Daily Class OutlineDaily Class QuestionsDaily Class Web LinksDaily Class Notes

Question for Discussion: What role does slavery
and racism play in America's emerging
"Empire  of Liberty"?

Reading: Loewen, pp. 137-154; Declaration of
Independence (web
); "What to the Slave is the
4th of July" (web)
; The Dred Scott Decision (web)

Daily Class Web Links

Slavery in America

African American Views of Slavery

The Geography of Slavery:

The Debate over Slavery in America

The American Civil War

Daily Class Outline

1. Anglo-European Cultural Values

2. Slavery in the Old South

3. The Spread of Slavery in the U.S.

4.   The Debate over Slavery

5. Reaction Paper to Douglass vs. Taney

6. The Meaning of the Civil War

7. Blacks and Whites in the South
after the Civil War

Daily Class Questions

1. What does Ken Burns mean when he says:

    "If we forget the great stain of slavery that  
     stands at the heart of our country, our
     history, our experiment--we forget who we
     are, and we make the great rift deeper and
     wider." (137)

2. Do you agree with Loewen that race is the
sharpest and deepest division in American Life?

3. Do you agree with Loewen that the struggle
over racial slavery may be the predominant theme
in American history? (139)

4. According to Loewen, "What are the twin legacies
of slavery to the present?" (143)

5. How do we reconcile Thomas Jefferson's assertion
that everyone has an equal right to "Life, Liberty, and
the pursuit of Happiness" and his enslavement of 175 human beings when the wrote the Declaration of Independence in 1776? (146)

6. How can we explain that the freedom the Texans
fought for in the war for Independence against Mexico
in 1835 and 1836 was, as Loewen notes, "the freedom
to own slaves"? (151)

7. Do you agree with Democratic politician Stephen Douglas who said in 1858: "In my opinion this
government of ours is founded on the white basis.
It was made by the white man, for the benefit of the
white man, to be administered by white men"? (154)

8. How does white supremacy and racism help explain Americans treatment of African slaves and American Indians?

9. If racism, racial hierarchies, and racial divisions dominate American history, why don't textbooks
address the larger reality of racism and its influence
on our history and society?

Daily Class Notes

"In my opinion this government of ours is founded on the white basis. It was made by
the white man, for the benefit of the white man,
to be administered by white men. I am opposed
to taking any step that recognizes the Negro
man or the Indian as the equal of the white
Senator Stephen Douglas, 1858
  (Loewen, p. 154)

"It is impossible for us to suppose these creatures [black slaves] to be men, because, allowing them to be men, a suspicion would follow that we ourselves are not Christian."
       French philosopher Montesquieu, 1748

"WE hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness -- That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed, that whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these Ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its Foundation on such Principles, and organizing its Powers in such Form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. "

Declaration of Independence

Loewen, "Gone With the Wind: The Invisibility of Racism in American History Textbooks," pp.

Do you agree with Ken Burns who said:

"The black-white rift stands at the very
center of American history. It is the
great challenge to which all our
deepest aspirations to freedom must
rise. If we forget that--if we forget the
great stain of slavery that stands at
the heart of our country, our history,
our experiment--we forget who we are,
and we make the great rift deeper."
(p. 137)

If Burns is right, then why do Americans continue to
deny the central importance of race and racism in
their history? Loewen argues that "race is the
sharpest and deepest division in American life
....that the struggle over racial slavery may be the
predominant theme in American history." (p. 139)
But there are those who argue that race and racial
division ended with the Civil Rights movement in
the 1950s and 1960s. But can America's over
two-hundred and fifty year history of racial slavery
really be erased in a mere generation? Can the
wounds of racism and the culture of racism really
be pushed aside in thirty years?

In this chapter, Loewen examines the larger
history of racism and its affect on American culture
and society. Examining high school history
textbooks in the twentieth century, Loewen finds
that up until the civil rights movement textbooks
denied the painful divisions created by slavery in
America. He argues that the "Gone with the Wind"
myth portrayed slavery as "a social structure of
harmony and grace that did no real harm to
anyone, white or black." (p. 140) The textbooks
were merely repeating the Southern myth of slavery,
which portrayed slavery as the white man's burden
to care for blacks, who could not survive without
such white support. Far from being a brutal and
evil institution, textbooks described slavery as the
duty of whites to protect their Black charges.
Loewen argues that the "Gone with the Wind" myth
reflects the very American racism that created and
supported slavery. But, of course, this myth
conceals this racism behind the myth of white

Looking behind the myths about slavery, Loewen
argues that slavery has left two major impacts on
American society today: 1) social and economic
inferiority that it conferred upon blacks, and 2) the
cultural racism it instilled in whites. (p. 143) But
what is the larger cause of the growth of slavery
and racism in American and European society? Loewen argues that the Europeans used racism
to justify "taking land from and destroying
indigenous peoples and enslaving Africans to
work that land." (p. 143) Finding the Americas
already settled by peoples they called "Indians," European governments and settlers declared
these peoples racially, culturally, and religiously inferior. The Native peoples did not, therefore,
have the right to continue to own and develop
their land, to practice their own culture and rule
their own societies, and to freely practice their
diverse religions. Arguing that God justified the settlement of the Americas by Europeans,
settlers used racism and ethnocentrism to
deny the Indians their basic rights as peoples.

But this raises a larger question. Having decided
that Indians were inferior and must be civilized
and controlled by white settlers, why didn't the
settlers enslave the Indians? Why did they import
African peoples all they way from Africa, causing
tens of thousands of Africans to die on the
passage to America in slave ships? In the early
years of European settlement in America, settlers
did try to enslave Indians and use their labor to
develop the resources and wealth of their
dispossessed lands. But this soon posed a
serious problem. Nearby Indians tribes whose
peoples had been enslaved would often attack
the colonies that had enslaved them. In addition,
during the numerous Indian wars and conflicts
between Indians and the growing European
colonies, Indian slaves often provided invaluable information that Indian war parties could use in
attacking the colonies. Finally, white settlers feared,
with some reason, that Indians tribes would retaliate
to whites enslaving Indians by themselves enslaving
whites. As a result of these serious problems
caused by enslaving Indians, European colonies
and settlers began to import African peoples to
work as slaves in the colonies. Unlike the Indians,
these African slaves would not understand the
local environment, have friendly Indian tribes to
free them, or pose a military threat to the colonies.

Given the long history of racism that justified
slavery and the dispossession of Indian land, why
don't high school textbooks discuss the centrality
of race in American history and society? We can
begin to answer this question by examining the
Founding Fathers attitudes toward slavery. The
larger problem high school textbooks face is
telling the story of the settlement of America in
terms of increasing progress, the spread of rights
and liberties, and the larger mission of America to
bring democracy and its values to the world.
Slavery and racism undermine this noble story,
and force Americans to look at an "uglier" side
of American history and society.

Patrick Henry is often celebrated for his "Give
me liberty or give me death" speech, but he
was a slaveholder. But Henry ordered "diligent
patrols to keep Virginia slaves from accepting
the British offer of freedom to those who would
join their side." (p. 146) For many slaves, the
promise of the Revolution was to be found by
fighting for the British, who offered them their
freedom and liberty. Patriots like Henry fought
for and won their freedom from Britain, but
refused to grant freedom to their slaves.
Recognizing the contradiction, Henry said: "I
am drawn along by the general inconvenience
of living here without them....I will not, I cannot
justify it." (p. 148)

Thomas Jefferson is even more a problem for
Americans who would argue that the history of
America is the expansion and growth of
freedom and liberty. Jefferson help draft the
Declaration of Independence, which declared that
"all men are created equal; that they are endowed
by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that
among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of
happiness." But Jefferson owned 175 slaves at
the time he wrote this. He later wrote that "blacks
and whites can never participate in society equally.
The attempt to do so will probably never end but
in the extermination of the one or the other race."
(p. 147) Jefferson had lived his life by exploiting
the labor of his Black slaves. His wealth, freedom,
and luxury were all dependent on denying to
Blacks the very liberty that he argued were the
rights of "all men." In fact, as the founder of the
Democratic party, Jefferson political legacy was
the creation of a white supremacist party that
dominated the South until the 1970s and 1980s.

Loewen now argues that it was the need to
expand slavery and the profits that slavery
generated that drove American imperial
expansion before the Civil War. Slaveholders
supported the wars of 1812, the Texas war for
Independence, and the war with Mexico.
American slaveholders wanted to push the
Indians off their land, create a larger buffer
between Indians and American slaves, and
expand their profits and wealth. In his debate
with Abraham Lincoln in 1858, Democrat
Stephen Douglas argued that "this government
of ours is founded on the white basis, it was
made by the white man, for the benefit of the
white man, to be administered by the white
men..." (p. 154) This is the larger argument for
American slavery and the American
dispossession of Indian lands.

But high school textbooks do not tell this story
about the expansion of American slavery and
racism. Even after the Civil War, textbooks deny
the larger contradiction between slavery and
freedom. Loewen argues that these textbooks
retell the "Confederate myth of Reconstruction."
The Confederate myth of Reconstruction that
after the Civil War Blacks dominated the
governments of the South and because "they
were too soon out of slavery...they messed up
and reigned corruptly, and whites had to take
back control of the state governments." (p. 156)
The larger myth portrays a much darker history
than this. Whites argued that because Blacks
were an inferior race, unfit for freedom, they
soon ran amok after the Civil War, raping white
women, looting, and acting like savage beasts.
Only when their old masters regained controlled
of Southern society and government did Blacks
finally get put back in their place, as second-class,
inferior, rigidly controlled subjects of the White
South. The textbooks don't describe how
Southern whites regained this control. They used
brutal violence, murder, and terrorism to drive
Blacks and Republicans from Southern state
governments and society. This violence and
terrorism will dominate Southern society until the

Loewen now raises an even more difficult problem: How can we explain the "nadir of American race relations between 1890 and 1920, when African Americans were again put back into second-class citizenship" throughout the United States? This
raises an even more interesting problem. Blacks
have more rights and freedoms in the South
between 1865 and 1890 they have between 1890
and 1965. What caused the almost complete loss
of Blacks rights in the South in the 1890s and the
early 1900s? Before the 1890s, Blacks could
vote, own businesses, and hope for a better future
in the South.

In the 1890s, fearing a growing alliance between
poor Whites and Blacks in the Populist movement, Southern political and economic elites
disenfranchised Blacks and convinced poor
Whites that their freedom and prosperity
depended on keeping Blacks in their place as
second-class citizens. Between 1890 and the
1910, thousands of Blacks were lynched
throughout the South. These lynchings and the
wider white violence and terrorism against Blacks
served as a warning to Blacks who would
challenge the growing "Jim Crow" South, which
would segregate Black and Whites, keeping
Blacks in their place and preventing Whites
from learning that Blacks were human beings
who deserved rights, freedom, respect, and
dignity. In order to force Blacks to accept their
lowly place as farm laborers and servants of
whites, Southern "whites attacked the richest
and most successful African Americans....so
upward mobility offered no way for blacks
but only made them more of a target." (p. 163)

But this violence and terrorism against Blacks
was not limited to the South. Loewen argues that
"it is almost unimaginable how racist the United
States became during and just after the nadir of
race relations" between 1890 and 1920.(p. 165) Loewen believes that it was during these years of massive white violence that "many African
Americans lost hope; family instability and crime increased." (p. 166) If Blacks were going to
denied an equal place in American society, why
should they work hard and hope and dream that someday that America would fulfill its promise to Blacks and recognize them as Americans, as
human beings, deserving the full rights and
freedoms granted to all Americans?

Only with the rise of the Civil Rights movement in
the 1950s and 1960s do Blacks challenge the
white racism, violence, and terrorism that had oppressed them since the 1890s. The Civil
Rights movement succeeded, in part, because it revealed the ugly reality of white racism and white violence. Martin Luther King and others challenged Americans to finally realize the larger dream of America--that all men are created equal--by recognizing and accepting Blacks as Americans.
This is what King meant when he said "I have a
Dream, it is a Dream deeply rooted in the
American Dream, that America will rise up and
realize the true meaning of its creed--that all men
are created equal." But does the ending of
segregation and white violence and terrorism
against Blacks in the 1970s and 1980s really
close the book on American racism?

The legacy of slavery and American racism still
live on. This legacy can be seen in continued
cultural racism by whites against people of color
and the continued denial to Blacks of social and economic equality. We cannot understand the
rising racial tensions and divisions in America
since the 1970s and 1980s without understanding
the larger impact of slavery and racism on modern American society. Since the 1980s, whites have increasingly blamed Blacks for their declining living standards and loss of opportunities. Using coded language, such as affirmative action, welfare
mothers, drugs and violence, and the decline of
the Black family, many whites believe that Blacks should stay in their place, as inferior, second-class citizens. Instead of demanding that American corporations and governments ensure good jobs
for all those American who want to work, Whites
tend to blame Blacks for their economic and social
ills. If we don't understand the history of American slavery and racism, we won't begin to understand
this response, or how to reduce this racial tension
and division. This is why the invisible history of
racism must be made visible.

© 2002 by Chris H.  Lewis, Ph.D.
Sewall Academic Program; University of Colorado at Boulder
Created 7 August 2002:  Last Modified: 5 Sept. 2002
E-mail: cclewis@spot.colorado.edu
URL:    http://www.colorado.edu/AmStudies/lewis/2010/slavery.htm
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