Friday, May 29, 2020

White Over Black

In the light of recent events, I've been looking at some of the materials from when I taught history, and the background to that from grad school classes. One important book was Winthrop Jordan's White Over Black: American Attitudes Toward the Negro, 1550-1812 (Penguin, 1969). And I've referred to it in several social media posts--so rather than keep repeating myself, I decided that it would be better to share my notes here. Please keep in mind that these are notes and forgive the grammar and short phrases.

Also from class, this poster is a little reminder: racism isn't new, it didn't end with the Civil War, and it wasn't confined to the southern states. A review like this can only scratch the surface--the book is well worth reading. So here we go.

The two platforms: every radical in Congress voted for Negro suffrage, Geary said in a speech there can be no possible objection to Negro suffrage

Ch 1, First Impressions: Initial English Confrontations with Africans shortly after 1550 English voyagers first reached West Africa, they found the natives different in appearance, religion, manner of living. Color was most obvious and immediate. Black and white had long been opposites with emotional and moral impact in England, thus the Africans were under an immediate disadvantage. There was also scientific curiosity, especially with discovery of other colors as in North America. Soon clear to most that it was not from sun or climate. Naturalistic explanations were challenged by Biblical readings; a few allowed God’s curse on Ham to be of color. Religious difference was easier to categorize–heathen. They were also viewed as “savage” or failing to meet English ideas of civilization; this led to much debate over whether this was inherent and alterable. Adding to this was discovery of chimpanzee (orang-outang) at same time, whose human resemblance arose further curiosity; linked to black men by perceived sexual wantonness (3-43).
Ch 2, Unthinking Decision: Enslavement of Negroes in America to 1700 there's no evidence that slavery was part of first English settlements in America or even intended, but it grew: the first blacks arrived in Virginia in 1619, 1640-60 evidence of enslavement, after 1660 evident in statute books. Not enough evidence to explain how and why this came to be. The New World placed pressures on traditional controls. Plentiful land, scarcity of labor, need for cash crops developed three systems: free wage labor, temporary servitude (most common in early settlements), and slavery. Common law was well behind social practice; although servitude was not practiced and liberty valued, its ground remained. Slavery had persisted through history in Iberian peninsula, Portugese explorers had captured Negroes for slaves, and some were sent to American settlements by 1550. Although English were prejudiced for liberty, American social and economic conditions called for some form of bound labor. New England had less demand for labor, but as early as 1638 there were slaves, but restricted to “strangers” or justified as punishment for crime and war captivity. In VA and MD, tobacco became a cash crop, requiring cheap labor. First stage, 1619 arrival of Negroes, after 1640 evidence that some were in slavery, and matter of law after 1660. By 1640 some are serving for life and posterity–others recorded as limited indenture; but all are considered suitable for field work while whites are not; enslavement and discrimination rise together in mutual cause and effect. 1664, English took over Dutch colonies, whether Negroes were slaves is not clear, but slavery flourished in New York. In the Carolinas it was deliberately started as a colony from Barbados. English distinguished themselves from others, and distinguished among the non-English, allowing Scotch and Irish a closeness, but not equality, while not allowing slavery, even for Catholics. Indians and Negroes seemed radically different. Consistent factors in slavery are economics, inability to struggle against English; attitude–heathen and thus not Christian, civilized, changing from religion to nationality, then complexion (44-98).

Part 2, Provincial Decades 1700-1755
Ch 3, Anxious Oppressors: Freedom and Control in a Slave Society a period of growth without appreciable opposition, part of increasing diversity that included Scotch-Irish, Germans. Negro population varied, 25% NC, 30% MD, 40% VA, 60% SC, but spotty in north: 15% NY, 8% Boston, RI 3%, NJ and PA 8%. In plantation of the south, legal confusion over status, giving rise to slave codes detailing status, compensation, patrols, militia; fear of rebellion was constant. Free Negro considered dangerous as potential fomenter of revolt, 1741 NY case shows assumption they were “more Negro than free”. Growing pattern, widespread before Revolution, that all were barred from social participation, restricting residence, voting (101-135).

Ch 4, Fruits of Passion: The Dynamics of Interracial Sex began almost immediately, rivaled revolts as source of tension; colonists and travel writers show that every social rank engaged in concern; enough similarity to allow desire and gratification, enough difference to make public aversion. A few legal interracial marriages occurred, mostly in New England, mostly of Negro men and lower-class white women; but prohibited in all southern colonies and MA, PA. But concubines were openly taken in south. SC writings open about passionate advances of Negro women, justifying their infidelity. Negro men and white women became source of tension during revolt rumors, probably representing more a reaction to fear than reality. Tendency to lump all mulattoes together as Negro socially and legally, a denial that the condition existed (136-178).

Ch 5, The Souls of Men: The Negro’s Spiritual Nature Christianity was universal in asserting need to care for all souls, conversion of slaves a source of tension for it implied a sameness, reducing distinct status of white; coupled with persistent idea that a Christian should not hold another Christian in slavery (well before 1729, all southern and 2 northern colonies had laws that baptism did not necessitate manumission); fears that conversion fostered rebellion or at least discontent. To many, they seemed too ignorant to educate, or at least a great challenge. Those interested in conversion first asserted, in response to chief obstacle, that it would make for better slaves by encouraging obedience to masters. Revolution began to erode ideas of social subordination, but it took some time for them to be seen as inconsistent with slavery–aside from Quakers and Judge Samuel Sewall, who wrote one of the earliest anti-slavery tracts, 1700, following a few Puritans who saw failure to offer the gospel as a most serious offense. New England, with few Negroes and powerful clergy, tended to accept them in churches; in south clerical influence was weak despite Anglican establishment (bishop in London). Conversion was also viewed as outsider meddling, which struck a growing sensitive point in the colonies. Around 1740, Great Awakening, intensity of personal conviction, beckoned Negroes (179-215).

Ch 6, The Bodies of Men: The Negro’s Physical Nature from 15th century on, travels and discoveries led to new information, and various races gained attention. Color was an early grouping characteristic as scientific description became popular. Initial distinctions were clearly of types, with no hierarchy socially; to some the ideas of Chain of Being and discovery of Negroes and apes at same time placed the two in association; although there was a barrier between human and beast and the Negro was clearly man to all. Origin and cause of appearance of Negro and Indian were cause of discussion that mixed Bible, observation, and speculation. Notable that whites presumes Adam to have been white; blackness itself became sufficient cause for categorization, and was easily picked up under American slavery. There is little, if anything, to suggest that anyone saw internal differences beyond tropical disease and sometimes ability to labor in hot climates (216-265).

Part 3, The Revolutionary Era 1755-1783
Ch 7, Self-Scrutiny in the Revolutionary Era after Great Awakening, growing awareness of American position, sense of destiny, diversity; consciousness of prejudices and awareness of race issues. Quakers first to protest slavery, as result of self-examination after 1754 French war, pushed by John Woolman, oppressive to both owner and slave, is unscriptural and inhumane, based on color and selfishness. Discovery of prejudice a widespread occurrence after 1760: Samuel Hopkins, Benjamin Franklin; emerging arguments that emancipation would reform, inverting justification that ignorance was reason for enslavement, thus examples such as Phyllis Wheatley. Environmentalism typical of Revolutionary changes of thought, a naturalistic growth, linked to ideology of natural rights (secularized God found in nature, not Bible, God not a judge but legislator, rights as members of humanity). In all, new scrutiny of society from Revolution meant that placid, unheeding acceptance was no longer possible (269-311).

Part 4, Society and Thought 1783-1812
Ch 8, The Imperatives of Economic Interest and National Identity forming workable, lasting political union most pressing issue after Revolution. Sectional division was major problem; by 1790 clear that slavery would survive only in south; DE, VA, MD uncertain, with other divisions there was no bloc. 1790's expansion of cotton whetted existing use of slaves. Slavery was issue in Continental army, Northwest Territory, Constitutional Convention. 1790 Congress met petitions against slave trade, resulting in sharpened sectional interests, awareness of explosive nature whose divisiveness was masked by tenuous compromise. After 1800 less disturbance until 1819-20 Missouri Compromise debates, period marked by search for national identity. Most of this based on English modifications rather than fusion, so African element neglected (315-341).

Ch 9, The Limitations of Antislavery with Revolution, all states ended slave trade but only two ended slavery; but it was clear that principles required abolition, making it matter of when and how. First secular society was Society of the Relief of Free Negroes... 1775. Federal power gave a point of attack, thus 1794 a group of societies began to lobby Congress, but the energy fell away soon after. One reason for decline was success: abolition in most of north by 1804; southern reaction was to restrict manumission; with Britain cast off a decline of natural rights philosophy as relevant; unwillingness to meddle with private property. Quakers notable among Christians who continued concern and carried it after emancipation, paying back wages, etc., to give special attention for having wronged, establishing schools. Others stressed humanitarian treatment, which also tended to undercut pro-slavery arguments, stimulated by awareness of abuses. Growth of romantic sentimentality a symptom of retreat from rational engagement of issue, leading to new extravagance in rhetoric (342-374).

Ch 10, The Cancer of Revolution failed to provide spark for abolition, but did start other revolutions, first among slaves. 1804, Haiti (St. Domingo) far more violent and long-simmering. Many early refugees to VA in 1793, with reports of insurrection, other southern states barred entry from West Indies. Little surprise to Americans, who felt that everyone yearned for freedom, but also as revealed in discussions about governing Louisiana Purchase, not all are able. Difficult to determine American rebellions, as wildest rumors were believed, but actual events suppressed to quell further unrest; most were small, isolated incidents. 1800 genuine rebellion in SC under Gabriel; Federalists seized as Jeffersonian plot; followed by others, subsided 1802. Effect to reinforce codes, weaken abolition (375-402).

Ch 11, The Resulting Pattern of Separation Gabriel’s plot a prime force, but not the turning point of new mood reflected in fugitive laws, restrictions on meetings. Increasing restriction on free Negroes in south, whose numbers increased rapidly: firearms, court testimony, vagrancy, meeting slaves, taxes, voting. Segregation emerged as new wall of division; noticeable break in churches with Allen and Jones (403-426).

Part 5, Thought and Society 1783-1812
Ch 12, Thomas Jefferson, Self and Society writings important because many read and reacted. Hated slavery, but thought Negroes inferior, especially mentally, but “moral sense” was equal (although he struggled with both, finding moral lapses a result of environment, and noted several gifted mentally). Conscious of his own guilt in slaveholding, his Notes on the State of Virginia speak of “unhappy influence” of slavery upon masters (429-481).

Ch 13, The Negro Bound by the Chain of Being sees fusion of Christianity and Newton, with world of cohesiveness, energy, systematic order. Mankind seemed untidy in such schemes. By end of 18th century, Great Chain of Being was popular concept; Linnaean classification was separate means of order. Great Chain used to give Negro lower status in slavery arguments; any principle of order was attractive those who saw society in turmoil. Samuel Stanhope Smith 1787 first American study of race: difficulty of determining separate human species is evidence that such was never the case, based on Linnaeus to support Genesis. Charles White, comparative anatomy in argument for inferiority, also supported multiple human origins (482-511).

Ch 14, Erasing Nature’s Stamp of Color the trait which attracted most attention. Samuel Stanhope Smith, 1787 and 1810 essays, gradual alterations in appearance from heat, which thickened skin and released bile, unfavorable locations also degenerated into savagery, distilled prevalent thinking. From here, “no jump at all” to idea that God intended whiteness; also claimed to see lighter skin on Negroes in America, that it would eventually become white. Benjamin Rush, environmentalism, color from leprosy as a result of poor diet, could infect whites, so separation required until cure found. Henry Moss, a white Negro appeared in Philadelphia 1795, studied by Rush and student Charles Caldwell; all the while overlooking growing literature on albinism in all races and animals. Continuing effort and presumption was that some had turned black, seeking to uphold Genesis with white Adam (imago Dei); to most it was adaptation for hot climate. 1813 William Charles Wells suggested a natural selection of blackness as protective from heat. Lull 1793-1807, environmentalism came to end with new discoveries that marked end of lull. Samuel Latham Mitchill, 1806, as yet unknown generative agency that produces and sometimes alters color, passed on through generations as possibility (512-541).

Ch 15, Toward a White Man’s Country colonization, beginning 1790's in VA, movement to rid state (if not nation) of blacks, failed more from enormity of task than lack of desire. Underlying concerns: emancipation would result in racial intermixture, seen as effort to maintain white purity of a people on a mission. Jefferson’s Notes suggest colonization. Some northern voices suggested it to ensure full equality (its other side that the white man’s country was not theirs); but anti-slavery in general did not find attraction. William Thornton, 1788, incompatible people who belonged separately. Samuel Hopkins, a means to Christianize Africa. By 1806 the movement faded away; international conflict rendered removal impossible, anti-slavery was fading, realization of obstacles including lack of massive support (542-569).

Ch 16, Exodus VA 1806 restrictions on manumission, debate shows underlying agreement that it would betray the Revolution, denying freedom because of a few or restricting rights to private property; but the decision to pass admitted the failure founded in fear of increase of free Negroes, representatives of freedom which slaves sought; guilt leading to animosity (573-582).

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