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Contrary to the current anti-White narrative, racial-nationalism formed a significant opposition to American empire-builders, more than once preventing the incorporation of territories with large non-White populations into the United States.
With regard to historical explanation, racial ideology fails to describe the course of policy formation as well as the behavior of the imperialists. Between 1865 and 1900 the United States tried to acquire Alaska, the Midway Islands, the Dominican Republic, Hawaii, the Philippines, Guam, and Puerto Rico. Until 1898, even though the prerequisite racial ideology existed, every attempt it made to purchase or annex territories populated by significant numbers of non-White peoples failed. Race was central to each incident: the vital optic for nearly every participant and witness. Though both sides in the debates over empire shared an unshakable faith in “White supremacy,” in each episode race ideas were used most openly, aggressively, and effectively by the enemies of imperialism. (Both pro- and anti-imperialists, Christopher Lasch explained, “saw the world form a pseudo-Darwinian point of view. They accepted the inequality of man — or, to be more precise, of races — as an established fact of life….”) More significant, in each instance, while policies were being formulated and treaties were in Congress and before the public, the imperialists worked to avoid the subject of race. Put simply, references to social Darwinism, Anglo-Saxonism, benevolent assimilation, and the “White man’s burden” — language on which the dominant narrative depends — do not appear at the center of the expansionist’s discourse. Their silences were conspicuous and revealing, and the reasons for them can easily be discerned.
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These foundational notions only gained strength over generations. The Society for the Colonization of Free People of Color and other groups that linked emancipation with colonizing former slaves abroad acted from the same impulse: a vision of a nation free of racial contrasts. In 1857, Chief Justice Roger Taney, in the majority opinion of the Dred Scott case, was speaking from a commonly held belief when he wrote that slaves and their descendants “had more than a century …been regarded as beings of an inferior order and altogether unfit to associate with the White race, either in social or political relations,” that they were considered “so far inferior that they had no rights which the White man was bound to respect.” To Taney’s reckoning as well as the Court’s majority, this was the Founder’s intention: Blacks were not men, much less citizens of the United States. The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution applied to Whites exclusively. The following year from a stage in Galesburg, Illinois, Senator Stephan Douglas declared that “this Government was made by our fathers on the White basis …made by White men for the benefit of White men and their posterity forever.” Thinking ahead to the post-war social order, President Lincoln plotted with Congress and the State Department to revive the old colonization scheme. In 1862, he told a delegation of Black leaders that it was for their own good if they separated from Whites and allowed themselves to be removed to another country, “in congenial climes, and with people of their own blood and race.” We see here that at least until the middle years of the Civil War, Lincoln’s vision was of a White nation. This idea remained a powerful force through the remainder of the century.
The conviction that the United States was a White nation folded naturally into its expansion. Herein lies the third assumption: the overwhelming majority of Americans believed that territorial expansion should be for the principal if not exclusive benefit of Whites. White interests served as perhaps the most compelling rationale and justification for all species of territorial acquisition. It acted as a kind of shorthand for expansion: the unanswerable response to almost any question regarding who had the superior claim to the land. The belief that Whites possessed the ultimate entitlement to the West was cast in both secular and religious terms. The principle at work was both simple and direct: the people, the nation, the race that could draw the greatest production from the land had the superior right to possess it. Such a belief could only work in favor of White desires. [In reality, this is a very weak and basically non-racial idea, ill-suited to serving White interests. If someone else could demonstrate the ability to achieve “greater production,” then Whites should give the land to them. It’s an ominous example, actually, of Whites feeling the need to hide their pursuit of what is best for the race. — NV Ed.] In their eyes, history, technology, every objective measure of comparative productivity, and race science… provided self-evident proof of White superiority over the savage races. Indian removal, both before and after the Civil War, can be understood in this light. Frequently, this was cast as the expression of divine will. “The White race [are] a land-loving people,” Senator Thomas Hart Benton said in 1843. Whites had the right to conquer new space “and possess it,” he declared, “because they used it according to the intentions of the Creator.” This racial impulse was “founded in their nature and in God’s command,” he said, “and it will continue to be obeyed.” [This is much better, and one can even interpret it in Cosmotheist terms. — Ed.]
Just beneath these examples, we can begin to glimpse, perhaps ironically, sentiments and convictions that would circumscribe American territorial expansion. First, the land that was taken had to be put to good use: taken, in other words, with the purpose of working and developing it, drawing wealth from it. Acquiring new territories also had political consequences. Because of its anti-imperial, anti-colonial roots and the requirements of its Constitution (as well as its silences), the majority conviction was that the United States could not hold land or govern its inhabitants in a colonial relationship. Therefore, any land the nation annexed had to be incorporated into the Union. [And therefore, areas already possessing a large non-White population were poor candidates for inclusion in the Union, as they would racially stain it. — Ed.]
Race informed these assumptions at every stage. According to popular belief, tradition, and history, expansion assumed a predictable course: New, contiguous territories would be occupied, settled, and improved by Whites. In a period of time, the new territories would organize politically, and after achieving a prerequisite stage of self-government, they would approach the United States voluntarily and request admission into the Union. Once accepted into the Union, the new states’ White occupants would be granted full citizenship. They would enjoy equal rights, protections, and privileges under the law. They would have two senators and proportionate representation in Congress. This assumption, grounded in race, would frame debates over empire throughout the nineteenth century; as noted before, there was never a time when race was not a source of uncertainty, a daunting massif in the way of imperialists.
— based on an excerpt from Race over Imperialism: Racism and U.S. Imperialism, 1865-1900 by Eric T. Love (2004)