Thursday, January 27, 2022


Article Index

2. Anglo-Saxonism and Racial Superiority

Sixteenth century exploration brought Europeans face to face with people quite unlike themselves. Enlightenment philosophers and scientists, such as Linnaeus and Blumenbach, devised classification schemes to distinguish species and groups by their differences. By the nineteenth century, European and English scientists were busy measuring various parts of the human anatomy, hoping to establish a justification for their new racial-scientific theories about the origin and hierarchy of races.

In another kind of exploration, the English Reformation generated an enthusiastic interest in the country's Anglo-Saxon racial origins in early Teutonic tribes of Germany. The English admired the Teutons for their political institutions such as tribal councils and trial by jury, as well for their love of freedom, ferocity in battle, and racial purity. That Anglo Saxons were a superior race gained a foothold in English political philosophy, particularly in the different factions of the Whig party, and became a strand in the political philosophy of early American colonists, most notably Thomas Jefferson.

During the first half of the nineteenth century, the intellectual community in the United States was intrigued with the same racial theories that had taken hold in Western Europe. To Southern slave owners, American expansionist-minded politicians, and journalists who strove to inflame public opinion, those theories provided the evidence needed to justify the enslavement of blacks, the extinction of Indians, and the degradation of Mexicans.

Senator John C. Calhoun, speaking to Congress on the eve of the war with Mexico, expressed the feelings of many of his countrymen:

We have conquered many of the . . . tribes of Indians, but we never thought of . . . incorporating them into our Union. They have either been left as an independent people amongst us, or been driven into the forests. . . . [W] e have never dreamt of incorporating into our Union any but the Caucasian race--the free white race. To incorporate Mexico, would be . . . incorporating an Indian race; for more than half of the Mexicans are Indians, and the other is composed chiefly of mixed tribes. I protest against such a union as that! Ours . . . is the Government of a white race. The greatest misfortunes of Spanish America are to be traced to the fatal error of placing these colored races on an equality with the white race. That error destroyed the social arrangement which formed the basis of society.

The nation's leaders heeded Calhoun's sentiment. After crushing the outmanned Mexican army and dictating peace terms, the United States took only the upper, thinly populated half of Mexico, which included the land which is now California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, and parts of Utah and Colorado. It acquired, in short, much prized real estate without having to absorb too many dark-skinned mestizos.

By the end of the century the frontier had closed. The United States had prevailed in the Spanish-American war, taking the Philippines, Guam, and Puerto Rico and establishing the U.S. as a world military and colonial power. Ironically, large-scale world migration, this time from China and Japan, reversed direction as Asians sought refuge from war, economic depression, and Western colonialism. The Chinese came east to the United States, and the Japanese soon followed.