Monday, January 16, 2012 26 Comments

Race relations in early New York

The only way to visit 19th-century America is with a European traveler. There have always been Americans who wrote of America - sometimes their spelling and grammar is quite strong. Toward the end of the century, some are almost trustworthy. Even the staples of the high-school reader - Twain, Melville, Hawthorne, and so on - are not at all to be sneered at. And then, of course, there are the Confederates. I don't think it's possible to call a man informed if he's never read a book by a Confederate.

But broadly speaking, receiving America from the American pen is like receiving, say, Turkey, from the Turkish pen. The Turkish Turkey is an amazing country which ought to exist. For the real Turkey, one is better off with Paul Theroux. I'm becoming increasingly respectful of these national fantasies and could easily be convinced that, in some ways, they are more important than reality. Indeed, since the world has become America, we can only receive America from the Americans. Everyone educated in 2012 is educated as an American. There is certainly no Europe to shed external light on our epistemic struggles. Hence the daily grapple with narrative's morass. Happy Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, everyone!

But that is now and this was then. Though Mrs. Trollope has her fans, I don't think it's disputed by any serious reactionary that the our two best sources in the early 19th century are Captain Hall and Captain Hamilton (Navy and Army respectively). So far as I know, neither was Jane Austen's boyfriend, but both would have fit perfectly in her drawing-room. If the millions of ordinary Americans who lost their hearts to Emma Thompson in Sense and Sensibility knew what that society made of theirs (never mind what it would have made of ours), faint ripples of doubt might shimmer lightly across their television pictures.

As now, in the early 19th century thinking men came in two schools of thought: enlightened racists and ignorant communists. Did I say that? I meant, of course, ignorant racists and enlightened progressives. This is Dr. King's day, so I feel it would be inappropriate to excerpt Captain Hall - who, alas, is a bit of a racist. He didn't know any better. I'm sure Stephen Jay Gould could have set him straight.

But Captain Hamilton comes to America and finds... credible evidence of human neurological uniformity! Which claims him at once as a believer. And who doesn't want to believe? Hey, a neighbor's gotta have faith in something.

It's true that Captain Hamilton's terminology is a little out of date, but we can ascribe this failing to the absence of Dr. King's redemptive powers - like forgiving Plato for not being a Christian. It would be difficult to describe our author as a politically correct progressive in the 20th-century sense (ie, as a communist), but there is a definite and delightful odor of mild, pre-Reform Bill Whiggery in his advanced opinions.

But - I describe too much. We'll let the Captain take it away. Thomas Hamilton, Men and Manners in America, 1833:
It has often happened to me, since my arrival in this country, to hear it gravely maintained by men of education and intelligence, that the Negroes were an inferior race, a link as it were between man and the brutes. Having enjoyed few opportunities of observation on people of colour in my own country, I was now glad to be enabled to enlarge my knowledge on a subject so interesting.

I therefore requested the master to inform me whether the results of his experience had led to the inference, that the aptitude of the Negro children for acquiring knowledge was inferior to that of the whites. In reply, he assured me they had not done so; and, on the contrary, declared, that, in sagacity, perseverance, and capacity for the acquisition and retention of knowledge, his poor despised scholars were equal to any boys he had ever known.

"But, alas, sir!" said he, "to what end are these poor creatures taught acquirement, from the exercise of which they are destined to be debarred, by the prejudices of society? It is, surely, but a cruel mockery to cultivate talents, when, in the present state of public feeling, there is no field open for their useful employment. Be his acquirements what they may, a Negro is still a Negro, or, in other words, a creature marked out for degradation, and exclusion from those objects which stimulate the hopes and powers of other men."

I observed, in reply, that I was not aware that, in those States in which slavery had been abolished, any such barrier existed as that to which he alluded. "In the State of New York, for instance," I asked, "are not all offices and professions open to the man of colour as well as to the white?"

"I see, sir," replied he, "that you are not a native of this country, or you would not have asked such a question." He then went on to inform me, that the exclusion in question did not arise from any legislative enactment, but from the tyranny of that prejudice, which, regarding the poor black as a being of inferior order, works its own fulfilment in making him so. There was no answering this, for it accorded too well with my own observations in society, not to carry my implicit belief.

The master then proceeded to explain the system of education adopted in the school, and subsequently afforded many gratifying proofs of the proficiency of his scholars. One class was employed in navigation, and worked several complicated problems with great accuracy and rapidity. A large proportion was perfectly conversant with arithmetic, and not a few with the lower mathematics. A long and rigid examination took place in geography, in the course of which questions were answered with facility, which I confess would have puzzled me exceedingly had they been addressed to myself.

I had become so much interested in the little party-coloured crowd before me, that I recurred to our former discourse, and inquired of the master, what would probably become of his scholars on their being sent out into the world? Some trades, some description of labour of course were open to them, and I expressed my desire to know what these were. He told me they were few. The class studying navigation, were destined to be sailors; but let their talents be what they might, it was impossible they could rise to be officers of the paltriest merchantman that entered the waters of the United States. The office of cook or steward was indeed within the scope of their ambition; but it was just as feasible for the poor creatures to expect to become Chancellor of the State, as mate of a ship.

In other pursuits it was the same. Some would become stonemasons, or bricklayers, and to the extent of carrying a hod, or handling a trowel, the course was clear before them; but the office of master-bricklayer was open to them in precisely the same sense as the Professorship of Natural Philosophy No white artificer would serve under a coloured master. The most degraded Irish emigrant would scout the idea with indignation.

As carpenters, shoemakers, or tailors, they were still arrested by the same barrier. In either of the latter capacities indeed they might work for people of their own complexion, but no gentleman would ever think of ordering garments of any sort from a schneider of cuticle less white than his own. Grocers they might be, but then who could perceive the possibility of a respectable household matron purchasing tea or spiceries from a vile "Nigger?" As barbers, they were more fortunate, and in that capacity might even enjoy the privilege of taking the President of the United States by the nose. Throughout the Union, the department of domestic service particularly belongs to them, though recently they are beginning to find rivals in the Irish emigrants, who come annually in swarms like locusts.

On the whole, I cannot help considering it a mistake to suppose that slavery has been abolished in the Northern States of the Union. It is true, indeed, that in these States the power of compulsory labour no longer exists; and that one human being within their limits, can no longer claim property in the thews and sinews of another. But is this all that is implied in the boon of freedom? If the word mean any thing, it must mean the enjoyment of equal rights, and the unfettered exercise in each individual of such powers and faculties as God has given him. In this true meaning of the word, it may be safely asserted, that this poor degraded caste are still slaves. They are subjected to the most grinding and humiliating of all slaveries, that of universal and unconquerable prejudice. The whip, indeed has been removed from the back of the Negro, but the chains are still on his limbs, and he bears the brand of degradation on his forehead. What is it but the mere abuse of language to call him free, who is tyrannically deprived of all the motives to exertion which animate other men? The law, in truth, has left him in that most pitiable of all conditions, a masterless slave.

It cannot be denied that the Negro population are still compelled, as a class, to be the hewers of wood, and drawers of water, to their fellow-citizens. Citizens! there is, indeed, something ludicrous in the application of the word to these miserable Pariahs. What privileges do they enjoy as such? Are they admissible upon a jury? Can they enrol themselves in the militia? Will a white man eat with them, or extend to them the hand of fellowship? Alas if these men, so irresistibly manacled to degradation, are to be called free, tell us, at least, what stuff are slaves made of?

But on this subject, perhaps, another tone of expression -- of thought, there can be no other -- may be more judicious. I have already seen abundant proofs, that the prejudices against the coloured portion of the population prevailed to an extent, of which an Englishman could have formed no idea. But many enlightened men I am convinced are above them. To these I would appeal They have already begun the work of raising this unfortunate race from the almost brutal state to which tyranny and injustice had condemned it. But let them not content themselves with such delusive benefits as the extension of the right of suffrage recently conferred by the Legislature of New York.*

[* - The Legislature of New York in 1829 extended the right of suffrage to men of colour, possessed of a clear freehold estate without encumbrance of the value of 250 dollars. A very safe concession, no doubt, since to balance the black interest, the same right of suffrage was granted to every white male of twenty-one years, who has been one year in the State. It might be curious to know how many coloured voters became qualified by this enactment. They must, indeed, have been rari nantes in gurgite vasto of the election.]

The opposition to be overcome, is not that of law, but of opinion. If, in unison with the ministers of religion, they will set their shoulders to the wheel, and combat prejudice with reason ignorance with knowledge, and pharisaical assumption with the mild tenets of Christianity, they must succeed in infusing a better tone into the minds and hearts of their countrymen. It is true, indeed, the victory will not be achieved in a day, nor probably in an age, but assuredly it will come at last. In achieving it they will become the benefactors, not only of the Negro population, but of their fellow-citizens. They will give freedom to both; for the man is really not more free, whose mind is shackled by degrading prejudice, than he who is its victim.

As illustrative of the matter in hand, I am tempted here to relate an anecdote, though somewhat out of place, as it did not occur till my return to New York the following spring. Chancing one day at the Ordinary at Bunker's to sit next an English merchant from St. Domingo, in the course of conversation, he mentioned the following circumstances. The son of a Haytian general, high in the favour of Boyer, recently accompanied him to New York, which he came to visit for pleasure and instruction. This young man, though a mulatto, was pleasing in manner, and with more intelligence than is usually to be met with in a country in which education is so defective. At home, he had been accustomed to receive all the deference due to his rank, and when he arrived in New York, it was with high anticipations of the pleasure that awaited him in a city so opulent and enlightened.

On landing, he inquired for the best hotel, and directed his baggage to be conveyed there. He was rudely refused admittance, and tried several others with similar result. At length he was forced to take up his abode in a miserable lodging-house kept by a Negro woman. The pride of the young Haytian (who, sooth to say, was something of a dandy, and made imposing display of gold chains and brooches,) was sadly galled by this, and the experience of every hour tended farther to confirm the conviction, that, in this country, he was regarded as a degraded being, with whom the meanest white man would hold it disgraceful to associate. In the evening, he went to the theatre, and tendered his money to the box-keeper. It was tossed back to him, with a disdainful intimation, that the place for persons of his colour was the upper gallery.

On the following morning, my countryman, who had frequently been a guest at the table of his father, paid him a visit. He found the young Haytian in despair. All his dreams of pleasure were gone, and he returned to his native island by the first conveyance, to visit the United States no more.

This young man should have gone to Europe. Should he visit England, he may feel quite secure, that if he have money in his pocket, he will offer himself at no hotel, from Land's End to John O' Groat's house, where he will not meet with a very cordial reception. Churches, theatres, operas, concerts, coaches, chariots, cabs, vans, wagons, steam-boats, railway-carriages and air-balloons, will all be open to him as the daylight. He may repose on cushions of down or of air, he may charm his ear with music, and his palate with luxuries of all sorts. He may travel en prince, or en roturier, precisely as his fancy dictates, and may enjoy even the honours of a crowned head, if he will only pay like one. In short, so long, as he carries certain golden ballast about with him, all will go well.

But when that is done, his case is pitiable. He will then become familiar with the provisions of the vagrant act, and Mr Roe or Mr Ballantine will recommend exercise on the treadmill, for the benefit of his constitution. Let him but show his nose abroad, and a whole host of parish overseers will take alarm. The new police will bait him like a bull; and should he dare approach even the lowest eating-house, the master will shut the door in his face. If he ask charity, he will be told to work. If he beg work, he will be told to get about his business. If he steal, he will be found a free passage to Botany Bay, and be dressed gratis on his arrival, in an elegant suit of yellow. If he rob, he will be found a free passage to another world, in which, as there is no paying or receiving in payment, we may hope that his troubles will be at an end for ever.

Ah, England! You've come a long way, baby.


Blogger vanderleun said...

You know, if you are going to come back yøu should at least do a LITTLE work.

January 16, 2012 at 2:24 PM  
Anonymous Eugenick said...

Please, Mencius, post more often! The Reactionary movement needs you, especially as the unimaginable is happening: Ron Paul and libertarianism are getting popular among the masses! Imagine if we can make Reservationism similarly popular. After all, we need only 51% of people to change the system - I have a hunch Ron Paul and the libertarians need quite a bit more.

Also, I'm curious about your endorsement for this election cycle. Will it be Obama once again?

January 16, 2012 at 4:01 PM  
Anonymous Remnant said...

Tell me I wasn't the only one laughing at the description of the Haitian general's son who "made imposing display of gold chains and brooches."

Plus ca change etc.

January 16, 2012 at 4:18 PM  
Anonymous Dan Kurt said...

re: Race Relations in 2012

Read this short piece:

A spontaneous celebration of the King holiday
by an individual who was "working really hard on the content of his character."

Dan Kurt

January 16, 2012 at 9:28 PM  
Anonymous Steve Johnson said...

Another "more things change...":

"A long and rigid examination took place in geography, in the course of which questions were answered with facility, which I confess would have puzzled me exceedingly had they been addressed to myself."

Steve Sailer blogged about an article where a modern educator (some DC administrator or other) made this same statement about the exam given to 5th graders.

Since the tests show us exactly what everyone doesn't want to believe the impulse to tear down the measurement is strong and persistent.

January 16, 2012 at 10:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lovely excerpt. As a counterpoint, I refer readers to the fun story "The Gold Bug" by Poe. In this two South Carolina white men, one of whom has had a lifelong free negro servant, break a pirate code and find a treasure chest. They split the loot 3 ways, with an equal share for the servant. No comment is made about this act; it is taken as normal.

January 16, 2012 at 11:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"with more intelligence than is usually to be met with in a country in which education is so defective."

The Gap, 1833

January 17, 2012 at 8:59 AM  
Anonymous Erik said...

Time's "Congo: Boom in the Jungle" has been put behind a paywall.

(I wish Moldbug had a forum where threads for things like this could be posted at the top, then sink down over time.)

Is there anyone who can retrieve it and/or tell me how to get hold of the article for reference? I wish I had downloaded it while it was free.

...where 50 years ago there were no roads because the wheel was unknown, no schools because there was no alphabet, no peace because there was neither the will nor the means to enforce it, the sons of cannibals now mine the raw materials of the Atomic Age.

January 17, 2012 at 9:03 AM  
Blogger Phlebas said...

If he ask charity, he will need to use the online benefits adviser to get an estimate of the benefits he is entitled to. If he beg work, a Jobcentre Plus adviser will identify how he can improve his chances of finding work, and provide access to specialist help for things like writing a CV, preparation for interviews, confidence building and work skills.

If he steal, the coalition government will appoint an independent inquiry to analyse evidence from a range of stakeholders and engage community leaders in order to address the continuing deep inequality and social exclusion that fuels alienation in ethnic minority youth.

If he rob, he will be given indefinite leave to remain in the United Kingdom. Deportation would be a flagrant denial of justice in violation of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which confers a right to respect for private and family life, and Article 3 which prohibits the expulsion, deportation or extradition of a person to a country in which there are substantial grounds for believing that this person would run a real risk of inhuman or degrading treatment.

January 17, 2012 at 11:02 AM  
Anonymous spandrell said...

Somebody with free time should do a blog just quoting old books.

January 17, 2012 at 12:18 PM  
OpenID nydwracu said...

Erik: Is this it?

spandrell: I've considered starting a Tumblr (a bit like Twitter without a character limit, and posts can be submitted) for that. I was thinking just rightist thought (Carlyle, Belloc, De Benoist, etc.), but slow history would be a worthwhile addition.

January 18, 2012 at 1:47 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Somebody with free time should do a blog just quoting old books.

Sometimes I wonder if mencius runs one

January 18, 2012 at 5:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jared Taylor also recently (the other day) borrowed from a source that described the nature of race relations in early 19th Century NYC-and Philadelphia :
Abolitionists could not hold meetings in the North, either. On July 4, 1834, the American Anti-Slavery Society read a Declaration of Sentiments to a mixed-race audience in Manhattan. The idea of blacks and whites mingling socially was so outrageous to New Yorkers that they broke up the meeting and sacked the homes of leading abolitionists. There were 11 days of lawlessness despite the efforts of the National Guard because rioters thought equal treatment of blacks would lead to miscegenation. [Elise Lemire, amazon “Miscegenation”: Making Race in America (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2002), pp. 59, 83.]

In Philadelphia, abolitionists could not rent space for meetings, so they built a grand building of their own. William Lloyd Garrison and Angelina Grimké took part in a three-day celebration to dedicate the building, but by the third day, Philadelphians had had enough. On May 17, 1836, several thousand people gathered—including the mayor—and burned the building down. The fire department showed up—only to make sure neighboring buildings did not catch fire. The mob then burned down the Friends Shelter for Colored Orphans. A police committee set up to look into the burnings decided that they were justified. [Elise Lemire, “Miscegenation”: Making Race in America (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2002), pp. 87-91.]

January 18, 2012 at 6:44 AM  
Anonymous spandrell said...

slow history blog FTW

nydwracu do it well and you'll have millions of followers and get laid with asian twins.

January 18, 2012 at 10:57 AM  
Blogger vanderleun said...

"Somebody with free time should do a blog just quoting old books."

Hey, Moldbug's got a capture buffer and he's not afraid to use it.

January 18, 2012 at 11:44 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mr. Moldbug, I must disagree with your dismissal of American travelogues. Have you read Olmstead's three-volume work on his journeys through the South? I can assure you the moralizing is at a minimal, taking a back seat to hard-nosed, practical disgust arising from the general depravity and sloth of the population.

January 18, 2012 at 1:26 PM  
Blogger Matthew Casey Smallwood said...

For those interested in Counter-Revolution, link to:
Right-Hand Path

January 19, 2012 at 1:40 PM  
Blogger Artur said...

Two related books worth looking up on Google Books (I'm too lazy right now to copy the links) :

The American Negro what he was, what he is, and what he may become" (1901) by William Hannibal Thomas ;

(okay here's the link : . This work is too important to not be read because I'm too lazy to copy and paste a link).

Secondly, you MUST check out this gem from 1904 : "The Negro - The Southerner's Problem" by Thomas Nelson Page. View it here :

From Thomas's 1901 work, we have the following excerpt from the wonderful chapter entitled "Criminal Instincts" :

"That his nature is surcharged with latent ferocity is shown by abundant evidence of atrociousness, committed on weak and defenceless objects. Indeed, there is good ground for believing that, were the negro once convincingly assured of personal security, all the malignity of his slumbering savagery would immediately find expression in the most revolting acts of physical lawlessness. His passions are easily excited, and his feelings readily inflamed to the point of reckless vindictiveness, though a natural unsteadiness of character renders him fickle and unstable in purpose."

You're welcome !

January 20, 2012 at 8:18 AM  
Blogger Gabe Ruth said...

So are we to understand that the school master was lying, or that the exchange was a fabrication?

The good captain may consider himself superior to those with base racial prejudices (and I'm inclined to agree), but his proudly proclaimed economic ones don't do much for me either. Wealth!=nobility, and that was so well before his time (the it has only gotten more so since).

Mr. Smallwood, I found my way over there through you a few months ago, but have been a little hesitant to link to them despite finding the ideas fascinating.

Another writer to pay attention to as Mencius continues to neglect us is Mark Hackard (at Alt Right mostly). He reminds me of a less phlegmatic Larison.

January 20, 2012 at 10:58 AM  
Anonymous Daniel said...

@Gabe Ruth

Mark Hackard is excellent. Still very young, rather fearless, and yet imbued with gentility and humility. I really hope he keeps writing.

January 20, 2012 at 9:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tell me I wasn't the only one laughing at the description of the Haitian general's son who "made imposing display of gold chains and brooches."

Plus ca change etc.-


Negroes and bling, together forever...

January 21, 2012 at 8:24 AM  
Blogger TGGP said...

Ta-Nehesi Coates is inviting readers to revise revisionism re the civil war & slavery. I'd expect the contribution of most readers here would amount to a shit in the punch-bowl, but it might be interesting to see a more sophisticated version of the modern abolitionist narrative.

The link I wanted to post before was Winston Churchill's alternate history "If Lee Had Not Won the Battle of Gettysburg".

January 22, 2012 at 11:33 AM  
Anonymous The Undiscovered Jew said...

The only way to visit 19th-century America is with a European traveler.

No one should ever need a European to explore 18th* and 19th* Century America because American history is simple to understand. America, which was founded as a paradise for elite white business owners, can have its history divided into only three economic structural models (Europe's history is much harder to analyze because Europe is the history of elite oligarchical - not fascistic - governing structures, whereas America is just the history of a corporation):

1)The Ancient Structure AKA Jeffersonian laissez-faire.

2) The Old Structure AKA The Lincoln Structure AKA Hamiltonian laissez-faire.

3) The New Structure (or perhaps "The New Order") AKA the FDR Structure.

* The 18th century Ancient structure/Jefferson Structure endured from 1776 to 1860.

The American 19th Century AKA the Old Structure AKA the Lincoln Structure begins in 1865 and lasts to FDR's election.

January 22, 2012 at 9:41 PM  
Anonymous The Undiscovered Jew said...

Ta-Nehesi Coates is inviting readers to revise revisionism re the civil war & slavery.

There's nothing really to revise because there isn't any mystery about what led to the war, at least once one looks beyond both Confederate and Union post-war propaganda.

The Union didn't fight the Civil War to appease the abolitionists. The abolitionists were much too fringe to have driven America toward fratricide.

The Union fought to satisfy the constituent members of the Republican Party whose industrialist members demanded Hamiltonian laissez-faire triumph across the West over the South's preferred governing structure of slavery expanionist Jeffersonian laissez-faire.

Neither the Confederacy nor the Union were fighting for any particularly high minded ideals; the war was simply a conflict of economic interest between the North and the South over the future of economic development of the American West.

The vaunted Confederate writers are just giving a state's rights moral gloss to the mostly economic motivations that led to the South's secession from the Union just as the victorious Union would later use the issue of slavery to wrap its purely economic motivations for war in a humanitarian gloss.

Certainly, whenever Lincoln proclaimed he had the best interests of the oppressed slave at heart the notion was correctly jeered by just about every European diplomat from Lisbon to Moscow as a moral figleaf to keep the European from realizing Lincoln was fighting to preserve Northern Industrial economic interests.

January 22, 2012 at 9:52 PM  
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