The Disenfranchisement of Black Pennsylvanians in the 1838 State Constitution

Racism, Politics, or Economics? -- A Statistical Analysis


  • David A. Latzko



Delegates to Pennsylvania's state constitutional convention in 1837-38 approved an amendment limiting the right to vote to "white freemen." Some scholars argue that simple racism explains this decision. Others emphazie the partisan nature of the issue of black suffrage or the economic rivalry between blacks and whites for jobs. This article quantitatively examines the factors affecting how convention delegates voted on black suffrage. The delegates' political affiliation and the share of free blacks in the populations of the delegates' home counties are robust determinants of how the delegates voted. Democrats voted to disenfranchise black Pennsylvanians. Delegates from counties with proportionally large black populations opposed disenfranchisement.