Tuesday, August 5, 2008

white quotation of the week (reginald horsman)

By 1850 American expansion was viewed in the United States less as a victory for the principles of free democratic republicanism then as evidence of the innate superiority of the American Anglo-Saxon branch of the Caucasian race. In the middle of the nineteenth century a sense of racial destiny permeated discussions of American progress and of future American world destiny.

The contrast in expansionist rhetoric between 1800 and 1850 is striking. The debates and speeches of the early nineteenth century reveal a pervasive sense of the future destiny of the United States, but they do not have the jarring note of rampant racialism that permeates debates of the mid-century. By 1850 the emphasis was on the American Anglo-Saxons as a separate, innately superior people who were destined to bring good government, commercial prosperity, and Christianity to the American continents and to the world.

This new racial arrogance did not pass unnoticed at the time. A minority frequently asked why the American Anglo-Saxons could so easily read God’s intentions for mankind, and some, unkindly but accurately, pointed out that there was no “Anglo-Saxon race”; England clearly contained a mixture of peoples, and the white population of the United States was even less homogenous. The religious orthodox had the additional problem of reconciling the idea of a superior separate race with the biblical notion of one human species descended in just a few thousand years from Adam and Eve through Noah. But the logical inconsistencies were ignored.

The term “Anglo-Saxon” has a long history of misuse. In reality there was never a specific Anglo-Saxon people in England. . . . In the United States in the nineteenth century the term “Anglo-Saxon” became even less precise. It was often used by the 1840s to describe the white people of United States in contrast to blacks, Indians, Mexicans, Spaniards, or Asiatics, although it was frequently acknowledged that the United States already contained a variety of European strains.

Yet even those who liked to talk of a distinct “American” race, composed of the best Caucasian strains, drew heavily on the arguments developed to elevate the Anglo-Saxons. It was repeatedly emphasized that it was the descendants of Anglo-Saxons who had successfully settled the eastern seaboard and established free government by means of a Revolution. An Irishman might be described as a lazy, ragged, dirty Celt when he landed in New York, but if his children settled in California they might well be praised as part of the vanguard of the energetic Anglo-Saxon people poised for the plunge into Asia.

Both directly from Germany and by transmission through England, the Americans were inspired to link their Anglo-Saxon past to its more distant Teutonic or Aryan roots. Even in colonial America the ancient idea of the westward movement of civilization had brought dreams of a great new empire on the North American continent, but as German philologists linked language to race and wrote of tribes spreading westward from central Asia following the path of the sun, the Americans were able to see new meaning in their drive to the Pacific and Asia. They could and did conceive of themselves as the most vital and energetic of those Aryan peoples who had spilled westward, “revitalized” the Roman Empire, spread throughout Europe to England, and crossed the Atlantic in their relentless westward drive. Americans had long believed they were a chosen people, but by the mid-nineteenth century they also believed that they were a chosen people with an impeccable ancestry.

By the 1850s, it was generally believed in the United States that a superior American race was destined to shape the destiny of much of the world. It was also believed that in their outward thrust Americans were encountering a variety of inferior races incapable of sharing in America’s republican system and doomed to permanent subordination or extinction.

Democratic politician and publicist John L. O’Sullivan coined the phrase Manifest Destiny to describe the process of American expansion. . . . Texas had been absorbed as part of the fulfillment of “the general law” which was sending a rapidly increasing American population westward. California [O’Sullivan wrote] would probably soon follow Mexico within the American orbit: “The Anglo-Saxon foot is already on its borders. Already the advance guard of the irresistible army of Anglo-Saxon emigration has begun to pour down upon it, armed with the plough and the rifle, and marking its trail with schools and colleges, courts and representative halls, mills and meeting houses.” There was to be no balance of power on the continent: Spanish America had demonstrated no ability for growth; Canada would break away from England to be annexed by the United States.

[The inevitable] American Anglo-Saxon triumph was expressed well in an article in the Merchants’ Magazine in the spring of 1846. The author asserted that Oregon was the rightful property of the United States, and that English efforts to stop the advance of the American pioneers were futile.

“No power on earth, nor all the power of the earth, can check the swelling tide of the American population,” it was argued. “Every portion of this continent, from the sunny south to the frozen north, will be, in a very few years, filled with industrious and thriving Anglo-Saxons.” There need be no war—all could be won by the weight of numbers: “The Oregon country must, all of it, not only up to 58⁰ 40’, but beyond it, far up into what is now exclusively Russian, become peopled by the Anglo-Saxon race. . . . This is the irresistible flow of our people.”

Anglo-Saxons, through the expansion of England and the United States, were visibly taking over the world, and by the 1840s only a few in the United States were prepared to suggest that this was not for the good of the world.

The United States was springing forward “to greatness and empire.” The imagery of American expansion no longer simply emphasized “spreading”; it stressed “marching.” John Reynolds, [governor of] Illinois, thought that the Americans by 1890 would extend through Canada and would have large cities on the Pacific and extensive commerce across that Ocean: this was the “onward march of the United States to her high destiny, which no foreign nation can arrest.”

In this mood, many Americans were ready to take what the Mexicans would not sell. Many had convinced themselves that what they wanted was for the good of the world as well as themselves.


  1. I find THIS utterly hilarious. People in England with Norman/Frankish blood consider themselves utterly superior to the Germanic/Anglo-Saxons.

    The class system is very specific in the UK. Names like Washington, Jefferson, Cartwright, Mason have peasant roots, whereas Chenevix, Heseltine and Blair have the more aristocratic Norman roots.

    It's why American English uses more Germanic words and English English uses more Latinate words. "Drunk" vs "Inebriated," or "Breeding" vs "Elevage" for a couple of examples.

    I'm neither Anglo-Saxon nor Frankish, but I am a shirt-pocket linguist.

  2. Solid post, Macon. I'll just add that Manifest Destiny and our continued expansion of stealing entire countries under the pretext of freedom and democracy rather than their resources is in it's late stage.

    It's become a monstrous destabilizing factor in world politics, and I don't think other countries will tolerate it much longer.

  3. My friend, you run a fine blog but I don't think I can give to the answers you're looking for.

    I was raised to be suspicious of White Americans, and I'm not really an American, but I have European features on my face and a merely olive skin complexion.

    That isn't going to cut it, I guess. No problem. I think if you're interested in self-discovery, a family tree wouldn't be a bad idea. If you're interested in self-flagellation, a dominatrix can be intriguing. If you're interested in having Black friends, go out and make some at work or at whatever you do for your hobbies.

    It is truly remarkable how bigotry flies out the window when you hang with "different" kinds of people who share your interests.

    If you want to apologize to me for the Holocaust in Mitteleuropa and for Operation Just Cause in Panama, I will accept it gladly.

    Best of luck.

  4. Mid-1800's finds most U.S. historians being educated in Germany. Additionally, at this time, a country upbringing was considered a requirement to have the right perspective to be a professional historial. Those people from the city, and most certainly jews from anywhere, were not considered capable of being "good" historians. This need for a rural upbringing acted as a filter to cut down on the "unfit" (those with a foriegn background) from slipping into place as a professional historian.

    Don't forget "Western Civ" is history professors' contribution to fighting the cold war. Oh, and southern raise, german trained history professors wrote the history of the civil war. So much for the joke about the winners writing the history.


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