restricted access 23 Race and Manifest Destiny: The Origins of American Racial Anglo-Saxonism
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23 Race and Manifest Destiny: The Origins of American Racial Anglo-Saxonism REGINALD HORSMAN By 1850 American expansion was viewed in the United States less as a victory for the principles of free democratic republicanism than as evidence of the innate superiority of the American Anglo-Saxon branch of the Caucasian race. In the middle of the nineteenth century a sense of racial destiny permeated discussions of American progress and of future American world destiny. Many think of rampant doctrines of Caucasian , Aryan, or Anglo-Saxon destiny as typical of the late years of the nineteenth century , but they flourished in the United States in the era of the Mexican War. The contrast in expansionist rhetoric between 1800 and 1850 is striking. The debates and speeches of the early nineteenth century reveal a pervasive sense of the future destiny of the United States, but they do not have the jarring note of rampant racialism that permeates the debates of mid-century. By 1850 the emphasis was on the American AngloSaxons as a separate, innately superior people who were destined to bring good government , commercial prosperity, and Christianity to the American continents and to the world. This was a superior race, and inferior races were doomed to subordinate status or extinction. This new racial arrogance did not pass unnoticed at the time. A minority frequ ~ntly asked why the American Anglo-Saxons could so easily read God's intentions for mankind, and some, unkindly but accurately, pointed out that there was no "Anglo-Saxon race"; England clearly contained a mixture of peoples, and the white population of the United States was even less homogeneous. The religious orthodox had the additional problem of reconciling the idea of a superior separate race with the biblical notion of one human species descended in just a few thousand years from Adam and Eve through Noah. But the logical inconsistencies and contradictions were ignored. Even the critics of the new assumptions of peculiar racial destiny acknowledged that the idea had caught the political and popular imagination, and even the opponents of a vigorously expansionist foreign policy cast their arguments in racial terms. The origins of this American rejection of other peoples have to be sought both in Europe and the United States. In one respect the new assumptions stemmed logically from a whole trend toward racialist thinking in Western thought in the first half of the nineteenth century . The ideas of superior and inferior races that permeated American thinking about continental and world mission also often permeated the thinking of the English and of western Europeans in general by the mid-nineteenth century. When Gobineau published his Reprinted by permission of the publisher from RACE AND MANIFEST DESTINY by Reginald Horsman, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, Copyright © 1981 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. Copyrighted Material 140 Reginald Horsman work on the inequality of the human races in 1854, he was summarizing and amplifying more than half a century of ideas on race rather than inaugurating a new era. It is impossible to understand why the United States viewed its international role racially by 1850 without understanding why the European nations had also come to think of themselves in racial as well as political terms. But the United States had a history that gave a particularly fervent and unique quality to the arguments of special racial destiny and accentuated the rate at which a racial explanation of world power was accepted. Since the seventeenth century the idea of the Americans as a "chosen people" had permeated first Puritan and then American thought. It is not uncommon for a people to think of themselves as chosen, but it is much rarer for a people to be given apparent abundant empirical proof of God's choice. God's intentions were first revealed in the survival and prosperity of the tiny colonies, elaborated by the miracle of a successful revolution against the might of Great Britain, and confirmed by a growth that amazed the world in the sixty years after that conflict. When religious fervor assumed a less central role in America, it was succeeded by the political fervor of a successful revolution. If the continent had been empty and colonized only by white Europeans, the remarkable success of the United States would have still made it a rich breeding ground for the new racial thought of the nineteenth century; but it was neither empty nor exclusively white. In the first half of the nineteenth century many...