‘The Vice President’s Black Wife’: New Book by IU History Professor

Posted in Articles, History, Media Archive, Slavery, United States, Women on 2021-08-12 01:05Z by Steven

‘The Vice President’s Black Wife’: New Book by IU History Professor

Bloom Magazine
Bloomington, Indiana

Peter Dorfman

Blue Spring Farm, where Julia lived. This is the last standing slave building on the property, likely used as a kitchen. Courtesy photo

Dr. Amrita Chakrabarti Myers regards her work as an academic focused on slavery and Black women’s history as a “labor of recovery.” Her subjects, many illiterate, left little behind.

Myers’ second book, The Vice President’s Black Wife: The Untold Life of Julia Chinn, due out in 2022, focuses on the life of Julia Chinn, an enslaved woman in the early 1800s, on the Kentucky estate of Richard Mentor Johnson. Chinn had two children by Johnson, to whom she was married for 23 years. Because Chinn was Black, the marriage was not legal, but Johnson publicly treated her as his spouse. Chinn was literate, and Johnson put her in charge of the plantation (including oversight of the enslaved laborers) when he was away from home. “She was his wife in every sense,” Myers asserts…

Read the entire article here.

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He became the nation’s ninth vice president. She was his enslaved wife.

Posted in Articles, History, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, Slavery, United States on 2021-02-09 18:19Z by Steven

He became the nation’s ninth vice president. She was his enslaved wife.

The Washington Post

Ronald G. Shafer

Richard Mentor Johnson became vice president in 1837. (Library of Congress)

Her name was Julia Chinn

She was born enslaved and remained that way her entire life, even after she became Richard Mentor Johnson’s “bride.”

Johnson, a Kentucky congressman who eventually became the nation’s ninth vice president in 1837, couldn’t legally marry Julia Chinn. Instead the couple exchanged vows at a local church with a wedding celebration organized by the enslaved people at his family’s plantation in Great Crossing, according to Miriam Biskin, who wrote about Chinn decades ago.

Chinn died nearly four years before Johnson took office. But because of controversy over her, Johnson is the only vice president in American history who failed to receive enough electoral votes to be elected. The Senate voted him into office.

The couple’s story is complicated and fraught, historians say. As an enslaved woman, Chinn could not consent to a relationship, and there’s no record of how she regarded him. Though she wrote to Johnson during his lengthy absences from Kentucky, the letters didn’t survive.

Read the entire article here.

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Interracial Intimacies: An Examination of Powerful Men and Their Relationships across the Color Line

Posted in Books, History, Law, Media Archive, Monographs, Politics/Public Policy, Social Science, United States on 2015-03-07 02:02Z by Steven

Interracial Intimacies: An Examination of Powerful Men and Their Relationships across the Color Line

Carolina Academic Press
144 pages
Paper ISBN: 978-1-59460-496-6

Earl Smith, Professor Emeritus of Sociology
Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, North Carolina

Angela J. Hattery, Professor and Director of Women and Gender Studies
George Mason University, Fairfax, Virginia

Unique among books on interracial relationships, this book examines the lives of high profile men who have produced public discourses on race and interracial relationships and who themselves, often contradictory to their rhetoric, were or continue to be involved in love relationships across the color line. The book opens with a discussion of the history of interracial couplings in the United States, including an examination of the relationship of Richard and Mildren Loving which led to the landmark case Loving v. Virginia in which the U.S. Supreme Court, in 1967, rendered unconstitutional all state laws that prohibited interracial marriage. Each of the subsequent chapters is devoted to an individual man or couple; we explore the lives of men about whom their interracial relationships are relatively well known, including Thomas Jefferson, Strom Thurmond, Clarence Thomas, Frederick Douglass, and William Cohen. We also explore a few figures about whom less is known about their intimate lives including George Washington and Richard Mentor Johnson.

Rather than simply focusing on the relationships exclusively, this book examines specifically the role that power plays in shaping the negotiation of intimate relationships, family forms, racial identity, hegemonic ideology and public policy among public figures who not only contributed to the public discourses on race and interracial unions, but also contributed to the racial ideologies that gained hegemony and dominated Americans’ beliefs about race and the laws and public policies that established second class citizenship for those identified as “Black.”

This book offers the interested reader a glimpse into the personal lives of famous and not so famous American men who clandestinely or in open view loved women across the color line. In some cases, these loving relationships mirrored the men’s beliefs about race and interracial unions—Richard Mentor Johnson, William Cohen—and in others these relationships were in seeming contradiction to the beliefs these men held and in fact developed about racial purity and segregation—Thomas Jefferson, Clarence Thomas, Strom Thurmond. These contradictions between the public and private lives of our country’s public servants offers a rich arena for exploration of race in the United States. In light of the recent election of the first African American president, Barack Obama, this book could not be more timely.

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“Turning Up Their Noses at the Colonel”: Eastern Aristocracy, Western Democracy, and Richard Mentor Johnson

Posted in Articles, History, Media Archive, United States on 2014-02-07 01:50Z by Steven

“Turning Up Their Noses at the Colonel”: Eastern Aristocracy, Western Democracy, and Richard Mentor Johnson

Register of the Kentucky Historical Society
Volume 111, Number 4, Autumn 2013
pages 525-561
DOI: 10.1353/khs.2014.0022

Miles Smith
Texas Christian University, Fort Worth, Texas

In February 1849, the Kentucky legislature debated who would represent the state and fill the open seat in the U.S. Senate. At the completion of the election that followed the debate, the count stood at ninety-two for Whig leader Henry Clay and forty-five for the Democrat, Colonel Richard Mentor Johnson. After his defeat, the onetime Indian fighter and hero of the War of 1812, U.S. representative, senator, and vice president, finally retired from public life. Virtually unknown to the twenty-first-century public, Johnson remains best known to historians for his domestic life. The standard narrative, embraced since the mid-nineteenth century, asserts that Johnson maintained a slave mistress whom he regarded as his common-law wife. He acknowledged their two pretty daughters and introduced them into polite society. During the election of 1836, some genteel Southerners (Virginians especially, the story goes), offended by Johnson’s scandalous domestic and racial situation, obstructed the democratic nomination process and sent the election of the vice president into the Senate, where the senators elected Johnson along party lines.

Historians painted Johnson’s lack of support as an indication of southern displeasure over his relationship with Julia Chinn. In fact, it was Johnson’s egalitarian politics that finally proved to be what aristocratic planters in the old southern states feared. Along with openly engaging in miscegenation (what Johnson’s contemporaries called amalgamation), Johnson championed radical policies aimed at politically displacing southern elites with yeomen farmers and workers. Carolina and Virginia patricians feared Johnson’s brand of political egalitarianism. While Jefferson promoted the political aesthetic of being a simple farmer, he was, in fact, a Piedmont grandee. Jeffersonians ostensibly promoted agrarian equality, but certainly these supposed democrats were nothing more than planters who needed a political vehicle to protect agrarianism and their aristocratic prerogatives. Richard Johnson conceptualized Jacksonian democracy and subsequently the Democratic Party as a truly egalitarian institution where planters, small farmers, and even urban workers and immigrants found equal voice for their needs and concerns. While his relationship with Julia Chinn provided an acceptable public pretext to hamper Johnson’s political aspirations, Tidewater Jeffersonian aristocrats feared the rise of frontier farmers, largely because these backwoods Americans considered merit and service more important than station and acreage. To coastal patricians, Johnson and western democracy represented a very real threat to the political preeminence of the Tidewater and Carolina planters.

Jacksonian Democracy is somewhat inappropriately named. In the South and in the slaveholding West, large planters exercised an outsized influence in local and regional political matters during the so-called Era of the Common Man. And while Andrew Jackson exemplified the movement and served as its rallying figure, he did not “found” American democratic politics. In fact, many early Jacksonians were anything but common men. Andrew Jackson, James Polk, John Tyler, and other prominent Jacksonians garnered the political support of small farmers and workers, but each guarded the prerogatives of the planter class jealously. As Edward Pessen pointed out in his magisterial Jacksonian America, a broadened suffrage allowed American farmers and wage laborers to vote for men who assumed the aesthetic of the common man for political purposes. Glenn Altschuler and Stuart Blumin updated and nuanced Pessen’s thesis, but their argument is simple: Democrats and Whigs were largely similar, and the terms democracy and aristocracy were more often than not political rhetoric. This statement is true, but not universally so…

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The Miscegenation of Richard Mentor Johnson as an Issue in the National Election Campaign of 1835-1836

Posted in Articles, History, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, United States on 2012-10-09 20:52Z by Steven

The Miscegenation of Richard Mentor Johnson as an Issue in the National Election Campaign of 1835-1836

Civil War History
Volume 39, Number 1, March 1993
pages 5-30
DOI: 10.1353/cwh.1993.0043

Thomas Brown

White American men of the antebellum era abhorred few, if any, things more than the danger of an “amalgamation” of their race with African Americans through interracial sexual relations. But their concerns about miscegenation between whites and blacks were usually not a major factor in national politics. However, in the election of 1836, the Democratic candidate for vice president was Representative Richard Mentor Johnson of Kentucky, who was revealed to be a “practical amalgamator.” The opposition to the Democrats—an assortment of Antimasons, Whigs, and disaffected Democrats supporting three presidential candidates in different parts of the country—exploited Johnson’s candidacy to make the menace of amalgamation into a national political issue. Its attacks compelled the Democrats, in turn, to deal with the issue of Johnson’s private life in a manner designed to minimize the damage to their party, and perhaps even make an asset of a liability. The positions taken in the controversy over Johnson’s miscegenation are of great value and interest, for the spokesmen of the opposing sides had to grapple with…

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