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Title page for ETD etd-09092016-125048

Type of Document Dissertation
Author Bates, Jason Lee
Author's Email Address jason.l.bates@vanderbilt.edu
URN etd-09092016-125048
Title The "Drug Evil": Narcotics Law, Race, and the Making of America's Composite Penal State
Degree PhD
Department History
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Gary Gerstle Committee Co-Chair
Sarah Igo Committee Co-Chair
Daniel Sharfstein Committee Member
Katherine Crawford Committee Member
Paul Kramer Committee Member
  • criminal law
  • history of race
  • history of the state
  • American history
Date of Defense 2016-08-16
Availability unrestricted
This dissertation uses early narcotics criminalization in the United States—at the local, state, and federal levels—to demonstrate that passage of new criminal laws played a central role in reconfiguring state power and citizenship for a modern, urban, and diverse country. It begins in the 1870s with the first, local efforts to address narcotics use legally and concludes at the dawn of the 1930s. Assessing the actions of policymakers at the subnational and national levels, who determined to criminalize narcotics in direct response to the Chinese immigrants who had entered the country before the Exclusion Act and the racial minorities, notably African Americans, who had long been present, this dissertation makes two principal arguments. First, it demonstrates that, though lawmakers criminalized narcotics to respond to the racial anxieties of the white public, that animus did not lead inexorably to a unified political response. In particular, Americans’ longstanding commitment to limited government led policymakers in statehouses and in Washington to question the assertions of power involved in anti-narcotics legislation. Though Americans’ anxieties about non-whites overcame their objections to the states encroaching on long-cherished liberties and their fealty to a central state constrained by liberalism and federalism, these commitments shaped the anti-narcotics apparatus that policymakers constructed. Second, it demonstrates that, to control these populations, policymakers started the work of erecting a multi-jurisdictional and layered penal state. Over the sixty-year period included in the study, Americans found a growing list of substances and set of practices outlawed. They faced an increasingly complex web of local, state, and federal laws and penalties. And the law enforcement forces that watched over the American populace multiplied dramatically. Through narcotics restriction, criminal law expanded and came to comprise an ever-more prominent means of removing unworthy citizens and residents from the general public. As such, lawmaker determination to criminalize narcotics played a key role in ushering in the American penal state—itself a key part of the larger and more bureaucratic state already in place by the time the New Deal began.
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