Monday, April 25, 2016

Confederate "Heritage" Month 2016, April 25: Slavery and the development of white racist "theory"

Earlier this month I quoted from Slavery and the Martial South Journal of Negro History 37:1 (Jan 1952) on the practical militarization that the slavery system produced in the slaveowning societies of the South.

Toward the end of the article, he also refers to the development of pseudo-scientific racism and its embrace and encouragement from the slaveowners:

The South's society, as described by its proponents, was to rest on the inequality of men in law and economics. Slavery was a positive good. South Carolina's James H. Hammond said that slavery was "the greatest of all blessings which a kind providence has bestowed upon the South." It gave to the white man the only basis on which he could do something for a group of hopelessly inferior human beings. The view of the inferiority of the Negro was organized into a body of systematic thought by the scientists and social scientists of the South and out of it emerged a doctrine of racial superiority that justified any kind of control that the owner established and maintained over the slave. The racial basis of slavery gave Southern leaders an effective means of solidifying the economically divergent elements among the whites. At the same time, it strengthened the ardor with which most white Southerners were willing to fight to preserve slavery. The sharp cleavage between slavery and freedom was made even sharper by the factor of race. All slaves belonged to a degraded, "inferior" race; and, by the same token, all whites, however wretched some of them might be, were superior. In a society where race was so important, the whites at the lowest rung could satisfy themselves because they could identify themselves with the most privileged of the community. "Color alone is here the badge of distinction, the true mark of aristocracy," said Thomas Dew, "and all who are white are equal in spite of the variety of occupation." [my emphasis]
In 1776, the supporters of the Declaration of Independence, including the slaveowner who wrote it, could live with the contradiction between the classical liberal political notion that "all men are created equal" and the reality of chattel slavery. As time advanced, the cotton gin boosted the profitability of the slave system and the slaveowning states spent decades organizing their societies around defense of the Peculiar Institution. And the leading defenders of slavery in the US no longer bothered with the polite pretense. Rather, they stated the real basis of their society, "the inequality of men in law and economics," as Franklin summarizes it.

In the famous Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858, Stephen Douglas, a "moderate" Democrat by the standards of 1858, declared in the first debate of 08/21/1858:

Mr. Lincoln, following the example and lead of all the little Abolition orators, who go around and lecture in the basements of schools and churches, reads from the Declaration of Independence, that all men were created equal, and then asks, how can you deprive a negro of that equality which God and the Declaration of Independence awards to him? He and they maintain that negro equality is guarantied by the laws of God, and that it is asserted in the Declaration of Independence. If they think so, of course they have a right to say so, and so vote. I do not question Mr. Lincoln's conscientious belief that the negro was made his equal, and hence is his brother, (laughter,) but for my own part, I do not regard the negro as my equal, and positively deny that he is my brother or any kin to me whatever. ("Never." "Hit him again," and cheers.) Lincoln has evidently learned by heart Parson Lovejoy's catechism. (Laughter and applause.) He can repeat it as well as Farnsworth, and he is worthy of a medal from Father Giddings and Fred Douglass for his Abolitionism. (Laughter.) He holds that the negro was born his equal and yours, and that he was endowed with equality by the Almighty, and that no human law can deprive him of these rights which were guarantied to him by the Supreme ruler of the Universe. Now, I do not believe that the Almighty ever intended the negro to be the equal of the white man. ("Never, never.") If he did, he has been a long time demonstrating the fact. (Cheers.) [my emphasis]
The texts here from the Lincoln-Douglas debates are taken from the National Park Service's site, The Lincoln-Douglas Debates of 1858.

Lincoln in his proportion of the debate denied that he advocated racial equality: "I had no thought in the world that I was doing anything to bring about a political and social equality of the black and white races." But Lincoln was still intensely aware of the contradiction, including that of his own position. And he was aware that the existence of slavery and the justifications the master class had developed for it were eroding the principle of human equality - or at least male equality - that was at the heart of the democratic convictions of the Declaration (italics in original; my emphasis in bold):

I have no purpose to introduce political and social equality between the white and the black races. There is a physical difference between the two, which, in my judgment, will probably forever forbid their living together upon the footing of perfect equality, and inasmuch as it becomes a necessity that there must be a difference, I, as well as Judge Douglas, am in favor of the race to which I belong having the superior position. I have never said anything to the contrary, but I hold that, notwithstanding all this, there is no reason in the world why the negro is not entitled to all the natural rights enumerated in the Declaration of Independence, the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. [Loud cheers.] I hold that he is as much entitled to these as the white man. I agree with Judge Douglas he is not my equal in many respects - certainly not in color, perhaps not in moral or intellectual endowment. But in the right to eat the bread, without the leave of anybody else, which his own hand earns, he is my equal and the equal of Judge Douglas, and the equal of every living man. [Great applause.]
In the seventh debate of 10/15/1858, Lincoln said this of the Declaration (my emphasis):

At Galesburgh the other day, I said in answer to Judge Douglas, that three years ago there never had been a man, so far as I knew or believed, in the whole world, who had said that the Declaration of Independence did not include negroes in the term "all men." I reassert it to-day. I assert that Judge Douglas and all his friends may search the whole records of the country, and it will be a matter of great astonishment to me if they shall be able to find that one human being three years ago had ever uttered the astounding sentiment that the term "all men" in the Declaration did not include the negro. Do not let me be misunderstood. I know that more than three years ago there were men who, finding this assertion constantly in the way of their schemes to bring about the ascendancy and perpetuation of slavery, denied the truth of it. I know that Mr. Calhoun and all the politicians of his school denied the truth of the Declaration. I know that it ran along in the mouth of some Southern men for a period of years, ending at last in that shameful though rather forcible declaration of Pettit of Indiana, upon the floor of the United States Senate, that the Declaration of Independence was in that respect "a self-evident lie," rather than a self-evident truth. But I say, with a perfect knowledge of all this hawking at the Declaration without directly attacking it, that three years ago there never had lived a man who had ventured to assail it in the sneaking way of pretending to believe it and then asserting it did not include the negro. I believe the first man who ever said it was Chief Justice Taney in the Dred Scott case, and the next to him was our friend, Stephen A. Douglas. And now it has become the catch-word of the entire party. I would like to call upon his friends every where to consider how they have come in so short a time to view this matter in a way so entirely different from their former belief? to ask whether they are not being borne along by an irresistible current-whither, they know not? [Great applause.]
In an earlier speech not part of the in-person debates (Speech at Chicago, Illinois 07/10/1858) Lincoln explained:

Now, sirs, for the purpose of squaring things with this idea of “don’t care if slavery is voted up or voted down,” for sustaining the Dred Scott decision [A voice—"Hit him again"], for holding that the Declaration of Independence did not mean anything at all, we have Judge Douglas giving his exposition of what the Declaration of Independence means, and we have him saying that the people of America are equal to the people of England. According to his construction, you Germans are not connected with it. Now I ask you in all soberness, if all these things, if indulged in, if ratified, if confirmed and endorsed, if taught to our children, and repeated to them, do not tend to rub out the sentiment of liberty in the country, and to transform this Government into a government of some other form. Those arguments that are made, that the inferior race are to be treated with as much allowance as they are capable of enjoying; that as much is to be done for them as their condition will allow. What are these arguments? They are the arguments that kings have made for enslaving the people in all ages of the world. You will find that all the arguments in favor of king-craft were of this class; they always bestrode the necks of the people, not that they wanted to do it, but because the people were better off for being ridden. That is their argument, and this argument of the Judge is the same old serpent that says you work and I eat, you toil and I will enjoy the fruits of it. Turn in whatever way you will—whether it come from the mouth of a King, an excuse for enslaving the people of his country, or from the mouth of men of one race as a reason for enslaving the men of another race, it is all the same old serpent, and I hold if that course of argumentation that is made for the purpose of convincing the public mind that we should not care about this, should be granted, it does not stop with the negro. I should like to know if taking this old Declaration of Independence, which declares that all men are equal upon principle and making exceptions to it where will it stop. If one man says it does not mean a negro, why not another say it does not mean some other man? If that declaration is not the truth, let us get the Statute book, in which we find it and tear it out! Who is so bold as to do it! [Voices—"me" "no one," &c.] If it is not true let us tear it out! [cries of "no, no,"] let us stick to it then, [cheers] let us stand firmly by it then. [Applause.]
The arguments of Lincoln and Douglas over the meaning of the Declaration of Independence are reminders of how seriously people of that time took that document as a statement of American principles.

As Franklin wrote in 1952, white racism was a major factor in winning allegiance to the Slave Power's rejection of the principles of the Declaration:

White Southerners were, thus, among the first people of the world to develop a militant race superiority. As in other parts of the world where such a notion evolved, these frontier aristocrats sought support for their position by developing a common bond with the less privileged. The obvious basis was race, and outside the white race there was to be found no favor from God, no honor or respect from man. By the time that Europeans were reading Gobineau's Inequality of Human Races Southerners were reading Cartwright's Slavery in the Light of Ethnology. In admitting all whites of the South into the pseudo-nobility of race, Cartwright won their enthusiastic support in the struggle to preserve the integrity and honor of the race. This was a concept of social organization worth fighting for, and the white people of the South entered upon the grim task of exterminating persons and ideas hostile to their way of life. [my emphasis in bold]

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