I’ve traditionally shied away from writing about the Founding Fathers and the American Revolution. I have preferred to research other parts of our history mainly because we know how it turned out. It set in motion a social revolution that has never ended in the Northeast.
The entire history of much of the United States, particularly the Northeast, can be summarized as a march toward ever greater amounts of liberty, equality, tolerance, individualism and rights at the expense of authority and social stability. The South, however, is a great exception to this trend. Southern culture went in the exact opposite direction and became more conservative between the Revolution and the War Between the States and also from Reconstruction to the Civil Rights Movement.
There is no reason to believe the inherent liberalism of the South would have eventually ended either slavery or segregation or given us abortion, gay marriage and open borders. Slavery went from being seen as a curse in Jefferson’s time to a positive good in Calhoun’s time. Similarly, the Jim Crow system was ferociously defended and elaborated right down until the end when it fell in the longest filibuster in the history of the Senate in 1964. Southern progressivism which rose in the early 20th century was cozy with the framework of segregation. It wanted good roads and an end to child labor, but also the passage of eugenic sterilization laws and the Virginia Racial Integrity Act of 1924. Woodrow Wilson resegregated the federal government for the first time since the Lincoln administration.
There are two truths here: historically speaking, American Nationalism has been a slippery slope toward the worst excesses of democracy, BUT the South has always been strangely resistant to the trend. The greatest expansions of liberty and equality in American history have been bitter sectional contests that have pitted the conservative and authoritarian South against the rest of the country.
How do we explain this? I would argue that these cultural differences can be traced back to deep in the colonial era and were on full display during the American Revolution and the American Founding. Instead of one American Revolution and American Founding, there were at least two Foundings which had different ideas about the future of the United States.
Let’s start with Thomas Jefferson who was by far the most important and influential of the Southern Founders. No one did more to shape the political outlook of generations of Southerners than Jefferson who along with Madison was the founder of the Democratic-Republican Party.
1.) Thomas Jefferson was a founder of “scientific racism.” Although Jefferson is best known for a single misinterpreted line in the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal,” he was a man of the Enlightenment who believed in the existence of racial differences within the human species. He was hardly alone in this respect as Voltaire, Hume, Kant and Montesquieu also believed in racial differences. Jefferson wrote at length about the subject in his Notes on the State of Virginia.
As the governor of Virginia, Thomas Jefferson’s revisal of the laws of Virginia in 1779 called for banishment of White women who had mulatto children from Virginia: “If any white woman shall have a child by a negro or mulatto, she and her child shall depart the commonwealth within one year thereafter. If they shall fail so to do, the woman shall be out of the protection of the laws, and the child shall be bound out by the Aldermen of the county, in like manner as poor orphans are by law directed to be, and within one year after its term of service expired shall depart the commonwealth, or on failure so to do, shall be out of the protection of the laws.” Jefferson was banishing mudsharks from the Old Dominion three years after writing the phrase “all men are created equal.”
Jefferson wrote in his Notes on the State of Virginia:
” … I advance it therefore as a suspicion only, that the blacks, whether originally a distinct race, or made distinct by time and circumstances, are inferior to the whites in the endowments both of body and mind. It is not against experience to suppose, that different species of the same genus, or varieties of the same species, may possess different qualifications. Will not a lover of natural history then, one who views the gradations in all the races of animals with the eye of philosophy, excuse an effort to keep those in the department of man as distinct as nature has formed them? This unfortunate difference of color, and perhaps of faculty, is a powerful obstacle to the emancipation of these people. Many of their advocates, while they wish to vindicate the liberty of human nature, are anxious also to preserve its dignity and beauty. Some of these, embarrassed by the question `What further is to be done with them?’ Join themselves in opposition with those who are actuated by sordid avarice only. Among the Romans emancipation required but one effort. The slave, when made free, might mix with, without staining the blood of his master. But with us a second is necessary, unknown to history. When freed, he is to be removed beyond the reach of mixture.”
He did not change his opinion on this issue.
Jefferson believed to the end of his life that blacks were racially inferior to Whites and once liberated had to be removed from the United States. Jefferson’s vision was a White Republic.
2.) Thomas Jefferson was a White separatist. This whole idea of creating a homogeneous White Republic does not trace back to Nazi Germany. On the contrary, this vision goes back to Jefferson and Virginia in the 1790s and was begun during the Monroe administration in the Early Republic.
“Yet the day is not distant when it must bear and adopt it, or worse will follow. Nothing is more certainly written in the book of fate than that these people are to be free. Nor is it less certain that the two races, equally free, cannot live in the same government. Nature, habit, opinion has drawn indelible lines of distinction between them. It is still in our power to direct the process of emancipation and deportation peaceably and in such slow degree as that the evil will wear off insensibly, and their place be pari passu filled up by free white laborers. “
“Perhaps the first chapter of this history, which has begun in St. Domingo, and the next succeeding ones which will recount how all the whites were driven from all the other islands, may prepare our minds for a peaceable accomodation between justice, policy and necessity, and furnish an answer to the difficult question Whither shall the coloured emigrants go? And the sooner we put some plan under way, the greater hope there is that it may be permitted to proceed peaceably to it’s ultimate effect. But if something is not done, and soon done, we shall be the murderers of our own children.”
He never changed his mind on the issue.
Jefferson went to his grave in 1826 as a White separatist. The Virginia legislature passed resolutions in 1803 and 1805 while Jefferson was president calling for the removal of free negroes from the United States. In 1816, the Virginia state legislature overwhelmingly endorsed colonization of free negroes in West Africa. Over the next few years, the legislatures of Maryland, Kentucky, Tennessee and six northern states followed Virginia’s example in endorsing colonization, as did the national governing bodies of the Presbyterian, Methodist, Baptist and Episcopal churches.
The American Colonization Society established Liberia on the coast of West Africa in 1821 with assistance from the federal government. Several slave states began to invest in Liberia. They organized themselves independently of the American Colonization Society and established colonies in an effort to transport free negroes to Liberia. Approximately 11,000 free negroes relocated before the movement ended. This was the reality of America as it existed when Thomas Jefferson and John Adams passed away.
3.) Thomas Jefferson was an Anglo-Saxonist. Thomas Jefferson strongly believed that the “liberty” he wrote about in the Declaration of Independence was the heritage of the Anglo-Saxon race:
“The ideal of Anglo-Saxon England that Jefferson believed in was a land of small political units and a land in which local rule prevailed in most concerns. …
“Anglo-Saxon studies represented no abstract academic exercise for Jefferson. When in the years from 1773 to 1776 he established first an American and then a European reputation, his arguments impressed upon his contemporaries the extent to which he believed that the Saxon government and way of life should become a model for the new America. His Summary View of the Rights of British America, published in 1774, suggested that the king should be reminded that in coming to America the emigrants from England had exercised the same natural right which “their Saxon ancestors” had left the woods of northern Europe and settled in England. Their mother country had exerted no claim on them in Britain, and there was nothing to distinguish the emigration of Englishmen to North America from that of the Saxons to England. Land in America, like land in Saxon England, should be completely free from feudalism.
It should come as no surprise that a large section of Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence echoed the old seventeenth century argument that a usurping king had taken away immemorial liberties, and in the months following the Declaration Jefferson clearly revealed the historically based Revolution he had in mind. In August 1776 John Adams told his wife about the work of the committee which he was suggesting inscriptions for the Great Seal of the United States. “Mr. Jefferson,” he wrote, “proposed the children of Israel in the wilderness, led by a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night; and on the other side, Hengist and Horsa, the Saxon chiefs from whom we claim the honor of being descended, and whose political principles and form of government we have assumed.” On the previous day Jefferson had written: “Has not every restitution of the antient Saxon laws had happy effects? Is it not better now that we return at once into that happy system of our ancestors, the wisest and most perfect ever yet devised by the wit of man, as it stood before the 8th century?”
The Declaration of Independence was personal for Jefferson because as an ardent Anglo-Saxonist he accused King George III and “our common kindred” who are “our British brethren” of being “deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity.” King George III was willing to incite slave insurrections, the “merciless inhabitants of our frontiers,” and unleash the Hessian mercenaries on his own people:
“Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.”
Strangely enough, we are told by idiots in the “mainstream” who have never read the Declaration of Independence that Americanism requires us to be “deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity.” We’re told that somehow our society as it now exists in the 21st century is what Jefferson the humane race realist, historicist, settler-colonialist, slaveowner, Anglo-Saxonist and racial separatist had in mind when he condemned King George III for being deaf to the power of blood ties.
Here is an excerpt from no less of an authority than Robert Middlekauff’s The Glorious Cause: The American Revolution, 1763-1789:
“What Americans thought and felt about the declaration’s “truths” which are presented as “self-evident” – that all men “are endowed by their creator with inalienable rights,” among them “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” – is not clear. There was no immediate discussion in public of these claims; nor was there of the contention that all men were “created equal.” Thomas Jefferson wrote those words and though at the time, and since, no great originality was attributed to them and to the substance of the declaration, the declaration may in fact have possessed more originality than anyone suspected.”
There is a long Yankee tradition that mainly goes back to Abraham Lincoln of misrepresenting Jefferson’s words in the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal” to justify any number of absurd social novelties that Jefferson would have certainly opposed, but anyone who has studied his life knows that what he meant by that was criticizing monarchy and aristocracy from the perspective of republicanism. He was saying that aristocrats aren’t born to lord it over the common man and was defending self government. This was related to his views that the Norman Conquest had corrupted England and the Americans were reasserting ancient Anglo-Saxon liberties.
“The declaration is usually understood as a restatement of the contract theory of John Locke, holding that those governing America from Britain broke the fundamental understanding defining their relationship with the Americans. The British ruler violated the contract repeatedly and finally drove the Americans to declare their independence but only after they were denied redress. The contention of the declaration is, as Americans had argued over the previous twelve years, that they were defending their rights and that they took the final step, declaring their independence, only after all other measures failed.
The document Congress approved on July 4 places most of the blame for the crisis on king and Parliament. Jefferson’s original draft indicted an additional oppressor – “our British brethren,” the people of Britain themselves. According to Jefferson, the British people, like their king and “their legislature,”
“have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity, and when occasions have been given to them, by the regular course of their laws, of removing them from the councils the disturbers of our harmony, they have by their free election re-established them in power. All this very time too they are permitting their chief magistrate to send over not only soldiers of our common blood, but Scotch and foreign mercenaries to invade and destroy us. These facts have given the last stab to agonizing affection, and manly spirit bids us to renounce for ever these unfeeling brethren. We must endeavor to forget our former love of them, and to hold them as we hold the rest of mankind, enemies in war, in peace friends. We might have been a free and a great people together; but a communication of grandeur and of freedom it seems is below their dignity. Be it so, since they will have it. The road to glory and happiness is open to us too. We will climb it in a separate state, and acquiesce in the necessity which pronounces an everlasting Adieu!”
Jefferson wasn’t making a Lockean argument.
On the contrary, he was accusing the British of being race traitors for inciting the slaves, the “merciless Indian savages” along the frontier and resorting to the use of Hessian mercenaries against the colonists who were of Anglo-Saxon blood. These “unfeeling brethren” had given “the last stab to agonizing affection” by resorting to such dishonorable tactics.
“Congress removed most of these denunciations of the British people and kept the king as the focus of rejection. It did, however, retain a reference to the British people as “our common kindred” and in keeping Jefferson’s description of them as “deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity” included them among the oppressors of America. In the opening of the declaration, as approved by Congress, the American people are described as dissolving “the political bands” which held them to another. Whether Congress intended to explain the decision to separate as something more than act by which a people rejected a prince who had violated the fundamental contract, it included the British people by retaining these phrases from Jefferson’s original draft.
Contrary to the long-standing judgments of historians, for many reasons the Jeffersonian draft is a much more powerful statement than the one finally approved by Congress. A rejection of one people by another once joined together by “love” is a great and moving event. It is made more affecting by the recognition that soldiers “our our common blood” had been dispatched to kill Americans. As the Jeffersonian version puts it, the Americans declared their independence only after “the last stab of agonizing affection.” There is in these lines a sense of betrayal, a sense that the Americans had been abandoned by their own kind, by their own blood, by brethren who had lost their capacity to honor justice and ties of affection, who had indeed become “unfeeling brethren.”
4.) Thomas Jefferson was a soft spoken, introverted autist who believed the Americans were the real Anglo-Saxons. Seriously, if Jefferson were alive today, he would be called a LARPer. There is also no doubt who in American politics are his modern day descendants. Scratch a disaffected White Nationalist and you will find an alienated Jeffersonian Democrat who no longer remembers his own heritage.
5.) Thomas Jefferson was a man of the people. Jeffersonianism has always been the bedrock of American populism. He was in favor of big government guaranteeing free land to the people in order to foster the economic independence he believed was the cornerstone of Free Government and his vision of an agrarian paradise in the West of self sufficient, virtuous republican farmers. This was nothing new as the American colonies had offered bounties of land seized from Indian tribes to encourage White settlement for generations. White males had always voted in South Carolina.
From Gordon S. Wood’s The American Revolution: A History:
“The individual ownership of property, especially landed property, was essential for a republic, both as a source of independence and as evidence of a permanent attachment to the community. Those who were propertyless and dependent – young men and women – could thus be justifiably denied the vote because, as a convention of Essex County, Massachusetts, declared in 1778, they were “so situated as to have no wills of their own.” In Europe, dependency was common because only a few possessed property. But, as one Carolinian wrote in 1777, “the people of America are a people of property; almost every man is a freeholder.” Jefferson was so keen on this point that he proposed in 1776 that the new commonwealth of Virginia guarantee at least fifty acres of land for every citizen.”
The Jeffersonian ideal was a White Republic of virtuous male property owners governing themselves. Economic independence was considered the foundation of liberty and so a wide and broad distribution of property was encouraged by expanding westward to create an “Empire of Liberty.” It was no accident that the South had few cities because Jefferson strongly wanted to avoid creating a landless proletariat of disaffected urbanites. This is why he was initially so opposed to Alexander Hamilton.
6.) Thomas Jefferson was a republican. The American Founders created a Republic that was a federation of smaller republics. Hence, the “United States of America.”
From Gordon S. Wood’s The American Revolution: A History:
“Republicanism intensified the radicalism of the “country” ideology that American had borrowed from opposition groups in English society, and linked it with the older and deeper European currents of thought that went back to antiquity. These classical currents of thought – essentially explanations for the decline of the Roman Republic – set forth republican ideals and values – about the good life, political health, and social morality – that have had a powerful and lasting effect on Western culture. …
By the eighteenth century these classical republican ideals had spread throughout western Europe and had become a kind of counterculture for many disaffected Europeans. In countless writings and translations, ranging from Charles Rollin’s popular histories of antiquity to Thomas Gordon’s translations of Tacitus and Sallust, eighteenth-century European and British intellectuals evoked the utopian image of an earlier Roman republican world of simple farmer-citizens enjoying liberty and arcadian virtue. Reformers everywhere saw this idealized ancient world as an alternative to the sprawling monarchies, with their hierarchies, luxury, and corruption that they had come to despise in their own time.”
Republicanism is not classical liberalism.
In a Republic, the general welfare of the whole is the supreme law and devotion to the common good is the supreme virtue. Although both republicanism and liberalism emphasize individual liberty, republicanism is not the same thing as the individual’s selfish pursuit of license. It was the “country ideology” and republicanism that fueled the Revolution:
“Republics demanded far more morally from their citizens than monarchies did of their subjects. Republics lacked all accouterments of patronage and power possessed by monarchies. If republics were to have order, it would have to come from below, from the people themselves, from their consent and their virtue, that is, from their willingness to surrender their personal desires to the public good. Much of the Revolutionary rhetoric was filled with exhortations to the people to act virtuously, telling them as Samuel Adams did, that “a Citizen owes everything to the Commonwealth.” Republicanism thus stressed a morality of social cohesion and devotion to the common welfare, or res publica. Several of the states in 1776 – Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Virginia – even adopted the name “commonwealth” to express better their identification with the seventeenth-century English revolutionaries and their new dedication to the public good.
Republican citizens, in short, had to be patriots. Patriots were not simply those who loved their country but those who were free of dependent connections. As Jefferson wrote in his Notes on the State of Virginia, “dependence begets subservience and venality, suffocates the germ of virtue, and prepares fit tools for the designs of ambition.” Hence the sturdy independent yeoman, Jefferson’s “chosen people of God,” were regarded as the most incorruptible and the best citizens for a republic. The celebration of the independent farmer in the years following the Revolution was not a literary conceit but an imperative of republican government.”
Nathaniel Macon of North Carolina, who was the Speaker of the House under President Thomas Jefferson, was nicknamed Ultimas Romanorum – “the last of the Romans” – and was thought in his day to be the embodiment of the ideal republican statesman. He was clear that “Mr. Jefferson’s democracy is of the White family.” Southern opinion was unanimous on this issue.
Gordon S. Wood notes how quickly all this was forgotten:
“All of these neoclassical dreams were soon overwhelmed by the egalitarian democracy that resulted from the Americans’ grand experiment in republicanism.”
The Southern Founders were united by the “country ideology” and republicanism. They were unanimous in their support of a White Republic. They believed in state sovereignty. Their views of the future of slavery ranged from it being a curse that would be solved through gradual emancipation and colonization to it was vital to the Southern economy and would be left in the hands of Providence. They were far from unanimous in their views of the basis of American rights.
Here is an excerpt from Robert Middlekauff’s The Glorious Cause: The American Revolution, 1763-1789:
“Formal sessions began on September 5. From that day until the Congress dissolved itself on October 26, two major questions occupied it: what was the basis of American rights and how should they be defended? Both questions were given to a committee which promptly began discussions which, it discovered, could not be brought to an easy agreement.
The debate on the basis of American rights, serious and informed as it was, had on one side a curiously detached quality, almost as if nothing had taken place between Britain and the colonies in the previous ten years. That “side” was represented by James Duane, John Rutledge, and Joseph Galloway, all three refusing to consider that colonial rights should be founded upon the laws of nature. Galloway indeed seemed unwilling to accept any part of the constitutional argument the colonists had made, announcing that “I never could find the Rights of Americans, in the Distinctions between Taxation and Legislation, not in the Distinction between Laws for Revenue and for the Regulation of Trade. I have looked for our Rights in the Laws of Nature – but could not find them in a State of Nature, but always in a State of political Society.” The political society he referred to was one defined by the British constitution, the common law, the colonial charters – and not the laws of nature. Galloway evidently recoiled from basing rights on nature for fear that such a flexible support might lead to independence. But recognizing the disposition of the Congress was to reject all Parliamentary authority and wishing to head off anything more extreme, he declared that all colonial rights might be reduced to one: “An Exemption from all Laws made by British Parliament, made since the Emigration of our Ancestors.”
Galloway probably did not believe in this formulation, and no one took it seriously. Most delegates saw no inconsistency in arguing that colonial rights rested, as Richard Henry Lee said, “on a fourfold foundation – on Nature, on the British Constitution, on Charters, and on immemorial Usage.” The “broadest Bottom, the Ground of Nature,” offered the most protection to the colonists, and Lee implied that the colonists might require such a defense against further encroachments. Jay, William Livingston, and Roger Sherman argued the same line to the satisfaction of the Congress, and on the day after the debate began the committee agreed that colonial rights were founded on the law of nature, the British constitution, and the colonial charters.”
This has all been conveniently forgotten as with so much else about the American Revolution and the American Founding. The basis of American rights was the law of nature, the colonial charters, the British Constitution and the customs and tradition or the organic development of the colonies.
John Rutledge, a man who was the President of South Carolina, didn’t even believe in natural rights. Most of the South Carolinians in the Congress agreed with Henry Laurens that Thomas Paine’s pamphlet Common Sense was an “indecent” piece of propaganda. South Carolina and Georgia were also later adamant the they would never ratify the Constitution unless it secured slavery.
The American Founding that our ancestors signed off on in the Constitution was a White Republic. It secured the capture and return of runaway slaves. The purpose of the Constitution was to “promote the general welfare” and to “secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.” By ourselves and our posterity, it did not mean the Indians were treated as foreign nations nor did it mean the entire human species as the Democrats believe it does today.
The “Indians not taxes” couldn’t be counted in the voting population of the states to apportion representation in Congress while the slaves were counted under the three-fifths ratio. The Constitution secured both slavery and Southern dominance of the United States all the way down until the Lincoln administration. President John Adams and his son President John Quincy Adams were both one termers while the Northern doughfaces in the 1850s – Franklin Pierce, Milliard Fillmore and James Buchanan – were Northern figureheads controlled by a Southern dominated party.
The United States had a glorious run when Southerners ran the Union. Thomas Jefferson negotiated the Louisiana Purchase. Andrew Jackson bullied Spain into surrendering Florida. It was Southerners who fought and won the Texas Revolution. It was James K. Polk aka “Young Hickory” who secured the Northwest and fought the Mexican War to secure Texas and the American Southwest. Future Confederate president Jefferson Davis urged President Pierce to send his friend James Gadsden to Mexico to negotiate the Gadsden Purchase which led to the acquisition of southern Arizona and New Mexico. Chief Justice Roger Taney ruled in the Dred Scott decision in 1857 that only Whites could be American citizens.
There had always been dissident minority in the Eastern states who opposed every bit of this from the beginning of the Union which even called the Hartford Convention to discuss New England’s secession from the Union in 1815 during the War of 1812. They had opposed the Louisiana Purchase, stalled the annexation of Texas for a decade and opposed the Mexican War all because territorial expansion was thought to further empower the South. They had interpreted the meaning of the American Revolution to abolish slavery in their own states and anti-miscegenation laws in Pennsylvania and Massachusetts. They had opposed Indian Removal under the tyrant Andrew Jackson. They were outraged by the Dred Scott decision for repealing the Missouri Compromise and denying that their black citizens, which was a custom that existed only in New England, were American citizens. These are the people who devoured Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin and believed every word of it. They agreed with Sen. William Seward of New York who was Lincoln’s future Secretary of State that there was a “Higher Law” than the Constitution. They only finally escaped from regional containment in 1861.
The reason American Nationalism has become such a negative force in this country and in the world at large is because it was usurped by Lincoln and his successors and its content and meaning shifted to the tradition of that regional pole. They have always been happy to tell you what Jefferson “really meant” in the Declaration of Independence even though their interpretation of it flies in the face of his entire life. Instead of the American Revolution being a struggle of our ancestors to establish their sovereignty and independence and to secure this land for their posterity, America has become a litany of the “sins” of our ancestors from the removal of the Indians to racism to slavery to white supremacy to segregation to patriarchy. It reads as one big indictment that demands guilt, damnation and penance and is a perspective and sensibility that is totally and completely alien to the Southern Founders.
By all means, celebrate the 4th of July and the generation who sacrificed so much to secure our independence, but remember that both the struggle and the meaning of that event was seen differently in Boston than it was in Charleston which it saw as “a city of notions.”