconstruction

This article emphasizes northerners’ arguments for state sovereignty across a range of antebellum conflicts over migration and immigration, emphasizing the many ways free state residents discussed and defended the sovereignty of states and, in particular, the power of the states to regulate persons they considered potentially disruptive. Free state lawyers legislators, and judges, drawing on a legal tradition dating back to early modern England, regularly argued that states were entitled to regulate the mobility and residence not only of paupers and vagrants, but also of immigrants from Europe, alleged fugitive slaves, free black people, Chinese immigrants, and even slavecatchers. These contemporaries were engaged less in an argument over abstract theories of states’ rights versus nationalism than in a struggle to govern a mobile and diverse population.

Keywords: Reconstruction, black laws, immigration, migration, paupers, police powers

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Frank Towers

The Threat of Consolidation: States’ Rights and American Discourses of Nation and Empire in the Nineteenth Century

A paradox of U.S. history has been Americans’ commitment to limiting the power of their national government–often articulated as a defense of states’ rights–amid that same government’s rise to a continental and then world power. Connecting nineteenth-century debates over federalism with the intertwined discourses of nation and empire, this essay explores that contradiction by examining how states’ rights advocates used the term “consolidation” to critique the emerging concept of the nation-state. The essay argues that critics of consolidation offered a vision of American expansion organized around the principle of divided sovereignty as the best means for governing a heterogeneous collection of territories and peoples. In this respect states’ rights provided Americans committed to a self-image as the world’s leading democratic republic with a roadmap for joining the fraternity of empires via a rhetoric ostensibly aimed at preventing tyranny by the center.

Keywords: Federalism, States’ Rights, Consolidation, Nation, Empire

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