This chapter describes the substantive content and political dynamics of what is here referred to as “anti-caste liberalism”. Developed by Radical Republicans and their allies during the late 1860s, anti-caste liberals claimed that the Reconstruction amendments had placed the principle of racial equality at the pinnacle of the American constitutional order, charging the federal government with the responsibility to take action against the continued maintenance of racial caste. This position was quite radical for its time, as it insisted on the political imperative of a strong standard against racial discrimination. Although only briefly upheld as the law of the land, anti-caste constitutionalism continued to find expression in legal arguments, books, speeches, and political meetings well into the 1880s. On the other hand, anti-caste liberalism represented an essentially conservative position on economic issues. Particularly given the growing economic divisions and class antagonisms of the time, this combination of economic conservatism and racial, political, and legal radicalism illustrates the tremendous disjuncture that existed between the struggle against racial discrimination and the battle for economic justice in late 19th-century America.
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