Race over Empire: Racism and U.S. Imperialism, 1865-1900 / Edition 1

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Generations of historians have maintained that in the last decade of the nineteenth century white-supremacist racial ideologies such as Anglo-Saxonism, social Darwinism, benevolent assimilation, and the concept of the "white man's burden" drove American imperialist ventures in the nonwhite world. In Race over Empire, Eric T. L. Love contests this view and argues that racism had nearly the opposite effect.

From President Grant's attempt to acquire the Dominican Republic in 1870 to the annexations of Hawaii and the Philippines in 1898, Love demonstrates that the imperialists' relationship with the racist ideologies of the era was antagonistic, not harmonious. In a period marked by Jim Crow, lynching, Chinese exclusion, and immigration restriction, Love argues, no pragmatic politician wanted to place nonwhites at the center of an already controversial project by invoking the concept of the "white man's burden." Furthermore, convictions that defined "whiteness" raised great obstacles to imperialist ambitions, particularly when expansionists entered the tropical zone. In lands thought to be too hot for "white blood," white Americans could never be the main beneficiaries of empire.

What emerges from Love's analysis is a critical reinterpretation of the complex interactions between politics, race, labor, immigration, and foreign relations at the dawn of the American century.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Love has forcefully captured the rough and tumble world of Washington politics. . . . Convincingly demonstrates that imperialists consciously remained silent on race when pitching annexation."
Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era

"A brief, clearly argued, thesis-driven study. . . . [A] competent work."
American Historical Review

"Well-written and accessible. . . . Written in an engaging, fluid prose, and punctured by useful, often lucid insights, [Love's account] is certainly a worthwhile read."

"Both interesting and well documented. . . . Presents alternative ways of looking at racism and imperialism. When one thinks of imperialism, one tends to believe that racism actually abetted it. Love takes the contrary view, but at the same time, he emphasizes that many imperialists were racists and does an excellent job of proving it."
The Historian

From the Publisher
"A brief, clearly argued, thesis-driven study. . . . [A] competent work."
American Historical Review

"Love has forcefully captured the rough and tumble world of Washington politics. . . . Convincingly demonstrates that imperialists consciously remained silent on race when pitching annexation."
Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era

"Both interesting and well documented. . . . Presents alternative ways of looking at racism and imperialism. When one thinks of imperialism, one tends to believe that racism actually abetted it. Love takes the contrary view, but at the same time, he emphasizes that many imperialists were racists and does an excellent job of proving it."
The Historian

"Well-written and accessible. . . . Written in an engaging, fluid prose, and punctured by useful, often lucid insights, [Love's account] is certainly a worthwhile read."

Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780807855652
  • Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press
  • Publication date: 11/22/2004
  • Edition description: 1
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 272
  • Sales rank: 815,754
  • Product dimensions: 6.12 (w) x 9.26 (h) x 0.65 (d)

Meet the Author

Eric T. L. Love is associate professor of history at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

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Read an Excerpt

Race over Empire

Racism and U.S. Imperialism, 1865-1900
By Eric T. L. Love

The University of North Carolina Press

Copyright © 2004 The University of North Carolina Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-8078-2900-5

Chapter One

American Imperialism and the Racial Mountain

Race is and will remain a vital part of the story of American imperialism. That it loomed large in the minds of policymakers, that it was a potent force in nation building, policy formation, and expansionism, has been demonstrated repeatedly and convincingly in the historical literature. In answer to the question at the center of this book-how did race move, shape, and even perhaps inspire late-nineteenth-century U.S. imperialism-there is a remarkable level of consensus among historians, who assert that racial ideologies rooted in white supremacy gave expansionists a grand and compelling rational for empire. Anglo-Saxonism, social Darwinism, benevolent assimilation, and the "white man's burden"-almost unassailable elaborations of white supremacy-justified the annexations that followed the war with Spain in 1898, brought millions of people of color under the jurisdiction of the United States, and helped to elevate the nation to the status of a world power. The pages that follow challenge this convention; they begin with a critical review of the literature. While the reigning narrative on race and empire has recovered significant aspects of the past, it has also been fettered by clearly identifiable and long-standing problems. Put another way (borrowing Langston Hughes's most elegant metaphor), it can be said that a racial mountain stands between historians and an accurate accounting of race, racism, and late-nineteenth-century American imperialism.

The conventional narrative can be summarized briefly. In the three decades following the Civil War, an expansionist, market-oriented foreign policy evolved that gave America's global affairs renewed logic, coherence, motive, and direction. The search for markets, for dependable outlets for the nation's massive and growing agricultural and industrial production, advanced with each passing year. It was a restless, aggressive movement, infused with a peculiar urgency by the cycle of economic growth and collapse that occurred in every decade between 1870 and World War I. Leading economic theorists of the era believed the cause of the recurrent booms and busts was "overproduction." American capitalism suffered, they said, because it had become too efficient, too productive. Ironically, it had become too successful for its own good. Inventing, assembling, building, sowing, and reaping more than domestic markets could absorb destabilized the economy, drove tens of thousands of businesses into bankruptcy and millions of workers out of jobs, and fed what was, by the standards of the time, a species of social malaise of the most fearful kind. Farmers and the urban working classes turned to political radicalism: toward insurgent populism, unionism, socialism, public demonstrations, and protests that all too frequently exploded into violent (and occasionally murderous) confrontations with capital. The solution to overproduction and the attendant social chaos, theorists said, was to find and open new markets abroad where the excess production could be sold off, profitably. This would lift the economy, employment, and wages and suppress political and class tensions. It was a beguiling stratagem embraced by a mass of followers: agrarians and industrialists, social theorists and economists, public intellectuals, missionaries, military men, and others, all of whom subscribed to a common vision of natural greatness whose prerequisite was empire. As this outward advance brought the United States into contact with nations thickly populated with polymorphous, dark-skinned peoples-literally millions of individuals consigned by science, theology, sentiment, prejudice, history and tradition to a class of inferior races-these accounts maintain that at home white supremacist ideas saturated the culture, dissolved the class, sectional, religious, and ethnic divisions among whites, and unified that race.

In this interpretation, white supremacy became an indispensable feature of the imperial project. Nell Irvin Painter, for example, wrote that "[i]n justification for empire, Anglo-Saxonism combined variously with arguments for Anglo-American identity, the white man's burden, manifest and ordinary destiny, and duty." Painter went on to say that imperialism "rose above politics and laws because within the unity that was human history, Americans [believed that they] were playing a pre-ordained role. Imperialism," she insisted, "was elemental, racial, predestined." Alan Dawley stated that racial nationalism fueled the outward thrust and cited as evidence statements by the Reverend Josiah Strong ("Strong expanded Manifest Destiny from continental to global dimensions, writing of 'the final competition of races'") and Senator Albert Beveridge regarding the duty of English-speaking nations to govern "savages and senile peoples."

Though Michael H. Hunt maintained that race "served equally as a reason for a cautious self-limiting policy and as justification for a bold, assertive one," he concluded that in the final account, race ideology favored imperialism. "Had the issue of [annexing Hawaii and the Philippines] been resolved on the basis of racial arguments alone," Hunt wrote, "the opposition might well have stymied the McKinley administration." Annexation triumphed in 1898 in large part, he said, because the imperialists "could play more directly on Anglo-Saxon pride" than those who opposed expansionist policies on racial grounds. Charles S. Campbell agreed that race ideology's effect on imperial policy was ambiguous: "it led to a belief in the righteousness of annexing supposedly inferior people," he observed, "but it led also to a disinclination to annex them, out of fear that the superior [racial] stock would be depreciated." Like Hunt, Campbell, in the final account, set his ambivalence aside and declared: "whereas racism was a deterrent [to territorial imperialism] in the 1870s, it was not in the 1890s. On balance," he concluded, "the belief in Anglo-Saxon supremacy encouraged territorial expansion at the end of the century."

Within this body of work, historians drew a direct connection between empire and the rise of a rigid, often brutal domestic racial social order: what Rayford Logan famously called "the nadir" of the African American experience and American race relations. According to Joseph Fry, in the years after the Civil War, social Darwinism "provided an ostensibly scientific rationale" for racial oppression at home and imperialist aggression abroad. Emily Rosenberg concurred. In the 1890s, she wrote, "[c]oncepts of racial mission, so well rehearsed at home, were easily transferred overseas." Many scholars were persuaded. Especially influential were observations that historian C. Vann Woodward put forth in both Origins of the New South and The Strange Career of Jim Crow, where he explained that by 1898 "[t]he North had taken up the White Man's Burden" and "was looking to southern racial policy for national guidance in the new problems of imperialism resulting from the Spanish war." Woodward pushed his assertion further, declaring that the imperialists modeled their policies not just on ideas borrowed from the old Confederacy but also on the actual framework and structures of the South's antiblack social order. "The Mississippi Plan," he explained, "had become the American way."

Though they pursue a diversity of subjects, some of the most important recent works on the cultures of U.S. imperialism have embraced the prevailing narrative on race and empire and have taken its conclusions and implications as points of departure, reference, and authority. In Black Americans and the White Man's Burden, for example, Willard Gatewood conscripts Woodward's observation ("the nation's embrace of an imperialistic policy played an important role in transforming the 'Mississippi plan' of race relations into the American Way") as a framework for his study of African Americans' responses to and role in the quest for empire. In All the World's a Fair, Robert Rydell proceeds from this interpretation when he states that the "vision of the New South manifested at the southern fairs was ... a powerful explanatory ideology that shaped the national and world outlook of untold numbers of ... Americans." Expositions that took place in 1898 and after, spectacles "concomitant to empire," argues Rydell, served mainly to reaffirm familiar racial prejudices and justify what were, after the war with Spain, established policies: the "white man's burden" transformed into "knowledge" and entertainment. In Barbarian Virtues, a study of the United States and its encounters with foreign peoples at home and abroad in the age of empire, Matthew Frye Jacobson uses a diversity of cultural sources to retell, in new but essentially familiar terms, the standard narrative of an imperial process, including the interactions between the domestic racial social order and expansion abroad. In this account, empire is still justified by convictions of white supremacy and rationalized by the "white man's burden." Kevin K. Gaines used the dominant narrative as a point of departure in his study of the African American intellectual Pauline Hopkins, who, he argues persuasively, used the new imperialism to invent subversive antiracist discourses. Besides the fact that still more scholars-Rubin Weston in Racism in U.S. Imperialism and Kristen Hoganson in Fighting for American Manhood, to give two more examples-have cited this narrative in perfunctory ways in their books, popular and highly regarded college textbooks continue to disseminate the narrative, a clear yet peculiar indication of the great authority the prevailing interpretation of race and empire retains through continued (yet largely uncritical) repetition and manipulation.

Over time, then, a consensus has hardened around this interpretation. Evidence that it has shaped the critical dimensions of more recent scholarship indicates not only that it remains viable and popular but also that it might become part of a renewal of the study of late-nineteenth-century American foreign relations. In an essay on the state of the field, Edward Crapol wrote that diplomatic history could be revitalized if historians conquered their fear of the word "imperialism" and engaged the period using a conceptual framework "comparative in design and free of [the] ethnocentric and exceptional bias" that fettered past works. Such an approach, he explained, would integrate the methods of social history as well as findings drawn from newer works on racism and colonialism. This would begin the work of advancing the history of American foreign relations and rescue it from critics who have dismissed it as "a languishing intellectual backwater." Significantly, Crapol gave race only a passing mention in his essay (on the last page of a twenty-four-page article) and cited scholarship at the center of the conventional narrative as a model for future research. For its general observations on imperial history, this essay deserves close attention, but on the specific matter of race and empire it suggests that the next stage of scholarship follow a model that is highly problematic.

Several aspects of the literature on race and late-nineteenth-century imperialism deserve reconsideration. Let us begin with the problems that arise from the analytic concept most favored by the conventional narrative: racial ideology. The term refers to the ascendance of white supremacist ideas-the conviction that people of European descent were inherently different from and universally superior to Native Americans, Mexicans, African Americans, Asians, and even certain European groups (in particular the so-called new immigrants, arrivals from the southern and eastern regions of the Continent who poured into the United States in this period). White supremacy benefited from the rise of pseudosciences that were alleged to provide both objective and quantifiable proof of the Anglo-Saxon's moral and intellectual superiority.

The first problem with racial ideology, already mentioned, is its ambivalence. However powerful and ubiquitous, the dominant racial ideas of the period provided no clear direction in foreign affairs, nor did they propose a program of action toward empire. Campbell, Hunt, Walter LaFeber, and others understood this. They conceded the point that white supremacist ideas could be mobilized equally well both for and against imperialism. Therefore, the conclusion that they share, that race ideology facilitated the annexations of 1898, appears to be based less on argument and evidence than on a teleological assumption: that since the fierce resurgence of political and economic disfranchisement and lynching based on race coincided with the United States extending its domination over millions of people of color, the two must be connected-connected specifically in such a way that the former advanced the latter.

On the surface this is a compelling thesis, but it quickly comes up against serious difficulty. Historians who support this version of events have relied too much on generalization-Fry, Rosenberg, and Woodward, for example-and a small number of favored, often-repeated, and ambiguous sources and quotes. Josiah Strong, who had no direct say in policy formation and questionable influence on the larger culture, is one example. A second would be nearly every statement found in the conventional narrative that is attributed to Senator Albert Beveridge. Beveridge did not enter the Senate until 1899, weeks after that body ratified the treaty that brought the Philippines to the United States and months after Hawaii's annexation. Beveridge's words, then, are best understood yet almost never presented as ex post facto justifications, not as statements that had any substantive bearing on the making of imperial policy. Rudyard Kipling, author of the poem "The White Man's Burden," a third example, is perhaps the most misused. Many who call the poem into evidence, citing it as a classic exhortation to empire, ignore the fact that it appeared in McClure's Magazine in February 1899-after, not before, the United States seized its empire. Most also ignore the poem's churning irony and cynicism; its references to the contradictions of this crusade ("Take up the White Man's burden / The savage wars for peace / Fill full the mouth of Famine / and bid the sickness cease"), the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (war, famine, pestilence, and, by implication, death), and the seven deadly sins. The poem ends with a dark prophecy of the fate of imperialists, who would to Kipling's reckoning be reduced to servility, exile, and the cold judgment of their countrymen. This was hardly an appeal to the glories of empire.

The second problem of racial ideology as an analytic concept has to do with historical explanation.


Excerpted from Race over Empire by Eric T. L. Love Copyright © 2004 by The University of North Carolina Press . Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Ch. 1 American imperialism and the racial mountain 1
Ch. 2 Santo Domingo 27
Ch. 3 The policy of last resort 73
Ch. 4 Hawaii annexed 115
Ch. 5 The Philippines 159
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