Struggle for Mastery: Disfranchisement in the South, 1888-1908

Struggle for Mastery: Disfranchisement in the South, 1888-1908

Struggle for Mastery: Disfranchisement in the South, 1888-1908

Struggle for Mastery: Disfranchisement in the South, 1888-1908

Synopsis

Around 1900, the southern states embarked on a series of political campaigns aimed at disfranchising large numbers of voters. By 1908, Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia had succeeded in depriving virtually all African Americans, and a large number of lower-class whites, of the voting rights they had possessed since Reconstruction--rights they would not regain for over half a century.

"Struggle for Mastery is the most complete and systematic study to date of the history of disfranchisement in the South. After examining the origins and objectives of disfranchisement, Michael Perman traces the process as it unfolded state by state. Because he examines each state within its region-wide context, he is able to identify patterns and connections that have previously gone unnoticed. Broadening the context even further, Perman explores the federal government's seeming acquiescence in this development, the relationship between disfranchisement and segregation, and the political system that emerged after the decimation of the South's electorate. The result is an insightful and persuasive interpretation of this highly significant, yet generally misunderstood, episode in U.S. history.

Excerpt

The campaign for disfranchisement at the turn of the century was quite possibly one of the most dramatic and decisiveepisodes in American history. One by one, over a period of two decades, eachstate in the former Confederacy set in motion complicated and hazardous electoral movements aimed at removing large numbers of its eligible voters. These ruthless acts of political surgery preoccupied the region'scitizenry and dominated its political life as constitutional conventions were summoned into existence and constitutional amendments were formulated and then ratified. This drastic remedy created a watershed in the history of the South between, on the one hand, the political and social turbulence of the sectional conflict and its aftermath and, on the other, the relative stability and calm that ensued during the first half of the twentieth century.

Disfranchisement, likethe imposition of segregation that occurred around the same time, was a historical event of fundamental importanceand impact. Consequently, it has figured prominently in the historical literature ever since, whether in histories of particular states, the South as a region, or the entire country. Topical historical studies dealing with suchmatters as government and politics, race relations, or constitutional development havealso examined disfranchisement in the South in many different ways. The subject therefore does not suffer from oversight or neglect. It is perhaps surprising, then, to discover that only one study has been devoted exclusively to disfranchisement in all of the states involved. Written in the 1930s, it has never been published as a book.

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