chapter  4
28 Pages

New Beings: Race and “Th e Foundations of Free Government”

Th e abolition of slavery, and consequent acquisition of civic and political rights by freedpeople, represented a real, if fragile, gain in freedom. Freedpeople exercised that freedom by marrying and establishing individual households, by using the enhanced bargaining power against masters they gained as contractual rather than slave labor, and by voting and participating in politics when possible. Violence by white southerners, and the continued understanding of wage labor as a form of dependence, placed sharp restrictions on this freedom. Nevertheless, the dynamic of Reconstruction suggests that contractual relations destabilized structures of domination, as well as understandings of race interwoven with those structures. In this chapter I argue that the destabilizing nature of contractual relations becomes more pronounced in the late nineteenth century, provoking a second crisis of mastery. I argue that it is profi table to see disfranchisement, segregation laws, and lynchings as varied responses to this crisis. In chapter 5 I will argue that the political achievement of white southern Progressives was to fi nd a stable resolution to this crisis, one that created a justifi cation for white supremacist states in the South that would last for more than half a century.