The Slave SouthThe racial character of American slavery and the commitment to white supremacy fostered a widespread antipathy toward race mixture in southern society.

Posted in Excerpts/Quotes on 2010-01-25 01:55Z by Steven

The Slave South

The racial character of American slavery and the commitment to white supremacy fostered a widespread antipathy toward race mixture in southern society.  Whites feared that sexual relations between blacks and whites, if not controlled, could undermine the institution of slavery and the racial order.  Children of mixed European and African ancestry, in particular, blurred the sharply demarcated boundaries between the races essential to slavery in the South.

The restrictive policy toward intermixture that emerged before the Civil War, however, was not all-encompassing.  Miscegenation laws sought not so much to eliminate interracial sexual contacts as to channel them.  Those in power employed these laws, as well as laws against fornication and adultery, mainly to keep white women and black men apart.  The legal process exhibited a degree of toleration for white males who had sexual relations with black females, as long as the liaison was kept casual and discreet.  This sort of illicit intercourse—between men of the higher-status racial group and women of the lower—reinforced rather than challenged the existing system of group stratification in the South…

Maryland’s miscegenation law, in short, was directed primarily at white women, black men and, their mulatto offspring.  Recognizing that only the reproduction of “pure white” children of white women could maintain the fiction of a biracial society, the legal system was particularly determined to keep white women from interracial sexual unions.  This preoccupation, combined with the custom of lumping mulattoes and blacks into the same category, provides a crucial insight into the social and legal construction of reproduction.  Under the social rules that operated in the South, a white woman could give birth to a black child—thus the need for strict legal regulation of her sexual behavior.  But under the same rules, a black woman could not give birth to a white child.  Such a construction of reproduction clearly served the interest of white men in the South, allowing them to roam sexually among women of any color without threatening the color line.

A similar thrust characterized miscegenation legislation in Virginia.  The colony’s assembly decided in 1662 that interracial fornication demanded special penalties; the fine it imposed for this crime was twice that stipulated for illicit intercourse between persons of the same race.  Legislators moved at the same time to clarify the status of mulatto offspring of interracial unions.  Declaring that the child of a black woman by a white man would be “bound or free only according to the condition of the mother,” the assembly broke with English common law, which stated that the status of a child followed that of the father.  Virginia lawmakers thus ensured that the transgressions of white men would lead to an increase in the population of the slave labor force, providing a powerful economic incentive to engage in interracial sex even as criminal sanctions were imposed for such behavior.  To say the least, this new legislation delivered a mixed message to white males…

…The fact that mulatto children derived their status from their mother also helps explain why southern lawmakers struggled to prevent sexual relations between white women and black men.  Although mulatto children of black female slaves were subject to enslavement, mulatto offspring of white females could no be placed in slavery.  The free mulattoes threatened the racial caste system ideologically, if not practically, because their presence could lead to the blurring of the distinction between slave and black, on the one hand, and free and white on the other…

Bardaglio, Peter. “‘Shamefull Matches’ Regulation of Interracial Sex and Marriage in the South before 1900”, In Sex, Love, Race: Crossing Boundaries in North American History, edited by Martha Hodes, 113, 115-116.  New York, New York: New York University Press, 1999.

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Reconstructing the Household: Families, Sex, and the Law in the Nineteenth-Century South

Posted in Books, Family/Parenting, History, Law, Media Archive, Monographs, Slavery, Social Science, United States on 2010-01-23 18:58Z by Steven

Reconstructing the Household: Families, Sex, and the Law in the Nineteenth-Century South

University of North Carolina Press
March 1998
382 pages
6.125 x 9.25
8 tables, notes, bibl., index
Paper ISBN  978-0-8078-4712-1

Peter W. Bardaglio, Associate Professor of History
Goucher College, Baltimore, Maryland

Winner of the 1996 James A. Rawley Prize, Organization of American Historians

In Reconstructing the Household, Peter Bardaglio examines the connections between race, gender, sexuality, and the law in the nineteenth-century South. He focuses on miscegenation, rape, incest, child custody, and adoption laws to show how southerners struggled with the conflicts and stresses that surfaced within their own households and in the larger society during the Civil War era. Based on literary as well as legal sources, Bardaglio’s analysis reveals how legal contests involving African Americans, women, children, and the poor led to a rethinking of families, sexuality, and the social order. Before the Civil War, a distinctive variation of republicanism, based primarily on hierarchy and dependence, characterized southern domestic relations. This organic ideal of the household and its power structure differed significantly from domestic law in the North, which tended to emphasize individual rights and contractual obligations. The defeat of the Confederacy, emancipation, and economic change transformed family law and the governance of sexuality in the South and allowed an unprecedented intrusion of the state into private life. But Bardaglio argues that despite these profound social changes, a preoccupation with traditional notions of gender and race continued to shape southern legal attitudes.

Read the preface here.

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