Sunday, September 21, 2008

White Supremacy , Greed and Survival

Doug Phillips quotes Heman Humphrey’s mention of the first U.S. Census, noting large families and their benefit to the agrarian family. This same census data also strongly influenced growing concerns about population and wealth at that time and provides some interesting glimpses into the "aggravated" mind of the South in the years leading up to the War Between the States.

 The first census near the turn of the century in 1800 revealed that the residents of the country outnumbered city dwellers by a factor of ten to one, but near the end of the 19th Century, the agrarian population accounted for only one-third of the U.S. population. Rural wealth increased four-fold during the latter half of the 19th Century, but urban wealth increased by a sixteen-fold factor. Farmers also watched their children depart for the cities where they could earn more wealth by working shorter hours under better conditions. In addition to the aforementioned price gouging of Southern goods shipped to Europe, the Southerner paid a higher percentage of tax than did those who worked in industrialized cities. As Solon J. Buck notes, “It was easy to demonstrate that the farmer...paid taxes higher in proportion to his ability to pay than did the business man or the corporation... The revenue of the Federal Government was raised wholly by indirect taxes levied principally upon articles of common consumption; and the farmer and other people of small means paid an undue share of the burden in the form of higher prices demanded for commodities.” This steady proportionate decrease in wealth and population added to the troublesome ongoing efforts to eradicate slavery, a conflict and struggle that developed shortly following the ratification of the first U.S. Constitution according to Palmer.

My original 1875 edition of Thornwell’s biography (penned by Palmer) paints the scene of the political landscape and the federal government’s efforts to marginalize and limit slavery in the new states admitted to the union. In 1790, when “Dr. Franklin headed a petition” to abolish slavery in the States, Congress resolved at that time that slavery was a States rights issue (pg 471). Palmer then goes on to describe that the Louisiana Purchase, the ceded territory, would enjoy the same liberties that the existing states were afforded. But this was not true of Missouri, eventually resulting in the adoption of the Missouri Compromise, contributing to the South’s minority voice in the defense and free exercise of slavery.

When, however, in 1818, Missouri knocked at the door of Congress for admission upon these terms [Louisiana Purchase], the attempt was made to fasten upon her the restriction of slavery, in the provision “that the further introduction of slavery, or of involuntary servitude, be prohibited, except for the punishment of crimes, whereof the party shall have been fully convicted; and that all children born within the Union shall be free at the age of twenty-five years” (pg 472).

When California presents for Admittance as a State of the Union, the subject of slavery produces much discussion ultimately resulting in the Compromise of 1850, and California is admitted as a free state. By this time, Former Vice President, Constitutional Attorney, now Senator John C. Calhoun of South Carolina has grown ill with tuberculosis, so Virginia Senator James A. Mason reads his speech for him, arguing for the constitutional rights of the South. Calhoun not only argues the disparagement in the growth of the population and the wealth outside of the Southern States, he also argues that only 25% of the land mass of the new territories added to the Union classified as Southern States, those that provide for the free exercise of the practice of slavery by definition. He argues also that the North has essentially strategically “stacked the deck” so that the North grew in power and financial gain.

The result of the whole is to give the Northern section a predominance in every department of the government, and thereby concentrate in it the two elements which constitute the federal government: a majority of States, and a majority of their population, estimated in federal numbers. Whatever section concentrates the two in itself possesses the control of the entire government... [T]here is not a single Territory in progress in the Southern section, and no certainty that any additional State will be added to it during the decade... There is a question of vital importance to the Southern section, in reference to which the views and feelings of the two sections are as opposite and hostile as they can possibly be. I refer to the relation between the two races in the Southern section, which constitutes a vital portion of her social organization. Every portion of the North entertains views and feelings more or less hostile to it. Those most opposed and hostile regard it as a sin, and consider themselves under the most sacred obligation to use every effort to destroy it.

Indeed, to the extent that they conceive that they have power, they regard themselves as implicated in the sin, and responsible for not suppressing it by the use of all and every means. Those less opposed and hostile regard it as a crime--an offense against humanity, as they call it and, altho not so fanatical, feel themselves bound to use all efforts to effect the same object; while those who are least opposed and hostile regard it as a blot and a stain on the character of what they call the "nation," and feel themselves accordingly bound to give it no countenance or support. On the contrary, the Southern section regards the relation as one which can not be destroyed without subjecting the two races to the greatest calamity, and the section to poverty, desolation, and wretchedness; and accordingly they feel bound by every consideration of interest and safety to defend it.

So even in Calhoun’s well reasoned argument, he acknowledges the issue of slavery and the nature of the practice as an integral element of the South’s economy and structure. To abolish it will further impoverish the already suffering South who cannot begin to compete with the growth in both numbers and in wealth of the Northern States and Territories. California became what Calhoun therein calls the “test question” and asserts that the real issues are “power and aggrandizement.” Certainly, the South did suffer after the approaching war under Reconstruction which was not only impoverishing but emasculating. The “gentle view” of slavery then seems to hold up until the very difficult problems of racism present themselves. Some claim that advocacy for one’s own race constitutes “racialism” and differs from “racism,” though by today’s standards, most of my contemporaries would agree that their position amounts to bigotry. And I fancied Calhoun as someone who did not capitulate to this view, basing his arguments purely on the integrity demonstrated by individuals, the rights of individual States based upon Constitutional arguments alone and the North’s exploitation of power and circumstance. In this discourse, I realize that Calhoun does argue that there is a disparagement between peoples based upon their race and admits to this paternalism. It is somewhat reassuring that he does not argue this as a central factor or with the vitriol that his other contemporaries did. He seems to justify the good of slavery by comparing it to the free societies with poorer conditions.

Slavery a Positive Good, (6 February 1837)

To maintain the existing relations between the two races, inhabiting that section of the Union, is indispensable to the peace and happiness of both. It cannot be subverted without drenching the country or the other of the races...I appeal to facts. Never before has the black race of Central Africa, from the dawn of history to the present day, attained a condition so civilized and so improved, not only physically, but morally and intellectually...In the meantime, the white or European race, has not degenerated...This is not the proper occasion, but, if it were, it would not be difficult to trace the various devices by which the wealth of all civilized communities has been so unequally divided, and to show by what means so small a share has been allotted to those by whose labor it was produced, and so large a share given to the non-producing classes...I might well challenge a comparison between them and the more direct, simple, and patriarchal mode by which the labor of the African race is, among us, commanded by the European. I may say with truth, that in few countries so much is left to the share of the laborer, and so little exacted from him, or where there is more kind attention paid to him in sickness or infirmities of age...

I have yet to read any writer so miserable on this point as the great Robert Lewis Dabney. He did advocate kind and fair treatment of slaves and wrote in support of humane treatment of those entrusted to a person, but they were “heritable property” and “mere chattels,” not truly human like those of greater races and sons of Noah. And though he may have been noted for his wisdom on other matters of theology as I have observed myself in his Systematic Theology, he did not hold non-European races in high esteem. I was shocked to see that he actually did have a modicum of respect for the African race, but only when he compared them to the Native American. Blacks would at least work and could be subdued, but the miserable Native American could not be broken. They would not work and made too many attempts to escape from their captors, so they were not as valuable of a commodity. They were not described as people in need of Christ but as some lowly type of farm animal.

There are also the miserable comments that he made claiming how futile it was to educate any Negro because among other scandalous things, it was not only impractical, it was also “dishonest.” This rhetoric was quite offensive, perhaps just as offensive as the denigration based on pagan religious belief but upon race. The Negro was an inferior race, “constitutionally prone to improvidence” that could not transcend their condition and the European was divinely superior by God’s providence.

From the Conclusion of
A Defense of Virginia and the South”:
The black race is an alien one on our soil; and nothing except his amalgamation with ours, or his subordination to ours, can prevent the rise of that instinctive antipathy of race, which, history shows, always arises between opposite races in proximity...But while we believe that “God made of one blood all nations of men to dwell under the whole heavens,” we know that the African has become, according to a well-known law of natural history, by the manifold influences of the ages, a different, fixed species of the race, separated from the white man by traits bodily, mental and moral, almost as rigid and permanent as those of genus. Hence the offspring of an amalgamation must be a hybrid race, stamped with all the feebleness of the hybrid, and incapable of the career of civilization and glory as an independent race. And this apparently is the destiny which our conquerors have in view. If indeed they can mix the blood of the heroes of Manassas with this vile stream from the fens of Africa, then they will never again have occasion to tremble before the righteous resistance of Virginia freemen; but will have a race supple and vile enough to fill that position of political subjugation, which they desire to fix on the South.

In Alexander Stevens' “Cornerstone Speech,” Presbyterian and Vice President of the Confederacy, we also see the same element of the Canaan curse that Dabney details in his “Defense of Virginia.”

Many governments have been founded upon the principle of the subordination and serfdom of certain classes of the same race; such were and are in violation of the laws of nature. Our system commits no such violation of nature's laws. With us, all of the white race, however high or low, rich or poor, are equal in the eye of the law. Not so with the negro. Subordination is his place. He, by nature, or by the curse against Canaan, is fitted for that condition which he occupies in our system. The architect, in the construction of buildings, lays the foundation with the proper material-the granite; then comes the brick or the marble. The substratum of our society is made of the material fitted by nature for it, and by experience we know that it is best, not only for the superior, but for the inferior race, that it should be so... Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner- stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery--subordination to the superior race--is his natural and normal condition.

I expected to believe, according to the gentle view of the Southern Perspective, that slavery in the South was actually short lived and would have been gradually and eventually abandoned. It was supposedly a dying institution, and slavery had nothing to do with the instigation or the waging of the War. Yet the Christians who argued for the right to enslave others for their economic gain also did so based on the superiority of their race and their views that slavery actually solved problems of poverty and anarchy. Why is it then that those who argue states rights also argued for white supremacy, the white man’s duty to assume their paternalistic care of their lessers, that the Africans could not be taught anything, that it was evil to mix the blood of the races and that it was actually God’s will to maintain a slavery system? And why then am I supposed to believe that not only was the South on course to relinquish their slavery system in due time without resorting to extreme measures, but I am also to believe that the war was not waged over the issue of slavery? States rights certainly played a major role, and the precedents set as a consequence have been detrimental to the U. S. The source of the difference between the North and South was indistinguishable from slavery and the economics of it, though the Confederate also fought for Southern chivalry, their homeland, tradition and a Christianly way of life.

And I can’t help noting that the attention paid to the changing demographics of the country as revealed by both the census data and as cited in the works of those who advocated for the Southern Cause noted the disparagement in economic growth and political power. Did the government system really fail, or was the world changing in response to many other forces? Were there truly no other alternatives? And if God’s divine providence provided for the system of slavery, why did providence see to it that the South lost the war? And though reconstruction was horrific, why did people not heed the admonishments of Lee after the war who called for unity and healing under God’s providence? Perhaps agnosticism skyrocketed after the war because these issues of secession were wrongly presented as providential and people became disillusioned when they realized the that providence would have them loose the war? And these were men of their day, reflecting the contemporary views, contending for truth and liberty and faith just as I do my writing here. God has mercy on us and shows patience beyond my ability to fathom. But why then to men of this day still make these old, tired, bigoted arguments?

Lincoln, Lee and Jackson all stated that God may have intentions that are higher than ours, and that He was sovereignly guiding us all. I don’t doubt any of that. I wish Jackson had survived to encourage the South to accept God's providence with patience like Lee did. But why resurrect all this and hang on to anger, strife and hatred for generations? And why preach hateful racial superiority from pulpits today? Are the gender arguments so weak that we do need to resurrect ideals that center around racial superiority in order to prop up those gender arguments? This does not mean that all those who make gender arguments based on hierarchy are racists, but why dredge up the writings of the past when we have the all-sufficient Word? That's not enough?

“The fact that one man, or race of men, may have more intellectual capacity than another man, or race of me, gives no just ground for enslaving the inferior; otherwise the most intellectual man that exists may have a right to enslave every other man – white man and black... Otherwise, he who has a fairer skin...than you or I, may have a right to enslave us; and the fairest man in the world may enslave every other man.”

John G. Fee,
The Sinfulness of Slaveholding Shown by Appeals to Reason and Scripture