Matthew Yglesias writes: “Jews have historically fared very well in the United States versus in other Western countries, in part because the United States — for all its deeply troubled racial history — has generally not defined American identity in ethnic blood and soil terms.”
Is this true?
Today, the United States officially takes the position that all races are equal. Our country is also committed―legally and morally―to the view that race is not a fit criterion for decision-making of any kind, except for promoting “diversity” or for the purpose of redressing past wrongs done by Whites to non-Whites.
Many Americans cite the “all men are created equal” phrase from the Declaration of Independence to support the claim that this view of race was not only inevitable but was anticipated by the Founders. Interestingly, prominent conservatives and Tea Party favorites like Michele Bachman and Glenn Beck have taken this notion a step further and asserted that today’s racial egalitarianism was the nation’s goal from its very first days.
They are badly mistaken.
Since early colonial times, and until just a few decades ago, virtually all Whites believed race was a fundamental aspect of individual and group identity. They believed people of different races had different temperaments and abilities, and built markedly different societies. They believed that only people of European stock could maintain a society in which they would wish to live, and they strongly opposed miscegenation. For more than 300 years, therefore, American policy reflected a consensus on race that was the very opposite of what prevails today.
Those who would impute egalitarianism to the Founders should recall that in 1776, the year of the Declaration, race slavery was already more than 150 years old in North America and was practiced throughout the New World, from Canada to Chile. In 1770, 40 percent of White households in Manhattan owned Black slaves, and there were more slaves in the colony of New York than in Georgia. It was true that many of the Founders considered slavery a terrible injustice and hoped to abolish it, but they meant to expel the freed slaves from the United States, not to live with them in equality.
Thomas Jefferson’s views were typical of his generation. Despite what he wrote in the Declaration, he did not think Blacks were equal to Whites, noting that “in general, their existence appears to participate more of sensation than reflection.” He hoped slavery would be abolished some day, but “when freed, he [the Negro] is to be removed beyond the reach of mixture.” Jefferson also expected whites eventually to displace all of the Indians of the New World. The United States, he wrote, was to be “the nest from which all America, North and South, is to be peopled,” and the hemisphere was to be entirely European: “… nor can we contemplate with satisfaction either blot or mixture on that surface.”
Jefferson opposed miscegenation for a number of reasons, but one was his preference for the physical traits of Whites. He wrote of their “flowing hair” and their “more elegant symmetry of form,” but emphasized the importance of color itself:
Are not the fine mixtures of red and white, the expressions of every passion by greater or less suffusions of colour in the one [whites], preferable to that eternal monotony, which reigns in the countenances, that immovable veil of black, which covers all the emotions of the other race?
Like George Washington, Jefferson was a slave owner. In fact, nine of the first 11 Presidents owned slaves, the only exceptions being the two Adamses. Despite Jefferson’s hope for eventual abolition, he made no provision to free his slaves after his death.
James Madison agreed with Jefferson that the only solution to the race problem was to free the slaves and expel them: “To be consistent with existing and probably unalterable prejudices in the U.S. freed blacks ought to be permanently removed beyond the region occupied by or allotted to a White population.” He proposed that the federal government buy up the entire slave population and transport it overseas. After two terms in office, he served as chief executive of the American Colonization Society, which was established to repatriate Blacks. Read on.