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Punishment and InclusionRace, Membership, and the Limits of American Liberalism$
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Andrew Dilts

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780823262410

Published to Fordham Scholarship Online: September 2015

DOI: 10.5422/fordham/9780823262410.001.0001

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Punishing at the Ballot Box

Punishing at the Ballot Box

(p.140) 6 Punishing at the Ballot Box
Punishment and Inclusion

Andrew Dilts

Fordham University Press

This chapter gives a genealogy of suffrage restrictions in Maryland, which held a series of constitutional conventions immediately before, during, and following the emancipation of chattel slaves. Delegates debated the limits of political membership and the franchise in the context of a perceived crisis of “free Negro labor.” Using debate transcripts, this chapter explores the discursive nexus of labor, criminality, and the morally inflected status of white supremacy that continues to ground felon disenfranchisement provisions. The “free Negro” was persistently invoked throughout the debates, figured as inherently criminal, irrational, and dependent in order to reduce the threat that their new freedom imposed on the standing of white workingmen. The chapter explains how the nineteenth-century understandings of penality and citizenship have been reconfigured in the twentieth century in two ways: first, moving from “infamy” to “felony” as the primary marker of criminal exclusions, and second, moving disenfranchisement provisions from the state constitution to election law. These shifts split apart the discourses of punishment and citizenship to rationalize disenfranchisement provisions. These changes have not undone racialized conceptions of citizenship but instead mask the work of social and political differentiation performed by disenfranchisement: the maintenance of the ideal citizen as white and innocent.

Keywords:   Felon disenfranchisement, Maryland, Constitutional convention, Criminality, Emancipation, White citizen, Labor, Genealogy, Slavery, Citizenship

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