Don’t You be My Neighbor: Support for Racial-Exclusion Constitutional Provisions in Mid-19th Century Indiana and Illinois

Published date01 September 2021
Date01 September 2021
Subject MatterArticles
American Politics Research
2021, Vol. 49(5) 504 –516
© The Author(s) 2021
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/1532673X211015346
The U.S. Constitution and many of the 50 state constitutions
have at various times contained racially discriminatory pro-
visions. The U.S. Constitution barred Congress from abol-
ishing the slave trade for 20 years, required states to help
return enslaved persons who fled bondage, and counted
enslaved persons as 3/5 of a person when apportioning taxes
and determining state representation in the House of
Representatives and electoral college.
State constitutions, which have only recently begun to
attract the scholarly attention they merit (Dinan, 2006; Tarr,
1998; Williams, 2009), have included an even wider range of
racially discriminatory provisions. Although many of these
provisions appeared in southern state constitutions and
entrenched slavery in various ways in the antebellum era
(Herron, 2017), these provisions also appeared in a number of
northern state constitutions (Weiner, 2013). Prior to ratification
of the 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, most northern
state constitutions explicitly limited voting to whites or, in the
case of New York, required blacks to hold a certain amount of
property in order to vote, while imposing no such property
requirement on whites (Liebman 2018, p. 387; Tarr, 1998,
pp. 106, 107; Wesley, 1948, p. 166). On a number of occasions
from the 1840s to the 1860s, voters in northern states had an
opportunity to remove limits on black suffrage but in all but a
few cases a majority opted to keep them (Bateman, 2020).
Even after slavery and explicit constitutional restrictions
on black voting were eliminated or rendered unenforceable
by the post-Civil War amendments to the U.S. Constitution,
some state constitutions continued to include racially dis-
criminatory provisions. State constitutions frequently barred
interracial marriage and required that schools be racially seg-
regated, at least prior to the 1950s and 1960s when the U.S.
Supreme Court invalidated all provisions of this kind. Still
other provisions with racially discriminatory effects were
added to state constitutions in the 20th century, as with adop-
tion of a 1964 California amendment that authorized racially
restrictive housing covenants and was later declared invalid
(Reny & Newman, 2018).
1015346APRXXX10.1177/1532673X211015346American Politics ResearchHeckelman and Dinan
1Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, NC, USA
Corresponding Author:
John Dinan, Department of Politics and International Affairs, Wake Forest
University, 305 Kirby Hall, Winston-Salem, NC 27109, USA.
Don’t You be My Neighbor: Support for
Racial-Exclusion Constitutional Provisions
in Mid-19th Century Indiana and Illinois
Jac C. Heckelman1 and John Dinan1
Racially discriminatory provisions in the U.S. Constitution and southern state constitutions have been extensively analyzed,
but insufficient attention has been brought to these provisions when included in northern state constitutions. We examine
constitutional provisions excluding blacks from entering the state that were adopted by various northern states in the mid-
19th Century. Previous scholarship has focused on the statements and votes of the convention delegates who framed these
provisions. However, positions taken by delegates need not have aligned with the views of their constituents. Delegates
to state constitutional conventions held in Illinois in 1847, Indiana in 1850 and 1851, and Oregon in 1857 opted to submit
to voters racial-exclusion provisions separate from the vote to approve the rest of the constitution. We exploit this
institutional feature by using county-level election returns in Illinois and Indiana to test claims about the importance of
partisan affiliation, religious denomination, social-welfare policy concerns, labor competition, and racial-threat theory in
motivating popular support for entrenching racially discriminatory policies in constitutions. We find greater levels of support
for racial exclusion in areas where Democratic candidates polled better and in areas closer to slave-holding states where
social-welfare policy concerns would be heightened. We find lower levels of support for racial exclusion in areas (in Indiana)
with greater concentrations of Quakers. Our findings are not consistent with labor competition or racial-threat theories.
state constitution, referendum, racial exclusion

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