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Local Matters

Local Matters: Race, Crime, and Justice in the Nineteenth-Century South

Christopher Waldrep
Donald G. Nieman
Copyright Date: 2001
Pages: 264
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  • Book Info
    Local Matters
    Book Description:

    Much of the current reassessment of race, culture, and criminal justice in the nineteenth-century South has been based on intensive community studies. Drawing on previously untapped sources, the nine original papers collected here represent some of the best new work on how racial justice can be shaped by the particulars of time and place. Although each essay is anchored in the local, several important larger themes emerge across the volume--such as the importance of personality and place, the movement of former slaves from the capriciousness of "plantation justice" to the (theoretically) more evenhanded processes of the courts, and the increased presence of government in daily aspects of American life. Local Matters cites a wide range of examples to support these themes. One essay considers the case of a quasi-free slave in Natchez, Mississippi--himself a slaveowner--who was "reined in" by his master through the courts, while another shows how federal aims were subverted during trials held in the aftermath of the 1876 race riots in Ellenton, South Carolina. Other topics covered include the fear of black criminality as a motivation of Klan activity; the career of Thomas Ruffin, slaveowner and North Carolina Supreme Court Justice; blacks and the ballot in Washington County, Texas; the overturned murder conviction of a North Carolina slave who had killed a white man; the formation of a powerful white bloc in Vicksburg, Mississippi; agitation by black and white North Carolina women for greater protections from abusive white male elites; and slaves, crime, and the common law in New Orleans. Together, these studies offer new insights into the nature of law and the fate of due process at different stages of a highly racialized society.

    eISBN: 978-0-8203-4205-4
    Subjects: Law, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xxii)

    Alexis de Tocqueville, the great French observer of American life, viewed law and constitutionalism as central to democracy’s success in the United States. De Tocqueville noted that Americans saw virtually every political issue as a legal question, using judicial ideas and language to express their thinking. He took hope from this phenomenon, believing that lawyers, by the very tenacity with which they valued order and guarded established procedures, restrained the force of popular opinion and mitigated the tyranny of the majority. But was de Tocqueville correct? How effective were lawyers and the rule of law in quieting majoritarian tyranny and...

  4. Judging Slavery: Thomas Ruffin and State v. Mann
    (pp. 1-28)
    Sally Hadden

    One of the most noteworthy judges of the antebellum South was Thomas Ruffin, whose work on the North Carolina Supreme Court made him both famous and infamous. Among North Carolinians, Ruffin was esteemed a fair and hardworking jurist, who labored long hours writing far more opinions than his colleagues on the bench. This reputation persisted even after Ruffin died, when the institution of slavery and the antebellum South were gone and Ruffin’s writings mostly forgotten. In the central foyer of the Supreme Court Building in Raleigh, the state capital, Ruffin’s statue still stands alone, a marble tribute to the judge...

  5. The Roots of Fairness: State v. Caesar and Slave Justice in Antebellum North Carolina
    (pp. 29-52)
    Timothy S. Huebner

    Late on a warm summer night in 1848 in Jameston, North Carolina, two intoxicated white men, after napping for a while at a friend’s house, headed across an open field and into town.¹ Drinking from a common bottle as they went, the two men soon stumbled upon two unfamiliar slaves lying on the ground near a storehouse. One of the white men, referred to in court records simply as Mr. Brickhouse, falsely identified himself and his friend as slave patrollers, and the two proceeded to harass the slaves and to inflict upon them a few “slight blows” with a “piece...

  6. Slaves and Crime: New Orleans, 1846–1862
    (pp. 53-91)
    Judith Kelleher Schafer

    In the decades before the Civil War, visitors and residents of New Orleans found the Crescent City unhealthy, filthy, vice-filled, and crime-ridden. A visitor to the city claimed that its inhabitants consumed more alcoholic beverages than those in any other part of the United States. Although nuisance laws prohibited keeping houses of prostitution, “lewd and abandoned women” plied their trade openly, unmolested by the police except during an occasional burst of civic righteousness. The city had an extremely high death rate compared to the rest of the country. Yellow fever, cholera, and tuberculosis carried off thousands each year during the...

  7. The Law and the Culture of Slavery: Natchez, Mississippi
    (pp. 92-124)
    Ariela Gross

    Traveling to Natchez, Mississippi, from the east by horse-drawn carriage in 1830, as did the “Yankee” Joseph Ingraham, one’s first sight would have been “a cluster of rough wooden buildings, in the angle of two roads, in front of which several saddle-horses, either tied or held by servants, indicated a place of popular resort.” This was the slave market, known as “Forks-of-the-Road” or “niggerville,” the busiest slave market in the South after Algiers, in New Orleans.¹ Slave buyers entered a gate into a courtyard, where “a line of negroes, commencing at the entrance with the tallest … down to a...

  8. Women and the Law: Domestic Discord in North Carolina After the Civil War
    (pp. 125-154)
    Laura F. Edwards

    Elizabeth Rhodes was angry. She and her neighbors in Wilkes County, North Carolina were just beginning to piece together their lives after the Civil War. Economic devastation and the violent internal conflict that had raged in the western part of the state had shattered this white yeomen community. For Elizabeth, the twenty-five-year-old wife of a landless man and mother of two young daughters, daily life must have been a struggle. On this day in 1867, however, it was her husband, Benjamin, who pushed Elizabeth to her limits. He struck her “three licks with a small size switch not as large...

  9. Extralegal Violence and the Planter Class: The Ku Klux Klan in the Alabama Black Belt During Reconstruction
    (pp. 155-171)
    Michael W. Fitzgerald

    The Ku Klux Klan’s campaign of extralegal terror figures significantly in contemporary writing on Reconstruction and the law, but in a backhand fashion. The recent literature revolves around the control of the freedpeople’s labor, and night riding is often depicted in the context of this overriding issue. To cite one prominent study, Eric Foner’s Reconstruction emphasizes labor control and the agency of the plantation elite in terrorist operations.¹ In broad terms, the fate of the plantation system was at stake in Reconstruction politics, a reality that encouraged extreme partisan strife. Still, the assumption that labor control directly motivated terrorist violence...

  10. Federal Enforcement of Black Rights in the Post-Redemption South: The Ellenton Riot Case
    (pp. 172-200)
    Lou Falkner Williams

    The question of writing history,” Francis Wilkinson Pickens Butler wrote looking back on the election of 1876 in South Carolina, “depends to a great extent on who does the writing as to a true version of the time.” Concerned that a recently published history of Republican governor Daniel Chamberlain’s administration in South Carolina would be mistaken for fact, Butler, who was the son of Matthew C. Butler—the leader along with Martin W. Gary and the Tillman brothers of the shotgun policy that redeemed the state for white supremacy in 1876—prepared his “true history” of the straight-out campaign to...

  11. African American Communities, Politics, and Justice: Washington County, Texas, 1865–1890
    (pp. 201-224)
    Donald G. Nieman

    Reconstruction witnessed revolutionary changes in public life in America. During the late 1860s and early 1870s, congressional Republicans sounded what Illinois Senator Lyman Trumbull called “the trumpet of freedom,” adopting a sweeping program of constitutional amendments and legislation guaranteeing citizenship, civil equality, and political rights to the freedmen. Yet many historians have discounted Reconstruction’s revolutionary nature. Frequently, they have argued that the changes were largely illusory. The sweeping phrases of the Fourteenth Amendment guaranteeing equal citizenship and the Fifteenth Amendment’s extension of the right to vote did little, they contend, to alter the grim realities of African American life. Such...

  12. Black Political Leadership: Warren County, Mississippi
    (pp. 225-250)
    Christopher Waldrep

    The first generation of black leaders expected to use the same legal and political tactics and strategies once used by antebellum whites. White leaders—not the blacks—planned a sharp departure from past practices. Whites used racial tribalism to rally their followers, moving away from the kind of competitive political discourse that had characterized the antebellum South. Losing faith in law, they learned to rely on mobbing instead. Through Reconstruction, blacks retained a faith in constitutionalism, which even today seems quintessentially American, while whites tried a new tangent.

    Vicksburg, county seat of Warren County, Mississippi, is an excellent place to...

    (pp. 251-252)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 253-259)