On White Male Property owning Citizenship in the US

Civic virtue as a property of propertied white men:

A number of authors argue that the 19th Century concept of US citizenship and civic virtue was grounded in being a white male property-owner — with property-ownership construed broadly to include tool-owning tradesmen, a notion that spilled over into the racial exclusivism practiced by the US craft unions:

Political and legal theorist Aziz Rana’s The Two Faces of American Freedom (2010).

Historian David Montgomery’s Citizen Worke(1995).

Political scientist Rogers Smith‘s Civic Ideals (1999) gives a fairly broad backdrop.

Italian philosopher Domenico Losurdo argues that liberalism is essentially about exclusion: the advancement of slavery, colonialism, genocide, racism and snobbery. Much of his book Liberalism, A Counter-history (2011) is focused on the United States, in both the early republican and antebellum periods. (Here is a New Left Project debate on Losurdo‘s thesis . Here is a review of Liberalism in Counterfire.) Jodi Dean has argued that the exclusion thesis is a red herring; the problem with capitalism is exploitation, not exclusion.

Christopher Tomlins’s Law, Labor, and Ideology in the Early Republic (1993) (It can complement the Orren text, see below.)

Andrew Shankman’s Crucible of American Democracy (2004).

Seth Cotlar’s Tom Paine’s America (2011).

On how long citizenship actually took to get to white males, cross-class, in the US:

Best book about thwarted suffrage in the US (including that of working class white males) is The Right to Vote (2000) by historian Alex Keyssar. (Hear Keyssar speaking about contemporary barriers to suffrage in the US.)

Political scientist Karen Orren’s book Belated Feudalism (1991) is about the persistence in the US of feudal common law, in the form of employment law, well into the 20th century.

Thanks to John Gulick, C. Robin and Anthony Galluzzo.





What’s at Stake in Understanding Conservatism
From a review of Manisha Sinha’s The Counterrevolution of Slavery: Politics and Ideology in Antebellum South Carolina:


Sinha demonstrates that “South Carolina pro-slavery thought was not the expression of Southern Republicanism, but increasingly its very negation. It was not a coincidence that secessionism was strongest in South Carolina, the only state by 1832 where presidential electors and the governor were not popularly elected, where the legislature was crudely malapportioned, and where local offices were limited by the state government. It was also not a coincidence that slaves were a majority of South Carolinians, and slaveholders nearly a majority of South Carolinian whites. And it certainly was not a coincidence that non-slaveholders were noticeably less enthusiastic for nullification, secession in 1851 and secession in 1861.

Leading Carolinians like John Caldwell Calhoun, Senator James Chesnut and the creepy, incestuous James Hammond all sneered at the Declaration of Independence. Sinha quotes one bravado warping Patrick Henry to declare “Give me Slavery or give me death.” Notwithstanding the views of some historians to the contrary, the South Carolinians criticized the North less for its oppression of wage laborers than for the possiblity that those laborers could vote themselves into power. They did not condemn Lincoln as an intolerant Protestant but as a dangerous socialist and feminist. Moreover, they were not slow to raise the Nativist card against the immigrants who were bolstering the North’s population.

Calhoun’s idea of a concurrent majority was not a thoughtful protection of minority rights, but a way to prevent one minority, his own, from ever being outvoted. Once the Confederacy was set up, the Southern elite dispensed with political parties. South Carolina also began to dispense with competitive elections, while its ruthless elite certainly did not act sentimentally (or even decently) towards opinions on slavery.

There have been many frauds and bullies in American political life: the Nixons, the Hoovers, the McCarthys, the Tillmans and the Bilbos. But much of their malignancy was purely personal, and they never threatened the core ideals of the republic. Calhoun was different, very different. Extremely intelligent, he was also utterly principled, and absolutely ruthless in carrying out that one principle. The problem was that the principle, despite all the complications of honor and paternalism, was slavery. More so than anyone else, Calhoun was the greatest enemy of liberty and freedom the United States ever had.


If you still don’t understand what’s at stake, perhaps you might glance at contemporary S. Carolina and US politics, inter alia. History is a child with progeria. 

“It isn’t that Americans view the past as irrelevant; it’s that they regard it as the stuff that dreams are made of, straw spun into gold, camera-ready for the preferred and more profitable markets in prime-time myth.

Why then argue for uses of history other than the ones that sponsor the election campaigns, blow the bubbles in Wall Street, underwrite the nation’s wars? The short answer is William Faulkner’s ‘The past is never dead. It’s not even past.'” (Lapham, Lewis. 2012. P. 28 in “Ignorance of Things Past,” Harper’s, May.)

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