Mark M. Carroll

Mark M. Carroll
Associate Professor
214 Read Hall
Research Area: 
United States South, sociocultural and legal

Ph.D. The University of Houston, 1997
M.A. The University of Houston, 1990
B.A. University of Louisiana–Lafayette, 1982


Professor Carroll was born in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and grew up in the Cajun country of southwest Louisiana. After completing graduate studies in legal history at The University of Houston under the direction of Cullen Professor of History and Law Robert C. Palmer, he arrived in Columbia to begin his career in the MU Department of History in August 1998.

General areas of expertise and current research

Professor Carroll has been teaching the Survey of American History to 1865 since 1990 and, since 1998, undergraduate and graduate courses in the history of American law and of the Old and New South. His teaching and research explores the dynamic interaction of law, societies, and cultures on the Trans-Mississippi Southwest frontier/ borderlands of the United States in the period 1800-1860.

Presently, Professor Carroll is working on a book project soon to be be published by Louisiana State University Press, entitled Unfreedom’s Progress: Market Revolution and the Legalities of Slavery and Racial Exclusion in Americanizing St. Louis, 1804-1860.

Unfreedom’s Progress examines a largely unexamined aspect of African-American engagement with the enticements of market revolution in antebellum America. It does so by looking at slaves and free blacks in the period 1804-1861 who resided in the rapidly-growing city of St. Louis and boldly seized distinctive opportunities offered by its thriving market economy, especially after the War of 1812. In doing so, it examines French Creole and Anglophone slaves who courageously labored and sometimes resorted to legal instrumentalities to liberate themselves – and those who faced different trials and tribulations in criminal courts for helping themselves with “takings” and personal violence. Equally important, it investigates a heretofore largely-ignored facet of racial policing and criminal adjudication in the antebellum urban West and urban South: the conflict between transgressive African Americans engaged in illicit enterprises and an ambitious evangelical middle-class who sought, in the name of progress, to advance market capitalism but impose at least some limits on its ever-widening moral and social effects.

The fortunes of African Americans who employed legal and unlawful means to survive, obtain freedom, and provide prosperity for themselves and their families changed in step with a fundamental transformation of St. Louis in the period 1832-1837. In these tumultuous years, the once-relatively-serene French fur-trading outpost changed from a place where authorities primarily identified gens de couleur libre by their free status, rather than by their race, to one where Anglophone white determination to bolster slavery placed a premium on the binary distinction between white and black. Rising trepidation over abolitionism and the increasing public transgressiveness of slaves and free persons of color spurred the construction of a full-fledged antebellum slave regime suited to the authoritarian needs of what would soon be the third most populous city of the urban South. Black struggle in St. Louis, thus, required the navigation of an ever-changing kaleidoscope of legalities. The new dispensation combined “benevolent” reform and law to exclude threatening free persons of color from both the city and state. The mature slave regime featured positive laws, policing, and criminal adjudication far better calculated than its predecessors to penalize brutally black-on-white violence and clandestine slave takings; suppress transgressive black conviviality; and at least regulate the wicked commerce of enterprising free blacks – especially bawdy houses operated by free women of color.

Dwarfed by the massive immigration of Europeans in the last two decades of the antebellum period, St. Louis African Americans contended with a mushrooming white majority determined to advance the cause of “free labor” and a white man’s country. In ways public and hidden, this black minority struggled within a regime of law that approved full freedom only for white people and deployed its power only to target African Americans whom authorities deemed to be the very worst transgressors. Black women and men, such as Harriet Robinson and Dred Scott, appealed adverse decisions in freedom suits made far more difficult by an abrupt change in Missouri Supreme Court freedom policy. Others pressed legal claims to property wrongfully seized by whites and citizenship rights against free Negro exclusion within the courts. By early 1861, St. Louis free blacks had clearly demonstrated their capacity to succeed in the competitive world of market capitalism with both reputable and, less commonly, illicit enterprises – the profits from which, however, they usually devoted to the liberation of themselves and loved ones.

Recent Publications: 

Homesteads Ungovernable: Families, Sex, Race, and the Law in Frontier Texas, 1823–1860 (University of Texas Press, 2001). In this book, Professor Carroll draws on social, cultural, and legal history to trace the development of sexual, family, and racial-caste relations in the most turbulent polity on the southern frontier during the antebellum period. He finds that the marriages of settlers in Texas were typically born of economic and practical necessity and that, with marriageable white women often unavailable, Anglo men frequently partnered with Native American, Tejano, and black women. While identifying a trans-cultural array of gender roles that combined with the law and frontier disorder to destabilize the marriages of homesteaders, he also reveals how evolving Texas law reinforced the substantial autonomy of Anglo women and provided them material rewards, even as it ensured that cross-racial sexual relationships and their reproductive consequences comported with slavery and a regime that dispossessed and subordinated free blacks, Native Americans, and Tejanos. 

“‘All for Keeping His Own Negro Wench’: Birch v. Benton (1858) and the Politics of Slander and Free Speech in Antebellum Missouri.” Law & History Review Vol. 29, no. 2 (Aug 2011): 835-897. The slander suit brought by outspoken pro-slavery Missouri Supreme Court Judge James H. Birch against Unionist Senator Thomas Hart Benton of Missouri for slander in 1849 implicates numerous issues of importance to constitutional scholars and historians interested in the legal and political culture of the United States before the Civil War. These include the centuries-old common law right to individual reputation, the rise of competitive two-party politics, and their conflicted implications for constitutionally-protected freedom of political expression in antebellum America. By the same token, close study of the legendary cause célèbre discloses what ordinary people, newspaper editors, and elected officials deemed to be the proper role for political invective and the appropriate limitations on defamation actions in a boisterous white man’s democracy deeply conflicted over the question of African-American bondage.


Undergraduate classes and seminars
History of American Law 
History of the Old South
History of the New South 
American Cultural and Intellectual History to 1865 
Seminar: Sex and Violence in the Old South
Seminar: Liberty and Licentiousness in the Trans-Mississippi 
  Southwest, 1803-1860
History of the Antebellum Southern Frontier
Survey of United States History to 1865

Graduate seminars
Readings in the History of the South 
Readings in the History of Nineteenth-Century American Society, Culture, and Law
Historiography [United States and Modern Western Europe, team taught, methods and theory]