Race and Liberty in America: The Essential Reader

By Jonathan Bean | Go to book overview
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3
Colorblindness in a
Color-Conscious Era
1877–1920

AFTER FEDERAL TROOPS LEFT the U.S. South, Reconstruction ended and the nation focused on new concerns (the tariff, currency debates, foreign wars). Yet racial issues did not go away. In the South, the Democratic Party disfranchised blacks through the use of poll taxes, constitutional literacy tests, election fraud, and voter intimidation. Southern states passed laws forcing the separation of races in schools, on streetcars, and elsewhere in society. White mobs repeatedly lynched blacks, thus sending a harrowing message to an entire race: “Stay in your place.” Meanwhile, American shores received record numbers of immigrants from southeastern Europe and Asia. “Progressives” and nativist conservatives advocated immigration restriction in a nation known for its open borders, ultimately succeeding with the National Origins Quota Act of 1924.

Classical liberals found themselves on the defensive: battling immigration restriction, fighting white racism in the South, defending nonwhites in overseas territories, and offering individual property rights as a solution to the “Indian problem.” By the end of this period, Progressives dubbed classical liberals “conservative” for trying to prohibit state action not only in the economy but in preserving racial freedom and open borders.

-77-

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