In the years between the Revolution and the Civil War, as the question of black political rights was debated more and more vociferously, descriptions and pictorial representations of whites coupling with blacks proliferated in the North. Novelists, short-story writers, poets, journalists, and political cartoonists imagined that political equality would be followed by widespread inter-racial sex and marriage. Legally possible yet socially unthinkable, this "amalgamation" of the races would manifest itself in the perverse union of "whites" with "blacks," the latter figured as ugly, animal-like, and foul-smelling. In Miscegenation, Elise Lemire reads these literary and visual depictions for what they can tell us about the connection between the racialization of desire and the social construction of race.
Previous studies of the prohibition of interracial sex and marriage in the U.S. have focused on either the slave South or the post-Reconstruction period. Looking instead to the North, and to such texts as the Federalist poetry about Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings, James Fenimore Cooper's Last of the Mohicans, Edgar Allan Poe's "Murders in the Rue Morgue," and the 1863 pamphlet in which the word "miscegenation" was first used, Lemire examines the steps by which whiteness became a sexual category and same-race desire came to seem a biological imperative.
List of Illustrations
Introduction: The Rhetorical Wedge Between Preference and Prejudice
1. Race and the Idea of "Preference" in the New Republic: The Port Folio Poems About Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings
2. The Rhetoric of Blood and Mixture: Cooper's "Man Without a Cross"
3. The Barrier of Good Taste: Avoiding A Sojourn in the City of Amalgamation in the Wake of Abolitionism
4. Combating Abolitionism with the Species Argument: Race and Economic Anxieties in Poe's Philadelphia
5. Making "Miscegenation": Alcott's Paul Frere and the Limits of Brotherhood After Emancipation
Epilogue: "Miscegenation" Today
Elise Lemire is the author of Black Walden: Slavery and Its Aftermath in Concord, Massachusetts and "Miscegenation": Making Race in America, both published by the University of Pennsylvania Press. A two-time fellowship recipient from the National Endowment for the Humanities, she is Professor of Literature at Purchase College, SUNY.
"Lemire opens new paths of inquiry into the invention of race and of whiteness, as well as into the history of love and sexual desire in the United States."
~Martha Hodes, New York University
"This is an exciting book. Lemire convinces the reader that the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries witnessed an often shrill argument for intra-racial, as opposed to interracial, coupling in the northeastern United States. Making love across the racial divide between black and white thus came to appear as a contradiction in terms, since only making miscegenation was possible."
~Werner Sollors, Harvard University
"The sexualizing of race and the racializing of sex have shaped U.S. society in powerful and destructive ways. Lemire's brief, well-researched, and thoughtful book illustrates how key components of this protean process became part of the worldview of nineteenth-century white society."