This piece was originally published at SlaveNorth.com.
“[R]ace prejudice seems stronger in those states that have abolished slavery than in those where it still exists, and nowhere is it more intolerant than in those states where slavery was never known.” –Alexis De Tocqueville, Democracy in America
In some Northern states, after emancipation, blacks were legally allowed to vote, marry whites, file lawsuits, or sit on juries. In most, they were not. But even where the right was extended by law, often the white majority did not allow it to happen. In Massachusetts in 1795, despite the absence of any law prohibiting on black voting, Judge James Winthrop and Thomas Pemberton wrote, “that Negroes could neither elect nor be elected to office in that state.” De Tocqueville, in Philadelphia in 1831, asked why, since black men had the right to vote there, none ever dared do so. The answer came back: “The law with us is nothing if it is not supported by public opinion.” When Ohio’s prohibition against blacks testifying in legal cases involving white people was lifted in 1849, observers acknowledged that, at least in the southern part of the state, where most of the blacks lived, social prejudice would keep the ban in practical effect.
The Old North
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