The Politics of Black Citizenship
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The Politics of Black Citizenship

Free African Americans in the Mid-Atlantic Borderland, 1817–1863

Title Details

Pages: 272

Illustrations: 9 b&w images

Trim size: 6.000in x 9.000in



Pub Date: 07/15/2016

ISBN: 9-780-8203-4937-4

List Price: $51.95


Pub Date: 04/01/2019

ISBN: 9-780-8203-5550-4

List Price: $29.95


Pub Date: 07/15/2016

ISBN: 9-780-8203-4936-7

List Price: $51.95

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Published in association with Library Company of Philadelphia

The Politics of Black Citizenship

Free African Americans in the Mid-Atlantic Borderland, 1817–1863

The crucial and active role of free African American communities in the development of antebellum politics

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  • Description
  • Reviews

Considering Baltimore and Philadelphia as part of a larger, Mid-Atlantic borderland, The Politics of Black Citizenship shows that the antebellum effort to secure the rights of American citizenship was central to black politics—it was an effort that sought to exploit the ambiguities of citizenship and negotiate the complex national, state, and local politics in which that concept was determined.

In the early nineteenth century, Baltimore and Philadelphia contained the largest two free black populations in the country, separated by a mere hundred miles. The counties that lie between them also contained large and vibrant freeblack populations in this period. In 1780, Pennsylvania had begun the process of outlawing slavery, while Maryland would cling desperately to the institution until the Civil War, and so these were also cities separated by the legal boundary between freedom and slavery. Despite the fact that slavery thrived in parts of the state of Maryland, in Baltimore the free black population outnumbered the enslaved so that on the eve of the Civil War there were ten times as many free blacks in the city of Baltimore as there were slaves.

In this book Andrew Diemer examines the diverse tactics that free blacks employed in defense of their liberties—including violence and the building of autonomous black institutions—as well as African Americans' familiarity with the public policy and political struggles that helped shape those freedoms in the first place.

The Politics of Black Citizenship is the latest addition to the University of Georgia Press’s Race in the Atlantic World series. In it, Andrew Diemer examines how free black people used a loosely defined concept of citizenship to claim full participation and membership in the American Nation. . . . Unlike most other studies of antebellum black citizenship, however, Diemer’s work looks at activism in both a free state and a slave state.

—Register of the Kentucky Historical Society

Diemer recovers black voices and ideas: from a multitude of sources, we hear black Americans thinking about and carefully defining their rights as citizens. Although these sources often registered important disagreements or gave evidence of distinctive backgrounds and divergent social classes, they nevertheless reveal unceasing political engagement rather than retreat in the face of a virulent racism. The Politics of Black Citizenship provides overwhelming evidence of free African Americans’ great force in arguing for the protections and rights conferred by citizenship.

—Journal of American Ethnic History

Diemer's borderlands framework is both compelling and promising. Like other nineteenth-century studies that have focused upon the upper South and lower North as a borderland, it paints a picture of a region wrought by contested power, complex politics, and pervasive violence. It also suggests that an area so often imagined as a terrain of black subjugation could simultaneously be one of black liberation.

—Journal of the Early Republic

This deeply researched and well-written study challenges us to look beyond the confines of one city and admire how adroitly marginalized people maneuvered to safeguard the rights they had and push for those they knew they were entitled to.

—Journal of American History

About the Author/Editor

ANDREW K. DIEMER is assistant professor of history at Towson University. His work has been published in the Journal of Military History, Slavery and Abolition, and the Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography.