America’s history has a long record of using nationalistic justifications for taking land from those who had it before and imposing the “American Way.” Even before the country was established and leading up to the Civil War, there was a sincere sense that it was the duty of God-fearing white Americans to utilize the land in a way that was more appropriate. This colonial mindset held that the people who were on the land – Native Americans, Mexicans, and the like – were not capable of using it the right way. As such, a host of different events in American history support the concept of America justifying its dominance on theories of race and power.
There was a strong sense that Anglo people had a divine right from God to rule over the nations. This was the concept of Manifest Destiny, and before it was so named, it was considered a part of common knowledge among many of the ruling class of whites. This is one of the reasons that slavery was perpetuated in the Americas. White landowners, it seemed, were the favored people. Part of the justification for their power was that the ruling class viewed itself as being more enlightened and more civilized than people who had not discovered things like democracy.
This helped lead to Native American displacement under Andrew Jackson and other presidents. The Native Americans controlled their own plots of land, and even after there stopped being fights between colonists and Native Americans, there was a sense that Americans could better use that property. This sense of domination caused and prompted the ruling class in America to force American Indians off of their lands, moving them in brutal fashion to parts of the West and Midwest that no one else wanted to occupy at that time.
Manifest Destiny also guided James K. Polk and America in trying to take Texas, which it viewed as being the rightful possession of the United States. Mexico had many political problems, but it was united in its desire to keep Texas. America, though, saw Texas as being central to its strategy of expansion, which was going to move from coast to coast, giving America the ability to rule a full land without the resistance of people who were often viewed as in some way inferior. This war was the product of American notions of Anglo supremacy. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ended the war, and it was one thing that made some believe that maybe the US had turned the corner on race issues. Mexicans living in newly annexed areas – including Texas, New Mexico, Utah, and Arizona – had the ability to have full citizenship, which was something that even some black Americans did not have at that time.
While many people focus on African slavery, there were other kinds of slavery, too, that showed the willingness of the white ruling class to exploit minorities in order to gain its profit. The coolies – who were slaves brought from Asia – were instrumental in building the railroad industry in America. They helped to construct railroads from coast to coast and occupied a lower social status in America.
The ideas of “We the People” are difficult to rationalize when one considers the full extent of racial disharmony in America over the decades. The Gold Rush in California eventually brought the kind of white hegemony that many were in support of, and it showed the ways in which the country would stoop in order to justify its actions in regard to non-white people. While many of the country’s ruling documents suggest equality and freedom from all, the reality suggests that at least in the early years, this only applied to white people in America, with few exceptions.
- Arnesen, Eric. “Like Banquo’s Ghost, It Will Not Down”: The Race Question and the Railroad Brotherhoods, 1880-1920.” The American Historical Review (1994): 1601-1633.