- Bind Us Apart: How Enlightened Americans Invented Racial Segregation by Nicholas Guyatt
Most Americans associate racial segregation with the Jim Crow South or with the antebellum urban North. Either way, the presumption holds that these were policies imposed by conservative and often reactionary politicians bent on upholding the prevailing racial order and rolling back Reconstruction-era reforms. In this smart and creative volume, British historian and Cambridge University lecturer Nicholas Guyatt argues instead that from the Revolutionary years through the Civil War, white liberals and reformers advanced notions of racial apartheid as a solution for their nation's woes. Baffled by the question of what to do with the early republic's large number of slaves or with the indigenous peoples just west of America's growing cities, progressives, Guyatt suggests, embraced racial separation as the answer, from Thomas Jefferson's advocacy of removal in his Notes on the State of Virginia to Abraham Lincoln's longtime support for African American colonization in Liberia.
Guyatt begins by returning to a familiar question, and usually one investigated by Jefferson scholars. Having announced that the United States was a revolutionary nation, and one based on equality and consent of the governed, how might policy makers square such egalitarian pronouncements with the fact that the nation was twenty percent black or that nonwhites inhabited lands coveted by white settlers? One initial answer, and indeed one often repeated in these pages, was for the country to move toward colorblind equality by engaging in interracial relationships. President Jefferson, who, of course, practiced this policy with his enslaved sister-in-law, Sally Hemings, once assured a delegation of Mohicans and Delawares that "You will mix with us by marriage" (144). Jefferson's hopes that white men might incorporate native women into Euro-American society by marriage has been analyzed by scholars at least since Bernard Sheehan in the 1970s. But Guyatt demonstrates how frequently these proposals were advanced by important politicians; among them was William Crawford of Georgia, a onetime secretary of war, and James Monroe's secretary of the treasury. Crawford's advocacy of the strategy was made so frequently that it was discussed in a British tract entitled Colonial Policy, and was briefly endorsed by the editor of the Virginia Argus.
When theory was put into practice, however, especially when the genders were reversed and the husband was an Indian, even New England reformers were aghast. While attending Connecticut's Cornwall School, an academy designed to educate those natives who embraced the tenets of "civilization," Elias Boudinot, a mixed-race Cherokee, fell in love with a local girl whose family had ties to the school. After their engagement became public, a mob that included the fiancée's brother torched the academy. Without abandoning their agenda of forced assimilation, white reformers increasingly began to argue that Native Americans had only once choice: relocate West, where the process of cultural adaptation could continue, or remain in the East and face extinction.
The flip side of this ideological coin was the deportation of black Americans to West Africa. Here too, proposals for colonization were preceded by discussions of [End Page 147] racial mixing. Jefferson's French acquaintance, the Marquis of Chastellux, writing in Mathew Carey's Columbian Magazine, remarked that as the "well-established commerce" between white masters and female slaves was so common in Virginia, it should actually be encouraged by the government so as to give rise "to a race of mulattoes, which would produce another of Quarterons, and so on until the colour should be totally effaced" (130–31). Not surprisingly, Jefferson declined to shed further light on a practice that every planter's wife knew existed. The result, Guyatt observes, was that antislavery activists increasingly turned to colonization as the most plausible solution.
Guyatt's lengthy discussion of the colonization movement becomes the heart of Bind Us Apart, and he does a superb job of pulling together the various strands of this often-misunderstood crusade. Having briefly toyed with the idea, William Lloyd Garrison broke with the...