The First Republic
Picture North America in the year 2000 A.D., as Thomas Jefferson might have imagined it in 1800. As the twenty-first century dawns, the American ethnic nation -- defined as Americans of Anglo-Saxon descent, with infusions from closely related Western European groups -- accounts for the overwhelming majority of the inhabitants of North and South America and the islands of the Caribbean. In 1801 Jefferson had foreseen the day "when our rapid multiplication will expand itself...and cover the whole northern, if not the southern continent, with a people speaking the same language, governed in similar forms, and by similar laws" -- for this reason, Jefferson had opposed allowing emancipated blacks to settle in the west.
Although they form a single cultural nation, united by common race, language, and Protestant religion, the 500 million Anglo-Saxons of North America, in Jefferson's vision, are divided among a number of friendly sister republics. In addition to the United States of America, which retains the dimensions it acquired during Thomas Jefferson's lifetime, there is the Republic of Canada, the Republic of Texas, the Republic of California, and the Republic of Oregon (Jefferson told John Jacob Astor that his Columbia river settlement was "the germ of a great, free, and independent empire on that side of our continent.") Other North American countries retain their former names -- Mexico, Cuba -- but they have been thoroughly Anglicized, with predominantly Anglo-American populations, with English as the official language, and with common-law institutions in place of the Hispanic heritage.
Despite their great geographic diversity, the Anglo-American republics all have a family resemblance. If you take a slow-moving balloon-schooner from Mexico City to Oregon, you will see similar patterns in very different landscapes -- the small, square fields of yeoman farmers, cultivated by simple and yet ingenious labor-saving devices, spread like quilts around the small towns, each the capitol of a ward, or a section of a county, modeled on the ancient Anglo-Saxon "hundreds." If you fly low enough, you might even see the militia drilling in the parks; none of the republics has significant standing armies, in this quartersphere of democracy, liberty, and peace. Each hamlet has its neoclassical town hall, in the Greek Revival style introduced by Thomas Jefferson, and its cluster of churches and temples -- Congregationalist, Deist, Masonic and Unitarian. To one correspondent Jefferson had written in 1822: "The pure and simple unity of the creator of the universe is now all but ascendant in the Eastern states; it is dawning in the West, and advancing towards the South; and I confidently expect that the present generation will see Unitarianism become the general religion of the United States." In the same year he wrote to another: "I trust there is not a young man now living in the U.S. who will not die an Unitarian."
Continuing your northward journey, you might join the pilgrimage of tourists to the spiritual capital of Anglo-America -- Washington, D.C. (District of Cherronesus). The District of Cherronesus is the peninsula between Lakes Huron and Michigan. In 1784 Thomas Jefferson proposed to give this region its name to commemorate the original Cherronesus, the region (now encompassing Danish Jutland and German Schleswig-Holstein) from which he believed the Saxon ancestors of the American people migrated to Britain after the fall of Rome.
The gleaming neoclassical city of Washington, D.C., buffeted by the cold winds from Lake Michigan, is full of monuments to Anglo-American ideals and history. One of them is American University, with its curriculum modeled on the one that Jefferson provided for the University of Virginia. Here, the "natural aristocracy" of North America, students from all classes selected by rigorous examination and admitted without any reference to family income, study in the hope of becoming leaders of their respective republics in the Pacific northwest, the California coast, the Canadian prairie. Their curriculum includes study of natural history, the hierarchy of races (with special emphasis on the hereditary mental and moral superiority of the Germanic peoples), the secular ethical philosophy of Jesus (in the edition of the Gospels prepared by Jefferson, with the miracles removed), and Anglo-Saxon laws and institutions, ancient and modern. Every graduate must be proficient in Anglo-Saxon, which, since its revival by Jefferson in the United States, has replaced Latin and Greek as the New World's learned tongue.
Many of the details in this vision are peculiar to Thomas Jefferson. However, the basic conception of the American people as a branch of the Anglo-Saxon tribe, whose members remained part of a single "race" no matter how many governments they were divided among, was the conception of American identity shared by most of the Founding Fathers of the United States and generations of later American leaders. Until the early twentieth century, for example, the major school of American history was devoted to the germ theory, which traced the evolution of American institutions through British roots to the customs of the ancient Germans. The idea that the United States is or should be "a nation of immigrants," not only non-Germanic but nonwhite, would have struck most Americans before World War II as bizarre. They would also have been puzzled by the idea that the American people was created in 1776. Eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Americans would not have confused the mere establishment of the American government in 1776 with the creation of the American nation (that is to say, the American branch of the millennia-old Anglo-Saxon race), and they would have been baffled by the mention of the "Judeo-Christian tradition," because everyone knew that the American nation was not only Christian but Protestant.
Such a way of thinking about American identity seems as alien to us today as the ideals and mores of a remote civilization. Indeed, in many ways, we modern Americans live in a new and different country. The United States of the 1990s differs far more from the United States of the 1790s than today's France does from that of Robespierre and Napoleon (for a start, the borders of France, and the composition of its population, have been far more stable than those of the United States). The continuities in the history of the French nation are disguised by the discontinuities in French constitutional history; since 1789, France has had five republics, several empires and constitutional monarchies, a directory and a fascist dictatorship (Vichy). Americans are governed, at least on paper, under the same federal constitution that went into effect in 1789, and the name of the country has not changed since 1776. Constitutional continuity in America disguises the discontinuities in national history between what can be described as the three "republics" of the United States. We cannot understand our America, Multinational America, the Third Republic of the United States, without understanding its predecessors.
The First Republic of the United States (1789-1860) might be called Anglo-America. National identity in Anglo-America was a compound of three elements: an Anglo-Saxon national community, a common ethic of Protestant Christianity, and a federal-republican national political creed. These definitions of Americanness did not go unchallenged. Black Americans argued for a nonracial or multiracial conception of American identity. Irish immigrants and Catholic immigrants of varying ethnicities contested the equation of Americanness with Anglo-Saxon heritage and Protestant religion. The political creed of federal republicanism, particularly in its extreme Jeffersonian and Jacksonian variants, was challenged by Hamiltonian statesmen and intellectuals in the Federalist-National Republican-Whig tradition who emphasized a powerful central government actively promoting industrial and financial development. Although rivals of the prevailing formula sometimes won limited victories, the conception of the United States as a federal republic based on an Anglo-Saxon Protestant nation generally prevailed. Behind immigration law, Indian removal, black colonization, and annexation policy lay the ideal of the United States as a nation-state with a homogeneous population of Anglo-American Protestants.
The Origins of Anglo-America
The ultimate origins of the American nation are found in sixteenth-century England. The colonization of eastern North America by the English was a project pushed by a small circle of courtiers, businessmen and intellectuals around Sir Walter Raleigh, many of whom were also involved in the colonization of Ireland by Protestants. In his "Discourse of Western Planting" (1584) one of the leading members of this group, Richard Hakluyt, argued that colonization would increase England's military and commercial strength, as well as permit the English to unload their paupers and convert the North American Indians to true (that is, Protestant) Christianity. The visionary Hakluyt called for the settlement in eastern North America of "infinite nombers of the english nation." Attempts in 1584 and 1587 by Raleigh and his associates to found colonies in the Carolina Banks and the Chesapeake failed (the latter, cut off by Spanish-English war and presumably destroyed by Indians, passed into legend as the lost colony of Roanoke). The Raleigh circle turned to other projects, including colonization in Ireland after the 1585 Munster rebellion and a doomed effort to colonize Guiana.
The Virginia Company managed to found a permanent settlement at Jamestown in 1607, but the outpost, plagued by war with the local Powhatan Indians, starvation, internal dissent, and disease, was always on the verge of collapse. The Crown assumed responsibility from the Virginia Company in 1624, making Virginia a royal province; not until late in the century, when it was reorganized as a tobacco-exporting plantation economy relying on black slave labor, did Virginia become more than a miserable wilderness outpost. (Virginia's future was shadowed in its beginning, when colonist John Rolfe, who married Powhatan's daughter Pocahantas, introduced the planting of tobacco, a Caribbean crop -- and noted the arrival, in 1619, of a Dutch warship bearing twenty African slaves). Despite the glowing propaganda of colonization proponents, conditions were so miserable in the New World that ordinary Europeans preferred to stay at home. The Puritans of New England, who established the most successful colonies in the seventeenth century, succeeded in large part because they were motivated by religious fervor.
In the period between 1607 and 1689, when the major British colonies were established, different colonies tended to be peopled by refugees from this or that side in English struggles -- Puritan refugees fleeing from Tudor absolutism populated New England, and a little later royalist gentry escaping from Cromwell's Puritan dictatorship founded some of the great dynasties of the Chesapeake. The English Americans also came from different parts of the British Isles -- the Puritans tended to come from East Anglia, the Southern gentry from the southern counties of England, the Quakers of the Delaware Valley emigrated from the British midlands, and the Scotch-Irish who populated the Southern backcountry in the early eighteenth century originated in Ulster, Scotland, and North Britain. In the New World, these different immigrant groups tended to preserve the dialects, customs, and folkways of the parts of Britain from which they had come; their subcultures formed the basis of American regional cultures that persist to this day and are shared by millions of Americans with no English ancestors.
The diverse mainland colonies of seventeenth-century English America began to be knit together into a greater unity only in the era that followed the Glorious Revolution. When William of Orange deposed James II in 1688-89, colonists in Boston, New York, and Maryland overthrew their proprietary governments as well. Under the new rule of William and Mary, all of the colonies became royal colonies with elected assemblies, except for Connecticut and Rhode Island (which retained their corporate constitutions) and Pennsylvania and Maryland (which remained proprietary).
This standardization of colonial government, combining royal control with a high degree of colonial self-rule, was part of a general reorganization of the British empire by the Whig oligarchy that had come to power in the Glorious Revolution. The Whigs created Great Britain by incorporating Scotland in the Act of Union of 1701; a few years later, Ireland lost its independence from the jurisdiction of the London Parliament. The attitude of London toward the colonies tended to be one of benign neglect, an attitude the colonists elevated into a principle.
Throughout the seventeenth century, it never occurred to the Anglo-American majority in the colonies that they were anything other than Britons in America. In the first half of the eighteenth century, too, the American colonists for the most part identified themselves proudly as British Americans. In 1760, when Britain won the Seven Years' War (French and Indian War) with France, Benjamin Franklin declared, "No one can more sincerely rejoice than I do, on the reduction of Canada; and this is not merely as I am a colonist, but as I am a Briton." He favored the annexation of French America, so that "all the country from the St. Lawrence to the Mississippi will in another century be filled with British people." Colonial Americans like Franklin considered themselves part of the English nation, the freest people in the world, living under an enlightened Whig constitution characterized by the proper mixture of monarchy, aristocracy and democracy, antipapist Protestantism, and a kind of de facto imperial federalism. Political and religious evil was represented for them by the Catholic absolutism of France and Spain, in which they saw the pattern of the despotism that the Stuarts had tried to impose on the freedom-loving British.
The sharp regional differences between the Anglo-American colonies declined in the eighteenth century. The recurrent wars against the French and Spanish and the Indians, economic integration, migration between colonies, and the standardization of legal and governmental procedures tended to create a common Anglo-American identity, notwithstanding persistent localism. Zealous Puritans and fiery royalist cavaliers were succeeded by Northern and Southern elites whose members shared common economic interests and often a common education at colleges like Princeton.
By the mid-eighteenth century, Anglo-American leaders had come to share a common Whig ideology, absorbed from English Whig writers like John Locke, John Trenchard, and Thomas Gordon, authors of Cato's Letters, and Catherine Macaulay. Whig theory held that freedom and self-government originated in the tribal customs of ancient German tribes. The Angles, Saxons, and Jutes who migrated from Germany and present-day Denmark to England (formerly inhabited by licentious Celts and despotic Romans) brought free institutions with them. Under wise kings like Alfred the Great, the Anglo-Saxons perfected the institutions treasured by later Anglo-Americans: the representative assembly, the jury system, the militia. When William the Bastard conquered England in 1066, however, he imposed "the Norman yoke," consisting of the twin evils of continental feudalism and Roman Catholic Christianity. The promulgation of Magna Carta, the Protestant Reformation, and the overthrow of the Stuart monarchs brought about the restoration of Anglo-Saxon liberty in England. This view of the past was challenged from the right, as it were, by Thomas Hobbes and David Hume, who knew it was historical mythology, and from the relative left by radical Real Whigs or Commonwealthmen who argued that the Glorious Revolution had not gone far enough toward restoring the ancient Saxon constitution. (Mainstream Whigs and Real Whig dissidents agreed that the Dark Ages in England had been in fact a Golden Age.)
Since war tends to promote centralization, a collision between British imperial statecraft and extreme Whig ideology as a result of geopolitical struggles was perhaps inevitable. The English colonists in North America were swept up in the four great wars against French hegemony fought by Britain and its European allies -- the War of the League of Augsburg (known in America as King William's War), 1689-1697; the War of the Spanish Succession (Queen Anne's War), 1702-1713; the War of the Austrian Succession (King George's War), 1745-1748; and the Seven Years' War (the French and Indian War), 1756-1763. The latter was a major struggle. More Americans died in the Seven Years' War, as a proportion of the population, than in any struggle apart from the Civil War and the Revolutionary War; the Seven Years' War saw the fourth-highest rate of mobilization, after World War II, the Civil War, and the Revolutionary War. In the 1763 Peace of Paris, Britain gained control over all of the continent east of the Mississippi except for New Orleans, which the French transferred temporarily to their ally, Spain, along with Louisiana (then the name for the territory west of the Mississippi).
"With the triumph of Wolfe on the Heights of Abraham began the history of the United States," wrote the nineteenth-century historian John Richard Green, noting that the American War of Independence grew indirectly out of the Seven Years' War. The French foreign minister Choiseul prophetically warned the British ambassador to France that the colonies "would not fail to shake off their dependence the moment Canada should be ceded. With the French military threat neutralized, the English colonists were bound to feel there was less need for imperial military protection and to resent the taxes that paid for it. When the British government, upset by the expenses of the war and colonial inefficiency, made the rational decision to create a more centralized, authoritarian empire in which the colonists would pay their fair share, the colonists grew alarmed. Soon the Anglo-Americans were seeing the signs of incipient absolutism like that of the Stuarts in every action of the imperial government, such as the series of taxes that occasioned crises in relations with the Crown. When Indians revolted against British rule in 1763-64, London decided to temporarily minimize its defense costs by forbidding its American subjects to settle beyond a line. The colonists saw the hand of royal tyranny in that decree, just as they sensed a papal conspiracy in the decision by London to allow the French Canadians to retain Roman Catholicism as the official religion of Quebec.
From an administrative, military, and financial point of view, the centralization of the British empire made a great deal of sense. It made no sense politically, however. The Anglo-American colonists had grown accustomed to a high degree of self-government during the first half of the eighteenth century. Different aspects of the strategy of centralizing authorities in London offended different groups in British America -- frontiersmen were incensed by royal limits on western settlement; Protestant dissenters in New England were horrified by the prospect of the establishment of Anglicanism in their colonies; talk of an American aristocracy disturbed Southern gentry, long the masters in their region, who feared that they might be reduced to being political subordinates and social inferiors of titled fops from Britain. If the proponents of parliamentary absolutism had their way, local elites would lose not only political power, but social standing, as prestige in each colony would, they feared, be based on personal relationships to this or that English-born aristocrat. London's centralizing reforms thus managed to unite many Americans who had nothing else in common with one another into opposition to the empire.
Even so, Anglo-American leaders did not immediately envision independence as the result of their resistance to imperial innovation. Well after hostilities had begun, many Americans hoped that opponents of the regime in Britain, such as the radical Whigs, would bring about another Glorious Revolution throughout the empire, restoring local privileges in Ireland as in Massachusetts, and ending monarchical "corruption" of the London parliament. A number of Americans, including Thomas Jefferson, tried to save the empire by proposing constitutional reforms creating a bipartite empire linked by the crown. (Similarly, in the crisis leading to the Civil War, many politicans tried to save the Union by a variety of constitutional amendments mollifying the South.) British authorities in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, having learned a lesson from the loss of their first empire, would experiment with such divisions of authority, especially with the "white dominions." In the 1770s, however, their inflexible commitment to the dogma of absolute parliamentary sovereignty gave them only two alternatives, to subordinate the colonies or lose them.
When an empire-wide revolution, replacing centralism with some form of federalism, failed to occur, the colonists opted for secession as a second-best measure. The formative era of Anglo-America can be dated from 1774, when the Articles of Association among the twelve (later thirteen) British colonies signaled a de facto state of rebellion against the British crown. The formative period ended in 1789, when the first government elected under the 1787 federal Constitution met. Between 1774 and 1789 the former British population of the Atlantic seaboard went from being a group of rebellious colonies that still might have been reconciled to imperial federalism to an independent, federal nation-state with a weak but genuine central government.
The Anglo-American Nation
It is often said that after independence the American people were unsure of their national identity. This is a misperception, based on a confusion between political allegiance and ethnocultural nationality. The political allegiances of many Americans, between the Revolution and the Civil War, were frequently divided, because of the strength of state loyalties. Weak and often conflicting political loyalties, however, coexisted with a strong sense of common ethnocultural identity among the majority of Americans, a category that consisted throughout the nineteenth century of whites of British descent. Federalists and Anti-Federalists, Unionists and Confederates disagreed about many matters; most, however, shared an understanding of themselves as members of an Anglo-Saxon diaspora in North America.
What might be called the Anglo-American national formula had three elements, defining the national community as the Anglo-Saxon race, the common ethic as Protestant Christianity, and the political creed as federal republicanism. To be an American in Anglo-America, according to the informal but established conception, was to be an Anglo-Saxon (or Teuton) in race, a Protestant in religion, and a republican in political principles. Commitment to political principles was an important part of Anglo-American identity, but it was less important, in the minds of most white Americans, than membership in a particular race and a particular religion.
THE ANGLO-AMERICAN RACE. Almost without exception, when the framers of the federal Constitution and their successors in the first half of the nineteenth century spoke of the American people, they meant white Americans of English descent, or immigrants from the British Isles and the Germanic countries who had lost their cultures and assimilated to the Anglo-American norm. White Americans viewed themselves, in the phrase of one historian, "as modified Englishmen rather than as a product of a European amalgam." The American geographer Jedediah Morse used the term Anglo-American as early as 1789, writing that "the greater part...are descended from the English; and, for the sake of distinction, are called Anglo-Americans." The term Anglo-American was also used by foreign observers, including Alexis de Tocqueville, who wrote, "I consider the people of the United States as that portion of the English people who are commissioned to explore the forests of the new world. The United States was considered to be the first (though not necessarily the only) independent republic of Anglo-Americans in the western hemisphere.
In the nineteenth century, the poet John Greenleaf Whittier summed up the prevalent view of American nationality in a poem "To Englishmen":
O Englishmen! -- in hope and creed,
In blood and tongue our brothers!
We too are heirs of Runnymede;
And Shakespeare's fame and Cromwell's deed
Are not alone our mother's.
'Thicker than water,' in one rill
Through centuries of story
Our Saxon blood has flowed, and still
We share with you its good and ill,
The shadow and the glory.
This predominant understanding of national identity in the early United States was inherited from the colonial period, when almost all of the Anglo-American colonists thought of themselves simply as Englishmen living in the New World. In 1690, Richard Eburne in A Plain Pathway to Plantations wrote "it be the people that makes the land English, not the land the people." Indeed, one of the causes of the disputes that led to the American revolution, it should be recalled, was the insistence that the colonists had all the rights of Englishmen because they were Englishmen.
Like many of their British cousins, most Anglo-Americans did not doubt that they belonged to a race superior to all others, though they were not quite sure how to define it -- as Anglo-Saxon, as broadly Germanic, or as even more broadly European or white. Many of the American founders believed, with Montesquieu and the Whig historians, that English liberty originated in the forests of ancient Germany. This notion of a Germanic race whose characteristics explained social and political history received an additional boost from the publication by William Jones in 1788 of his theory that the Indo-European or Indo-Aryan language families had a common ancestor in prehistory. From the fact of a widespread Indo-European language, German scholars like the brothers Grimm and Max Muller, an expert on Sanskrit, inferred the existence of an Aryan race that had long ago conquered the dark Dravidian peoples of India (where its descendants formed the upper castes). These Aryans, furthermore, were thought to be identical with the populations of Germany, Scandinavia, England, and Anglo-America.
One of the founders of American anthropology, Lewis Henry Morgan, a relatively sympathetic student of the Iroquois Indians, concluded his magnum opus, Ancient Society (1877) with these words expressing the consensus view:
It must be regarded as a marvellous fact that a portion of mankind five thousand years ago, less or more, attained to civilization. In strictness but two families, the Semitic and the Aryan, accomplished the work through unassisted self-development. The Aryan family represents the central stream of human progress, because it produced the highest type of mankind, and because it has proved its intrinsic superiority by gradually assuming the control of the earth.
Even Ralph Waldo Emerson, who at times held a more inclusive notion of American nationality, wrote in English Traits that "the Teutonic tribes have a national singleness of heart, which contrasts with the Latin races." He also wrote: "That which lures a solitary American in the woods with the wish to see England, is the moral peculiarity of the Saxon race -- its commanding sense of right and wrong, -- the love and devotion to that, -- this is the imperial trait, which arms them with the sceptre of the globe." Like many American advocates of the Teutonic definition of Anglo-American nationality, Emerson had little use for the Celtic Irish, whose appearance -- "deteriorated in size and shape, the nose sunk, the gum exposed" -- was evidence of "diminished brain."
This was not the view in the Anglo-American republic. The idea that white Americans, by the nineteenth century, were becoming a distinct and finished race was commonplace in the pseudoscience and popular journalism of the day. Alexander Stephens, a Georgia politician who became the vice-president of the Confederacy, described the Anglo-American inhabitants of the Texas Republic thus: "They are of the Americo-Anglo-Saxon race." In 1851 The Republic asked, "Who ever saw an American, reared on his native soil and under his country's institutions, that could not be recognized at a glance, and distinguished, in nine cases out of ten, from the men of any other Caucasian nation on earth?" One phrenologist in 1843 wrote that "though the primitive stock is English, the American head differs materially from the English." Josiah Nott, a leading anthropologist, identified an "Anglo-American nation" as a distinct race belonging to the "Caucasian Group."
Anglo-American racial nationalism was reflected in a white-only immigration policy. Although the attempt of the British ministry to limit (white) emigration to the American colonies was cited as an example of royal "tyranny" in the Declaration of Independence, most of the Patriot elite were opposed to immigration of non-Anglo-Saxons to the United States; those who did call for immigrants had in mind Europeans, not blacks, Latin American mestizos, or Asians. In 1790, Congress passed the first naturalization act, which permitted the naturalization of those who had resided in the United States for more than two years and swore allegiance to the Constitution. There was a third and crucial qualification -- only "free white persons" could become naturalized U.S. citizens. Alarmed by the French revolution, the Federalists who pushed the Alien and Sedition Acts through Congress got the residency period extended first to five and then to fourteen years. Under Jefferson, the five-year waiting period was restored; a seven-year period is in force today. And the restriction of naturalized U.S. citizenship to Caucasian immigrants lasted until the mid-twentieth century, making the 1790 Act one of the cornerstones of white supremacy in America.
PROTESTANT CHRISTIANITY. In addition to sharing a racial self-definition as Anglo-Saxons in America, the Anglo-American majority had a distinct common ethic. The predominant ethic in Anglo-America was the evangelical Protestant ethic, which prevailed in competition with Enlightened deism and the small but growing Catholic immigrant subculture. Although religion was formally disestablished by the federal government and all of the states by the early nineteenth century, evangelical Protestantism succeeded in becoming the informally established religion of the United States. According to Cincinnati Presbyterian evangelist Charles Boynton, "Puritanism, Protestantism, and True Americanism are only different terms to designate the same set of principles."
Evangelical Protestants divided on the question of whether Christ's Second Coming would occur before or after the millennium -- the thousand years of peace and justice which, according to the book of Revelation, will precede the final battle between God and Satan. Postmillennialism holds that Christ will return after the millennium; the implication is that without direct divine intervention (though with divine inspiration), mankind is capable of constructing a just social order and maintaining it for a thousand years. Postmillennial Protestant Christianity has therefore looked favorably on projects of social reform that will literally hasten the millennium. Premillennialism, by contrast, holds that human society is too corrupt to be redeemed by any merely human effort. Christ must return in glory and slaughter the wicked before the thousand-year kingdom of peace and justice is set up on earth. What is more, during the millennium Christ himself will govern the human race, organized as a theocratic monarchy.
The evangelical Protestantism of antebellum America was generally postmillennial. The New England Puritans had been premillennialists, expecting the imminent return of Christ. The American Revolution, however, was associated with postmillennialist fervor. Many American Protestants believed that North America would be the center of a new, just civilization in the millennium preceding the Second Coming. Postmillennialist Protestants in Anglo-America, as in Britain, threw themselves into projects for social reform: the abolition of slavery, temperance, philanthropy, penal reform, educational reform, the extension of suffrage to the lower classes and women, pacifism. Many postmillennialist sects experimented with what nowadays would be called alternative lifestyles -- the Mormons, practicing polygamy, the Oneida community, practicing "complex marriage," and the Society of Believers in Christ's Second Appearing, or Shakers, repudiating sex and childbearing (Shaker history was necessarily brief).
Evangelical Protestants believed that their brand of Christianity was besieged from two sides, by the Enlightenment and Roman Catholicism. During the French Revolution, evangelical Protestants in the United States became convinced of a plot by Continental Illuminati, a branch of Freemasonry, to destroy the Christian republican United States. In 1798 Jedediah Morse, a Congregational minister, announced the discovery of a plot by the Bavarian Illuminati to overthrow all established religions and governments. Alarm over this supposed conspiracy contributed to the passage of the Alien and Sedition Act, which prohibited "secret machinations against the government." The real targets of Protestant suspicion were the small but influential Enlightened minority in the United States -- deists, freethinkers, Unitarians, Episcopalians, liberal Congregationalists, and Masons. In the 1800 election, the Federalist clergy of New England denounced Jefferson as a Jacobin and howled when, in 1801, Jefferson offered the atheist Tom Paine passage from France and received him in Washington, D.C.
Enlightenment thought and evangelical Protestantism clashed again in the early nineteenth century, when the Second Great Awakening inspired attempts to re-Christianize America. This time, the source of Protestant alarm was Freemasonry. Most American Masons were members of liberal Christian sects, such as Unitarians and Episcopalians. When William Morgan, an apostate Mason in western New York, was kidnapped and possibly murdered in 1826, a national movement sought to destroy Masonry. An Anti-Masonic party even elected state legislators and governors in several Northeastern states.
The Protestant evangelical worldview succeeded in defining the Anglo-American ethic during the First American Republic, despite the efforts of Enlightened dissenters. Judge Henry M. Brackenridge, arguing for repeal of a Maryland law that forbade Jews to hold elective office or practice law (it was not repealed until 1825), wrote: "Our political compacts are not entered into as brethren of the Christian faith, but as men, as members of a civilized society. In looking back to our struggle for independence, I find that we engaged in that bloody conflict for THE RIGHTS OF MAN, and not for the purpose of enforcing or defending any particular religious creed." More representative, though, was the view expressed by the Supreme Court in 1844: "It is also said, and truly, that the Christian religion is part of the common law of Pennsylvania" -- with "Christian" referring to "Protestant Christian" in practice.
Premillennial Protestantism and Enlightenment liberalism, though often at odds, mingled to a degree in Anglo-American messianism. The sixteenth- and seventeenth-century idea of England's exceptional destiny as the homeland of Protestant reformation and political liberty, transferred to the English colonies in North America and then to the United States, became the basis for what to this day is "the American creed." In his 1583 description of Sir Humphrey Gilbert's final voyage to America, Edward Hayes wrote that "the countreys lying north of Florida, God hath reserved the same to be reduced unto Christian civility by the English nation." One early history of Virginia began with the story of creation in Genesis, "to show how God had so managed the past that English colonization in the present was the fulfillment of his plan." Jonathan Edwards referred to the English, both in Britain and overseas settlements, as "the principal nation of the Reformation."
John Adams set forth his version of this theory in A Dissertation on the Canon and Feudal Law, published in 1765 in the Boston Gazette and later reprinted as The True Sentiments of America. After the fall of Rome, Adams wrote, Europeans "became more intelligent in general," awakening to the knowledge that they have "Rights, that cannot be repealed or restrained by human laws -- Rights, derived from the Great Legislator of the Universe." These rights, discovered in the Dark Ages in the forests of Germany and England (not, let it be noted, in Athens or Jerusalem), were soon to be suppressed. The canon law, "the most refined, sublime, extensive, and astonishing constitution of policy that ever was conceived by the mind of man, was framed by the Romish clergy for the aggrandisement of their own order." The Catholic conspiracy was joined by a conspiracy of feudal aristocrats: "Still more calamitous to human liberty, was a wicked confederacy between the two systems of tyranny above described....Thus, as long as this confederacy lasted, and the people were held in ignorance, liberty, and with her, knowledge and virtue too, seem to have deserted the earth, and one age of darkness succeeded another, till God in his benign providence raised up the champions who began and conducted the Reformation. From the time of the Reformation to the first settlement of America, knowledge gradually spread in Europe, but especially in England...."
Several generations later, Horace Bushnell, one of the most influential Protestant pastors of early-nineteenth-century America, set forth the theory of the providential destiny of the Anglo-American Protestant chosen people in an 1837 Phi Beta Kappa address: "Out of all the inhabitants of the world, too, a select stock, the Saxon, and out of this the British family, the noblest of the stock, was chosen to people our country; that our eagle, like that of the prophet, might have the cedars of Lebanon, and the topmost branches of the cedars, to plant by his great waters."
In the Anglo-American mind, Catholic religion and monarchic politics were thought of as the polar opposites of Protestantism and political liberty. Low-church Protestants and enlightened secularists alike tended to share a horror of Catholicism. When Irish Catholics sought to have their children excused from reading the King James Bible in public schools, evangelical Protestants concluded that there was a papist plot to remove the Bible from the schools. The anti-Irish Catholic Philadelphia Riots in May and July 1844 were among the most violent events before the Civil War. Not until the middle of the twentieth century did a majority of Protestant Americans come to believe that there was no conflict between Catholicism and American identity.
FEDERAL REPUBLICANISM. The final element defining Anglo-American national identity was the political creed of federal republicanism. The United States was in effect a collection of subsidiary republics, which varied in the extent to which they granted citizenship to nonwhites and extended suffrage among whites.
Although the federal Constitution had created a central government much stronger than that of the Articles of Confederation, the federal government was still extraordinarily weak, even compared to most other contemporary states. From 1816 to 1861, the number of civilian employees of the federal executive branch grew from 4,479 to only 36,106 -- eighty-five percent of them in the postal service (the major source of patronage appointments). Indeed, apart from a few federal forts, the post office was practically the only federal institution that most people in the country came into contact with. The military was little more than the state militias; when Abraham Lincoln took office in 1860, there were fewer than 1,000 employees in the War and Navy Departments.
This extreme federalism was paralleled in the organization of the political parties, which were little more than loose coalitions of urban machines and courthouse gangs -- the Richmond Junto, the Nashville Junto, the Albany Regency, Tammany Hall. Martin van Buren, the mastermind of the Jacksonian Democrats, replaced the loose factionalism of early national politics with a system of national nominating conventions and regularized patronage; even so, the adage "all politics is local" was particularly true in antebellum America. Small wonder that the planters believed the Southern states could exist as independent, loosely confederated republics; in most respects, they already were.
Between the American Revolution and the Civil War, property restrictions on suffrage and officeholding inherited from the colonial era were struck down peacefully, except in the case of Rhode Island, where the so-called Dorr revolt produced sustained political turmoil, though not bloodshed. At different rates, the states of the Union were transformed from oligarchic republics into nominal democracies with formal equality among adult white males. With few exceptions, women were denied the vote, since politics, like war, was seen as a masculine specialty in a republic.
There was no room in the Anglo-American Protestant federal republic for black Americans of either sex, except as slaves or outcasts. The American Revolution, though leading to the disappearance of slavery in the northern states, left the inherited racial caste system intact. Alexis de Tocqueville observed that racial prejudice in the United States was stronger in the North than in the South -- and strongest of all in western states where there were no slaves. In 1800, no northern state explicitly barred blacks from voting, if they could meet the property qualifications. Beginning with Ohio in 1803, however, every new free state admitted to the Union (except for Maine) expressly limited the franchise to white men. In older states in the antebellum North, the voting rights of free blacks were increasingly restricted. New York raised property qualifications for black voters in 1821, effectively disfranchising them, and in 1837 Pennsylvania revoked the right of blacks to vote completely. In 1860, only five states, all in New England, afforded blacks equal voting rights. Disfranchisement was accompanied by many other forms of apartheid. As early as 1841 trains were being segregated in Massachusetts. Antebellum Illinois and Ohio refused to admit free blacks within their borders unless they posted large bonds to ensure their departure.
Even the opponents of slavery tended to believe that most or all of the slaves, once emancipated, should be encouraged to leave the country, because (unlike Indians, perhaps) they could never be integrated into the white population. In his Notes on the State of Virginia, Jefferson describes the plan he submitted to the Virginia legislature for colonizing emancipated blacks outside of the United States as "a free and independent people" while importing an equal number of whites from Europe to take their place. Though he defended the idea of an extended republic, James Madison, a slave owner like Jefferson, never questioned the need for racial homogeneity in the citizenry as a precondition for republican government, and would have been astonished and probably horrified by the idea of a multiracial democracy. Indeed, Madison, in his final years after retiring from the presidency, became president of the Colonization Society, which attempted to put Jefferson's colonization proposal into practice by emancipating blacks and removing them to Liberia. Madison hoped that federal income from the sale of western lands could be used to pay for colonization -- to put it crudely, the confiscation of Indian land for white settlers would pay for the permanent removal of blacks from American soil. According to another colonizationist, House Speaker Henry Clay, blacks, whether slave or free, were "aliens -- political-moral-social aliens" in the United States. Lincoln, too, would see colonization as the best answer to America's racial problem. Before the Civil War, the idea of political and social equality for black Americans, and acceptance of the fact of their permanent presence, was limited to a tiny fringe of radical abolitionists.
The First Grand Compromise
Most of the governments of the Latin American creole republics that won their independence from Spain after the Napoleonic wars were weak and fragile structures that eventually collapsed in civil war. The federal government of their North American neighbor was no exception; its collapse in 1860 was the bloodiest and most terrible of all the civil wars in the Western Hemisphere. That the disaster occurred is no surprise. What is really astonishing is that the U.S. did not collapse in 1850, or 1832, or 1820, or 1814.
Civil war did not break out sooner because of a compromise that was periodically reaffirmed. The republic that emerged from the War of Independence and its aftermath rested on a grand compromise between the Southern slave owners and the elites of the northern sections: the South would stay in the new union, as long as the federal government did not threaten Southern slavery. This grand compromise was manifested in three forms: constitutional guarantees for slavery; legislative compromises over the extension of slavery, like those of 1820, 1832 and 1850; and the custom of maintaining a balance of slave and free states in the Senate.
Article 1, Section 2, of the Constitution counted each slave (usually treated in the law as chattel property) as three fifths of a person in determining Southern representation in the House of Representatives (this compromise, it should be noted, served Northern interests; had each slave been counted as a complete person for purposes of congressional representation, the South would have had even more representatives in Congress). In Article 1, Section 9, legislation against the slave trade was proscribed until 1808. Article IV, Section 3 is a fugitive slave clause: "No person held to service or labor in one state, under the laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in consequence of any law or regulation therein, be discharged from such service or labor, but shall be delivered up on claim of the party to whom such service or labor may be due."
The crucial element in the U.S. Constitution between 1787 and 1860 was one that was not written down: the sectional balance of political power in the federal government. This balance was maintained by two informal, extraconstitutional devices.The first was the custom of admitting one slave state for every free state. Whenever its interests were challenged, the planter-run South threatened to secede, and won compromises -- in 1820, in 1832, in 1850, and in 1854. The second informal part of the grand compromise was a party system in which all national parties, because they had Southern wings, accepted the legitimacy of slavery. The electoral success in 1860 of the Republican party, the first purely sectional political party (Lincoln did not receive a single Southern electoral vote), signaled the repudiation of this bargain by a majority of Northerners. The planters, concluding accurately that the informal bargain had been violated, thereupon led the Southern states out of the union.
The Southern planters protected their interests not only by means of the grand compromise but also by their informal political predominance in the federal government from Jefferson's election in 1800 to Lincoln's in 1860. Within the South, Virginia was dominant -- every president from 1800 to 1825 came from Virginia (thus "the Virginia Dynasty"). In the seventy-two years between 1789 and 1861, a Southern slave owner was president for forty-two years (ten of sixteen presidents); in the same period, Southerners accounted for twenty-three of the thirty-six House speakers and twenty-four of the thirty-six presidents pro tem of the Senate, as well as twenty of the thirty-five Supreme Court Justices. From 1801 to 1861 the South had a majority on the Supreme Court; during that entire period, there were only two Chief Justices, both Southerners -- John Marshall and Roger B. Taney. The South maintained its extraordinary advantage in staffing high federal posts even though, by 1860, its population had declined from 48 percent of the U.S. population in 1790 to only 39 percent in 1860.
Some have spoken of the Southern genius for politics, but genius had less to do with it than aristocracy. A small number of rich landowning and slave-owning families nearly monopolized wealth, power, and prestige in the antebellum South. Many of these families were direct descendants of English royalist aristocrats and gentry whom Sir William Berkeley had invited to Virginia during the English civil war; the Southern cavalier was no myth. Although only a quarter of white families owned slaves in the South in 1860, almost every Southern governor, all of the justices of the state supreme courts, and a disproportionate number of the state legislators were slave owners. The political feat of the Southern slave owners is truly remarkable -- a minority within a minority section, they managed to dominate a populous nation's politics for more than half a century. The only comparable feat is the way that the Prussian Junkers, a backward landowning military caste on the Germanic-Slav frontier, managed to create and dominate the German nation-state from the Bismarck era to their annihilation as a class at the hands of Stalin's armies and Hitler's Gestapo. The Southern planters were the Junkers of North America.
The Grand Strategy of Anglo-America
During the early years of the First American Republic, two visions of American foreign policy and economic development came into conflict. The faction of modernizing nationalists was led by Alexander Hamilton, Washington's aide during the American Revolution, the first Secretary of the Treasury, and de facto prime minister of the Washington administration. In great state papers like his 1790 Report on Manufactures to the Congress, and in other writings and projects, Alexander Hamilton laid out a blueprint for the development of the United States into a great military and industrial power. The Bank of the United States, like the Bank of England, would link the propertied classes to the federal government, stabilize and strengthen government finances, and encourage productive investment. Federal subsidies and protective tariffs would encourage the growth of infant industries in what, in the 1790s, was an almost completely agrarian country, dependent on imports of European manufactured goods (Hamilton himself attempted to boost American industrial capitalism by organizing the ill-fated Society for Useful Manufactures, SUM, in Paterson, New Jersey, which later became a major mill town and factory center). The United States would have a strong standing army, capable of crushing internal rebellion as well as intimidating European powers in the Western Hemisphere, and a first-rate fleet that could protect American traders around the world. For the federal government to carry out these ambitious projects, its constitutional powers would have to be interpreted broadly, and American law, at both federal and state levels, would have to be purged of common-law anachronisms that inhibited large-scale industrial and financial organization.
All of these projects, now that most have been realized (the Bank of the United States, for example, has been re-created in the Federal Reserve) seem commonsensical today. They struck Jefferson, Madison, and other Southern slave owners with horror. These rich farmers, accustomed to dominating government, feared that their power would dwindle in an America with a strong centralized government and a rising class of bankers and industrial capitalists. With Jefferson's election in 1800, the beginning of a quarter-century reign of slaveholding Virginia presidents, agrarian isolationism triumphed over the modernizing, developmental nationalism promoted by Hamilton and the Federalists. The Federalists declined into a party of New England reactionaries, some of whom toyed with the idea of secession during the War of 1812. In the era of one-party Republican and then Democratic dominance that followed, the Hamiltonian program was pushed by "National" Republicans like John Quincy Adams and opposed by "Democratic" Republicans like Andrew Jackson, and later by Whigs like Henry Clay, whose American System was an updated version of the Hamiltonian scheme.
The grand strategy of antebellum America, however, was that of the Jeffersonian Republicans/Democrats. Jefferson denounced the Federalists in 1800, writing "we are running navigation mad, and commerce mad, and navy mad, which is worst of all." The Jeffersonians were deeply influenced by British advocates of free trade like Adam Smith, who held that agrarian countries like the United States should abandon any thought of rivaling Britain in industry (Smith, like Jefferson, was suspicious of manufacturing, and believed that agriculture was morally and socially superior to industry). Writing in 1806, the Republican polemicist Clement C. Moore (best known today for the poem "A Visit from St. Nicholas"), argued that the United States should forego any foreign commerce other than that "which serves to promote the internal industry of the people, by affording a free vent for their surplus produce, and by bringing back, in return for it, foreign articles which could neither be so well nor so cheaply made at home." The Jeffersonians made two exceptions to the rule that the United States should specialize in agricultural exports. "Coarse manufactures" for local use, like clothes and farm tools, could be produced on a small scale, without corrupting the virtuous yeoman republic. And an elaborate infrastructure -- ports, canals, later railroads -- was acceptable, as a necessity for the transportation of American crops to foreign markets. Antebellum Southern planters, hostile to other government expenditures, favored transportation and communications projects; before the Civil War, the South promoted the first transatlantic packet service, the country's first long-distance telegraph cable, and, by 1860, had one of the most extensive rail networks in the world.
The grand strategy of the Jeffersonians, then, presupposed a global division of labor, in which Britain, France, and a few other European countries would be the only manufacturing powers, and in which the Americas, along with eastern Europe and the rest of the world, would serve as western Europe's agricultural hinterlands. The United States, in effect, was to have been the world's largest banana republic, with cotton and tobacco in place of bananas. As late as 1812, Jefferson was still committed to a Gandhian dream of a preindustrial America in which machinery was limited to farms and villages: "We have reduced the large and expensive machinery for most things to the compass of a private family, and every family of any size is now getting machines on a small scale for their household purposes."
Though they were opposed in principle to state-sponsored industrialization, the Jeffersonians favored territorial expansion (yeoman farmers and slave owners alike could always use more land). The ideology of Jeffersonian exceptionalism prevented the United States from directly waging wars of conquest in the manner of a sinister Old World monarchy, something the antimilitary Republicans were not very good at anyway; the attempt of the Madison administration to conquer Canada by conventional military means during the War of 1812 resulted in humiliating defeats for the American forces, and the burning of Washington, D.C. The Jeffersonians therefore invented their own moral and republican equivalents of imperialism: purchase and filibustering. Jefferson doubled the area of the U.S. overnight by buying Louisiana from Napoleon for $15 million in 1803 (instead of conquering it, which might have been cheaper, and which would not have helped Napoleon in his war against Britain, the lesser threat to the United States). Later, James K. Polk, before the outbreak of the Mexican War, tried to buy California and the Mountain West from Mexico, then paid for the territories after conquering them.
Another kind of republican imperialism was the practice of filibustering. Filibusters were Anglo-Americans who, legally or illegally, would settle in a territory claimed by Spain or one of its Latin American successor states, and then declare a revolution against the incumbent authority. Having detached the territory, they would then request annex- ation by the United States. This unique Jeffersonian kind of covert imperialism was first practiced in 1810, when President Madison sponsored the annexation of West Florida after a revolution by American settlers. (For generations thereafter, the U.S. Army would fight a savage war in the Florida wilderness against the Seminole Indians, who, to the horror of the planters, sheltered many runaway slaves and intermarried with them.) Three years later, in 1813, the Madison administration also tried to revolutionize then-Spanish Texas, by backing the Gutierrez-Magee expedition. This first Texas revolution was suppressed by Spain in a bloody campaign that has been forgotten by most American and Mexican history books. Further American-backed efforts to revolutionize Texas in 1819-20 also failed. Ironically, in light of the importance of the filibuster as the major Jeffersonian means of expansion, the precedent for these efforts was the attempt by Jefferson's vice-president and arch-rival, and the killer of Hamilton, Aaron Burr, to revolutionize the Spanish Southwest. The third major attempt to revolutionize Texas succeeded in 1836, under the leadership of Sam Houston, former Tennessee governor and one of Andrew Jackson's protégés. The Anglo-Texans applied immediately for admission to the Union, but because slavery was legal in Texas, the northern states kept Texas out until 1845. As a result, for ten years Texas was an insecure and bankrupt republic, periodically raided by Mexican armies.
The practice of using filibusters as agents of American territorial expansion broke down with the Mexican War, which occurred when the Mexican government, refusing to accept the annexation of Texas, declared war on the United States. Mexico, like the Confederacy later, gambled that the British and perhaps the French would join in an effort to halt U.S. expansion; diplomatically isolated, Mexico was conquered and forced to cede New Mexico, the Southwest, and California. Even if the United States had not gone to war with Mexico, it seems likely that filibusters would sooner or later have detached California and the Southwest from Mexico and attached them to the United States.
Racial factors were critical in the form that U.S. expansion took. Stephen F. Austin, the Texan leader, described the Texas conflict as a war of a "mongrel Spanish-Indian and negro race, against civilization and the Anglo-American race." A writer for the Richmond Whig described the Mexican war as a battle "of the Caucasian and Anglo-Saxon, pure white blood, against a mixed and mongrel race, composed of Indians, negroes, and Spaniards, all three degenerated by the admixture of blood and colors." The Mexican War was opposed by champions of the older Anglo-American regions -- by the Upper South's John C. Calhoun and by Daniel Webster of Massachusetts. They feared -- correctly -- that territorial expansion would transform America, not least in racial terms. Indeed, fear of the amalgamation of white Americans with Mexican mestizos was one reason the All-Mexico movement failed, and why the United States annexed only territories like Texas, California, and the Mountain West with little or no Mexican population.
Antebellum Americans, then, might have been more imperialist had they been less racist. The familiar shape of the United States on TV weather maps is a lasting monument to the Anglo-American ideal of racial homogeneity.r
It is worth pausing for a moment to reflect that if the Civil War had not occurred, the history of the nineteenth-century United States would present an entirely different aspect. Because the war over Southern secession turned into a war to end slavery, all too often American history in the nineteenth century is presented as a series of philosophical debates about the true meaning of the American creed, inquiries into first principles that have their model in the Lincoln-Douglas debates. In fact, disputes over philosophical first principles were results, not causes, of primal struggles over national territory and the racial and ethnic composition of the American nation. The great struggles of the Anglo-American republic, up to its demise in the Civil War -- struggles over Indian removal, the conquest of Mexico and annexation of the Mexican Northwest, the organization of white-only territories, and nativism -- were "tribal" struggles. If there had been no Civil War, the Mexican War would loom in the American memory as the greatest event of the century, and James Knox Polk as the most important president, with the result that Americans might have a different, and more realistic, conception of their country as a "normal" nation-state, established by the territorial expansion of a dominant cultural group.
"By enlarging the empire of liberty," Jefferson wrote in 1805, "we multiply its auxiliaries, and provide new sources of renovation, should its principles, at any time, degenerate, in those portions of our country which gave them birth." Jefferson hoped that the formation of a stratified class society on the Atlantic seaboard would be delayed by the migration of landless white citizens to the ever-expanding western frontier. Needless to say, the Jeffersonian plan for the westward migration of white yeoman farmers required the assimilation or removal of the Indians. Jefferson's harsh view of black Americans, whom he considered inherently inferior to whites, did not extend to American Indians, of whom he wrote, "we shall probably find that they are formed in mind as well as in body, on the same module with the 'Homo sapiens Europaeus.'" In 1803, he suggested: "In truth, the ultimate point of rest and happiness for them is to let our settlements and theirs meet and blend together, to intermix, and become one people." This would "finally consolidate our whole country to one nation only." He regretted in 1813 that white-Indian war had prevented this: "They would have mixed their blood with ours, and been amalgamated and identified with us within no distant period of time."
To encourage the conversion of Indians into farmers, Jefferson instituted the land-allotment program, by which federal territory was divided into tracts for individual Indian farmers. Jefferson was not only aware that many Indians would fall into debt and be forced to sell their land to whites, but quietly sought to encourage this outcome. In an "unofficial and private" letter to William Henry Harrison, governor of Indiana, in 1803, Jefferson, who alternated between dreamy idealism and cynical politicking, wrote: "To promote this disposition to exchange lands, which they have to spare and we want, we shall push our trading houses, and be glad to see the good and influential individuals among them run into debt, because we observe that when these debts get beyond what the individuals can pay, they become willing to lop them off by a cession of lands." (Jefferson paid off his own enormous personal debts by periodically selling slaves.)
In the area of Indian removal, as in others, Andrew Jackson was Jefferson's heir. As early as February 16, 1803, President Jefferson wrote the young Jackson, then a rising Tennessee politician, a letter urging that the Indians be confronted with the choice of becoming farmers or being removed to the west? Though Jefferson was willing to contemplate white-Indian racial amalgamation, most of his fellow southerners -- including Jackson, an Indian-fighting general -- were not. The fact that the Choctaws and the Cherokees had become farmers and adopted many white ways did not prevent the Jackson administration, colluding with state governments in Mississippi and Georgia, from dispossessing them of their lands and relocating them on reservations. The removal of Indians from the Southern states peaked in 1838-39, when 15 thousand Cherokees were forced to march to the new "Indian territory"; one in four died on the Trail of Tears. The removal of the "civilized" nations of the Southeast was less like the later wars with the Plains Indians than like the despoliation and internment of the Japanese-American Nisei and Issei during World War II; the parallel extends to the cooperation of federal and state authorities and the battening of whites upon land and property the exiled nonwhites had owned.
Jacksonian Democracy, which is often presented as a radical innovation, in reality was little more than a later and somewhat cruder version of Jeffersonian Republicanism. The aged Jefferson himself in 1826 backed Andrew Jackson for president against John Quincy Adams. The ideal of universal white male suffrage, more or less achieved in all of the states by the mid-nineteenth century, was Jefferson's before it was associated with Jackson. The states' rights ideology of the Jacksonians descended from Jefferson and Madison, authors of the Kentucky Resolutions. The spoils system associated with Andrew Jackson was simply a further development of Jefferson's precedent, on assuming office in 1800, of purging Federalist officers and replacing them with Republican patronage appointments. Finally, the battle of President Jackson against Nicholas Biddle, president of the Second Bank of the United States, echoed the struggles of Jefferson and Hamilton in the 1790s (as those struggles, in turn, had re-created the conflict in Britain between opponents and defenders of Prime Minister Horace Walpole and his court party). Jackson's veto of the federal charter of the Bank in 1833, and his transfer of federal deposits to state banks that he favored, symbolized the triumph of Jeffersonian federalism over Hamiltonian nationalism. It also led to speculation and the Panic of 1837.
The Jeffersonian strategy for America thus prevailed over the Hamiltonian alternative during the generations of Southern political predominance between the Washington and Lincoln administrations. The political success of the Jeffersonians and Jacksonians rested on an electoral alliance between Southern slave owners, white yeoman farmers in the upper South and the West, and urban artisans and workers in the Northeast. The slave owners and the western farmers shared a common interest in territorial expansion. At the same time, the slave owners appealed to Northern workers by denouncing Northern manufacturers for degrading white men into "wage slaves." And a common racism, reinforced and disseminated by popular minstrel show entertainment, was shared by white labor and white farmers. Not egalitarianism in the abstract, but white egalitarianism, was central to Jacksonian democracy; and it served the planters well. To eliminate restrictions on white male suffrage, one antebellum Louisiana reformer argued, would "raise a wall of fire kindled from the united souls of freemen, around our state and its institutions, against the diabolical machinations of abolitionism." All white men were equal, slave owner and slave hater alike.
The solicitude of the planters for their poor white allies was more symbolic than real. Although Jefferson and Madison might have been sincere in their hopes for the colonization of emancipated slaves, it became clear by the 1830s that American territorial expansion meant the expansion of slavery. Into the lands conquered from Indians and Mexicans in the South and Texas came the planters and their slave gangs, taking the richest lands and forcing poor white farmers into the Southern upcountry, where many of their descendants remain as part of the rural poor to this day.
European Immigration and the End of Anglo-America
The First American Republic, then, was a nation-state, based upon an Anglo-American Protestant nationalism that was as much racial and religious as it was political. Most Americans before the Civil War did not think of theirs as a melting-pot nation. The plot of the national story was the expansion across North America of a nation of virtuous, republican, Protestant Anglo-Saxons, a master race possessed of the true principles of government and religion. The Anglo-American nation had a great future ahead of it; but that future did not include cultural hybridization or genetic transformation through amalgamation with other, lesser stocks. This conception of American identity and destiny would be changed, by massive European immigration.
European immigration to the United States played a part in American politics from the beginning. As early as the 1790s, Irish-Americans in eastern cities like Philadelphia and New York were active in the anti-Federalist Democratic-Republican clubs, prompting Harrison Gray Otis, a leading Massachusetts Federalist, to write: "If some means are not adopted to prevent the indiscriminate admission of wild Irishmen and others to the right of suffrage there will soon be an end to liberty and property." Irish and French immigrants, turning against the Federalists as a result of the Alien and Sedition Act of 1798, may have tilted New York City -- and thus the election -- to Jefferson in 1800. By 1820, the Irish controlled New York City politics through Tammany Hall, forming an alliance with white Southern Democrats that would last a century and a half.
Jefferson himself, though willing to court the votes of immigrants already in the United States, was opposed to the introduction of a "heterogeneous, incoherent, distracted mass" of European immigrants. In 1782, Jefferson calculated that the settled areas of the United States (that is, the east coast) would approach the population density of Britain in less than a century. "May not our government be more homogeneous, more peaceable, more durable," he wondered, if the American nation was replenished by natural increase, rather than by immigration? In a scientific treatise that would influence Malthus, Observations Concerning the Increase of Mankind, Benjamin Franklin expressed similar views: "Why increase the sons of Africa by planting them in America, where we have so fair an opportunity, by excluding all blacks and tawnys, of increasing the lovely red and white?" -- (a reference to the "peaches and cream" complexion of northern Europeans). Franklin's notion of "tawnys" included most Caucasians: "In Europe the Spaniards, Italians, French, Russians, and Swedes are generally of what we call a swarthy complexion; as are the Germans also, the Saxons only excepted, who with the English make up the principal body of white people on the face of the earth." In the light of later theories of Nordic racial superiority, Franklin's belief in the less-than-white status of most Germans (and Swedes!) seems ironic; this had been a bugbear for him since 1755, when he published a polemic denouncing the immigration of Germans -- as "ignorant a set of people as the Indians" -- to the then-British colonies: "Why should Pennsylvania, founded by the English, become a Colony of Aliens, who will shortly be so numerous as to Germanize us instead of our Anglifying them, and will never adopt our Language or Customs, any more than they can acquire our Complexion."
Like Franklin, many of the great Patriots were opposed even to western European immigration. George Washington wrote a correspondent in England: "I have no intention to invite immigrants, even if there are no restrictive acts against it. I am opposed to it altogether." As he told Patrick Henry, "I want an American character, that the powers of Europe may be convinced we act for ourselves and not for others. This, in my judgment, is the only way to be respected abroad and happy at home.
Alexander Hamilton agreed: "to render the people of this country as homogeneous as possible, must lead as much as any other circumstance to the permanency of their union and prosperity." This suspicion of immigrants was reflected in the Constitution, which provided that a congressman had to have been resident in the United States for seven years, a senator for nine, and that the president had to be a native-born citizen.
Most of the Founding Fathers would have been astonished, and probably dismayed, by the volume of European immigration that was to follow. Between 1815 and 1860 five million Europeans -- more than the entire population of the United States in 1790 -- moved to America. With each decade, the numbers expanded -- 151,000 in the 1820s, 599,000 in the 1830s, 1,713,000 in the 1840s, and 2,314,000 in the 1850s. The highest proportion of immigrants to native-born Americans -- 3 million of 20 million -- was reached in the decade 1845-54. Almost all of these old immigrants came from Ireland and other parts of Britain and Germany. Some Germans hoped to create a German state, in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, or Texas. In part as a result of this massive immigration, the U.S. population grew from 3,929,214 at the time of the first census in 1790 to 31,443,321 in 1860.
Seven-eighths of the European immigrants to the United States went to the North. The census of 1860 showed that only 13.4 percent of the 4 million foreign-born Americans (in a population of 31.5 million) lived in the slaveholding states. In 1856, Senator Stephen Adams of Mississippi was alarmed by the Europeanization of the northern population -- and its political consequences for the South. Without immigration, he observed, the South would have gained more representatives than the North in the 1840s; instead, as a result of the European influx, the North gained twelve new congressional seats. Adams predicted that "by the next apportionment the North will gain upon the South twenty-four additional members from immigration alone." Soon "the North will have a majority of more than two to one in the other branch of Congress; and...a similar majority in this body." Had there been no European immigrants in the antebellum period, the demographic and political history of the United States might have been quite different.
The North the immigrants went to was a modernizing region that was diverging rapidly from the South, which retained many features of an older North's Anglo-American order. In 1800, all regions had been primarily agricultural; by 1860 only 40 percent of the northern population consisted of farm workers, compared to 84 percent of the South. Anglo-America had been highly stratified by class, in the Hudson River valley as in the Chesapeake; by 1860 the South, with a third of the white population, had two-thirds of the country's wealthiest men, while the North was becoming a less aristocratic and more middle-class society.
One response to this massive European immigration was the rapid growth in the north of the anti-immigrant, anti-Catholic American Party (better known as the Know-Nothings, not because nativists were ignorant -- in fact, many were prominent citizens -- but because of the quasi-secret nature of nativist organizations). The nativists, in their opposition to immigration, were the true heirs of most of the Founding Fathers. The American party had its greatest electoral successes in 1854, when it elected eight governors, more than one hundred congressmen, and thousands of local officials, including mayors of Boston, Philadelphia, and Chicago. That same year immigration to the United States reached an all-time high. The proportion of foreign-born to native-born Americans peaked at 14.5 percent of the total, a percentage that has never been surpassed, even at the turn of the twentieth century. Alarm over immigration, however, may have been less responsible for the sudden success of the Know-Nothings than the party's stand against slavery. The nativists might have remained a fringe movement, scoring occasional successes in cities with large immigrant minorities, if the Whig party had not collapsed over the slavery question. In the summer of 1854, Whigs and free-soil Democrats, disgusted with both major parties for supporting the Kansas-Nebraska Act that opened the western territories to slavery, streamed into the American party. Its membership soared from 50,000 to more than 1 million in a matter of months.
The Jefferson-Jackson Democrats had become the victims of their own success. Against the wishes of those in the Federalist-Whig tradition, they had favored the territorial enlargement of the United States through the Louisiana Purchase, the annexation of Texas, and the Mexican War. In doing so, however, they inadvertently created conflict between the Jacksonian Democrats of the Midwest and North and the southern planters. The insistence of the planters on their right to bring black labor into the western territories broke up both the coalition of western farmers and southern planters in the Democratic party. It also divided and destroyed the Whigs, and led to the establishment of the first purely sectional party, the Republicans.
The Know-Nothings, inflated by the antislavery vote, collapsed just as quickly when a new and better vehicle for antislavery sentiment, the Republican party, coalesced. The party, named for Jefferson's faction, was founded in Ripon, Wisconsin on the night of March 20, 1854. One of its founders recalled, "We went into the little meeting held in a schoolhouse Whigs, Free-Soilers, and Democrats. We came out of it Republicans." Whigs like Seward and Lincoln thought the Republicans were too radical, but converted when the American party's successes in the mid-1850s showed that the Whig party would never recover.
In order to gain dominance in the federal government, northern mercantile and industrial interests had to win allies among both western Free-Soil Democrats and European immigrants in the cities, something that the Whigs had never managed to do. The Republican party succeeded in uniting these three elements into an omnibus antiplanter coalition. The core of the Republican program was the Hamilton-Clay program for federal economic development: a protective tariff to stimulate industry, federally financed internal improvements, and a national banking system. To these were added two policies borrowed from the Democrats -- western homesteads (appealing to white westerners) and advocacy of European immigration (designed to win the immigrant vote).
Shrewd Republicans like Seward and Lincoln saw the need to fuse the Whig national-development program with the kind of pan-white racism that had traditionally been a monopoly of the Democrats. Contrary to schoolbook mythology, the Republicans were notable less for asserting color-blind natural rights than for stealing Jacksonian white egalitarianism and co-opting it for their own purposes. White egalitarianism was a wedge that Republicans used to pry antiplanter Democrats who wanted a white-only West away from the Democratic coalition. The ambitions of these Democrats were summed up by the Wilmot Proviso, which had sought to ensure that U.S. territories gained in the Mexican War would be off-limits to slavery. In the words of Pennsylvania Democrat David Wilmot: "I would preserve to free white labor a fair country, a rich inheritance, where the sons of toil of my own race and color can live without the disgrace which association with negro slavery brings upon free labor.
Lincoln wrote to a friend in 1855: "I am not a Know-Nothing. That is certain. How could I be? How can anyone who abhors the oppression of negroes, be in favor of degrading classes of white people?" Such idealism, though no doubt sincere, made excellent sense in terms of practical politics: it permitted Lincoln to appeal simultaneously to Free-Soil Anglo-American westerners and European immigrants. Seward, who quickly emerged as one of the major Republican leaders, had already had experience with such broadening tactics. As governor of New York in the early 1840s, Seward had alienated both his own Whig party and nativists by proposing that the state legislature fund parochial schools where the children of immigrants could "be instructed by teachers speaking the same language with themselves and professing the same faith." (After the Civil War, William M. "Boss" Tweed implemented the bilingual plan by changing New York city tax laws.)
In 1856 Seward, who often made explicit what Lincoln, a cannier politician, only hinted at, gave a speech to an audience made up largely of European immigrants in Oswego, New York, entitled "Immigrant White Free Labor or Imported Black African Slave Labor?" Seward warned white American workers and farmers:
Only grant now that this great end of the slaveholders can be attained, and you will need no argument to prove that African slaves will be found in the ports, not merely of New York, New Orleans, and Philadelphia, and in the fields of Kansas and Nebraska, but even in the ports of Oswego, Rochester, and Buffalo, and in the fields of Western New York, forcing the free white labor, equally of native Americans, and of Englishmen, Irishmen, and Germans, no matter whether they be Protestants or Roman Catholics, into Canada, Russian America, Australia, and wherever else throughout the whole earth, free white industry can find refuge.
In a single sentence, Seward manages to sum up the conception of Euro-America, the more inclusive successor to Anglo-America. The definition of "American" is no longer limited to Anglo-Saxon Protestants; Irish and German Catholics are welcome. But the color bar, in consequence of the relaxation of religious and cultural criteria, is all the more important; what unites "Americans" is the fact that, whatever their European origins, they are all white. What is more, America was consciously viewed by Seward, as early as the 1850s, as one of a number of white-settler countries, the others being "Canada, Russian America [Alaska], Australia, and wherever else" white labor was free from black or Asian competition.
As this suggests, the antislavery idealism of the Republican party permitted the Republicans to benefit from antiblack sentiment among foreign-born as well as native-born whites. The colonization of blacks in Liberia or Latin America was favored by Lincoln, among others; he believed that whites and blacks could not live together as equals. Like Lincoln, Harriet Beecher Stowe was a colonizationist; in her preface to Uncle Tom's Cabin, she hoped that blacks in the future, living in freedom, would look back on their American captivity -- from their new homes in Africa. In addition to removing the stain of slavery from the white American conscience, colonization, it was often suggested, would open up large regions of the postslave South, as well as the West, to settlement by white yeomen farmers. Strange as this idea seems today, the repopulation and "civilization," by northern white immigrants, of a South emptied of blacks by out-migration, was seriously considered by Republicans -- and when it finally took place, in the 1970s and 1980s, after the great black migration to northern cities, the South not only boomed economically, but became increasingly Republican in its partisan politics.
The defeat of the Know-Nothings by the Republicans, then, did not represent a defeat of racism by a supposed American tradition of universalist citizenship; rather, it represented merely the defeat of a less inclusive white racism by a more inclusive white racism -- the defeat of the Anglo-American definition of American ethnicity by a broader, Euro-American conception that could appeal to European immigrants. Irish immigrants, in particular, had an enormous stake in the idea that all whites -- whether of English descent or otherwise -- were superior to all nonwhites. In the Anglo-American United States, no one ever proposed expressly restricting Irish Catholic immigration -- though in 1716 a South Carolina statute had forbade immigration into the colony of "what is commonly called native Irish, or persons of known scandalous character or Roman Catholics." Even so, in the 1860 census, the white population was divided into "native," "foreign," and "Irish" -- suggesting that the Irish were a distinct "race."
In a sense the Know-Nothings were the last champions of Anglo-America. There was a certain patriotic logic in the attempt of "the American Party" to overcome the growing sectional divisions by uniting Anglo-Americans of all regions against a traditional ethnocultural foe: the European Catholic. The Anglo-American nativists can be condemned for various things, but not for abandoning the Ellis Island conception of America as a "nation of immigrants," or a Euro-American melting pot, because no such conceptions existed in their time. For better or worse, they were the true conservatives, heirs to the definition of Americans as Protestants of British descent.
The redefinition of true whiteness by the Republicans helped them. The Civil War, which destroyed Anglo-America, was not simply a war between Anglo-Americans; rather, it can be described without much exaggeration as a conflict between the Anglo-American South and a new Euro-American society emerging in the North. The northern armies were ethnically different from the southern, because of the substantial German and Irish contingents. The decision by Republicans like Seward and Lincoln to repudiate Anglo-American nativism in order to bring European immigrants into their political coalition reflected sound strategy. One third of the Union army had been born abroad.
Copyright © 1995, 1996 by Michael Lind