Date of Award

2017

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group

History

First Advisor

Steve Hahn

Abstract

“Citizens in the Making” broadens the scope of historical treatments of black politics at the end of the nineteenth century by shifting the focus of electoral battles away from the South, where states wrote disfranchisement into their constitutions. Philadelphia offers a municipal-level perspective on the relationship between African Americans, the Republican Party, and political and social reformers, but the implications of this study reach beyond one city to shed light on a nationwide effort to degrade and diminish black citizenship. I argue that black citizenship was constructed as alien and foreign in the urban North in the last decades of the nineteenth century and that this process operated in tension with and undermined the efforts of black Philadelphians to gain traction on their exercise of the franchise.

For black Philadelphians at the end of the nineteenth century, the franchise did not seem doomed or secure anywhere in the nation. Black Philadelphians pressed the Republican Party for the rights of citizenship as well as the spoils of partisanship, even as Republican enthusiasm for black rights waned and an energetic political reform movement defined black Philadelphians as unqualified for citizenship. “Citizens in the Making” shows how black participation and activism in municipal politics kept the local, state and, to some extent, the national Republican Party tethered to black constituencies and racial politics long after Reconstruction officially ended in 1877 with the withdrawal of federal troops from the South.

This study uses published and unpublished sources, including records from political and social reform organizations, the personal papers of white and black reformers, newspapers, court and church records. It reveals a consistent effort on the part of black Philadelphians to bring the rights of national citizenship to bear on the city’s politics. Philadelphia’s disproportionately large and rapidly growing black population makes the city a useful starting point for demonstrating how the priorities of the Republican Party evolved after Reconstruction, rather than taking as a given the party’s disinterest in the fate of black citizens.

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