history of Free Blacks in non slave states and canada

Jun 2015
London UK
Has there been much written on this? Any recommendations? Or best use for an essay or short article would be 12 years a slave? Or Frederick Douglass? I do recall Abraham Lincoln telling a group of free blacks, their best option would be to return to Africa because they would not be respected or viewed as equal by the rest of white America.

If Lincoln spoke to them, Did free blacks have voting rights or full citizenship in the north or non slave west? Or was there just as much segregation problems, but not as blatant as we saw during the Jim Crow era south of the mason dixon line?

Was it better in Canada? I was told that the non immigrant black community that was there for centuries originally came from America following the War of Independence, both sides promised blacks freedom if they fought on their side, but broke the promises after the war. So only place to go was up north especially for those supporting the British. Did the Canadian government try to stop the trickle of blacks from the south? could they vote?


Ad Honorem
Aug 2016
Prior to the 14th Amendment ratified in 1868 there was no uniform policy or definition of who was a US citizen and without that, there could be no uniform policy of who could vote. It was only in the Dred Scott decision circa 1855 that it was established that slaves definitely were not citizens and therefore had no rights (in that case the right in question was the right to bring a lawsuit). The status of free Blacks was still undecided. In the early 19th century, the constitution was vague about who could vote, mostly leaving it up to the states which means there was no uniform policy of who could or could not vote. Prior to the Civil War, most Americans took it for granted that only white men could vote. It would have been seen as highly unusual if a free Black showed up at the polling place on election day and tried to vote. He would probably be turned away although I have no knowledge of any specific instances.
Jun 2015
London UK
Were free blacks exempt from the slave codes? Or did they have to carry passes at all times? Were they encouraged not to associate with enslaved blacks even relatives, out of fears it may encourage revolts?

Could the the Jim Crow segregation laws be described as a continuation of the said slave codes in the post reconstruction era when the northern armies left?


Ad Honorem
Feb 2013
portland maine
Look up this great historical person, Boston King. A slave in S. Carolina faught with the British and freed. Led a group of freed slaves to Sierra Leon. Unsatisfied lead another group to Nova Scotia to make a settlement of Black farmers and finally became a minister in the Methodist Church.

inks, The Blacks in Canada: A History, McGill-Queen's Press,

Joe Lockard, "Memoirs of Boston King: A Black Preacher", Anti-slavery Literature Website, Arizona State University, accessed 27 September 2011


Ad Honorem
Jun 2014
California tried a political ploy. the approved constitution of California granted rights to male whites and white Hispanics but deferring the right to vote for Indians and failing utterly to address blacks.

In late 1849, the delegates to the California Constitutional Convention met to form the first constitution of California. At the Convention, the delegates debated the issue of whether California Indians should have the right to vote. A minority advocated that the Indians should have the right to vote, as was recognized by the prior Mexican regime, especially if the Indians were going to be taxed. The minority delegates cited principles in the Declaration of Independence declaring that taxation and representation go together. However, other delegates in the majority argued that certain influential white persons who controlled Indians would “march hundreds [of wild Indians] up to the polls” to cast votes in compliance with such persons’ wishes.
In the end, the majority prevailed and the Convention agreed to the following constitutional provisions regarding suffrage and California Indians: Every white male citizen of the United States, and every white male citizen of Mexico, who shall have elected to become a citizen of the United States, under the treaty of peace exchanged and ratified at Queretaro, on the 30th day of May, 1848, of the age of twenty-one years,
who shall have been a resident of the State six months…shall be entitled to vote at all elections which are now or hereafter may be authorized by law:
Provided, that nothing herein contained shall be construed to prevent the Legislature, by a two thirds concurrent vote, from admitting to the right of suffrage, Indians or the descendants of Indians, in such special cases as such a proportion of the legislative body may deem just and proper.
The California Legislature never passed legislation that allowed California Indians to vote.
In 1870, Congress ratified the 15th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution affirming the right of all U.S. citizens to vote: The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous conditions of servitude.
However, even after the 15th Amendment was ratified, most American Indians,
including California Indians, did not have the right to vote until the federal Citizenship Act of 1924 was passed.5
-because the American Indians weren't considered "citizens". The Indian Citizenship Act - Jun 02, 1924 - HISTORY.com like all women, black women didn't get the vote until 1920 http://www.history.com/topics/womens-history/the-fight-for-womens-suffrage
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Ad Honorem
Jul 2011
Free blacks generally could not vote or serve on juries and so on anywhere before the Civil War. There were large free black populations in Virginia, Maryland, and Delaware, as well as in the north, but there were very few in the deep south. There were more free blacks in the south than north.


They obviously didn't have to show passes, since they didn't have anyone to issue them, but I think they had to show papers shoving they were free when stopped by slave patrols in the south.
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Sep 2014
James Beckwourth was a mountain man who lived among the Crow. He was the son of a minor British nobleman and a slave mother...born in Virginia. His father moved to Missouri where he could free his children. James started as an apprentice to a blacksmith but got into some trouble and went West. Recognized as one of the great adventurers, one of his trails is a highway in Ca.


Ad Honorem
Jun 2014
State constitutions protecting voting rights for blacks included those of Delaware (1776), [5] Maryland (1776), [6] New Hampshire (1784), [7] and New York (1777). [8] (Constitution signer Rufus King declared that in New York, “a citizen of color was entitled to all the privileges of a citizen. . . . [and] entitled to vote.”) [9] Pennsylvania also extended such rights in her 1776 constitution, [10] as did Massachusetts in her 1780 constitution. [11] In fact, nearly a century later in 1874, US Rep. Robert Brown Elliott (a black Republican from SC) queried: “When did Massachusetts sully her proud record by placing on her statute-book any law which admitted to the ballot the white man and shut out the black man? She has never done it; she will not do it.” [12]
The History of Black Voting Rights [Great read!]

The US was not the most laggard in terms of suffrage for blacks: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_suffrage

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