Albion Tourgée on the southern mindset of innate superiority in Bricks Without Straw, 1880
Tourgée, Albion. Bricks Without Straw. New York & London & Montreal: Fords, Howard, & Hulbert; Sampson Low & Co.; Dawson Bros, 1880.
“The time he had dreaded had come! The smouldering passion of the South had burst forth at last! For years--ever since the war--prejudice and passion, the sense of insult and oppression had been growing thicker and blacker all over the South. Thunders had rolled over the land. Lightnings had fringed its edges. The country had heard, but had not heeded. The nation had looked on with smiling face, and declared the sunshine undimmed. It had taken no note of exasperation and prejudice. It had unconsciously trampled under foot the passionate pride of a conquered people. It had scorned and despised a sentiment more deeply inwrought than that of caste in the Hindoo breast.
The South believed, honestly believed, in its innate superiority over all other races and peoples. It did not doubt, has never doubted, that, man for man, it was braver, stronger, better than the North. Its men were "gentlemen"--grander, nobler beings than the North ever knew. Their women were "ladies"--gentle, refined, ethereal beings, passion and devotion wrapped in forms of ethereal mould, and surrounded by an impalpable effulgence which distinguished them from all others of the sex throughout the world. Whatever was of the South was superlative. To be Southern-born was to be prima facie better than other men. So the self-love of every man was enlisted in this sentiment. To praise the South was to praise himself; to boast of its valor was to advertise his own intrepidity; to extol its women was to enhance the glory of his own achievements in the lists of love; to vaunt its chivalry was to avouch his own honor; to laud its greatness was to extol himself. He measured himself with his Northern compeer, and decided without hesitation in his own favor.
The South, he felt, was unquestionably greater than the North in all those things which were most excellent, and was only overtopped by it in those things which were the mere result of numbers. Outnumbered on the field of battle, the South had been degraded and insulted by a sordid and low-minded conqueror, in the very hour of victory. Outnumbered at the ballot-box, it had still dictated the policy of the Nation. The Southern white man naturally compared himself with his Northern brother. For comparison between himself and the African--the recent slave, the scarcely human anthropoid--he found no ground. Only contrast was possible there. To have these made co-equal rulers with him, seated beside him on the throne of popular sovereignty, merely, as he honestly thought, for the gratification of an unmanly spite against a fallen foe, aroused every feeling of exasperation and revenge which a people always restive of restraint could feel.
It was not from hatred to the negro, but to destroy his political power and restore again their own insulted and debased supremacy that such things were done as have been related. It was to show the conqueror that the bonds in which the sleeping Samson had been bound were green withes which he scornfully snapped asunder in his first waking moment. Pride the most overweening, and a prejudice of caste the most intense and ineradicable, stimulated by the chargin of defeat and inflamed by the sense of injustice and oppression--both these lay at the bottom of the acts by which the rule of the majorities established by reconstructionary legislation were overthrown. It was these things that so blinded the eyes of a whole people that they called this bloody masquerading, this midnight warfare upon the weak, this era of unutterable horror, "redeeming the South!"
There was no good man, no honest man, no Christian man of the South who for an instant claimed that it was right to kill, maim, beat, wound and ill-treat the black man, either in his old or his new estate. He did not regard these acts as done to another man, a compeer, but only as acts of cruelty to an inferior so infinitely removed from himself as to forbid any comparison of rights or feelings. It was not right to do evil to a "nigger;" but it was infinitely less wrong than to do it unto one of their own color. These men did not consider such acts as right in themselves, but only as right in view of their comparative importance and necessity, and the unspeakable inferiority of their victims.
For generations the South had regarded the uprising of the black, the assertion of his manhood and autonomy, as the ultima thule of possible evil. San Domingo and hell were twin horrors in their minds, with the odds, however, in favor of San Domingo. To prevent negro domination anything was justifiable. It was a choice of evils, where on one side was placed an evil which they had been taught to believe, and did believe, infinitely outweighed and overmatched all other evils in enormity. Anything, said these men in their hearts; anything, they said to each other; anything, they cried aloud to the world, was better, is better, must be better, than negro rule, than African domination.
Now, by negro rule they meant the exercise of authority by a majority of citizens of African descent, or a majority of which they constituted any considerable factor. The white man who acted with the negro in any relation of political co-ordination was deemed even worse than the African himself. If he became a leader, he was anathematized for self-seeking. If he only co-operated with his ballot, he was denounced as a coward. In any event he was certain to be deemed a betrayer of his race, a renegade and an outcast.
Hesden Le Moyne was a Southern white man. All that has just been written was essential truth to him. It was a part of his nature. He was as proud as the proudest of his fellows. The sting of defeat still rankled in his heart. The sense of infinite distance between his race and that unfortunate race whom he pitied so sincerely, to whose future he looked forward with so much apprehension, was as distinct and palpable to him as to any one of his compeers. The thousandth part of a drop of the blood of the despised race degraded, in his mind, the unfortunate possessor
He had inherited a dread of the ultimate results of slavery. He wished--it had been accounted sensible in his family to wish--that slavery had never existed. Having existed, they never thought of favoring its extinction. They thought it corrupting and demoralizing to the white race. They felt that it was separating them, year by year, farther and farther from that independent self-relying manhood, which had built up American institutions and American prosperity. They feared the fruit of this demoralization. For the sake of the white man, they wished that the black had never been enslaved. As to the blacks--they did not question the righteousness of their enslavement. They did not care whether it were right or wrong. They simply did not consider them at all. When the war left them free, they simply said, "Poor fellows!" as they would of a dog without a master. When the blacks were entrusted with the ballot, they said again, "Poor fellows!" regarding them as the blameless instrument by which a bigoted and revengeful North sought to degrade and humiliate a foe overwhelmed only by the accident of numbers; the colored race being to these Northern people like the cat with whose paw the monkey dragged his chestnuts from the fire. Hesden had only wondered what the effect of these things would be upon "the South;" meaning by "the South" that regnant class to which his family belonged--a part of which, by a queer synecdoche, stood for the whole.
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