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Counting AmericansHow the US Census Classified the Nation$
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Paul Schor

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780199917853

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: July 2017

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199917853.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (oxford.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use. date: 23 April 2021

Color and Status of Slaves

Color and Status of Slaves

Legal Definition and Census Practice

(p.61) 6 Color and Status of Slaves
Counting Americans

Paul Schor

Oxford University Press

This chapter discusses how the definition of race varied over time and place and remained uncertain in cases judged by the courts in the antebellum era. In the 1850s, a claim of whiteness was an argument that could be made in court to obtain liberty, since a white person could not be a slave. Legal status did not rest on the same forms of proof as the census, but the two perspectives overlapped. Comparing the procedures for determining the legal status of slaves with the procedure adopted by the census for assigning the color of individuals shows the profound ambiguity of the latter. The language used by the legislators in 1850 and retained until the end of the century was clearly that of the scientific rules then in favor, based on the parts of black blood and of genealogy. However, in practice individuals were judged by their appearance rather than genealogy.

Keywords:   race, racism, slaves, legal status, genealogy, US census, antebellum era, color

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