This chapter examines the highly influential position of Darwinian liberalism, which argued in favor of a minimalist conception of black citizenship rights. This position, however, was coupled with an insistence that equal rights could not and should not be expected to produce “social equality” between the races. In the context of a free-market order, Darwinian liberals claimed, the innate superiority of the white race ensured that it would forever dominate the black. The fact that this insistence on racial hierarchy was linked to a commitment to a minimal standard of black rights made it a politically moderate position in the context of the 1870s. By the turn of the century, however, this commitment had largely eroded, as Darwinian liberals forged an even more exclusive conception of white supremacy in reaction to the labor and agrarian movements of the 1880s–90s. In the context of late 19th-century America, providing the most minimal rights to African Americans remained controversial, even when accompanied by assurances of eternal white domination and racial hierarchy.
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