"Though it blasts their eyes" : slavery and citizenship in New York City, 1790-1821
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Between 1790 and 1821, New York City underwent a dramatic transformation as slavery slowly died. Throughout the 1790s, a massive influx of runaways from the hinterland and black refugees from the Caribbean led to the rapid expansion of the city’s free black population. At the same time, white agitation for abolition reached a fever pitch. The legislature’s decision in 1799 to enact a program of gradual emancipation set off a wave of arranged manumissions that filled city streets with black bodies at all stages of transition from slavery to freedom. As blacks began to organize politically and develop a distinct social, economic and cultural life, they both conformed to and defied white expectations of republican citizenship. Over time, the emerging climate of social indistinction proved too much for white elites, who turned to new ideologies of race to enact the massive disfranchisement of black voters.