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Birthright Citizens: A History of Race and Rights in Antebellum America by Martha S. Jones (review)

Birthright Citizens: A History of Race and Rights in Antebellum America by Martha S. Jones (review) South, property rights, against the other, racial hierarchy. In so doing, black litigants forced judges “to face head-on the contradictions in the val- ues they held most dear—specifically, the tensions between race and prop - erty” (103). Such tensions, she concludes, “made slave systems by turns sustainable and unstable” (20). How unstable is a question that Welch grapples with throughout, and it is a question that other scholars will also want to take up in light of her stimulating work. Welch argues that cases involving free black prop- erty holders made white supremacy unstable by forcing “judges to choose between the two most important foundations of their society: racial hier- archy and private property” (104). She sees cases where judges ruled in favor of black litigants as instances where property proved more impor- tant than race. But other interpreters might wonder whether, by choosing to recognize the rights claimed by some free black litigants, white jurists ultimately sustained, more than destabilized, a system built on white supremacy and slaveholders’ property. After all, in the face-to-face soci- ety that sometimes allowed black litigants to appeal to their local reputa- tion in court, most black residents remained enslaved. As Justin Behrend http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png The Journal of the Civil War Era University of North Carolina Press

Birthright Citizens: A History of Race and Rights in Antebellum America by Martha S. Jones (review)

The Journal of the Civil War Era , Volume 9 (3) – Sep 3, 2019

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Publisher
University of North Carolina Press
Copyright
Copyright @ The University of North Carolina Press
ISSN
2159-9807

Abstract

South, property rights, against the other, racial hierarchy. In so doing, black litigants forced judges “to face head-on the contradictions in the val- ues they held most dear—specifically, the tensions between race and prop - erty” (103). Such tensions, she concludes, “made slave systems by turns sustainable and unstable” (20). How unstable is a question that Welch grapples with throughout, and it is a question that other scholars will also want to take up in light of her stimulating work. Welch argues that cases involving free black prop- erty holders made white supremacy unstable by forcing “judges to choose between the two most important foundations of their society: racial hier- archy and private property” (104). She sees cases where judges ruled in favor of black litigants as instances where property proved more impor- tant than race. But other interpreters might wonder whether, by choosing to recognize the rights claimed by some free black litigants, white jurists ultimately sustained, more than destabilized, a system built on white supremacy and slaveholders’ property. After all, in the face-to-face soci- ety that sometimes allowed black litigants to appeal to their local reputa- tion in court, most black residents remained enslaved. As Justin Behrend

Journal

The Journal of the Civil War EraUniversity of North Carolina Press

Published: Sep 3, 2019

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