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11 Yale J.L. & Human. 251 (1999)
Becoming a Citizen: Reconstruction Era Regulation of African American Marriages

handle is hein.journals/yallh11 and id is 257 raw text is: Becoming a Citizen: Reconstruction Era
Regulation of African American
Marriages
Katherine M. Franke*
I. INTRODUCTION
While many Black people regarded slavery as a form of social
death,' some nineteenth-century white policy-makers extolled the
virtues of slavery as a tool to uplift the characters of Africans in
America: [Slavery in America] has been the lever by which five
million human beings have been elevated from the degraded and
benighted condition of savage life ... to a knowledge of their
responsibilities to God and their relations to society,2 observed a
Kentucky Congressman in 1860. These sentiments were echoed by
abolitionist northern officers not three years later when the
institution of marriage was lauded for its civilizing effect on the
newly freed men and women: [Marriage] is the great lever by which
[the freed men and women] are to be lifted up and prepared for a
state of civilization. 3
With an increasingly heterogeneous population in the United
States, nineteenth-century social reformers considered it their
* Associate Professor, Fordham University School of Law. Paulette Caldwell, Liz Cooper,
Nancy Cott, Mary Louise Fellows, Julie Goldscheid, Tracy Higgins, Bob Kaczorowski, Tony
Kaye, Linda McClain, Megan McClintock, Denise Morgan, Carol Rose, Reva Siegel, and Ben
Zipursky provided thoughtful comments on earlier drafts of this Article. Reginald Washington,
Archivist at the National Archives in Washington, D.C., assisted me greatly in locating African
American war widow pension files. Emily Alexander and Lesley Williams provided invaluable
research assistance.
1. See ORLANDO PATTERSON, SLAVERY AND SOCIAL DEATH: A COMPARATIVE STUDY
(1982).
2. CONG. GLOBE, 36th Cong., 1st Sess., app. at 200 (1860) (statement of Rep. William
Simms, Democrat of Kentucky).
3. Statement of Col. William A. Pile, Testimony taken in Kentucky, Tennessee and
Missouri, November and December 1863, the Am. Freedmen's Inquiry Comm'n, St. Louis,
Mo., Record Group 94 [hereinafter N.A. R.G. 94], M 619, roll 201, frame 139 (National
Archives, Washington, D.C.).

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