Nell Irvan Painter on northern racism
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Q: How did people think about race in this period?
A: We think of the Jacksonian era as the Era of the Common Man. And in a sense, it was the era of the common man, as long as the common man was white. And so here we have a great distinction between whiteness, giving citizenship, or standing, or almost personhood, and, no matter how rich you are, if you're black, you are not a person, or you are not a citizen. And so this is the other side of the Era of the Common Man. It becomes of the Era of the Common White Man. And in the 1830's, over and over again, places like Pennsylvania, new legislation inserts the word "white" into the regulation of voting, and disfranchises wealthy black men who, before this change, had been able to vote if they held enough property. So this is the, I would say, the great watershed of where whiteness makes the big difference in becoming a citizen.
Nell Irvan Painter
Edwards Professor of American History
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