Browsing "Race and the North"

The War Power is All Power

A bill to establish a Bureau of Freedmen’s Affairs was introduced in the House of Representatives on February 17, 1864, by Massachusetts Republican Rep. Thomas D. Eliot. Democrat Rep. Samuel S. “Sunset” Cox of Ohio responds to the bill, in part, below.

The War Power is All Power

“Mr. Cox said: “Mr. Speaker . . . the member who introduced it [Mr. Eliot] recalled to our minds the fact that we opposed the confiscation bill for its inhumanity. This bill is founded in part on the confiscation system. If that were inhuman, then this is its aggravation. The former takes the lands which are abandoned by loyal or disloyal whites, under the pressure of war; while the present system turns these abandoned lands over to the blacks.

The effect of former legislation has been, in his opinion, to bring under the control of the Government large multitudes of freedmen who “had ceased to be slaves, but had not learned how to be free.” To care for these multitudes he presents this bill, which, if not crude and undigested, yet is sweeping and revolutionary.

It begins a policy for this Federal Government of limited and express powers, so latitudinarian that the whole system is changed. If the acts of confiscation and the proclamations, on which this measure is founded, be usurpations, how can we who have denounced them favor a measure like this?

This is a new system. It opens a vast opportunity for corruption and abuse. It may be inaugurated in the name of humanity; but I doubt, sir, if any Government, much less our Government of delegated powers, will ever succeed in the philanthropic line of business such as is contemplated by this bill.

The gentleman from Massachusetts appeals to us to forget the past, not to enquire how these poor people have become free, whether by law or by usurpation, but to look the great fact in the face “that three million slaves have become and are becoming free.” Before I come to that great fact, let me first look to the Constitution.

My oath to that is the highest humanity. By preserving the Constitution amidst the rack of war, in any vital part, we are saving for a better time something of those liberties, State and personal, which have given so much happiness for over seventy years to so many millions; and which, under a favorable Administration, might again restore contentment to our afflicted people. Hence the highest humanity is in building strong the ramparts of constitutional restraint against such radical usurpations as is proposed to be inaugurated by measures kindred to this before the House.

If the gentleman can show us warrant in the Constitution to establish this eleemosynary system for the blacks, and for making the Government a plantation speculator and overseer, and the Treasury a fund for the Negro, I will then consider the charitable light in which he has commended his bill to our sympathies.

The gentleman refers us for the constitutionality of this measure to the war power [of Lincoln], the same power by which he justifies the emancipation proclamation and similar measures. We upon this [Democratic] side are thoroughly convinced of the utter sophistry of such reasoning.

If the proclamation be unconstitutional, how can this or any measure based on it be valid?

The gentleman says, “If the President had the power to free the slave, does it not imply the power to take care of him when freed?”

Yes, no doubt. If he had any power under the war power, he has all power.

Under the war power he is a tyrant without a clinch on his revolutions. He can spin in any orbit he likes, as far and as long as he pleases.”

(Eight Years in Congress, 1857-1865: Memoir and Speeches of Samuel S. Cox, Samuel S. Cox, D. Appleton and Company, 1865, excerpts pp. 354-356)

Radical Experiment in the District

On January 4, 1867, President Andrew Johnson was preparing his veto of the District [of Columbia] Suffrage Bill, telling his cabinet of issues with the Bill. He pointed out that “New York Negroes were obliged to comply with property requirements not necessary for white voters”, while other Northern States like Pennsylvania and Indiana excluded them from voting altogether.”

Johnson added that “the representatives of States where suffrage is either denied the colored man or grant [voting rights on qualifications being met] . . . should compel the people of the District of Columbia to try an experiment which their own constituents have thus far shown an unwillingness to test for themselves . . .” It was clear to Johnson that the motivation for Negro suffrage was the voting potential they held, and the potential for Republican Party political hegemony in the future. This led to virtually unbroken Republican national rule until Woodrow Wilson.

It is noteworthy that when the Emancipation Bill of April 1862 provided freedom for colored people in the District, which also compensated their owners, Lincoln insisted that the measure be coupled with a $100,000 appropriation to settle the freedmen in Haiti and Liberia.

Radical Experiment in the District

“The question of voting by Negroes had become by this time a burning national issue and one on which the Republican Party was by no means unanimous. Even in the North only six States permitted Negro suffrage without restrictions. Negroes were not permitted to vote in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana and Illinois, and . . . New York still maintained property qualifications for Negro voters.

The Radical wing of the Party, led by [Charles] Sumner and Thaddeus Stevens, was, however, adamant on this issue. It was essential in their opinion that the colored man should be permitted to vote . . . [and] the control of the Southern States by the Republican Party could be maintained by the Negro vote, since it was quite inconceivable that the vast majority of Negroes would vote for any other Party than the Republicans who had freed them.

Realizing the difficulties of achieving Negro suffrage in the States, the leaders of the Radical Wing of the Republican Party began to turn their attention to the District of Columbia over which Congress had jurisdiction.

If Negro suffrage could be achieved in the District, with its large colored population, that would set the standard which some of the Southern States might be eventually be persuaded or compelled to follow.

Thus the municipal politics of Washington and Georgetown were to become a vital issue in the struggle for power between the Radical Republicans in Congress and Andrew Johnson, the Conservative Democrat in the White House.”

(The Uncivil War: Washington During the Reconstruction, 1865-1878, James H. Whyte, Twayne Publishers, 1958, excerpts pg. 37)

Radical Republican Motivation

Lincoln’s predecessor, James Buchanan, admitted that he had no authority to wage war against States and understood that action as treason.

As “treason” is mentioned often in Radical literature, it is important to understand the constitutional definition of this as defined in Article III, Section 3 of the United States Constitution:

“Treason against the United States shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort.” And “secession” is what is celebrated in the United States every Fourth of July.

Having militarily destroyed the American South’s political and economic strength as well as causing a million deaths in the process, the Republican party was determined to maintain political hegemony and turn the South into an economic colony.

Once the South was defeated and occupied, Republicans created a solid bloc of black voters to politically dominate the South.

Radical Republican Motivation

“Although the South lost the war, the “slave power” did not give up but continued the struggle in a different form. Recognizing the continuing and persistent menace, Michigan’s Governor Henry Crapo, warned in 1866: “It is not slavery, but the spirit which seeks to make slavery the corner stone of the empire, that we now have to guard against – that element of hatred to freedom and equality that instituted the conflict . . . That spirit is neither dead nor sleeping . . . Having failed so utterly in the resort to force, it will but recuperate its energies for a more insidious attack in a different method of warfare. “

However incomplete or inaccurate they might be, such views were to constitute the bases of the Radical Republican program for a decade after the Civil War. The identification of the Republican party with the promotion of freedom and democracy against “slave power” and “aristocracy” gave the Republicans a messianic sense of destiny.

Republican identification of the Democratic party with slavery and treason made Republican control of the national government a patriotic necessity. Further, Republicans viewed the struggle as occurring between ageless, eternal principles – “slave power” and “aristocracy” were resilient, crafty, and powerful.

Far reaching and drastic measures were necessary to extirpate their roots. The Republicans willingly accepted the appellation of “Radical” . . . [and] had developed much of their program long before Lee’s surrender at Appomattox.

The Southerners, stated [Michigan Congressman] John Longyear should be treated as subjugated enemies.

[US] Senator Jacob Howard [of Michigan] . . . wanted a genuine loyalty in the South as the basis for readmission to the Union. “The people of the North,” he prophesied, “are not such fools as to fight through such a war as this, to spend so vast an amount of treasure, as they must necessarily spend in bringing it to a successful termination – that they are not such fools as to sacrifice a hundred and fifty or two hundred thousand lives in putting down this rebellion, and then turn around and say to the traitors, “All you have to do is to come back into the councils of the nation and take an oath that henceforth you will be true to the Government.” Sir, it would be simple imbecility, folly . . .”

Until a majority became loyal [to the North], Howard advocated keeping [the South] out of the Union and in “tutelage” up to twenty years. Howard reasoned that a hostile and belligerent community could not claim the right to elect members of Congress.

“Are public enemies,” he asked, “entitled to be represented in the Legislature of the United States?” “A secession traitor,” Senator [Zachariah] Chandler growled, “is beneath a loyal Negro. I would let a loyal Negro vote. I would let him testify; I would let him fight; I would let him do any other good thing, and I would exclude a secession traitor.”

(Radical Republican Motivation, George M. Blackburn, Journal of Negro History, Volume LIV, Number 2, April 1969, Carter G. Woodson, editor, excerpts pp. 110-112)

Republicans Pacify the South and Expel Mongolians

The Republican party was responsible for creating “unsound money” with its infamous greenbacks, despite a constitutional provision that all money be gold or silver; civil service reform was anathema as much of their power came from political appointees and the selling of government positions in exchange for party support.

On the issue of Chinese immigration, the Republicans passed the Page Act of 1875 which banned the immigration of Chinese women – fearing they might give birth to children in the US.

In 1878, a Republican-dominated Congress proposed a ban on Chinese immigration, though vetoed by President Rutherford B. Hayes. In 1879, California adopted a new constitution which explicitly authorized the State government to determine who would be allowed to reside in the State, and banned Chinese people from employment by corporations, plus State and municipal government.

Had any Southern State adopted a constitution authorizing State government to determine who could reside within its boundaries, blue-clad troops would reappear to overthrow that State government.

Republicans Pacify the South and Expel Mongolians

“The Republican National Convention was called to order by national committee Chairman Edwin D. Morgan of New York promptly at noon on Wednesday, June 14 [1876]. The site was Exposition Hall, at Elm and Fourteenth Streets – the same building which had been the scene of the Liberal Republican revolt against Grant in 1872.

Consideration of the platform [resulted in] a tepid document that declared the United States “a nation, not a league,” congratulated Republicans for saving the Union, promised “speedy, thorough and unsparing” prosecution of corrupt public officials, opposed polygamy and sectarian interference with the public schools, and called for “respectful consideration” of demands for women’s suffrage.

One plank deprecated all appeals to sectional feeling and abominated Democratic hopes for a “solid South,” whereas another pledged anew the party’s sacred duty – eleven years after Appomattox – to achieve “permanent pacification of the Southern section of the Union,” and a third charged the Democratic party with “being the same in character and spirit as when it sympathized with treason.”

The platform contained a firm endorsement of sound money and a wonderfully evasive stand on civil service reform . . . The only plank that stirred controversy was the eleventh: “It is the immediate duty of congress [to] fully investigate the effect of immigration and importation of Mongolians on the moral and material interests of the country.”

Edward L. Pierce of Massachusetts objected bitterly: “The Republican party this year, this centennial year, is twenty years old . . . and this is the first time in all that long period that any attempt has ever been made to put in its platform a discrimination of race.”

The eleventh section was retained, nevertheless, on a roll call vote of 532 to 215, and the entire platform was “unanimously adopted” on a voice vote.”

(The Politics of Inertia: The Election of 1876 and the End of Reconstruction, Keith Ian Polakoff, LSU Press, 1973, excerpts pp. 58-61)

Gullible Reporters, Fake News and Servants

Embedded reporters with Northern armies often influenced elections as in the case of the 1863 gubernatorial campaign in Ohio. They fed stories to the Cincinnati Commercial in opposition to the Democratic candidate, writing that soldiers “detested the “nasty little traitorous imposter and gambler of sedition.”

Thus inspired, and with the help of General Rosecrans, the men cast over nine thousand absentee votes for the Republican candidate versus two-hundred fifty votes for the Democrat.

Gullible Reporters, Fake News and Servants

“Making heroes was in some respects a natural preoccupation for the correspondents. The country fidgeted over the morning papers impatiently, looking for the one man with the ready answer or short cut which would bring a quick return out of the national investment in man power, energy and cash.

In an age of open frontier, Americans were used to fast results, to things that got done. They could not accept then – in fact, they never did learn to accept – the notion of a war to be won by long and bloody campaigns of strangulation. The faith in the coming of a “genius” who would carry matters through with one master stroke died hard.

The reporters who became barkers for these “geniuses” were no more gullible than most, but their position made their errors more damaging. Besides, in flattering officers for personal or political motives, they were depressing their newborn profession to the hurdy-gurdy-playing levels of army “public relations.”

Always ready with a sneering word, the Chicago Tribune, in 1862, wrote that much of the laudatory writing of the war was emitted by “army correspondents, with bellies full from the mess tables of Major Generals . . . the dissonant few being swallowed up like Pharaoh’s lean kine by the well-kept bullocks who form the majority.”

Most of the correspondents were apparently as willing to state political opinions as a party guest with a comic monologue to perform. They could not avoid the emancipation question if they tried . . . the Democratic journals acridly pointed out, the Negro was “chin capital” for the Republican press. In that press, the Negroes were painted as a band of brothers, knit by a universal desire for legalized freedom.

[But a] good many conservative orators were frightening laboring audiences with the warning that the Negroes were all too willing to work. If set free, the argument ran, they would drift northward and crowd white men out of jobs. An army correspondent of the Chicago Tribune stepped into the breach with the answer to that.

[He assured readers that] the Negroes did “not wish to remove to the cold and frigid North. This [Southern] climate is more genial, and here is their home. Only give them a fair remuneration for their labor, and strike off their shackles, and the good people of Illinois need not trouble themselves at the prospect of Negro immigration.”

As a matter of fact, many officers and men were genuinely opposed to releasing “contrabands” from camp on practical as well as political or sentimental grounds. Three war correspondents, sweating through the siege of Corinth, Mississippi, in mid-1862, had domestic arrangements typical of many members of the expedition. They shared the services of Bob and Johnny, two Negro youths who blacked their boots, pressed clothes, cooked, ran errands and more or less gentled their employers’ condition for monthly wages totaling six and twelve dollars.”

(Reporters for the Union, Bernard A. Weisberger, Little, Brown and Company, 1953, excerpts pp. 240-243)

The Greatest Slave Carriers of America

New England rum and Yankee notions were exchanged for African slaves as Boston and Newport rivaled each other for slave trade prominence in the early 1700s. Annually, about 1800 hogsheads of rum were traded to African tribes for their slaves, and this left little for consumption in the colony.

From this profitable trade in human merchandise, “an opulent and aristocratic society” developed in Newport; Col. Thomas Hazard of Narragansett and Mr. Downs of Bristol “were names that loomed large in the commercial and social registers of that day. Their fortunes were accumulated from the slave trade.”

It is worth noting that had there been no transatlantic slave trade carried on by the British and New Englanders, the American South would have had no peculiar institution.

Greatest Slave Carriers of America

“The growth of Negro slavery in New England was slow during the seventeenth century. In 1680, there were only 20 slaves in Connecticut, two of whom had been christened. In 1676, Massachusetts had 200 slaves . . . in 1700 Governor Dudley placed the number at 550, four hundred of whom were in Boston.

In 1730, New Hampshire boasted of but thirty slaves. The Eighteenth Century, however, saw the rise of the New England colonies as the greatest slave-carriers of America. Quick to see the unprofitableness of the Negro slaves as a laborer in such an environment, when the price of a slave was greater than the labor returned, the ingenious Yankee soon found a market in the West Indies for slaves, exchanged for rum, sugar and molasses on the Guinea Coast.

Massachusetts early assumed a commanding position in this trade. The ports of Boston and Salem prospered especially. Their merchants carried on a “brisk trade to Guinea” for many years, marketing most of their slaves in the West Indies.

Peter Faneuil, whose “whole lineage in held in peculiar honor” in Boston, was typical of the many comfortable fortunes amassed from the profits of this traffic. The name Jolley Bachelor, which was carried by one of his ships engaged in the slave trade, typifies the spirit of the time in regard to this profitable business.

As opulence increased, the number of slaves grew proportionately. In 1735, there were 2,600 Negroes in Massachusetts; in 1764 the number had increased to 5,779. In 1742, Boston alone had 1,514 slaves and free Negroes, the number having almost quadrupled in about forty years.

[In 1696] the brigantine Sunflower arrived at Newport with forty-five slaves. Most of them were sold there at thirty to thirty-five pounds a head; the rest were taken to Boston for disposal.

Subsequently, however, the slave trade of Rhode Island outstripped that of Massachusetts. Governor Wood, early in the Eighteenth Century, reported that the colony had one hundred and twenty vessels employed in the trade. Newport rivaled Boston as New England’s premier seaport. It had twenty or thirty stills going full blast to supply rum for the African trade.”

(Slave-Holding in New England and Its Awakening, Lorenzo J. Greene; Journal of Negro History, Vol. XIII, Number 4, October 1928, Carter G. Woodson, editor, excerpts pp. 495-497)

The Blot on New England’s Escutcheon

Most authorities agree that the first mention of Negro slaves in New England was in John Winthrop’s diary in 1638, stating that “Mr. Pierce in his Salem ship, Desire, has been at Providence [West Indies] and brought some cotton and tobacco and Negroes from there, and salt from Tertugos.”

Negro slaves are found in New Haven, Connecticut as early as 1644, six years after the colony was founded, though it is recorded that “John Pantry of Hartford owned a slave in 1633.”

Slaves are mentioned in New Hampshire in 1646, as well as Rhode Island in 1652. The latter colony became the center of New England’s infamous transatlantic slave trade, surpassing Liverpool’s slave trade by 1750.

Blot on New England’s Escutcheon

“. . . Negro slavery in New England reflected that institution as it existed in the hey-day of the plantation era in the sugar, cotton and tobacco States. There was the same horror of the slave trade, the same spectacle of gangs of manacled blacks deposited on the wharves of Boston and Newport, and the same selling of human chattel at auction.

Nor was the tearing of wife from husband, nor the separation of children from both, nor the existence of the slave code, peculiar only to the Middle and Southern Colonies. It was applicable to New England as well; and in some instance, New England even led the way.

The Puritan settlements of New England enjoyed, either contemporaneously or separately, the three forms of servitude common in that day, namely; indentured servants, Indian slaves, and Negro slaves.

Indentured servants date from the founding of Massachusetts; indeed they even preceded the settlement of the Puritans at Salem, having been sent in advance to prepare homes and food against the coming of the settlers in 1630. Unfree labor existed, however, throughout the remainder of the colonial period.

The indentured servants soon proved insufficient in numbers to satisfy the colonists increasing demand for laborers. A new source of supply was soon found, however, for Indian warfare began about 1636, and the captives were promptly sold into slavery. The women and children were usually employed in the colonies; the warriors were carried to th West Indies and there sold as slaves.

The barbarous treatment of the Pequots by the New Englanders in their ruthless war of extermination against them, must ever remain a blot upon New England’s escutcheon. However, the pious Puritans easily dismissed any qualms of conscience which might have arisen, by the simple fact that “a gracious Providence had been pleased to deliver the heathen Indians into their hands.”

Thus the redskin and not the black man, was the first slave in New England. Even the much vaunted saintliness of Roger Williams, was not sufficient to deter him from writing John Winthrop, Governor of Massachusetts Bay, asking that a small Indian boy be sent to him as a servant. Indian slavery was, however, soon to be supplemented by Negro servitude, for the redskin was considered lazy, intractable, vindictive, and inclined to run away.”

(Slave-Holding in New England and Its Awakening, Lorenzo J. Greene; Journal of Negro History, Vol. XIII, Number 2, April 1928, Carter G. Woodson, editor, excerpts pp. 492-494)

Florida’s Postwar Politics

During Reconstruction-era Florida, political boss Leonard G. Dennis became one of that State’s wealthiest men by selling political endorsements to the highest bidders and then taking a part of the monthly salary of each. To secure the cooperation of his appointees, he kept signed letters of resignation from each political applicant before being granted the office.

Dennis was a Massachusetts-born soldier who settled postwar in Alachua County, Florida where he became politically active, largely through his control over the freedmen, and known as the “Little Giant.” In 1876, he helped throw the presidential election to Republican Rutherford B. Hayes, known afterward as “His Fraudulency.”

Florida’s Postwar Politics

“The last Statewide Republican victory of the Reconstruction era occurred in 1873 when the legislature elected [New Jersey-native] Dr. Simon B. Conover, a Tallahassee carpetbagger, to the United States Senate. In 1875 the legislature elected the first Democrat to the Senate since the Republicans had come to power. Mainly self-educated, Charles W. Jones was an Irish-born ex-carpenter from Pensacola . . . [and] elected by only one vote, Republican control of the legislature was broken.

While internal corruption and the hatred of white Southerners played important roles in its downfall, the Republican party throughout Reconstruction lacked strength because it lacked leadership. With the exception of scalawag Ossian Hart and blacks Jonathan Gibbs and Josiah T. Walls, it depended on Northern carpetbaggers with only a superficial knowledge of the State and the needs of the freedmen.

Political rewards for Negroes other than minor offices were rare despite the fact that almost the entire party voting strength was Negro. Walls came to Florida from Virginia shortly after the war and engaged in cabbage growing in Alachua County. Prospering while most of his white neighbors were poverty-stricken, Walls reached the economic status of planter.

Entering politics Walls soon became joint leader of the Alachua County Republican machine, sharing this position with Leonard G. Dennis . . . a corrupt, self-seeking demagogue, forever willing to sacrifice the Negro on the altar of opportunism.”

(Florida Politics in the Gilded Age, 1877-1893, Edward C. Williamson, University of Florida, 1976, excerpts pp. 9-10)

Quaker Masters and their Property

The slave trade of New England increased as its maritime fleet competed with the mother country for the West Indian trade. By 1750, Providence, Rhode Island had surpassed Liverpool as the center of the transatlantic slave trade, and populated the West Indies and the American South with slaves purchased from African tribes in exchange for Yankee notions and rum.

Southern colonies tried to restrict the slave imports, and “Resolutions were passed in various Virginia counties against the African trade on the ground that it prevented manufacturers and other useful migrants from settling in the colony and instead increased the colony’s unfavorable balance of trade.”

Additional resistance to stopping the slave trade came from the British Crown, which overrode the Virginia and North Carolina colonial assembly’s.

Quaker Masters and their Property

“At all times the respectable complained that the wages of labor were too high. “Tis the poor that make the rich,” one writer frankly admitted in John Peter Zenger’s New-York Weekly Journal. [John] Logan complained to [William] Penn in 1705 that Pennsylvania was in depression because England with its cheap labor could undersell Pennsylvania in the provision trade in the West Indies. If only more people could be brought in to “lower the prices of labor,” the colony would prosper.

Penn’s view of indentured servants as property was still retained. The influential Quaker preacher, Thomas Story, exclaimed in 1741 that bought servants are as much “the property of their masters, as their lands, goods, money or clothing.” Without them the masters “could not cultivate their lands or maintain their families.” Therefore the governor is “infringing the just liberty and property of the people” in allowing the servants to enlist in the war emergency.

The assembly and council added that this “unconstitutional” practice injures the masters whose servants have not enlisted, for they “must humor them in everything lest they enlist.” Thus they grow “idle, neglectful, insolent and mutinous.”

The enlightened [Thomas] Mayhew of Massachusetts envied Pennsylvania her mass of German indentured servants. These, he declared in an election sermon in 1754, made Pennsylvania as rich and populous in a few years as the greatest and most opulent of colonies.

Even Washington, endeavoring to people his frontier lands for his own gain and his country’s protection in the cheapest, most effectual manner, thought strongly for a time of obtaining a “parcel of these people.”

(The Economic Mind in American Civilization: 1606-1865, Volume I, Joseph Dorfman, Viking Press, 1946, excerpts pp. 117-119)

TR’s American Exceptionalism and Eugenics

“Roosevelt the First,” as Mencken referred to Theodore, accidentally became president upon the assassination of William McKinley. Though his mother was Georgia-born and he proclaimed a Confederate pedigree, this “New York politico proved himself fairly inept a navigating the rocks and shoals of Southern politics.”

Roosevelt was an early believer in eugenics and praised the famous eugenicist, Charles Davenport, a Connecticut-born descendant of abolitionist Puritans. Davenport was a Harvard-trained biologist, and established what would become the Eugenics Record Office at Long Island’s Spring Harbor in 1904.

Further, Davenport was an influential member of the eugenics section of the American Breeders Association, and his second in command, Harry Laughlin of Iowa, advanced forced human sterilization and shaped the 1924 Immigration Act. Davenport “described the best female breeders as women with wide hips, using the same thinking that animal breeders had employed for centuries to describe cows.”

TR’s American Exceptionalism and Eugenics

“Roosevelt, a patrician, had little choice but to joist with his redneck foes. In 1905, during his Southern tour . . . One newspaper joked that the president’s entourage was wise to travel through Mississippi at night, so that [Mississippi Governor James K.] Vardaman wouldn’t have to shoot him.

Roosevelt also ruffled the feathers of the proud white women of the South when he had dared to class Jefferson Davis with Benedict Arnold. When he did that, one incensed Georgia woman declared that the president had dishonored his mother’s blood.

Blood was thicker than water for Roosevelt, but not in the way the testy Georgia woman would have viewed the matter. His understanding of race and class remained rooted in evolutionary thinking, and he believed that blacks were naturally subordinate to the Anglo-Saxon . . . and never abandoned the premise that racial traits were carried in the blood, conditioned by the experiences of one’s ancestors.

As an ardent exponent of “American Exceptionalism,” Roosevelt argued that the nineteenth-century frontier experience had transformed white Americans into superior stock. Roosevelt’s motto can be summed up in three words: “work-fight-breed.” There is clear evidence that he was influenced by the mountaineers’ myth, by which good Saxon stock was separated from the debased Southern poor white. History was written in blood, sweat and “germ protoplasm” – the turn-of-the-century term for what we now refer to as genes.

The ills attending modernity could be corrected . . . A man could return to the wilderness – as Roosevelt did when he hunted big game in Africa . . ; War – the raw fight for survival – was a second means of bringing forth ancestral Saxon traits. Washington, Lincoln and Grant were his heroes, men who lived active, virtuous lives, rejecting comfort and complacency. In the final analysis, the president opined, the Confederate generation and their heirs had contributed “very, very little toward anything of which Americans are now proud.”

He could be confident in the future because Roosevelt was an unabashed eugenicist. He used the bully pulpit of his office to insist that women had a critical civic duty to breed a generation of healthy and disciplined children. He first endorsed eugenics in 1903, and two years later he laid out his beliefs in a speech before the Congress of Mothers. Worried about “race suicide,” as he put it, he recommended that women of Anglo-American stock have four to six children.

In 1913, Roosevelt wrote supportively to the leading eugenicist Charles Davenport that it was the patriotic duty of every good citizen of superior stock to leave his or her “blood behind.” Degenerates, he warned, must not be permitted to reproduce their kind.”

(White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America, Nancy Isenberg, Viking Press, 2016, excerpts pp. 190-193)

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