A Racist Nation or a Divided Nation?
Rev. Wayne Perryman
February 2, 2010
When various individuals say our country is a racist nation, it implies or suggest that the nation as a whole universally endorsed, engaged or allowed such (racist) practices to exist without challenge. Even if one concludes after looking at all the evidence that our nation is indeed racist, it is only fair that one should acknowledge and/or recognize the efforts of those who tried to prevent or eradicate these practices. Recognizing the efforts of those groups, organizations and individuals who fought for the rights of others is the only way to have an objective perspective as to what actually took place in our history.
From the time the first slave ship arrived in Jamestown in 1619, there was white opposition to slavery. In other words, there has never been universal support for the institution of slavery in this country by its white citizens. What is not commonly communicated when discussing the issue of slavery, are the consistent efforts of those whites who spent a life time trying to eliminate this inhumane institution - from colonial times through Reconstruction.
Like slavery, at some point and time in the future, historians may look back at this generation and conclude that America was an abortion nation. Although a segment of our population do engage and support these practices, those reaching such conclusions would have to ignore the fact that a vast majority of Americans never engaged in these types of practices and they would also have to ignore the efforts of those who tried to prevent abortions, through legislation, education and adoption programs. Additionally the person reaching such conclusion would also ignore the fact that abortions, like slavery, was not an issue that the citizens voted on, it was a practice sanctioned by the court and later endorse by some legislators with much opposition.
While many accuse America of being a racist nation because of slavery, they overlook the fact that Haiti had slaves, Brazil had slaves, Cuba had slaves as did Great Britain and the Muslims countries, but they never cite these nations as being racist.
History tells us before William Wilberforce ended slavery in Great Britain (1833) whites in America had already ended slavery in the following states:
Rhode Island ended slavery 1774
Vermont ended slavery 1777
Pennsylvania ended slavery 1780
Massachusetts ended slavery 1781
New Hampshire ended slavery 1783
Connecticut ended slavery 1784
New York ended slavery 1799
New Jersey ended slavery 1804
Other states that later rejected slavery include:
The issue of eliminating and/or condemning slavery was proposed in Jefferson's first draft of the Declaration of Independence (1776), and the issue was also the subject of a very heated debate at the Constitutional Convention in 1787 as they attempted to finalize our Constitution. Unfortunately, those who had the most political and economical power (rich southern plantation owners) prevailed.
History tell us that slavery was a very divisive issue, in no way did it unify our country. Because it was so divisive, white families split, white churches split, denominations split and eventually our nation split, which resulted in a Civil War.
The chronicles of history reveal that:
In 1652 Quakers attempted to pass legislation in Philadelphia to make slavery illegal.
In 1688 in Germantown, PA, Quakers passed legislation to eliminate slavery.
In 1711 some colonist passed legislation to eliminate slavery but Great Britain overturned the legislation, stating that colonies did not have the authority to legislate these types of laws.
In 1757 Quakers took formal action against their own members who were involved with slavery.
In 1775 Philadelphia organized America's first Abolitionist Society which consisted of mostly white Christians and freed slaves.
In 1805 a senator from Vermont introduced a bill to ban the importation of slaves.
The law, although receiving strong opposition from Southern Democrats, was finally passed by both houses of Congress on March 2, 1807 and signed into law by Jefferson on March 3, 1807 (but would not go in effect until 1808).
There was white opposition to slavery among every political organization up until the formation of our two current political parties (Democrats and Republicans). It was at this time that the political lines on the issue of slavery were clearly drawn. The whites that supported slavery became the Democratic Party and were known as the Party of White Supremacy and the whites who opposed slavery became the Republican Party were known as nigger lovers.
Our nation's strongest opposition to slavery was evident and demonstrated when it rejected Senator John Crittenden's proposal to amend the Constitution (with six amendments) to protect the institution of slavery (more commonly known as the Crittenden Plan or the Crittenden Compromise). Senator Crittenden was a Democratic Senator from the state of Kentucky the birthplace of Abraham Lincoln.
During the same period two-thirds of Congress and three-fourth of the states (white citizens and Congressmen) adopted and passed three Constitutional Civil Rights Amendments (the Thirteenth Amendment, the Fourteenth Amendment and the Fifteenth Amendment). The two-thirds and the three-fourth represents a clear majority of whites in America and was one of the first times white American citizens were given an opportunity to have a say regarding what they thought about slavery. Not only did white America elect an anti-slavery president, they went one step further when the opportunity presented itself, and outlawed slavery with the Constitution.
History tells us that without the political backing of those who made up and formed the powerful Democratic Party, slavery would have ended one hundred years earlier and Jim Crow would have died in the womb of those who conceived it.
Based on the consistent opposition to slavery and Jim Crow by many white Americans, one can argue that Lincoln had it right in his speech: A House Divided. The division that he spoke about was those who supported slavery versus those who opposed it. Based on this division among white Americans along with the efforts of many whites from the early Quakers and Orthodox Puritans to Senator Charles Sumner, one can conclude that perhaps a more appropriate title for America would be a “divided nation,” not a “racist nation.”