A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure, permanently, half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved—I do not expect the house to fall—but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other. Either the opponents of slavery will arrest the further spread of it, and place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in the course of ultimate extinction; or its advocates will push it forward, till it shall become lawful in all the States, old as well as new—North as well as South.
Just a few months following, future president of the Confederate States Jefferson Davis offered his own perspective on this brewing divide within the United States, laying the fault solely in the lap of Northern abolitionist agitation:
One of the possible pitfalls of the Christian argument for racial and ethnic reconciliation (RR), especially among those of the Reformed or Calvinistic tradition (of which I am a member), is the potential implication that only believers, i.e., those in Christ, are included in the scope of sought social equity and justice. Of course, RR advocates acknowledge that all men are created in the very image and likeness of God; that is,
the whole human being is image and likeness of God, in soul and body, in all human faculties, powers, and gifts. Nothing in humanity is excluded from God’s image; it stretches as far as our humanity does and constitutes our humanness. (Herman Bavinck)
But when it comes to the idea of “reconciliation” itself, the argument usually moves from the reconciliation between God and man wrought by Christ on the Cross to reconciliation between man and man premised on the same. In the words of the Apostle,
In his autobiography, From Slave Cabin to the Pulpit, Rev. Peter Randolph (1825 – 1897) answers the claim that slavery was good for the African, freeing him from the bonds of paganism, bringing him to Gospel salvation. To be sure, there was a “gospel” preached to them; but was it the true Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, or a truncated facsimile, bastardized for the sake of exploitation?
The Puritans believed, too, in civilizing and Christianizing the world, but their approach to the project was slightly different from that of most explorers and expedition sponsors. For the others, it was about economic returns or political power. For Puritan preachers, it was about bringing social order to the world. Cambridge professor William Perkins rested at the cornerstone of British Puritanism in the late sixteenth century. “Though the servant in regard of faith and the inner man be equal to his master, in regard of the outward man… the master is above the servant,” he explained in Ordering a Familie, published in 1590. In paraphrasing St. Paul, Perkins became one of the first major English theorists—or assimilationist theologians, to be more precise—to mask the exploitative master/servant or master/slave relationship as a loving family relationship. […] It was Perkins’s family ordering that Puritan leaders like John Cotton and Richard Mather used to sanction slavery in Massachusetts a generation later. And it was Perkins’s claim of equal souls and unequal bodies that led Puritan preachers like Cotton and Mather to minister to African souls and not challenge the enslavement of their bodies. (Kindle location 581)
Thus far, we have witnessed the movement from a disparate group of indentured servants—originating from various European and African nations, working side by side in the English Colonies—into a bifurcation of (1) “white men” and “white women” and (2) “Negroes, Mulattos, and Indians.” Through the developing legal code, we have also seen the class “white” receive legal protections and privileges while the class “Negro and Mulatto” alone became subjects of life-long chattel slavery—they and their children.
As stated at the end of the last post, the only element lacking in the construction of the “white race” by 1723 was the concept of “race” itself. We will now briefly turn to this, though with an eye to our purposes rather than the details of the “science” itself, its definitions, etc. We will then move on to the post-Revolutionary era and conclude with some application.
In what follows, we continue to consider the construction of the “white race” and “whiteness” as developed in Colonial American history. As noted before, there simply was no such thing as “white people” prior to the 17th century. We have already witnessed how, through legal changes, a disparate group of indentured servants from various European and African nations, working side by side at the beginning of the 17th century, were transformed into roughly two groups, (1) “Christians” and those from “Christian nations,” receiving legal protections, and (2) those imported from non-“Christian” nations, comprising (with few exceptions) those of African descent alone—and their children. The latter increasingly became subjects of life-long servitude, while the former were granted more and more legal protections and comparative privileges. But as we have also seen, once conversion to Christianity was legally clarified to not require manumission, new lines of demarcation and categorization were needed to maintain the social control system necessary for a slave-based economy, wherein a few wealthy land-holders employed with scraps and chains an overwhelmingly large labor class.
And possibly more than any other event, Bacon’s Rebellion made clear to Virginia’s leadership the necessity of new lines of demarcation among these laboring people groups. To this we will now turn.
Having previously discussed the invention of the so-called “Black Race,” cobbled together from various ethnicities, tribes, languages, and nations—for the very purpose of subjugation—I have since recognized a gaping whole in my analysis of the “color-line” as developed in Western history. Presumably due to my own sense of “White Normativity,” I had treated the so-called “White Race” as an historical given, rather than itself likewise a created hodge-podge of differing ethnicities, tribes, languages, and nations—but in this case, for the very purpose of supremacy. I intend to correct that in these clarification posts. I will focus mainly on the English colonies of Virginia and Barbados, each being important representatives of the development of Atlantic slavery and the resulting concept of “whiteness.”
What follows is a simple time-line approach, including primary sources, to the end that we might see clearly the transition from an original group of disparate national and ethnic colonial laborers to a protected white class, accorded all the eventual privileges of American society, intentionally separated from the class of disenfranchised laborers, viz., primarily brown and black Americans. To be sure, there was no such thing as “white people” prior to the 17th century. In fact, the “races,” as we know them, were constructed in the very process of creating, maintaining, and justifying the otherwise unjustifiable practice of race-based chattel slavery.