Manifest Destiny and Race

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Laurence Mandin
Professor Charles Turner M.A. J.D.
History 18
25 March 2011
Midterm Question #1 part 2: What impact did the English view of race have on American society? (Worth 50 points) note: I felt it was more logical for my purposes to place part 2 first. The English view of race developed directly from their perceptions of themselves, from the ideas of their own racial origins, their own ethnocentricity. This perception became a concept that had its roots in 16th and 17th Century England. It involved their ancestry to the peoples of England prior to the Norman Conquest of 1066, and further back to the Nordic and Germanic peoples of ancient, continental Europe. It didn’t start here; their Caucasian ancestry was believed to have traveled west through the centuries from Asia and the Caucasus, following the sun and a divine destiny that brought them through the cold northern European forests to England, and would compel them even further west. Primarily a myth, it fostered the notion of the English as the torch bearers of an inherently superior people; a people with a duty and responsibility to share their “advanced” philosophies and theologies with the rest of the world. This racial concept became known as Anglo-Saxonism: “a belief in the innate superiority of the Anglo-Saxon race” (free). This belief in themselves as a “special” people when incorporated into American expansion would have a tremendous impact on the history of the world—and grave implications for many “inferior peoples” (Horsman c.1) (Takaki c.1,2,3).

The atmosphere of England in the 1600’s was one of social unrest. With the Protestant reformation in Europe and England came religious and political conflict causing a series of civil wars in England. In the latter half of the 17th Century a group of Parliamentarians emerged in England who became attached to “the classic ‘Whig’ view of the past”, a somewhat utopian view of Anglo-Saxon English society prior to the Norman Conquest. This was perceived as a period of egalitarian government with a purity of religion and ethnicity, to which they longed to return (Horsman 14). These ideas also led many of them to examine and embrace the racial connections of the Anglo-Saxon’s with the earlier Teutonic peoples of Europe. They admired the writings of the Roman philosopher Tacitus in his Germania: a book, written in the First Century, on the customs, politics, faiths and relative ethnic purity of these North European tribes (Horsman 16). Tacitus states in Chapter 2 of Germania: "…The Germans themselves I should regard as aboriginal, and not mixed at all with other races through immigration or intercourse…” (Tacitus) [Note: It is interesting that in Tacitus’ above quote the translation produced the term “races.” His work was written in First Century Rome. Did the Etruscans have a word for race, or did contemporary translators simply use their modern term for what the Roman word for peoples or tribes might have been? It’s curious.] These nascent racial theories began to enjoy wide spread approval within the upper classes of English society after what Members of Parliament still call the “Glorious Revolution of 1688” (Horsman 14). This revolution saw the ousting of the Catholic King James II and the ascendancy of William III to the English throne with his wife Mary II. In 1689 a “Bill of Rights” was passed by Parliament denouncing the endeavors of James the II to invade the law and re-instating the "ancient rights and liberties" of Parliament and the King’s subjects (Glorious). These ideas of Anglo-Saxon superiority and destiny of 16th and 17th Century England, having earlier been put to the test in the conquest and subjugation of the “Wild Irish” ( Takaki 5), were transported across the Atlantic by an ever increasing stream of sailing ships carrying thousands of English immigrants seeking economic fortune and religious autonomy in the “New World” of North America. Once ashore in this new land these...
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