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American Ethnocracy: Origins and Development of Legal Racial Exclusion in Comparative Perspective, 1600s to 1900s

  • Author(s): Hiers, Wesley
  • Advisor(s): Wimmer, Andreas
  • et al.
Abstract

This dissertation directs sociology's political-institutional turn to the puzzle of legal racial exclusion (LRE)--a social phenomenon wherein states classify their populations by race and assign unequal rights to dominants and subordinates on this basis. Spanning from colonial times to the civil rights era, this dissertation offers a long-run perspective on how political institutions--modes of imperial rule, party systems and coalitions, and legislative arrangements--have shaped the emergence, endurance, and demise of LRE.

Chapter one uses a macro-comparative analysis to explain why LRE emerged in some former European settlement colonies but not others. The basic argument links the emergence of LRE in the independence era to colonial legacies of settler self-rule: where European settlers established autonomous, representative governments during the colonial period, LRE later developed. Focusing on the United States, the next three chapters then examine the political institutions and alliances that sustained LRE until the 1960s. Compared to other cases of LRE, the United States is the only one where LRE became an object of significant political contestation several decades before this exclusion was actually overcome. This contestation produced changing patterns of legal racial exclusion over time and space during the nineteenth century. The second chapter examines how the dynamics of the party system produced this contestation, shaped these patterns of LRE, and ensured that exclusion would endure well into the next century.

The Democratic Party's century-long, inter-regional alliance for white supremacy lies at the heart of chapter two's analysis. Once this exclusionary alliance broke apart in the 1930s, LRE returned to the national political agenda. Based on an analysis of political developments at the national, state, and local levels, the third chapter explores the break-up of this alliance. Chapter four then examines how, even after this dissolution, the structure of coalitions and legislative arrangements in the Senate prolonged LRE and fundamentally shaped the process by which it was eventually overcome. Chapter four's analysis is based to a large degree on a new roll call data set compiled by the author.

In relation to explanatory approaches that emphasize working class competition, elite conflict, racial demography, or public opinion, this dissertation demonstrates the indispensable explanatory contribution that a political-institutional approach makes to our understanding of the emergence, endurance, and demise of LRE.

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