Review of Horsman's Race and Manifest Destiny
|Book: Race and Manifest Destiny: Origins of American Racial Anglo-Saxonism|
ZNet Book Page
Publisher: Harvard University Press
ISBN: 13: 978-0-674-94805-1
In Race and Manifest Destiny: Origins of American Racial Anglo-Saxonism, Reginald Horsman successfully explains the origins and development of American racism which led to the ideology of Manifest Destiny. This is an important book which helps establish a historical context of American notions that still exist today: including American exceptionalism, and self-righteous notions of spreading democracy, freedom and supporting human rights.
According to Horsman, the racialism that permeated American debates towards African Americans, American Indians, and Spanish Americans (Latin Americans) took a drastic turn during the period of 1815-1850 (Horsman, 2). Furthermore, while this American racialism and consequent rejection of other peoples finds its origins in both European as well as solely American traditions, this was exacerbated by the realities of the early to mid 19th century when American intellectuals provided the necessary “scientific” evidence to explain and justify the harsh realities of the enslavement of black peoples, the expulsion and extermination of the indigenous populations, and finally the conquest and annexation of Mexican territory (Horsman, 300).
The English men and women who began settling in North American in the early 17th century brought with them the British myth of a pure
This emphasis on the uniqueness of their racial ancestry left both Americans and Britons extremely susceptible to racial explanations for their apparent success as opposed to stressing the significance of their “great” institutions. (Horsman, 24) However, the generation of American Revolutionaries limited the myth of the Anglo-Saxons to internal struggles—by justifying their revolution in terms of opposing an unjust, corrupt, royal dominion (Horsman, 62). In addition to this excitement of new American republican institutions, the Enlightenment’s emphasis on the general human capacity for progress “forced” the majority of Americans to emphasize the greatness of their institutions (and those of the British—second only to the
By 1850 however, American intellectuals, politicians, and the masses overwhelmingly spoke, believed and explained their countries success in racial terms. American ideology had shifted from an emphasis on superior institutions to dominant racial characteristics. This was in part due to another cultural transformation in the late 18th and early 19th century with the shift and influence of Romanticism—emphasizing uniqueness, individuals and peoples, emotions, and imagination. This created what the Germans called Volkgeist—a unique special national spirit which confused race, language and nation into Racial Nationalism (Horsman, 26). As important as racial nationalism was in influencing American ideology, the realities of American greed, aggression, the exploitative and oppressive institution of slavery, as well as the need to slaughter and expel the indigenous populations, necessitated a racialist ideology in order to justify such cruel policies. Similarly, Reginald Horsman illustrates how “If slavery was to continue then it became essential to demonstrate that the fault lay with the blacks, not the whites” (Horsman, 100). As a result, intellectuals would begin to stress racial differences responding to the needs of American society (Horsman, 116). Hosman argues that by the 1850s polygenesis, though contested (by some elements of the church, some intellectuals, and some abolitionists) became accepted by most of the intellectual community—the “scientific” evidence for Anglo-Saxon superiority—explained why blacks were enslaved, why Indians were slaughtered, and justified the annexation of Mexican territory to spread (in an abstract sense) democracy and American virtue across “empty” lands (Horsman, 137).
As strong believers in racial superiority gained power in the Unites States the needs of westward expansion and Indian expulsion were met. Furthermore, the slaughtering of Indians was justified because of the belief in their inferiority and inevitable extinction. By the 1830s the majority of Americans no longer believed that non-whites could be assimilated into American society, nor could American institutions be taught to, or maintained by, inferior peoples like the Spanish Americans. In other words, it was the destiny of the Anglo-Saxons to be free, prosper, and eventually conquer or exterminate the inferior races.
However, this acknowledged racial hierarchy presented some challenges to the expressed American Destiny (or Manifest Destiny). The “Caucasian” race was recognized as the superior in the world; among the Caucasians the Germans were considered the most talented; and of the German descendants, the American and British Anglo-Saxons were considered the most gifted (Horsman, 43). This meant that there was an American recognition of “equal” (and in reality more powerful economic and military powers) which presented a challenge to American Destiny. By the 1820s this belief in American superiority convinced some policymakers to declare their challenge to the old European order.
Furthermore, the Monroe Doctrine can be interpreted as a declarative response to the European challenge of the inevitable American “sphere of influence.” As
The racialist premises of
Horsman’s book is an indispensable look at the origins of American racism and imperialism. This is an important book for those interested in both