De Tocqueville on Race Relations in America - RR144H15
The media player is loading...
De Tocqueville has a great deal to say about the influence of religion upon American society. Now we have previously considered the other evening a great deal of what De Tocqueville had to say. We saw that the voluntary association that is the tithe agencies had a profound influence on the United States and recognized their power. But we must also recognize that De Tocqueville saw something that was very unusual in the United States. In European Countries where there is a strong religious influence on the country, it is because a strong church, protestant or Catholic, exercises pressure on the government.
And De Tocqueville said the remarkable thing in the United States is that this type of pressure is absent, it doesn’t exist. What you have instead is something radically different. There is a greater influence of Christianity upon society and upon the state in the United States precisely because there is a powerful influence of Christianity upon the individual and through the individual upon his actions as a citizen. And De Tocqueville was very strongly impressed by this, because he recognized that this was a healthy kind of influence, it reflected a real power, not a form of political pressure. And so he commented very favorably on this aspect of American life. In fact he said and I quote: “In the United States the sovereign authority is religious.”
Then he commented on Catholic and Protestants alike, stating quite frankly that he was a Catholic, and he was very favorably impressed with American Catholicism as contrasted with the European Catholicism he knew. He felt that the absence of political power and church power had made the church here a much stronger and much more responsible one. He was very favorably impressed with the priests he talked to. [00:02:53]
In contrasting Catholicism and Protestantism he commented...
In contrasting Catholicism and Protestantism he commented that Catholicism was more marked by democracy than Protestantism, because in the Catholic Church the hierarchy and the clergy have all the power and all the laity whether great or small are on an equal level. And so there is a greater sense of Democracy among them, whereas in Protestantism rather than a sense of democracy among members there is a great deal of division in that people of one kind of social level go to one kind of church, and people of another go to another church, and some feel that only the episcopal church is good enough for their social status.
Now a little amusing story from the frontier period which is not in De Tocqueville, on one occasion an Episcopalian asked his rector, or I believe an Episcopal Bishop it was, if it was possible to be saved without being an Episcopalian. And the Bishop thought for a while, and he said: “Yes, but no gentleman would try it.”
Now of course that story illustrates the lack of democracy among Protestants. There were social gradations, and social ranks between the various churches which did not exist among the Catholics among whom there was a real democracy. And so he said what characterized the Protestants was a spirit of independence and equality. Even though one might be a Baptist, he thought he was as good as any Episcopalian or Presbyterian in town. Now he wouldn’t try going to their churches, but he thought he was as good as anyone else. And the Methodist felt that he was as good as anyone else and maybe a little better, and so on. [00:05:23]
So, Catholicism was marked by a spirit of democracy...
So, Catholicism was marked by a spirit of democracy, the Protestant by a spirit of equality and independence. Moreover De Tocqueville said and I quote: “Upon my arrival in the United States the religious aspect of the country was the first thing that struck my attention.” Unquote. In other countries abroad, the drift into atheism and the spirit of the French Revolution was very very profound.
When just a generation later in Britain, Darwin 1859 produced his Origin of Species the entire first edition sold out on the first day of publication. Everyone was so happy to have a book that undercut the bible. As a matter of fact most of the church welcomed it, Queen Victoria was glad she didn’t have to believe those stories in the Old Testament. By and large there had been very little faith, only one bishop really opposed Darwin. The extent of disbelief was very great. When we read about Victorianism, we are very, very much mislead by contemporary writers who don’t know what they are talking about. The Victorian age in England was really a very highly immoral and licentious period. It was given to fads and fashions which emphasized propriety. Now propriety is not morality. Propriety is doing things in a certain way. And if you don’t you are guilty of bad taste.
To give you an example of that, when I was a boy and when I was first in the pastorate in the 40’s and early 50’s, in the small towns of the west it was very commonplace for women to nurse their babies in church. And many a time when I’ve preached there were several women nursing their babies. And no one thought that there was anything wrong with it. And yet about the same time I recall visiting and speaking at a Presbyterian church in the early 50’s in a city, and a woman from an out of the way ranching community came to church and nursed her baby, and everyone was horrified in the church, at what they thought was indecent exposure on her part. Today you would never, never in any place in the big cities see a woman nursing her baby. And yet, you see in some parts of the big cities like Beverly Hills and the Sunset district in LA and other places, women wearing see-through blouses and I’ve actually seen in Beverly Hills one wearing a see through dress. Why? That’s fashionable. Propriety. It’s fitting in terms of the fads and tastes of the time. But nursing a baby is not. [00:09:19]
Now, it’s that kind of thing that the Victorian era...
Now, it’s that kind of thing that the Victorian era was very guilty of. Now this may surprise you but at the beginning of the Victorian era nude bathing in England was commonplace. A few years later they went to the other extreme and they had suits that covered them from the necks to the ankles. You see it wasn’t modesty; it was the change in style. And that’s all. And the various forms of dresses emphasized the same sort of wild variation, from exposure to covering up.
And some of the most indecent clothes worn were worn in the Victorian era. It was playing at being proper in terms of the fad of the day. But Victorianism was far, far from being moral. IT’s a misunderstanding of the day.
Well, this kind of spirit that prevailed in England at the time of De Tocqueville, yes, and later at the Victorian era which began shortly after De Tocqueville was in America, prevailed pretty generally in France also, and was even further out there in its departure from religion. And so De Tocqueville the United States was quite a remarkable place, because he recognized very quickly the strongly religious character of the American people, a very sincere one and a very, very intense one.
Moreover as he commented with regard to education, “in the United States, politics are the end and aim of education. In Europe its principal object is to fit men for private life.” Unquote. Education in Europe was to prepare people to be gentlemen, to find their place in their own circle. In this country it was to prepare them for public life, and again De Tocqueville recognized the difference, and the great advantage it gave to this country. [00:12:01]
The United State, he said, is governed by its laws...
The United State, he said, is governed by its laws. And its laws are governed by the manners or character, the basic perspective of the people. In chapter 18, De Tocqueville turns his attention to the three races of the United States, the Indians, the Whites, and the Black. Of course since all the rest of his book is really dealing with the whites he really says very little about the white’s in his 18th chapter, and basically he is concerned with the Indians and the Negro’s.
Now on the question of the Indians, he comments on the fact that the Indian unlike the Negro was a proud and independent person. Unwilling to submit to slavery, unwilling to submit to the white man. And in this De Tocqueville was right. From my own years among the American Indians I know that the Indians by and large despised Negro’s, in fact they were very often brutal out in the west towards any Negro that came along, and it was rather distressing to see, because the Negro would feel that “Well the Indian is not white, and therefore he will be friendly to me.” Which was a mistake, the white’s would be much more friendly than the Indians. The Indians would play along with this and then play all kinds of brutal and cruel practical jokes on the poor Negro’s.
The Indian as De Tocqueville pointed out has had 200 years of contact with the white man, at that time. Now of course it’s 300 years. And he said that it has produced no change in the Indian, he is still a barbarian, he is still a savage. Well he was not entirely right, there were changes in the Indians, cannibalism for one thing had disappeared. The Indian was well aware of the fact that the white man disapproved of this steadily, and he very quickly picked up some of these attitudes, so certain practices he dropped although they existed during the first century of contact. One reason why he no longer practiced it was because he no longer had to go hungry as he once did. He could always live off the white man’s cattle or something like that. He used to resort to cannibalism regularly when he was very hungry. [00:15:16]
But by and large De Tocqueville was right...
But by and large De Tocqueville was right. The Indian had not changed. Because the Indian was bitterly hostile to any kind of cultural integration, he did not want to be a white man. He had no desire to pick the white man’s place. He was ready enough to pick up certain things the white man had, such as his gun and any other useful equipment, but he basically wanted to continue his own way of life. As a result, De Tocqueville did not see much future for the Indian because he said: “He is so hostile to any kind of integration, culturally or otherwise.” Now there was a great deal of integration, and many illegitimate half breed children, but even with these they would either decide for one or the other, there would be no attempt to integrate the two. And to this day the Indians have kept very much to their ways.
On the other hand with regard to the Negro, De Tocqueville said “He is taught from the time he is born that he is inferior, he has come to believe it, he hates his blackness, and he tries to please the whites. And integration is with him a dream. His goal is to become like a white man, to merge into white culture whereas the Indian is against it. When I say incidentally that there has been no integration of the Indian into our culture I should add that many of the tribes have disappeared into our culture, and have integrated in the last century or so. But there is still a solid core that insists on their own ways.
Now De Tocqueville said: “The Indian has only two alternatives, war or civilization. Either destroy the white man or be destroyed by them, or to become the white man’s equal, to integrate into the white man’s culture.” But he observed and quite rightly, “For the Indian manual labor is an evil. For any Indian man, a man’s work is war and hunting. And of course, the Indians have never entirely overcome this factor, to this day the best worker among the Indians is the woman. Historically the woman has been the manual laborer, among the agricultural tribes she has been the one who has done the farming and the fishing, she has been the one who has cleaned and skinned the deer, tanned the hide and done everything in the way of preparing the food, whereas all the male has done is to hunt and make war. For him, manual labor is disgraceful. Even the first Indian chiefs who were very, very superior men in some cases among the (Sookes?) who decided that the only future for their people was to become integrated, to adopt the white man’s ways, and who led their people into farming, in spite of the fact that they publically preached to their people as chiefs that this is the way, if someone came upon them out at their farm with a shovel in their hand, they would be embarrassed and they would hide it. Because it was shameful work for a man. And any kind of manual labor made them feel ashamed even though in principal they believed it. This is why the Indian tribes who have gone into cattle have been the most successful. It’s less manual labor, they are still riding on a horse like a warrior, and it is therefore it is far more appealing to them. [00:20:12]
Thus De Tocqueville did not see too great a future...
Thus De Tocqueville did not see too great a future for the Indian. And the Indian even though he has a superior intelligence, and some IQ tests have seen that the Indian of all the racial groups in the United States perhaps has the highest IQ, still, is economically the lowest in the United States. He is at the very bottom. Far below the Negro who has a much lower IQ. And of course the reason for it is this aversion to work, on the part of the men. A lingering lasting, feeling that work is somehow degrading for a man.
De Tocqueville then observed with regard to the Negro problem, that the more slavery is abolished the more the prejudice against the blacks increases. And he comments on the fact that the condition of the Negro’s in the North is far worse than in the south. They are far more discriminated against, far more resented, and to a great extent this is still true. In the north the attitude towards the Negro is that he is equal to anybody else, but he is treated as a non-person. So that he really doesn’t exist as far as you are concerned, and his private feelings as an individual. In the South he is treated as an equal, but as a person. One of the ironic facts in this regard was reported to me by a friend who worked as an editor in one of the major newspapers of southern California. Being from Mississippi, all the other men on the staff regularly made fun of him as the Mississippian, and were always chiding him about being a racist. But this man always put them in their place when they got started in that direction, he would say: “Now look, we have 18 colored men working here. When they get into trouble, who do they come to, at any time of the night or day?” And of course at that point they had to keep silent, because they always, always went to Mr. George, because being from Mississippi, they knew that he would treat them as a person. So anytime they needed any help, any time they needed wires pulled, they went to Mr. George. Not to all the white men who said Negros were equals but didn’t want to have any dealings with them.
So De Tocqueville’s observation in the 1830’s is still a valid one to this day. [00:23:46]
I might add, I have been in the south three times this...
I might add, I have been in the south three times this year, and I have seen more integration in the Deep South, than I have in the north or in the west. For the simple reason that whatever their feelings are, they know each other and are better able to adjust to whatever reality is forced upon them or they are confronted with.
De Tocqueville gives an extreme example of the kind of treatment the Negro received in areas outside of the south. He said with respect to Ohio that Ohio was very bitterly anti-slavery, and had passed a strong anti-slavery law, saying that no slavery would be permitted whatsoever in the state. But then, to keep any ex-slaves from going to Ohio, they passed a law saying that no Negro’s would be permitted in the state of Ohio. And that law stood on the books for a long, long time. And De Tocqueville said that this unfortunately is too often the attitude outside of the South.
De Tocqueville saw however only problems, with regard to the future of Black and White in this country. He recognized that sooner or later the issue would come to the fore, and he suspected that the answer would be to wholly part or to mingle in some way. And he doubted the second. He said: “There is a measure of peace between blacks and whites in other parts of the Americas, but the English people who make up the bulk of the people in the United States are the least given to mixing.” And so he said: “Because of the English background of so many peoples in the United States, this will create a problem.” [00:26:21]
He predicted therefore that the white’s had no future...
He predicted therefore that the white’s had no future in the West Indies, the blacks would subdue them or drive them out in the west indies. With regard to America he felt that the reverse would be true in the United States. The Blacks ultimately would be the losers. He also felt that there was a good likely hood of revolution by the blacks sometime after their liberation. That they would become discontent with their treatment and would move towards revolution. Now I don’t think at that point his prediction is necessarily valid. It could be that it’s true, but one of the things that militates against it right now is that the younger Negros of the United States are being so heavily promoted for jobs by the civil rights legislation, that the average negro under 35 has a better income than the average white under 35. Over 35 the picture is very much the other way.
Now one of the results of this fact is that the younger Negros increasingly who are in such positions, want as little association with the radical groups and with the revolutionary groups in their midst as possible. They regard them with horror and distaste. They feel that they are getting ahead, they are prospering, and they don’t want those people to rock the boat and make trouble for them. In fact it does lead sometimes to some rather pathetic examples of this resentment of anything Negro. In one government school PTA meeting in California, there was the wife of the black executive at the PTA meeting, had been coming for some time, was a rather charming and intelligent young woman, and had become very quietly, gradually liked and popular. Then a colored engineer moved into the community, and his wife went to the PTA meeting. And naturally feeling very much a stranger and alone, she tried to draw close to the other colored woman- who cut her dead, as thoroughly as she could, and as coldly as possible. Why? She made it clear that she didn’t want a black corner in the room. And she was getting well acquainted and respected and liked, and let her go over and find some friends for herself. In other words, the last person she wanted was a black friend.
Now this trend is very powerful, in fact I know one integrated church where they had a number of very prominent liberal white’s, including a very well-known novelist, and the Negro’s were very anxious to join, and a very prominent Negro pastor was one of the two pastors, there was a white and a black pastor. And the church had some serious trouble, because after a certain number of blacks became members, the black members raised a real ruckus at the congregation meeting and said they had to set a quota, and allow no more blacks to come in, until so many whites came in, because otherwise it was going to be a black church, and they weren’t going to sit around and allow that church to become black.
Because there is so much of this you see, De Tocqueville’s prediction while it is possible it is not likely to come true. Because De Tocqueville was right at this point; the ideal for the black is integration of some sort, to be accepted. To be liked by the white’s. The Indian doesn’t care about the whites. In fact one of the cuss words while I was on the Indian reservation among the Indians was to call someone a ‘dirty (divo?)’ that was the ultimate in a cussword, and of course my kids picked this up very early from playing with the Indians, and I’d have a problem with them once in a while, I’d have to go and drag them in the house, because if they started quarrelling with some of the Indian kids around there they’d start yelling at them: “You dirty (divo?)!” And that was not good public relations. [00:32:13]
But that is not common you see, among the blacks...
But that is not common you see, among the blacks. The black revolutionary groups have tried to foster it, but it has not by and large taken. And by and large, De Tocqueville’s statement that integration in some fashion is their goal, still prevails, and therefore this is a strong factor against social disturbance. As a matter of fact what many people fail to realize, again parenthetically to take a little time on this problem, which is a very current one. During the many riots in the black areas, the cities in one places in the United States, most white people misunderstood the direction of the rioting, they thought it was against the white man, the police or something, that was secondary. It was an excuse; the basic direction of the rioting was against the middle class black, the one who was getting ahead. And in many, many cases I know of, well, one colored woman I heard talk about it, she said more than once because living in (Watts?) one of the better blocks she said, “The women in the block got together for a prayer meeting, and our men got on the roof with rifles, because we were the number one target. Their resentment because we were getting ahead.” Now that was quite generally true across the country, although it is not recognized. [00:34:00]
Well, to continue with De Tocqueville in his first...
Well, to continue with De Tocqueville in his first volume, his analysis of the United States. He raises the question: “Can the United States endure?” Now he is not singling the United States out for a feeling of hopelessness, He has been a very fair, a very friendly observer concerning the United States. But De Tocqueville is fearful for the future. De Tocqueville was concerned that because of the French Revolution, and he was not trying to say what was old before was good, he is a severe critic of it. But he felt that with the French Revolution, the tendency at work in western Civilization was very dangerous. That it was the Democratic movement moving man towards tyranny, towards totalitarianism. And so he said: “Whatever faith I might have in the perfectibility of man, until human nature is altered, and men wholly transformed,” Which of course would take Christian faith, “I shall refuse to believe in the duration of a government which is called upon to hold together 40 different peoples, disseminated over a territory equal to one half of Europe in extent. To avoid all rivalry, ambition, and struggles between them, and to direct their independence according to the accomplishment of the same design. But the greatest peril to which the Union is exposed by its increase arises from the continual changes which take place in the position of his internal strength.”
The United States he said is growing, and as it covers more and more land, more and more territory, it will be easier for it to fall apart. Well of course very soon through telegraph, railway and various forms of progress it was as if the world and the United States were going to get smaller, as far as time was concerned. But he was afraid at that time that it would lead to a division, especially since there were so many racial groups pouring in here, since there were three races involved, since there was a slavery and anti-slavery issues, he was fearful for the future. He did speak of the westward march in these terms: “This gradual, and continual progress of the European race towards the rocky mountains, has the solemnity of a providential event. It is like a deluge of men arising unabatedly, and driven daily onward by the hand of God.” [00:37:13]
Then he said again, ...
Then he said again, “The Union is an accident, which will last only so long as circumstances are favorable to its existence. But a republican form of government seems to me to be the natural state of government of the Americas, which nothing but the continued action of hostile causes, always acting in the same direction could change into a monarchy. The Union exists principally in the law which formed it, one revolution, one change in public opinion might destroy it forever, but the republic has a much deeper foundation to rest upon. What is understood by ‘Republican government’ in the United States is the slow and quiet action of society upon itself. It is a regular state of things really founded upon the enlightened will of the people. It is a conciliatory government under which resolutions are allowed time to ripen, and in which they are deliberately discussed and executed with mature judgment. The republicans in the United States,” (By Republicans he means people who hold to a republic.) “Set a high value upon morality, respect religious belief and acknowledge the existence of rights. They profess to think that a people ought to be moral, religious, and temperate in proportion as it is free. What is called the republic in the United States is the tranquil rule of the majority, which after having had time to examine itself, and to give proof of its existence is the common source of all the powers of the state. But the power of the majority is not of itself unlimited. In the moral world humanity justice and reason enjoy an undisputed supremacy; in the political world vested rights are treated with no less deference. The majority recognizes these two barriers, and if it now and then oversteps them it is because like individuals it has passions and like them it is prone to do what is wrong, while it discerns what is right.
But the demagogues of Europe have made strange discoveries. A republic is not according to them the rule of majority as has hitherto been though, but the rule of those are strenuous partisans of the majority.” (Here he is ridiculing the European idea as derived from Rousseau.) “It is not the people who preponderate in this kind of government but those who best know what is for the good of the people. A happy distinction which allows men to act in the name of nations without consulting them, and to claim their gratitude while their rights are spurned.” [00:40:19]
Now, in spite of this, De Tocqueville was in a sense...
Now, in spite of this, De Tocqueville was in a sense both hopeful and fearful. He felt emphatically that the federal power was declining. He felt that the tension between Anti-slavery and slavery was weakening Washington, and could destroy it.
That the government could fall apart. He also was concerned with the doctrine of nullification, as expressed by then vice-president Calhoun. We shall be spending quite a bit of time on Calhoun’s ideas next week. Calhoun he quotes as saying in the senate in the year 1833: “The constitution is a compact, to which the states were parties in their sovereign capacity.” Now, whenever a contract is entered into by parties, which acknowledge no tribunal above their authority, to decide in the last resort, each of them has the right to judge for itself in relation to the nature, stint, and obligation of the instrument. In other words, the safe governments were more powerful according to Calhoun than the federal government.
Now in his day, Calhoun when he made these remarks had very little influence. This is what many people fail to realize. In 1833, outside of his state and outside of politicians who controlled the electoral college had he been able to get the nomination, and had he not split with Jackson, in which case he could have gotten it, he could perhaps have been president. But By and large the south was very distrustful of Calhoun. Does anyone know the reason? Why the south at this period had great fears about Calhoun and would not follow him. It was only about 45 years later that Calhoun’s ideas were able to… not 45, but 25 years later that Calhoun’s ideas were able to exercise power in the Senate. Anyone know? [00:43:03]
Calhoun was a Unitarian...
Calhoun was a Unitarian. And the South in his day was too devout and orthodox to trust a Unitarian. And so at that time Calhoun got nowhere. It is possible that he did more harm to his cause for a time than he did good. Now Calhoun was a very brilliant thinker, and some of his ideas on government are extremely important, and we shall deal with them. But in his day, he could not exercise the power that De Tocqueville feared he could.
And so the damage was not done at that time that could’ve been done, and the destruction of the country was not made possible. Thus De Tocqueville was in many, many respects a remarkable observer. This country has rarely had a more sympathetic as well as… (Tape skips) The modern intellectual would hold, because De Tocqueville was alien to the modern political temperament, he is still very highly regarded and his works reprinted, although sometimes surrounded by too many notes by modern liberals to give a chance to De Tocqueville to try and come through. But nonetheless, De Tocqueville’s comments are extremely telling, and one of the most important insight into our history. Next week we shall return once again to De Tocqueville. And tomorrow, I shall give you some further assignments in book two. Are there any questions now on what we have been dealing with? [00:45:08]
No Questions? Well then we are adjourned...
No Questions? Well then we are adjourned. [00:45:29]