The WASP Version of History in the U S Essay

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Racism and the American Ideals

Racial divisions in 19th century American culture excluded African-Americans and Native Americans from the American ideals of liberty and inclusion on a fundamental level. The pushing off the land (and slaughtering) of the Native American tribes by the U.S. government was an exercise in Manifest Destiny (O'Sullivan 5), which later came to be expressed in terms of New Expansionism once the borders of the frontier were at their natural limits. And as for African-Americans -- they may have been freed by Lincoln in order to help the North win the war against the South, but inclusion was never really on the table: Jim Crow laws sprang up in the South and racism continued to be expressed in terms of segregation and mob violence. Liberty was for the WASPs (White Anglo-Saxon Protestants), the ruling elite of the political, economical and social establishment. No amount of noble sounding words from Lincoln or petitions from Native American leaders, or words of wisdom from men like Frederick Douglass could assuage the underlying current of racism that the WASP ruling class embodied in its pursuit of the idea of Manifest Destiny (the notion that it was God's will that they rule the New World). This paper will discuss how liberty and inclusion was meant only for these elites and how others had to fight for it in America, where the promise of liberty was meant to be for all but was really just lip service to an 18th century Romantic-Enlightenment era ideal that was not really embraced by the deeply entrenched ruling class of the U.S.

The Emancipation Proclamation, which freed the slaves to leave the South and join the Union army, was a serious blow to the strength of the South, where slavery had been institutionalized for many years. Free black men like Frederick Douglass, who had escaped to freedom prior to the Civil War and who penned an autobiography which became a popular best seller, had campaigned for abolition. He cultivated through his writing an African-American identity that challenged the status quo trumpeted by the WASP establishment. This was one example of how African-Americans had to fight for inclusion and for liberty in the Land of the Free and Home of the Brave. It was not granted to them, even though the Declaration of Independence seemed to recognize that all men were equal and possessed liberty by their natural right. Men like Douglass knew better: they knew that such Declarations were the soul of hypocrisy in America, as they did nothing for the actual issue of slavery, which was only finally abolished because Lincoln saw no other way to turn the tide of the war.

With works by Douglass in hand, activists formed the American Anti-Slavery Society and movements such as these had an impact on American thought, as the disposition towards the continuation of slavery became violent in some cases (Nat Turner's rebellion for instance -- or the campaign led by John Brown). Women and blacks (free and slave) gave voice to the abolitionist movement. Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth were two famous women who supported the movement through their writings and activism. Julia Ward Howe was another: she wrote "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" which was set to the tune of the popular ballad "John Brown's Body," written in memoriam of the man who attempted to end slavery by staging a coup. This anthem ended up becoming a rallying voice for the Union troops, as they sang it during marches.

Yet, the WASP establishment refused to really ever accept African-Americans or Native Americans into the fold. Pontiac's "Speech at Detroit" is one example of the reality of the situation, as he chastised his people for embracing the ways of the white man (who was trying to kill them) and turning their backs on their own traditions: "My children, you have forgotten the customs and traditions of your forefathers. Why do you not clothe yourselves in skins, as they did, and use the bow and arrows, and the stone-pointed lances, which they used? You have bought guns, knives, kettles, and blankets, from the white men, until you can no longer do without them; and, what is worse, you have drunk the poison fire-water, which turns you into fools" (Pontiac 21). That Pontiac identified as a Frenchman in this same speech only goes to show
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to what extent the WASP identity was a British Protestant one. (The French were also fighting the British and their religion was not Protestant but Catholic). Thus, when Pontiac stated, "I am a Frenchman, and I wish to die a Frenchman; and now I repeat to you that you and I are one," (Pontiac 21) it was clear that what united them into one identity was their common enemy -- the WASP, who saw to it that none should be equal or free but members of the same ruling class.

Ben Franklin described the Native American in simplistic terms thus: "The Politeness of the Savages in Conversation is indeed carried to Excess, since it does not permit them to contradict or deny the Truth of what is asserted in their Presence; By this means they indeed avoid Disputes, but then it becomes difficult to know their Minds, or what Impression you make upon them." This was Franklin's assessment of the genuineness of the Native American -- yet it was full of that same WASP sensibility that led him to think his own kind superior to others. Franklin was a WASP through and this is evident in the rest of his letter regarding the nature of the "savages": "The Missionaries who have attempted to convert them to Christianity, all complain of this as one of the great difficulties of their Mission: The Indians hear with Patience the Truths of the Gospel explain'd to them, and give their usual Tokens of Assent & Approbation: You would think they were convinc'd. No such Matter. It is mere Civility." Franklin could not grasp how the Native American's civility was indeed a virtue: he saw it rather as a stumbling block. Yet this stumbling block was rooted in his own idea of liberty and inclusion being something only made for elites like himself -- men like Washington and Jefferson.

As Reginald Horsman notes, Thomas Jefferson had wanted all along a Saxon model of government (Horsman 21), and he related America's coming into being to "the children of Israel in the wilderness, led by a cloud by day and pillar of fire by night" (Horsman 22). The religiosity (and Romanticism) with which the forefathers saw themselves fed right into the coming concept of "manifest destiny," a white Anglo-Saxon Protestant (WASP) idea from the start: the concept that Americans were somehow akin to God's chosen people and that the world was theirs for the harvesting. Thus, Frederick Douglass could write in his autobiography the following: "The slave prison and the church stand near each other. The clanking of fetters and the rattling of chains in the prison, and the pious psalm and solemn prayer in the church, may be heard at the same time. The dealers in the bodies and souls of men erect their stand in the presence of the pulpit, and they mutually help each other" (Douglass 240). Douglass understood that there was an intimate connection between the religion of the WASPs and the practices which they engaged in that kept others suppressed. This so-called "scientific fact" that the WASP based his racist beliefs upon was based on nothing other than racial prejudice, and this prejudice was institutionalized by cases like the Plessy v. Ferguson "separate but equal" decision, which the U.S. Supreme Court upheld in 1896 (Groves 66). The WASP culture which invented the idea of "manifest destiny" also invented the "scientific facts" which were used to oppress, enslave, and (when freed) oppress again through "Jim Crow" laws.

Indeed, the political and social view of the race problem was summed up "in an extremely popular work on Negroes and slavery published in 1853, [by] New York physician John H. Van Evrie [which] erased all racial, national, and class distinctions among Caucasians in order utterly to condemn the blacks" (Horsman 135). The "colored races" according to Van Evrie "were capable of only limited development" -- and therefore the seeds of the policy that would become known first as eugenics and then as "population control" were sewn. But this wasn't all. More literature found its way into the hands of the reading public on the heels of Van Evrie's treatise: Josiah C. Nott and George R. Gliddon produced a racist work that explicitly put the problem of race and class on the shoulders of the Negroes themselves: "In four thousand years, the authors argued, the Negroes had not advanced a single step from their savage state" (Horsman 136). Of course, the Negro was not the only race that failed to rise to the levels of the WASP in their estimation: the American Indian was just as poor. This…

Sources Used in Documents:

Works Cited

Crevecœur, J. Hector St. John de. Autobiography. Gutenberg. Web. 26 Feb 2016.

Douglass, Frederick. Narrative of the Life. Web. 26 Feb 2016.

Franklin, Ben. "Remarks concerning the Savages of North America." Web. 26 Feb

2016.

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