New Books Network

Michael A. Schoeppner

Moral Contagion

Black Atlantic Sailors, Citizenship, and Diplomacy in Antebellum America

Cambridge University Press 2019

New Books in African American StudiesNew Books in American StudiesNew Books in HistoryNew Books in LawNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books Network April 4, 2019 Adam McNeil

Between 1822 and 1857, eight Southern states barred the ingress of all free black maritime workers. According to lawmakers, they carried a ‘moral contagion’...

Between 1822 and 1857, eight Southern states barred the ingress of all free black maritime workers. According to lawmakers, they carried a ‘moral contagion’ of abolitionism and black autonomy that could be transmitted to local slaves. Those seamen who arrived in Southern ports in violation of the laws faced incarceration, corporal punishment, an incipient form of convict leasing, and even punitive enslavement. The sailors, their captains, abolitionists, and British diplomatic agents protested this treatment. They wrote letters, published tracts, cajoled elected officials, pleaded with Southern officials, and litigated in state and federal courts. By deploying a progressive and sweeping notion of national citizenship – one that guaranteed a number of rights against state regulation – they exposed the ambiguity and potential power of national citizenship as a legal category. Ultimately, the Fourteenth Amendment recognized the robust understanding of citizenship championed by Antebellum free people of color, by people afflicted with ‘moral contagion’. In his new book Moral Contagion: Black Atlantic Sailors, Citizenship, and Diplomacy in Antebellum America (Cambridge University Press, 2019), Michael A. Schoeppner tells their story. Listen in.


Adam McNeil is PhD student in History at the University of Delaware where he is an African American Public Humanities Initiative and Colored Conventions Project Scholar. He received his M.A. in History at Simmons College in 2018 and his B.S. in History at Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University in 2015. Follow him @CulturedModesty on Twitter to learn more about upcoming interviews.