Birthright Citizens: A History of Race and Rights in Antebellum America

Birthright Citizens: A History of Race and Rights in Antebellum America


(playful music)
(people chattering) – Alright good afternoon
everyone, good afternoon. My name is Christine Mallinson,
I am the Director of the Center for Social Science Scholarship which coordinates our right annual Social Sciences Forum of lectures series. There’s a couple seats
spread out throughout, so if you are still looking for a seat, please come on up there’s one couple up here at the front. This is our last social sciences
forum lecture of the year, and we’re going out with a bang here, but I want to take a brief moment here to mention one other important
event that is coming up. On Friday morning, we are
sponsoring this year’s Research Forum, which is on the topic, Immigration and Mobility
in Higher Education. We have a wonderful line up of faculty across the university that will be presenting their research. Please join us in the library
upstairs on the seventh floor, from eight thirty till
two you can drop in, so please come as you’re able. I’d also like you to invite
you to engage with us online and in social media, you
can check out our website socialscience.umbc.edu and
follow our myUMBC group. And we’re also on Facebook
and Twitter @UMBCSocSci. And as you can see our
speaker this afternoon is also an active twitterer, so if anybody out there is live tweeting, please don’t forget to tag her as well. Thanks so much for being here today, and thanks very much to
the history department for organizing this lecture, and I’ll go ahead and turn things over to Doctor Michelle Scott. (applause) – Good afternoon, I’m Michelle Scott, Associate Professor of History and Affiliate and Gender
Women and Sexuality Studies and African Sex. Welcome to the History department’s Annual Low Lecture, It wouldn’t be right if we didn’t give a little bit of history about Doctor Low. This lecture is named for
Doctor Wilford Augustus Low, or Gus as he was universally known to friends and colleagues, who was a professor
right after world war two at Maryland State University or what is now Maryland Eastern Shore, where he thought from 1948 until 1966. He was one of the first
African American Historians to write for the OAH, the Organization of American Historians. His seminal study, The Freedmen’s Bureau in the Border States became known throughout the academic world and is actually a piece
that I can use myself in the 21st Century. He became the fourth editor
for what was then called the Journal of Negro History, which is now the journal of
African American History, and wrote or coedited
the authoritative text the Encyclopedia of Black History in 1981. In 1966, Doctor Low was a founding member of the history department here and helped build the history department. He retired in 1984, and this lecture is
annually given in his honor, to celebrate scholarship
in African American and Southern United States history. I am honored to introduce the Low Lecture of this
afternoon, Dr. Martha S. Jones who knew me when I was
just a lowly undergraduate just writing those research papers that you guys are researching. Doctor Jones is the
society of Black Alumni the Black Alumni Presidential Professor, and Professor of History at
the John’s Hopkins University. She is a legal and cultural
Historian whose work examines how Black Americans have
shaped American democracy. She holds a PhD from Columbia University and J.D. from the CUNY School of Law. Prior to her academic career, she was a public interest
litigator in New York City, so that shows you can
transition your careers at any moment.
(People laughing) She’s the author of the text that we’re gonna hear about today, Birthright Citizens: a
History of Race and Rights in Antebellum America, and also the author of
All Bound Up Together: The Woman Question in African
American Public Culture. She is the coeditor of Toward an Intellectual
History of Black Women, and will be editor of
the forthcoming work; Vanguard: A History of African
American Women’s politics. She’s won numerous awards, she’s known nationally and internationally both as a legal scholar
and a public historian, working on museum exhibitions like Reframing the Color Line
and Proclaiming Emancipation in conjunction with the
William Clements Library, and in collaboration with the Smithsonian national Portrait Gallery. She’s also most recently,
the winner of the OAH or the Organization
of American Historians, Liberty of Legacy Award
for Birthright Citizens, which she was just awarded last week at our annual convention. And you can see her on PBS if you turn on your channels tonight. (Audience laughing) She featured in the Skip Gates Documentary on reconstruction. So it’s now my honor and privilege to bring to the podium, Dr. Martha Jones. (applause) – Good afternoon. – [Audience] Good Afternoon. – Thank you to everybody
who made it possible for me to be here this afternoon, to give me a chance to
talk about many things, including the early
history of Black Baltimore, with you through this
lens or this question that we will explore this afternoon, that of birthright citizenship. It’s and honor to be here
to give the Low Lecture, and I thank my friend and
colleague Michelle Scott, you all should know she
never was a little undergrad, (Audience laughs) she was always a pretty formidable force, but we had the great good
fortune of crossing paths, at the Martin Luther King
Papers Project at Stanford where you indeed were an undergrad and I was getting ready
to start graduate school under the auspices of Clayborne Carson and Susan Carson there, and
it is a special treat to be reunited with you here, so
thank you all very much. I want to tell a story today, about what I think is the first chapter in the long history of citizenship and the long history
of contests, disputes, puzzles, concerns, over who
belongs, and by what terms. And it turns out that
the very first chapter in this ongoing question, that challenges our nation until today, the first chapter is one that
unfolds before the Civil War, it is a chapter that unfolds in the lives of Black Americans, former slaves in the United States. And has a special place in
the history of early Baltimore where this struggle
over national belonging is deeply and keenly felt. I’ll start just briefly with monuments, the one on the left
perhaps is one you’ve seen, if you’ve not seen it yourself, you’ve seen it on in the news, back in the summer of
2017, Roger Brooke Taney, the US Supreme Court Justice, the Chief who was
notoriously responsible for the decision on in the Dred Scott case, that US Supreme Court case that in 1857, declared that no black American, be they enslaved or
free could be a citizen. But I want to juxtapose it against the monument on the right, which perhaps is not one you know, but if you do, raise your hand because I’ll want to talk
with you after the lecture. This one on the right is a monument, an artifact from Laurel Cemetery, which is the first private
African-American cemetery, non church cemetery for
African-Americans in Baltimore city. Founded in 1852, the story of Laurel is an interesting one. It was dug up in 1958, if you
visit the original spot today, it’s the site of a strip mall. But I start us here because
this marker on the right is a monument, a grave marker for a man named George Hackett, and I wanna propose to you this afternoon, I want to proposition to you, the notion that Hackett is an important
and essential companion to Chief Justice Taney, a
man who also spent his life and lived his ideas, if not
his ideals Baltimore City, Hackett has a monument as you can see, toppled over and neglected, and at least on some days
I think perhaps that’s unfortunately apt, which
is to say, his is a history that has yet to be
polished, placed prominently in our collective memory, but I hope I can do a bit
of that work with you today. So Hackett is a favorite
character of mine, in part because the arc of his life really captures the story on this early chapter
birthright citizenship. Hackett is born in 1807 to a
free family in Baltimore City, he’s born just in that moment in which African American men in Maryland have been disenfranchised by the
insertion for the first time, of the word white into
the state constitution as a qualification for voting rights. So he enters life in
Baltimore in a vexed moment, where the possibilities, the prospects, certainly the rights of
former slaves are constrained and appear to be shrinking. He lives until 1870
through the US Civil War, Dying just on the eve of
the final ratification of the 15th Amendment,
that will in a sense, work to restore the right to
vote to African American men in Baltimore and across the country. And so here Hackett’s life story becomes a sort of guide
for us, through that saga, of how African Americans,
former slaves, face the constraints, the curtailments, the diminishment of their rights, and how they come to claim them and win them back. If you were George Hackett, a young man in Baltimore
City in the eighteen teens, where would you look if
you wanted to understand who you were before the constitution? One place to start is
constitutions themselves so I’m going to say a little
bit about these texts, because it turns out, that
these sorts of texts offer too little insight to men like Hackett, the U.S. Constitution is a document that Black Baltimoreans study, they encounter it in
the text of newspapers, they debate it in the context of their
political conventions, but what they discover
when they scrutinize that document, is that it doesn’t
tell us much, if anything, about who is a citizen, is who is not. Now you all are good
students of the Constitution, I know that, so just a refresher. The Constitution draws distinctions between free people,
enslaved people and Indians, but never comments directly on
the status of former slaves, the Constitution on
provides for the privileges and immunities of citizenship, but never tells us who is
a citizen and who is not. There is a funny clause
in the Constitution that you might remember, and
that is that the President, must be a natural born
Citizen of the United States, to be eligible for the office. Well Black Americans like
Hackett, seize on that language, it puzzles them, it provokes them in fact, because what they argue
is, “Well if the President “is a natural born citizen,
there must be such category “and aren’t we natural
born, here on US soil? “No color line in this Constitution.” And this kind of thinking is the beginning of a long, decades long,
reflection, study, argumentation, linked to the U.S. Constitution, but never contained by it,
this is the seed of the claim that Black Americans
are birthright citizens. Now Maryland also has a state Constitution adopted in 1776,
remarkably the word citizen doesn’t appear there at all. Are former slaves citizens
of the state of Maryland? The Constitution offers no insight. And I offer these two examples to suggest that people like Hackett live
in a sort of constitutional or legal limbo, there is a
profound degree of uncertainty, but there is also lots
of room for maneuvering. And that is the story
of birthright citizens, now Hackett is not the only Black American preoccupied with this question, and we might ask why, why
citizenship in particular. And the answer is because
there are two circumstances, two forces that are
bearing down on the lives of former slaves in a city like Baltimore. And Hackett and others like
him think that citizenship might be the shield, it
might be the protection, it might help them resist
these nefarious forces. What are they? The first is a movement
we call colonization. Colonization has an old
history as a set of ideas back to the 18th century,
by the early 19th century as George is coming of age, colonization is now institutionalized, the American Colonization Society, the Maryland State Colonization Society. Colonizationists are a
sort of curious brand of antislavery thinkers, that is colonizationists would concede, that slavery in the
United States will end, in fact, they anticipate it,
perhaps it will take years, decades or even a century, but colonizationists are looking ahead to a post slavery society. And when they all agree upon is this, that the future of the United States is as a white man’s country, and in order to ensure that, colonizationists raise funds
lobbying the state legislature, they outfit ships, they develop
colonies in West Africa, Liberia and Maryland in Liberia, and they worked to entice,
persuade, cajole, arm twist, but to persuade former
slaves, that with freedom comes the prospect and the fact of exile, away from Baltimore and
away from the United States. This is the colonizationists
vision for the nation’s future. The second force is
what we call black laws, black laws are coming out of Annapolis in the State of Maryland, these are statutes that regulate every day facts of life for African-Americans. How one can work, what
sort of property or goods one can own or sell, how
one worships or gathers in public meetings, whether
one can own a gun or a dog, or travel in and out of the state. In Annapolis, periodically,
spades of black laws, bear down on men like Hackett, making life uncomfortable
if not untenable, and what men like Hackett understand, is that these pressures are intended not simply to regulate everyday life, thought they certainly do that, they intended to make life so
untenable for former slaves that they will accept the
enticements of colonization and in essence, self-deport. George will by the 1820s marry. He marries the daughter
of a family friend, the two fathers at this
grand occasion Baltimore City are both Lay Leaders, Deacons, in the African Methodist
Episcopal Church in Baltimore. We can find a report in the Baltimore Sun, and it’s a grand occasion,
George’s entrepreneurial spirit, he begins his economic ambition by running a livery stable. He has a firstborn child a
namesake, son named George. But times are hard, and
colonization in black laws might be one embodiment of tough times. But in George’s own life, his livery stable is
washed out in a flood, he loses some of his buildings
and some of the horses, his namesake, his infant
son, George passes away. And it is a difficult moment
in his family life as well, and George does something
that is not uncommon for young African-American
men in Baltimore city, he goes to sea. He signs up for the crew
of the USS Constitution, who are my Navy buffs, (Audience members laughing)
and there we go. This USS Constitution,
probably best remembered for it’s service during
the American Revolution, Old Ironsides as it’s nicknamed, is readying for a pacific tour, and the Commodore, Alexander Claxton, is looking to higher a
steward, a body servant, who will attend to his personal needs while the ship is at
sea and George signs on. By 1839, he is shuttling the
Commodore’s wine and cigars from Baltimore to Norfolk where the Constitution is being readied. And they will embark
on a remarkable journey by any terms, but especially
a remarkable journey for a free man of color who has questions about who he is, before the law. It turns out that to make
a voyage from the perch that is the Commodore’s quarters is an extraordinary place from which to watch things unfold. And I’ll talk in a minute
about what happens there that I think informs George’s thinking. But the first thing to know
is that this is a voyage that will take George Hackett
and the many other men aboard the ship, to many
ports of call in the Americas, all of which like Baltimore, are beginning to roil with the question, who are former slaves, what
sort of rights do they enjoy, what is the place of free people of color in a post slavery society. This is the age of emancipation. I’m sorry, this is the
age of emancipation. And they will visit Veracruz
in Mexico, Havana, Cuba, Rio de Janeiro in Brazil,
come around the horn and up the west coast of South America, and in each port city,
this is the question that is very much animating life. Now I mentioned that George is in the Commodores quarters, and when that means is
when you get to port, you actually don’t get to disembark because when you’re in port, it’s the time to receive
dignitaries, local dignitaries as well as diplomatic officials. So George is present for some of these rather high level wranglings, but he is left to rely upon other sailors, to tell him what port life is like, and how freemen of colors stand there. But what George is able to
see up close is the sort of, we’ll say, the sort of
trouble that sailors get into when they find themselves
with 24, 48 hours in port. (Audience laughing)
I don’t need to say more I don’t think. But it’s important to us, because it’s the beginning
of George’s legal education, because out of the Commodore’s quarters, are those proceedings,
some of them informal, many of them formal, courts-martial, this is a place in which a Naval flotilla, we now see the convening of a courtroom, and there are two things
I think that are important in George’s observations. The first is that in the Navy, freemen of color, black sailors can testify, when charges are brought against their white counterparts, something that would be forbidden in the courts of Baltimore city. The black laws ensured
that freemen of color could not testify against
the interests of whites in Baltimore, so we see this inversion. The second piece, is with
respect to punishment and what George observes
is that when white sailors are found guilty of an
offense, they can be punished, they will be punished,
many of them by the lash. Here again in Baltimore, by
the 1830s, only men of color are still subject to the lash. But in the Navy, the question
of race and rights and justice is just different enough, that we can imagine George taking note. Now the last piece goes
back to this sort of puzzle that the constitutions leave us with, because freemen of color,
but indeed all sailors, in this period, when they
set out from US ports before they leave stop
at the customs house. Why? Because they want to carry with them, what’s called the Seamen’s
Protection Certificate, and these are certificates issued by federal customs officials that testify to, that are
intended to serve as evidence of the citizenship of US sailors. They need these certificates
in order to resist forced impressment or
service into foreign navies, and Hackett and other
black sailors like him aboard the Constitution,
would have carried such a certificate in his pocket, in case of the threat of impressment. It is a federally issued
document, is it not, that evidence is that he is a
citizen of the United States. At the same time, Southern
ports, most notoriously, in Charleston, have enacted port laws that especially target
African-American sailors. If you arrived in Norfolk or
Charleston in this period, and you’re a free sailor of color, you will not be permitted to disembark, state law will require that
you either remain on board, or should you disembark,
be detained in a local jail until it’s time for your
ship to sail out of port. This is a question, or
poses a question for US Attorney’s General, and courts, isn’t this a violation
of the citizenship rights of free men of color? Well it depends on whether or not you think they are citizens. And in this period, Chief
Justice William Wards and later Roger Brooke
Taney, both will technically, but decisively conclude
that free men of color, despite those certificates, are not citizens of the United States, and hence can indeed be
subject to these state laws that constrict them in the ports. And this is the world
that George inhabits, this ambiguity, these contradictions, this incapacity it seems of officialdom to discern not only him, he certainly is discerned as a free man of color in officialdom, but to be discerned and to have his status set, fixed, predictable,
consistent, this is not his fate. The Commodore will die
of dysentery, fatefully, and George will hop a whaler on the Pacific coast of South America, and make his way back to the US. They disembark in Nantucket, which is the Ann home
port, two weeks after Frederick Douglas,
another black Baltimorean, has given his very first
public antislavery speech in Nantucket. George steps off the
Ann and into the heart, the soul of radical abolitionism, a world in which free men of color, can imagine for themselves
and in fact embrace something very much like citizenship. And then he does the thing
that endears me to him always which is, by what means we don’t know, but over the coming months, he makes his way home
back to Baltimore City, and there he will remain. We could speculate about why
he comes back to Baltimore, they’re his family, they’re his community, they’re the institutions
that have raised him up, but there certainly are
also profound challenges that have only heightened in
the years that he’s been away. And I find George in an interesting place when he resurfaces in the
archives of Baltimore City, and it is here in the city courthouse, and I hope, you’ll hear in what he does, how a man without access,
without the sort of context that someone like Douglas will enjoy in New England or New York, how a man constrained by black laws and a very active colonization movement, and the threat that should he
speak too loudly about rights, he might be charged
with a sort of sedition, how he goes about building the case, that he is in fact a right bearing person. The first time I find
him he’s gotten into a, he’s gotten into a sort of dust up on the streets of Baltimore. He says he’s been assaulted by
a white man named John Pitt, and he does the thing that I think at least for me was unexpected, he takes himself over to this courthouse, he visits a clerk, he files a complaint. He attends the trial, and
he testifies against Pitt, and he wins, and he goes home
with a dollar in his pocket, for his trouble, but I hope you hear, how even in the small episode, Hackett is pushing on and
testing the limits of black laws that say he can’t testify
against the interests of whites, turns out sometimes, he can, or he will be permitted to
do so, and that is his story. Hackett by the 1840s has
inherited his father’s role in the local AME church,
he now himself is a Deacon, church leader, and we
find him again repeatedly, in the local courthouse,
protecting the property, this communal property,
that are the church edifices and the lots that are
the essential structures of religious life for black Baltimoreans. The AME church is set
upon by predatory lenders, by real estate speculators, others who look to take
advantage of the always fragile fiscal circumstances
of Black Baltimoreans, and we find George again and again, increasingly in sophisticated
ways, fending off, the interests of those
who would take advantage and hope to undo his church community. He has a robust sense of belonging, and a place, and of how
property, figures in to this essential matter in his life. Now lawmakers have not completely lost sight of men like George, and in 1851, Maryland will convene a state constitutional convention, only the second grand
constitutional convention in Maryland’s history, it
lasts nearly 18 months, and quite every, every learned influential highly placed lawmaker or legal thinker, is a part of these deliberations. They’ve got many questions,
one of them is this question, who are men like Hackett before the law in the state of Maryland? And very forthrightly at the
beginning of these conventions, we see delegates putting
on the table and insisting that the convention
answer these questions. They do a lot of debating,
it is learned, it is probing, it is thoughtful, it is concerned. The delegates are so at odds, so unable to come to consensus,
they create a committee, and they say to the committee,
you all take this question, who are free people of color before, who should they be as we
write a new constitution, should they citizens,
should they be denizens, should they be free people, what sort of rights should they have? The committee comes back with elaborate recommendations,
and in the end, the convention fails, they
fail to enact any provisions that would resolve or
set or fix or define, the status of free people of color, they insert a very tepid
line that merely affirms that the legislature
could answer that question if it would like because
the convention will not. And I’d like to call this a punt right, that’s a good sport metaphor, they can’t score, they
can’t get to the goal, and so they punt the question
to the state legislature perpetuating, this kind of incertitude, that is very much a part of George’s life. I find him one more time in importantly, in the wake of this
convention in the courthouse and it is 1859, George
has become an entrepreneur with some success, he’s a
cold dealer in Baltimore, but by the time he enters
the courthouse in ’59, his business has failed,
as have the businesses of many Baltimoreans black and white, after the financial crisis of 1857. But for our purposes part
of what’s fascinating about his insolvency petition,
is that we see the way in which he has also woven
himself into a kind of economic citizenship in Baltimore city, because in order to
have his debts forgiven, he must tell us first
everyone to whom he owes a sum as well as everyone
who owes him, turns out he is owed more than is owed to him, but as he tells the court,
the debts are no good, they are uncollectible. But again, I tell you this
to help you appreciate, the way in which he is woven into the economic life of the city,
and then, as the proceeding, the bankruptcy proceeding goes forward, there is that thing that
he has learned to do, which is to testify against
the interest of whites, in this case, white creditors, those men to whom he owes
money, some of them object, nearly accuse him of
a fraudulent petition, we have his deposition
in which he explains in great detail, the
circumstances that have led him unfortunately to insolvency,
but for our purposes, we appreciate the way
in which he is really taking full advantage if you will, of this opening in the courthouse to be someone who can sue and be sued, who can protect his
property before the law, even in the face of ambiguity. Two more things, if there’s
one part of this story that might be familiar,
one chapter in this story, that might be familiar to some
of you, if not most of you, it is 1857 and the US
Supreme Court decision in Dred Scott versus Sanford, Chief Justice Taney, a Baltimorean, concludes that no person
of African descent, be they enslaved or free, can be a citizen of the United States. And for a long time, too long in my view, we’ve regarded justice Tawny’s decision as somehow singular and definitive, but you know I’m here to
tell you that it’s not. Why not? Because in 1858, in the case
of Hughes versus Jackson, the Maryland High Court,
the Court of Appeals will be presented with
the Dred Scott question two free men of color, Samuel
Jackson and William Hughes will face off because Hughes has kidnapped Jackson’s children and is
holding them as slaves, Jackson sues in Dorchester
County, he wins, not only custody of his children but $750, for the loss of their services. Hughes appeals to the Court
of Appeals in Annapolis and when he does, his lawyer
makes a sort of curious but important argument for us. His lawyer says “Justices
this case should be dismissed, “because Samuel Jackson
is a free man of color, “and we all know what justice Taney said “about free men of color,
in the federal courts, “they have no rights that
white men are bound to respect, “in fact they have no standing, “they have no capacity
to sue in federal courts, “they are disqualified.” And Hughes’ lawyer said,
this should be the rule in Maryland as well, why shouldn’t it be the rule in Maryland. Meaning oddly, but this
is the way lawyers argue, I can tell you this is
the way lawyers argue, oddly that Hughes too would never be able to sue in the same court,
but that $750 is calling him, (Audience Member laughs)
enough that his lawyer makes the argument that the
Maryland Court of Appeals, should adopt cultural logic of Dred Scott, which is one that takes us back to the colonizationists vision, which is, you cannot extend
rights to free people of color, because if you do, they might
be able to defend against black laws and the force of colonization. Now it’s important to say
that Chief Justice Legrand in Annapolis is not a racial egalitarian, he is not a budding radical Republican, just waiting to be unleashed
when the time is right, he doesn’t have a
particularly sympathetic ear for Jackson or Hackett or men like them. However, what he says are two things that are important for us, he says “Free men of color
must have the capacity “to sue and be sued in our courts,” why, “because there are 90,000
free people of color “in the state of Maryland,
and they are workers, “they are engines of our prosperity, “and what man would work, if
he doesn’t have the ability “to protect his wages and
the fruits of his wages, “we cannot expect free
people of color to work, “if they don’t have the right
to protect their property “and their persons in our courts.” That’s one. Two, that 90,000 number,
Mike Legrand says, “If I in one grand gesture,
bar free people of color “from our courthouses, I
will in that gesture create “90,000 outlaws in the state of Maryland, “people who will certainly
have disputes of all sorts, “and now look to settle them
in the streets in the alleys, “in the byways and highways,
not in the courthouse.” So this capacity to come
in the courthouse is an essential dimension of social control, for someone like Legrand and indeed, Samuel Jackson will
prevail, he will win $750, which just covers his fees to his lawyers, but he will not regain
custody of his children until after the Civil War, but you see how a man like
Hackett continues to live in a legal and constitutional limbo. Last chapter, Hackett has
been doing this kind of work and men like him have been
doing this kind of work of piecemeal, case-by-case,
building arsenal of rights until 1859, when Curtis Jacobs who had headed that
committee that convened during the Constitutional
convention in the 1850’s, Jacobs proposes a new and
extreme set of black laws. He proposes that in Annapolis, the legislature provide,
for free people of color and their status before the law, and they had two options
in Jacobs’s proposal, the first is re-enslavement, it’s a misnomer right, most of them have never been enslaved,
nonetheless, Jacob says, you have two choices in this vision, either you submit to being enslaved, you look out among your white neighbors, you choose an owner and
you enslave yourself or you will be banished, not by coercion, not by enticement, but by force from the state of Maryland and when Hackett gets word
of this proposal, he acts, first he circulates a petition
in the city of Baltimore, collecting signatures from
Baltimorians black and white, who are opposed to the legislation and then he heads himself
personally to Annapolis now to petition his government, sometimes we call that lobbying (Audience laughs) but to petition his government
and defeat this legislation, it’s an extraordinary
moment when he appears in the door of the house of Delegates, he was probably the first
person of color to do so who wasn’t there in some
sort of domestic purpose serving the Delegates
themselves, he confronts Jacobs, one story goes, they take it outside and get into a row on the
lawn of the state house, now if you know the
lawn of the State house, it’s sort of that sloping,
it sounds comical to me, but it’s possible but we do know that they
have a verbal confrontation and in fact they debate one
another over this question and Hackett now says to Jacobs, I’m here on behalf of that 90,000 and I represent that 90,000 and my position is that these proposals, re-enslavement or banishment are a violation of our rights
as birthright citizens, rights guaranteed to
us by the Constitution, the privileges and
immunities of citizenship prohibit you from legislating
us either into slavery or into exile and he wins, he wins, Maryland lawmakers will
defeat this legislation Jacobs will never again
have an opportunity, we know even as they don’t, we’re at the eve of Civil War and the transformation
of this entire landscape. By 1862, Lincoln’s Attorney
General Edward Bates will issue an opinion that affirms that free men of color like Hackett are citizens of the United States, 1866 that your civil
rights act will provide that all persons born in the United States are citizens of the United States, 1868 the fourteenth amendment will be ratified and constitutionalize that birthright principle that Hackett had long lived pursuant to even as others denied it, you can imagine Hackett, sort of delighted that
Washington had caught up to the argument that
he and others like him had long made, were finally acknowledging the sorts of rights that he had been cobbling together and eking
out in the local courthouse. George won’t live quite long enough to see the 15th amendment ratified but what we do know is that
in the months and the years after Maryland abolishes
slavery in November of 1864 he will continue to be living
the embodiment of citizenship, he will join the Republican Party and be among the foremost advocates for the right of African-American
men to vote in Maryland, he will be a lobbyist complaining that black
Americans have long paid taxes but have not had access
to the public schools in Baltimore city, he will head a local militia, the Boclar Guard and assemble in formation in the city streets bearing
guns, wearing uniforms and enacting citizenship long before the 14th amendment is ratified, I think this for Hackett
was the true embodiment, had always been the true
embodiment of citizenship and the Civil War and
Reconstruction, of course, give him a new opportunity. This is the, just months after his death, the celebration of the
15th amendment will happen, the national celebration is
convened in Baltimore city, not in Washington and this is the plaza and you can see the Bottle monument in front of the very
courthouse where Hackett had, for all those years, been waging his own kind of campaign, you have to think as I do, I certainly do, that he’s here in spirit
and feeling very much affirmed in his long quest by seeing this extraordinary
moment celebrated in Baltimore city so and with that I’m gonna
say thank you very much and I look forward to
questions and comments. (Audience clapping) And I know some folks have to head out but I’d be happy to take questions or comments or, I have a hand in the back. Would you mind just… (inaudible talking) – So the question was can free African-Americans own land. The answer is yes. In Maryland and in Baltimore city, but one of the points of contention is whether, for example,
should they be exiled, the proposal in the
Jacobs bill, for example, is should they be exiled that
they lose their property, they will forfeit their
property as well so yes and the AME church is a great example of that kind of collective land ownership, you own the plot as well as the edifice and this is one of the central
struggles in Hackett’s life, thanks for that. Hi. – [Woman] Can you talk a little bit about the research process and how you found all of
these archive mediums? – I’d love to talk about
the research all day so thank you for that. This book was largely written out of the Maryland state archives and where the papers for Baltimore city courts are held and had been preserved heroically I should say
by the state archives so I begin really leafing through docket books and case files, minute books, much of it the work of clerks, these are not records that include dramatic testimony or very
lengthy or needy files, they’re really very, they’re
very shard like materials but what I’m able to do
ultimately is piece together the story of this and how it has and Hackett comes to me, piece
by piece by piece by piece in this archive, I’ll supplement it by reading the papers
of judges and lawyers who were active on this
scene at the same time, I will use African-American newspapers like Freedom’s Journal, the first black published newspaper
out of New York in 1827, George’s father, Charles,
is one of the first agents for Freedom’s Journal
distributing in Baltimore city, church minutes, but it is true that we don’t have a very
robust history of legal culture on that level and so, it’s a matter of piecing it together. The Constitution story comes
out of the national archives, the Navy keeps wonderful records so the log books, the captain’s letters, even some of the Commodores letters had survived in addition
to a sailor’s memoir that helped me to piece
together that bit of the story so you can see the way in which I’m reaching and ranging
in a lot of places over a very long time, I should say, this is not, it’s not a senior
thesis scale project exactly but it begins like that,
it begins like that, one article, one little
piece of the archive that helps me be certain I
can find people like Hackett and tell their stories and then I’m launched into a long, many years of research, so thank you. Ah, yes sir. – [Man] I’m curious as to, I think, if you have any sense of how the prewar black laws compared to the postwar black codes. Were they similar on terms
of their scope and severity of making, regulating every part of life as an African-American or were they different depending on whether you’re talking
about after the war? – They are different in
two important respects. There’s not a thread that we would call segregation in the black
laws before the war, that is not the preoccupation
of lawmakers in Annapolis so in that sense they are different, I would, on balance, they are
more severe before the war because the punishments are more severe, infractions of the black
laws leave one vulnerable, not simply to public flogging or the whip, but to sale, as a slave and so from the Baltimore city courthouse, free men of color are being auctioned when they are found to be
in violation of black laws so I would say, on balance,
the risk of offense or the consequences of offense are far more, maybe it’s
comparing apples and oranges, I guess we should be cautious which is to say, as I
hear myself saying that it is not to in some way suggest that what happens after the war is less severe but it is
different than the laws but in many ways we can
see in the black laws a set of thought, a set of ideas that are adapted to the postwar period and to the particular demands of the… demands of white supremacy
in the postwar period. Thank you for that. Yeah, hi. – So I don’t know a lot about this but my understanding, if it’s correct, is that is there some kind
of history rabble debate about Lincoln’s role in
the colonization movement? – Yeah, I don’t think we debate Lincoln and colonization anymore but it’s an important point, the colonization is the most
popular political movement of the prewar period, it dwarfs abolitionism
that is for certain, and it transcends parties and so it is an
extraordinarily influential, widely subscribed to movement, not surprisingly, it includes Lincoln and Lincoln will hold on to colonization and the vision, the
colonizationist’s vision all the way through the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation in the September of 1862, it includes a provision
for colonizationists only in January, January 1st 1863, with the Emancipation Proclamation that Lincoln will largely
abandon, at least publicly, colonization and so that is
a reminder to us, I think, of the important degree to which racism and white supremacy, even as slavery will
be abolished, persist, there is no abolition of
colonization as thought, there is no abolition of racism, even as slavery is clearly going to end but I don’t think we debate it any longer, maybe some, you know, I think the debate about
Lincoln right is about whether and the degree to which
it’s important to us that so it’s a normative
question in some sense which is to say Lincoln’s
ideas change over time, how much do they change? How rapidly do they change? How much credit do we allow to Lincoln for the fact that his
ideas do change over time? And there are those who rightly subscribe, ascribe to Lincoln a very
important brand of racism for much of his life and others who more emphasized his evolution over time. Hi. – Thank you so much for this presentation, it’s been fabulous and I wanted to hear you
talk a little bit more about how economic contribution
and economic power are often the things that
citizenship, you know, claims for citizenship are based on and how it seems to work to
this scenario in Maryland. – Yeah. One of the ways, I
think, we can think about what Hackett and men like him are doing is that they are comporting
themselves like citizens, they are performing citizenship, they are really testing the boundaries, not just in their, their written word or from a podium in a convention, they’re living this and it’s why I think the church is important
and the proliferation of African-American Methodist
and Baptist churches, in particular in Baltimore is important because it is a sign, not only of a spiritual community, it is a sign of property ownership, collective property ownership and there’s a moment in the book where I try and map where
all the churches are and what it’s like to be a
worshiper on Sunday morning and it turns out, if you’re
a worshiper in any faith in Baltimore city by the 1840s as you head to and from your own sanctuary you were gonna encounter other worshipers, other faiths, other colors so there’s an extreme
visibility and a real currency, if I could borrow that
metaphor, in Baltimore so I think that’s one
way to think about it, but there is a piece that, it’s still a point of
reflection for me and I say it because maybe someone
will hear something in it that I wasn’t able to put in the book that I think there is unwritten but powerful in Baltimore and in Maryland more generally, an exceptional status
for free men of color who are property holders,
the property ownership, it’s subtle and it’s not across the board but that case of Hughes vs.
Jackson that I mentioned is an interesting one for this because for many years people
who had studied the case assumed, understandably,
that Hughes was a white man and that Jackson was a free man of color. Why? Because in the archival record, only Jackson is marked, as
the clerks frequently do with a parenthesis of
colored or Negro, black and Hughes is not and it takes me a while as I
get, I come into the census and a lot of things to
finally the lightbulb goes off that these are two free men of color who are facing off against each other. Why? My sense is that Hughes is not marked because he’s a property
owner, he’s a farmer and a property holder
and Jackson is a laborer and we can see this at other
moments in the archive, but it is too, it’s just
not systematic enough and the clerks were so
important in this story, I met somebody today
who started their career as a stenographer in the
Baltimore city courthouse and he was telling it like
it was a shameful episode and I said no, no, no, the stenographer, the scribe, the clerk, I couldn’t do this without those folks but these are not people
who by and large leave us by their guides or
manuals to how they work especially when it comes
to race and marking in the courthouse, we can
sort of study their practices and recover some of their logics but it’s difficult to make robust claims based on what clerks are
doing in the courthouse, it’s too idiosyncratic
at the end of the day but when I say this
out loud in some rooms, people will say Lily, let me show you this little bit of evidence
that I think also suggests that free people of color
who are property owners, particularly real property owners are extended and enhanced
their rights in the courthouse that a laborer, a
property-less person of color does not enjoy and this makes some sense to us doesn’t it because we appreciate how
fundamental property ownership and the logics of property are toward entire constitutional scheme, we appreciate the way in which, you know, part of why lawmakers are streaming around this question is that even white lawmakers in
a place like Maryland are pretty uncomfortable with the notion that you would without
cause and without process cease someone’s property because this is, it’s because it’s nearly
sacred and it opens the door perhaps to other kinds of
violations of property rights so there’s a story there
that I hope someone, a brilliant, young person
in the room will seize on and I would say these insolvency records are place to begin because
they’re absolutely fascinating and really open up a whole story about Baltimore’s associational economy and the place of free
people of color in it and I’ve just scratched the surface I think of those materials so thank you for that. – Any other questions?
No? Well please join me in
thanking Professor Jones and we have a reception right after. (Audience clapping) – Thank you.

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