Freedom for African Americans in Democracy in the America by Alexis de Tocqueville

Freedom for African Americans in Democracy in the America by Alexis de Tocqueville

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In Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, much is said on the great freedoms experienced by whites, but little does it mention the freedoms experienced by free blacks at the time. It does, however, give a small glimpse of it. In his book, de Tocqueville describes his conversation with an inhabitant of Pennsylvania. He questioned the man, asking how a state founded on Quaker principles could deny a free black to vote. When the man denied such accusation, de Tocqueville asked why no Negro was then seen at the polls that morning. The insulted man replied, “This is not the fault of the law: the negroes have an undisputed right of voting, but they voluntarily abstain from making their appearance.” It is difficult to believe that free blacks had such a right before the ratification of the 15th Amendment, but they did – surely not everywhere but in a few states nonetheless. Thus, it is reasonable to question what other rights free blacks experienced in antebellum America. More importantly it is important to look at the limitations placed on these rights and how blacks overcame them.

It is easiest to believe that free blacks experienced the most freedom in commerce. In the South free blacks were most likely to work as farmers. Those who could not afford their own land worked on the fields of others. In North Carolina, for example, counties with large free black populations often saw free blacks working on large plantations. There they worked as field hands, drivers, and all around laborers. This was perhaps the easier type of work for a free black to obtain simply because it was no different from the work of a slave. It was menial labor which provided no social mobility for free blacks. As for those who did own land, much mo...

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...ely right to feel threatened by free blacks. Many free blacks took advantage of the few rights they had and maneuvered through the limitations placed upon them to further themselves and climb the social ladder. Although they did experienced no more than a quarter of the rights whites did, they used the few rights that they did have to become something greater.

Works Cited

Lofton, John. Denmark Vesey’s Revolt. Ohio: Kent University Press, 1983.
de Tocqueville, Alexis. Democracy in America. Translated by Henry Reeve. New Jersey: The Lawbook Exchange, 2003.
Bracey, Meier, and Elliot Rudwick. Free Blacks in America, 1800-1860. California: Wadsworth Publishing Company, 1971.
Gold. “English Grammar”. Freedom’s Journal Volume 1 No. 49. Nov. 16 1827
Bibb, Henry Heglar. Life and Adventures of Henry Bibb: An American Slave. Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Press, 2001.

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