Race and the American Identity

Sam T. Francis, American Renaissance, December 1998

American Flag

In December 1991, as Pat Buchanan announced his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination, the Republic was edified by the reflections of columnist George Will. Mr. Will quoted from a column by Mr. Buchanan to the effect that “No one questions the right of the Arabs to have an Arab nation, of China to be a Chinese nation . . . Must we absorb all the people of the world into our society and submerge our historic character as a predominantly Caucasian Western society?” and then proceeded to explain what was wrong with the candidate’s reasoning. Mr. Buchanan, he wrote, “evidently does not understand what distinguishes American nationality — and should rescue our nationalism from nativism. Ours is, as the first Republican president said, a nation dedicated to a proposition. Becoming an American is an act of political assent, not a matter of membership in any inherently privileged group, Caucasian or otherwise. The ‘Euro-Americans’ who founded this nation did not want anything like China or Arabia — or any European nation, for that matter.”

Mr. Will’s bald assertion that America is a “nation” defined by no particular racial or ethnic identity and indeed by no particular content whatsoever is not unique. The best-known formulation of the same idea is the phrase popularized by Ben Wattenberg, that America is the “first universal nation,” and indeed only this year the new Washington editor of National Review, John J. Miller, has published a book, The Un-Making of Americans, in which he too asserts the universalist identity of the nation and uses that concept as the basis for endorsing virtually unlimited immigration. “The United States can welcome immigrants and transform them into Americans,” Mr. Miller writes, “because it is a ‘proposition country.’” The proposition by which the American nation defines itself, the sentence fragment from the Declaration of Independence that all men are created equal, means that the “very sense of peoplehood derives not from a common language but from their adherence to a set of core principles about equality, liberty, and self-government. These ideas [Mr. Miller writes] . . . are universal. They apply to all humankind. They know no racial or ethnic limits. They are not bound by time or history. And they lie at the center of American nationhood. Because of this, these ideas uphold an identity into which immigrants from all over the world can assimilate, so long as they, too, dedicate themselves to the proposition.”

Nor is the idea of America as a universal nation confined to the contemporary right. Historically, it is based on a core concept of the left, born in the salons of the Enlightenment and underlying the French Revolution’s commitment to a universal “liberty, equality, and fraternity” — which was sometimes imposed at the points of rather unfraternal bayonets. Today it continues to inform the American left as well as the right. Bill Clinton himself last year cited the projected racial transformation of the United States from a majority white to a majority non-white country in the next century as a change that “will arguably be the third great revolution in America . . . to prove that we literally can live without in effect having a dominant European culture. We want to become a multiracial, multiethnic society. We’re not going to disintegrate in the face of it.” More recently, in remarks at commencement exercises at Portland State University in Oregon in June, Mr. Clinton praised the prospect of virtually unlimited immigration as a “powerful reminder that our America is not so much a place as a promise, not a guarantee but a chance, not a particular race but an embrace of our common humanity.”

The idea of America as a universal nation, then, is an idea shared by and increasingly defining both sides of the political spectrum in the United States. The fact that the right, in such persons as Mr. Will, Mr. Wattenberg, and Mr. Miller, to name but a few, does share that idea with Mr. Clinton helps explain why the right today can think of nothing better to criticize the president for than his sex life and his aversion to telling the truth. Any substantial criticism of his globalist foreign policy, his defense of affirmative action, his policy of official normalization of homosexuality, his support for mass immigration, and in particular his “national dialogue on race” would involve a criticism and a rejection of the universalist assumptions on which those policies are based.

The common universalist assumptions of both left and right, then, are a major reason for the rapid convergence of left and right in our political life.

They are the reason why, to coin a phrase, there is not a dime’s worth of difference between them on so many issues and a major reason why we are seeing the emergence, not just of a One Party State in the United States, but also of a Single Ideology that informs the state and the culture. As I discovered myself, those who dissent from the Single Ideology of a Universal Nation or Proposition Country are not allowed to express their views even in self-proclaimed conservative newspapers [Dr. Francis was fired as staff columnist for the Washington Times because of his speech at the 1994 AR conference], and it is hardly an accident that Mr. Miller accuses me in his recent book of what he calls “racial paranoia.” Prior to his elevation to National Review, he admitted that he had “wanted to run [me] out of polite society for months, if not for years.” Nor am I the only journalist to discover that you get “run out of polite society” for departing from the Single Ideology of Universalism. Joe Sobran, the New York Post’s Scott McConnell, and National Review’s Peter Brimelow have all met the same fate for essentially the same reason, though all of them remain in circles rather more polite than the ones I travel in.

But the most casual acquaintance with the realities of American history shows that the idea that America is or has been a universal nation, that it defines itself through the proposition that “all men are created equal,” is a myth. Indeed, it is something less than a myth, it is a mere propaganda line invoked to justify not only mass immigration and the coming racial revolution but also the erosion of nationality itself in globalist free trade and a One World political architecture. It also justifies the total reconstruction and re-definition of the United States as a multiracial, multicultural, and transnational swamp. Nevertheless, the myth of the universal nation or proposition country is widely accepted, and today it represents probably the major ideological obstacle to recognizing the reality and importance of race as a social and political force.

In the first place, it is not true, as Miller writes, that the “Proposition” that “all men are created equal” and the ideas derived from it are universal and “not bound by time or history.” If that were true, there would never have been any dispute about them, let alone wars and revolutions fought over them. No one fights wars about the really self-evident axioms of Euclidean geometry. Mr. Miller’s propositions are very clearly the products of a very particular time and place — late 18th century Europe and America — and would have been almost inconceivable fifty years earlier or fifty years later. Nor have they ever appeared in any other political society at any other time absent their diffusion from Europe or America. They are based on concepts of anthropology and history, including an entirely fictitious “state of nature,” a “social contract,” and a view of human nature as a tabula rasa, that no student of human society or psychology took seriously after the mid-19th century.

Secondly, it is by no means clear what the proposition that “all men are created equal” does mean, either objectively or in the minds of those who drafted and adopted it in the Declaration. Assuming that “men” means women and children as well as men, does it mean that all humans are born equal, that they are equal, or that they are created equal by God? If they are born or created equal, do they remain equal? If they don’t remain equal, why do the rights with which they are supposedly endowed remain equal, or do those rights remain equal? If they are created equal by God, how do we know this, and what does it mean anyway? We certainly do not know from the Old Testament that God created all men equal, because most of it is about the history of a people “chosen” by God and favored by Him above others. Does it mean that God created humans equal in a spiritual sense, and if so, what does that spiritual equality have to do with political and social or even legal equality? Or does it mean that we were created equal in some material or physical sense, that we all have one head and two legs and two arms and so forth? If it means the latter, it is true but platitudinous.

In short, taken out of the context of the whole document of the Declaration and the historical context and circumstances of the document itself, the “equality clause” of the Declaration opens so many different doors of interpretation that it can mean virtually anything you want it to mean. It has been invoked by Christians and freethinkers, by capitalists and socialists, by conservatives and liberals, each of whom merely imports into it whatever his own ideology and agenda demand. Taken by itself, it is open to so many different interpretations that it has to be considered one of the most arcane — and one of the most dangerous — sentences ever written, one of the major blunders of American history.

Yet, if the sentence is taken to imply that race and other natural and social categories are without meaning or importance, it ought to be clear that America as a historic society has never been defined by that meaning. The existence of slavery at the time of the Declaration and well after, and the fact that no small number of the signers of the Declaration were slave-owners and that some parts of Jefferson’s original draft denouncing the slave trade were removed because they were objectionable to Southern slave-owners ought to make that plain on its face.

The particularism, racial and otherwise, that made the American people a nation was very clearly seen by John Jay, in a now famous passage of The Federalist Papers, No. 2, that:

Providence has been pleased to give this one connected country to one united people — a people descended from the same ancestors, speaking the same language, professing the same religion, attached to the same principles of government, very similar in their manners and customs . . .

The racial unity of the nation is clear in Jay’s phrase about “the same ancestors,” and with respect to the U.S. Constitution, although the words “slave” and “slavery” did not appear in the text until the 13th Amendment, the Constitution is, as historian William Wiecek of Syracuse Law School writes, “permeated” with slavery:

So permeated was the Constitution with slavery that no less than nine of its clauses directly protected or referred to it. In addition to the three well-known clauses (three-fifths, slave trade, and fugitive slave), the Constitution embodied two clauses that redundantly required apportionment of direct taxes on the federal-number basis (the purpose being to prohibit Congress from levying an unapportioned capitation on slaves as an indirect means of encouraging their emancipation); two clauses empowering Congress to suppress domestic insurrections, which in the minds of the delegates included slave uprisings; a clause making two provisions (slave trade and apportionment of direct taxes) unamendable, the latter providing a perpetual security against some possible antislavery impulse; and two clauses forbidding the federal government and the states from taxing exports, the idea being to prohibit an indirect tax on slavery by the taxation of the products of slave labor.

Moreover, Professor Wiecek notes, with respect to the changes in the Constitution after the Civil War:

Only by recognizing the extent to which the constitutional vision of Lincoln and the Republicans was a departure from the original Constitution can we understand the long struggles through the war, Reconstruction, and after to incorporate black Americans into the constitutional regime. Freedom, civil rights, and equality for them were not the delayed but inevitable realization of some immanent ideal in the Constitution. On the contrary, black freedom and equality were, and are, a revolutionary change in the original constitutional system, truly a new order of the ages not foreseen, anticipated, or desired by the framers.

But even aside from slavery, the persistence of clear and widespread recognition of the reality and importance of race throughout American history shows that Americans never considered themselves a universal nation in the sense intended today. Historian David Potter writes:

The ‘free’ Negro of the northern states of course escaped chattel servitude, but he did not escape segregation, or discrimination, and he enjoyed few civil rights. North of Maryland, free Negroes were disfranchised in all of the free states except the four of upper New England; in no state before 1860 were they permitted to serve on juries; everywhere they were either segregated in separate public schools or excluded from public schools altogether, except in parts of Massachusetts after 1845; they were segregated in residence and in employment and occupied the bottom levels of income; and at least four states — Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Oregon — adopted laws to prohibit or exclude Negroes from coming within their borders.

Nor were blacks the only non-white racial group to be excluded from civic membership. The first naturalization act passed by Congress under the Constitution in 1790 limited citizenship to “white men,” and even after citizenship was granted to blacks through the 14th Amendment, naturalization continued to be forbidden to Asians: to Chinese until World War II, and to Japanese even later. Racial and ethnic restrictions on immigration remained in federal immigration law until 1965, when they were removed, as Larry Auster has shown, after sponsors of the reform assured opponents that removing them would not alter the ethnic and cultural composition of the nation — an assurance we now know to have been false.

As late as 1921, Vice-President-elect Calvin Coolidge wrote an article on immigration called “Whose Country Is This?” in the popular women’s magazine Good Housekeeping. He argued that “There are racial considerations too grave to be brushed aside for any sentimental reasons. Biological laws tell us that certain divergent people will not mix or blend. The Nordics propagate themselves successfully. With other races, the outcome shows deterioration on both sides. Quality of mind and body suggests that observance of ethnic law is as great a necessity to a nation as immigration law.” Not only the white but the Northern European racial identity of the nation could thus be publicly affirmed by a leading national political figure in a widely read magazine as late as the 1920s.

What President Coolidge wrote then was by no means exotic or alien. Thomas Jefferson’s views of racial equality are probably well known to AR readers. In Notes on the States of Virginia, he discussed the significant natural differences between the races, and while he was, at least in principle, opposed to slavery, he was adamantly in favor of forbidding free blacks to continue to live within the United States. Nor did he favor non-European immigration into the Northwest Territory nor into the lands of the Louisiana Purchase. In 1801 he looked forward to the day “when our rapid multiplication will expand itself . . . over the whole northern, if not the southern continent, with a people speaking the same language, governed in similar forms, and by similar laws; nor can we contemplate with satisfaction either blot or mixture on that surface.”

James Lubinskas has written an excellent article in the August 1998 American Renaissance on the American Colonization Society, a society that sought the expatriation of blacks to Africa, and which included as members Henry Clay, James Madison, Andrew Jackson, Daniel Webster, James Monroe, John Marshall, Winfield Scott, and many other of the most prominent American public leaders. They may have held different views of slavery and race, but none of them believed that free blacks should or could continue to live in the same society with whites.

Nor did Abraham Lincoln entertain egalitarian views of blacks, and his clearest statements on the subject are to be found in the course of his debates with Stephen Douglas during the Illinois senatorial campaign of 1858. While opposing the extension of slavery to new states, Lincoln repeatedly assured his audiences that he did not believe in or favor civic equality for blacks. In the debate at Charleston, Ill., on Sept. 18, Lincoln said:

I will say that I am not nor ever have been in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races: that I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters of the free negroes, or jurors, or of qualifying them to hold office, or to intermarry with white people. I will say in addition that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I suppose will forever forbid the two races living together upon terms of social and political equality, and inasmuch as they cannot so live that while they do remain together there must be a position of superior and inferior, that I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position being assigned to the white man.

He repeated this and similar ideas throughout the debates. Lincoln also was strongly in favor of expatriation for blacks and seriously explored the practicality of establishing a black settlement in Central America. Indeed, he proposed what would have become, had it passed, the 13th Amendment to the Constitution permitting federal support for the colonization of blacks outside the country. In his annual message to Congress in December, 1862, in which Lincoln made this proposal, he said:

That portion of the earth’s surface which is owned and inhabited by the people of the United States is well adapted to be the home of one national family, and it is not well adapted for two or more. Its vast extent and its variety of climate and productions are of advantage in this age for one people, whatever they might have been in former ages. Steam, telegraphs, and intelligence have brought these to be an advantageous combination for one united people.

He obviously was thinking, as a unionist, of what he regarded as the inappropriateness of secession, but he was also thinking of the inappropriateness of a different “people” or race inhabiting the same territory, and his remarks are thus a fairly clear expression of what can only be called racial nationalism.

As for Stephen Douglas, he was even more outspoken on the issue of race than Lincoln (the following passage from his opening speech in the debates is from the edition published in 1993 by Harold Holzer, which incorporates into the text the audience responses as recorded by the newspapers of the day, in this case the Chicago Daily Times, a Democratic paper):

For one, I am opposed to negro citizenship in any form. [Cheers-Times] I believe that this government was made on the white basis. [‘Good,’-Times] I believe it was made by white men for the benefit of white men and their posterity forever, and I am in favor of confining the citizenship to white men — men of European birth and European descent, instead of conferring it upon Negroes and Indians, and other inferior races. [‘Good for you. Douglas forever,’ -Times]

Douglas, of course, won the election.

Nor, even after the end of the war, during congressional debates on the 14th Amendment — which today is considered the cornerstone of federal enforcement of egalitarian policies — even then, there was no endorsement of racial equality. Thaddeus Stevens, whom constitutional historian Raoul Berger calls the “foremost Radical” in Congress, was not in the least committed to black voting. He was mainly concerned with perpetuating the domination of the Republican Party. It suddenly began to dawn on the Radicals that with the abolition of slavery, the three-fifths clause of the Constitution, which had limited Southern representation in Congress, was no longer meaningful. The result would be that Southern representation in Congress would be vastly increased to the point that the South, just defeated in the war, would suddenly gain political dominance.

As Professor Berger writes,:

Now each voteless freedman counted as a whole person; and in the result Southern States would be entitled to increased representation and, with the help of Northern Democrats, would have, as Thaddeus Stevens pointed out at the very outset of the 39th Congress, ‘a majority in Congress and in the Electoral College.’ With equal candor he said that the Southern States ‘ought never to be recognized as valid states, until the Constitution shall be amended . . . as to secure perpetual ascendancy’ to the Republican Party.

The 14th Amendment was passed in order to grant the federal government the authority to enforce the Civil Rights Act of 1866, and the meaning of the language of the amendment is clarified by the debates over the earlier law. The Civil Rights Act was mainly intended to overcome the so-called “Black Codes” imposed on blacks after the end of slavery and the war, and it gave to “the inhabitants of every race” . . . “the same right to make and enforce contracts, to sue, be parties, and give evidence, to inherit, purchase, lease, sell, hold and convey real and personal property, and to full and equal benefit of all laws and proceedings for the security of person and property, and shall be subject to like punishment . . . and no other.” In explaining the language of the bill to the House, Rep. James Wilson of Iowa, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, was explicit about the limits of the bill:

What do these terms mean? Do they mean that in all things, civil, social, political, all citizens, without distinction of race or color, shall be equal? By no means can they be so construed . . . Nor do they mean that all citizens shall sit on juries, or that their children shall attend the same schools. These are not civil rights and immunities. Well, what is the meaning? What are civil rights? I understand civil rights to be simply the absolute rights of individuals, such as ‘The right of personal security, the right of personal liberty, and the right to acquire and enjoy property.’

Rep. James Patterson of New Hampshire, a supporter of the 14th Amendment, said much the same. He was opposed to “any law discriminating against [blacks] in the security of life, liberty, person, property and the proceeds of their labor. These civil rights all should enjoy. Beyond this I am not prepared to go, and those pretended friends who urge political and social equality . . . are . . . the worst enemies of the colored race.” Republican Senator Lyman Trumbull of Illinois, who drafted the Civil Rights Bill, concurred. “This bill is applicable exclusively to civil rights. It does not propose to regulate political rights of individuals; it has nothing to do with the right of suffrage, or any other political right.”

What the framers of the Civil Rights Bill of 1866 and the 14th Amendment were proposing, in other words, was simply to extend to the emancipated black slaves what is generally called “equality under the law,” a concept of equality that merely recognizes the equality of citizens and does not rest on any supposition of the natural equality of human beings. Equality under the law demands that the same fundamental civil rights belong to all citizens — what are often called the “Blackstonean rights” of life, personal liberty, and property — and which were generally agreed to be the content of the “inalienable rights” mentioned in the Declaration.

But these basic civil rights were sharply distinguished from “political rights” such as voting or holding office. The Blackstonean rights are fundamental because it is not possible for an individual citizen to function without them — to live without security of being murdered or being abducted or imprisoned or enslaved or having his property stolen. If the black population were not going to be enslaved and not going to be colonized abroad, it was essential that ex-slaves possess these basic civil rights simply in order to function in society; but the Blackstonean civil rights have nothing to do with voting, holding political office, sitting on juries, racial intermarriage, getting a job or being promoted, or school integration, which is what the concept of “civil rights” has come to mean today.

It would be possible to continue with an almost inexhaustible list of quotations from prominent American statesmen and intellectual leaders well into the twentieth century abjuring any belief in the equality of the races or any belief that non-white races should or can have the same political position as whites in the United States. I will not rehearse all of them, but my purpose in what I have said so far is not to invoke all these institutions and ideas about race in American history as a model of what we should seek to restore or because I necessarily agree with all the views of race that have been expressed throughout our history (indeed, some of them are more or less contradictory), but to reinforce two points: First, we are not and never were a “universal nation” or a “proposition country” defined by the equality clause of the Declaration or the bromides of the Gettysburg Address. On the contrary we — Americans in general and our public leaders in particular — repeatedly and continuously recognized the reality and importance of race and the propriety of the white race occupying the “superior position,” and indeed it is difficult to think of any other white-majority nation in history in which recognition of the reality of race has been so deeply imbedded in its thinking and institutions as in the United States.

Second, whatever we think of that history and its recognition of race, we have to understand that the current propaganda line about being a universal nation is not only a totally false account of American history but also is a prescription for a total rejection of the American past and the national identity as we have always known it. Racial universalism is not simply an adjustment or a “reform,” let alone a continuation of the proper direction of American history, but a revolutionary reconstruction of the American identity.

In a 1996 article and a later book on Thomas Jefferson, historian Conor Cruise O’Brien demands that we eject Jefferson from our national pantheon precisely because of his views of race. O’Brien has a point that is perfectly logical if you accept his premise that America should be, even if it never has been, a universal nation. If indeed we are or should be a universal nation, then Thomas Jefferson must go. If indeed race is a meaningless “social construct” and a device for repression and exploitation as we are commanded to believe, then Jefferson was one of the main architects of and spokesmen for racial tyranny. But let us be aware that Jefferson is not the only god who has to be dethroned. If Jefferson must go, so must George Washington, and indeed, Washington’s name has already been removed from a public school in New Orleans because he was a slaveholder.

But Abraham Lincoln has to go as well, and so must Theodore Roosevelt and the leaders of the American Colonization Society and the framers of the 14th Amendment and so must virtually every other president and public leader in American history. You cannot have it both ways: either you define the American nation as the product of its past and learn to live with the reality of race and the reality of the racial particularism and racial nationalism that in part defines our national history, or you reject race as meaningful and important, as anything more than skin color and gross morphology, and demand that anyone, past or present, who believes or believed that race means anything more than that be demonized and excluded from any positive status in our history or the formation of our identity. If you reject race, then you reject America as it has really existed throughout its history, and whatever you mean by “America” has to come from something other than its real past.

That of course is exactly what President Clinton is telling us when he gloats that “we literally can live without in effect having a dominant European culture. We want to become a multiracial, multiethnic society.” And that also is what we are being told by contemporary liberalism. In 1997, the New Republic published an article by George P. Fletcher, professor at the Columbia Law School, in which Prof. Fletcher argued that “The republic created in 1789 is long gone. It died with the 600,000 Americans killed in the Civil War. That conflict decided once and forever that the People and the States do not have the power to govern their local lives apart from the nation as a whole. The People have no power either to secede as states or to abolish the national government.”

The reason the Old Republic died, according to Professor Fletcher, is that it “was grounded in a contradiction” that “glorified the freedom of some and condoned the slavery of others.” The new Constitution, he tells us, “begins to take hold in the Gettysburg Address, in which Lincoln skips over the original Constitution and reconstitutes it according to the principles of equality articulated in the Declaration of Independence.” As a matter of historical fact, Professor Fletcher is more or less correct. The Civil War did destroy the Old Republic, and the new state that arose from it is defined, at least today, as a universalist and egalitarian regime based on the equality proposition of the Declaration. What he does not tell us, however, is how the new regime can be a legitimate one, since it is, by his own admission, simply the result of victorious military power and not of consent or legal authorization by the representatives of the old regime. It is easy enough to destroy an existing constitutional order, but quite a different matter to construct one.

Nevertheless, the significance of Prof. Fletcher’s article is that it makes perfectly clear what we are facing from the contemporary supporters of universalism, whether of the left like Prof. Fletcher himself or President Clinton or of the “right” like John Miller. What we are facing and what they are advocating is in no sense a continuation of American history or the American national identity as it has existed throughout our history, but rather a revolutionary reconstruction of the nation, a reconstruction that ruthlessly follows the logic of Mr. O’Brien’s exclusion of Jefferson in excluding just about everything else characteristic of the Old Republic. The old identity and everything associated with it have to be excluded because their embrace of non-egalitarian and non-universalist institutions are simply incompatible with the new republic. Once we understand that, most of the universalists’ actions, policies, and ideas are perfectly logical. What they are aiming at is precisely what William Wiecik described in a passage I quoted earlier, “a revolutionary change in the original constitutional system, truly a new order of the ages not foreseen, anticipated, or desired by the framers.”

And not desired by most Americans today, either, at least not by those white Americans who grasp what is going on. As Peter Brimelow notes in his book on immigration, Alien Nation, Americans have never been asked whether they think it’s a good thing for their nation to undergo the transition from a white majority to a non-white majority country. They have indeed been lied to about the transition, in being told in 1965 that it wouldn’t happen, but until President Clinton embraced it last year, no president has even bothered to mention it.

If white Americans do not desire the transition, they still have a short time to prevent it and to try to salvage what is left of the Old Republic most of them still imagine they live in, and if they do wish to salvage it, they will have to reject, as clearly and firmly as the original Framers did, the universalism and egalitarianism that now threaten to destroy them and their race. Political philosophies and constitutional forms come and go, but nations — peoples and races — remain. Yet without the common blood that made us a nation in the first place, there will be no American nation, no matter what abstractions and forms we vainly invoke.

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