November, 1860: Racism splits some hairs

John Cabell Breckinridge
John C. Breckinridge, a “wild, fierce, fearless, and religious” Celt.

In the November 1860 issue of the Southern Literary Messenger, a monthly magazine “devoted to every department of literature and the fine arts”, an anonymous article appears titled “Northern Mind and Character.” You can read the entire, somewhat lengthy article here.

The author takes a somewhat unusual approach to explaining why the South must secede. He says “…The South, in self-respect, will be compelled to withdraw from longer association with her as a member of one common government…” because the social institutions of the North are uncivilized and incompatible with those of the South:

Her priesthood prostitutes itself to a level with the blackguard, and enters the secular field of politics, in the spirit of a beer-house bully; and the politician as carelessly invades the sanctuary of the priest. The one drags into the church the affairs of the world, and the other desecrates the highest and purest precepts of the church to the basest purposes of the hustings. Her women abjuring the delicate offices of their sex, and deserting their nurseries, stroll over the country as politico-moral reformers, delivering lewd lectures upon the beauties of free-love and spiritualism, or writing yellow back literature, so false in fact, so wretched in execution, and so vitiating to the morals of the mothers in the land, as almost to force them to bring [up] daughters without virtue and sons without bravery.

No tenet of Christ’s holy religion escapes the slimy embrace of this fiendish trio, and a blasphemous application of it to the most reprehensible purposes. There are no principles in politics, or municipal polity, too well established to be exempt from their malignant attack.

The first marches hand in hand with the murderous demagogue, in his assassinous onslaughts upon the institutions of the country; regardless alike of the dignity of his robes and the sacred duties of his office, as he hisses destruction upon the peace of his fellow-citizens and the welfare of his country.

While one exhorts the populace to a violation of the law, the other justifies the crusade, by an application of the _higher law_ standard — and their unsexed wives, mothers, and daughters, scream in acclamations of pious delight.

Yes, the priests, politicians, and women of the North conspire against the “institutions of the country” — i.e., slavery, which once again is being attacked by Northerners violating the law (guess which one — he’ll be specific in a moment), and invoking “higher law.” But what is it that makes Northerners act like this? Turns out it’s their “instinctive proclivities”.

But first, comes the inquiry, as to the wherefores of these distempers of Northern society? Do they proceed from instinctive proclivities of the people there? — or from the inherent influences of republican institutions everywhere? The answer is, from the people there, most emphatically.

What’s wrong with the Northern people themselves? They’re Saxons and Celts, while the Southerners are Normans. In the South, the Normans rule, but in the North, as in Britain, the Saxons and Celts have gotten uppity:

the controlling element of this government, is the _same race of people_ who constitute the ruling class in Great Britain; that the disorders there proceed from the same class of people as ours do here, with the simple difference, that our form of government permits more latitude, and gives more strength of organization. It is the Saxon and Celt there, and it is the Saxon and Celt here. They _have_controlled them there, and we _may_ control them here, IF WE WILL.

The author goes on to characterize the Saxon race as “wild, fierce, fearless, and religious”, and to say that these characteristics are still shown “in the streets of Boston, in their mere resistance to a law of the land, because at variance with their notions of religion — I refer to the law for the rendition of fugitives.” He goes on to argue that the Normans of the South can rule the Northern Saxons and Celts, preserving the Union.

I believe this to be the mission of the Norman blood of this country — assisted in its efforts by the institution of AFRICAN SLAVERY as it exists in these Southern States.

The power and charm of slavery is over the land, and the men and women of Plymouth Rock may rave and scream as they will, they yet live under its law, and prosper by its fruits. Nor, yet, need they fear the “irrepressible conflict” of the solemn wizard, who roams over the Northern hills, and delivers apocryphal oracles to his deluded worshippers.

In obedience to isothermal laws, slavery has already made its exodus from the inhospitable shores of New England, never to return. There is no climate there, there is no soil there, there is no _master_ there. But where these are, there the slave will ever go, his necessities are his law, and his destiny is his power; he fears no “restriction,” and asks no “protection.”

It is a truism that racism was pervasive in western culture in the 19th century; as has often been pointed out (see here and here in this blog for examples). We forget, though, that the more “modern” idea of about 5 continent-level races had not been agreed upon at that time. I prepared the table below for a talk last year on “race” and genetics, and it gives some idea of the range of estimates. Clearly the author of this article was a “splitter”, if he was ready to impute heritable differences in temperament to groups like Saxons, Celts, and Normans, but it wasn’t an uncommon view. Of course, he was also ready to lump all Africans into a single race, when genetic variability within Africa is greater than the genetic variability of all the rest of humans — but I digress.

The really odd part of all this is that the man who carried the South in the election that just ended, John Cabell Breckinridge, was of Scottish descent — from those “wild, fierce, fearless, and religious” Celts that need to be kept in line by the Normans.

Author Races Date
Joseph Virey 2 1800
Charle Jacquinot 3 1842
Francois Bernier 4 1684
Linnaeus 4 1758
J.F. Blumenbach 5 1775
Cameron Coon 5 1965
Georges Buffon 6 1789
T.H. Huxley 9 1870
Charles Pickering  11 1872
Louis-Antoine Desmoulins 16 1826
Cameron Coon 30 1950
J. Crawfurd 60 1865
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One Response to November, 1860: Racism splits some hairs

  1. Don Stewart says:

    A controversial book called “Cracker Culture” by Grady McWhiney makes many of the same arguments, particularly those based on the idea that the cultural heritage of white Northerners and white Southerners was so different that conflict was almost inevitable.

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