The History of American (White) Exceptionalism: Chapter Five
“We have never dreamt of incorporating into our Union any but the Caucasian race—the free white race. To incorporate Mexico, would be the very first instance of the kind, of incorporating an Indian race; for more than half of the Mexicans are Indians, and the other is composed chiefly of mixed tribes. I protest against such a union as that! Ours, sir, is the Government of a white race…. We are anxious to force free government on all; and I see that it has been urged … that it is the mission of this country to spread civil and religious liberty over all the world, and especially over this continent. It is a great mistake.”
Sen. John C. Calhoun – SC
According to historian William E. Weeks, there are three themes generally agreed upon that comprise Manifest Destiny.
- The Virtue of the American people and their institutions
- The mission to spread these institutions, thereby redeeming and remaking the world in the image of the United States
- The Destiny under God to do this work
Working in reverse. Some Americans then and a higher percentage now believe that God has ordained America to be the greatest nation on the Earth. Broken down it means that God has given favor… to America and at the expense of other nations because, because, what? Certainly, most nations have some degree of nationalism where they believe something about their country makes them superior. America may indeed be the greatest nation because of its resources, its military, and its economy. One of the things that made America great in 1845 when the term Manifest Destiny was coined was its reliance on the cheap labor from slavery and indentured servants which made it a better trade partner that produced goods at a better price than other nations. It is a model that many corporations use today but instead of slaves, they outsource labor to nations where workers make as little as cents per hour under terrible conditions. In America, they fight against minimum wage standards and unions and participate in A.L.E.C. to shape our laws to allow for their excesses.
Another area in which America is the greatest nation in the world is the sale of arms to other countries. In 2010, we sold arms to 62 other nations, sometimes to both sides in disputes in an effort to increase profits. I mention these things to suggest that America’s position in the world does not necessarily come from God. Some of our success seems to come from doing things with which the God I believe in would have a problem.
The philosophy behind Manifest Destiny is exactly the same behind those of White Exceptionalism and White Privilege. Americans (white Americans) are entitled to supersede the rights of non-whites because… white. The originator of the phrase Manifest Destiny, newspaper editor John O’Sullivan, didn’t believe that Americans would have to fight with the Indians to take their land. He thought the Indians would somehow recognize the God-given right to the land of white Americans and simply accept whatever accommodations that were made for them.
In the present day, we have labeled ourselves “the world’s policeman” which translates to, we have the right to interfere in the business of any other nation to achieve our own goals and to advance our interests. This is almost always applied in our relationship with non-white nations and we would hate for our interference with our white allies to become known.
Domestically, white privilege and White Exceptionalism manifests itself in how districts are drawn for state and congressional elections, in gerrymandering and in voter suppression laws. All of these are designed to give increased power to a dwindling white demographic when fair and democratic elections would not produce the same outcome. It is almost funny to see Donald Trump wailing about the unfair process used to select delegates to the Republican convention yet he’s never said a word against gerrymandering or voter suppression.
America had no problem taking land from the Native Americans as they marched west yet negotiated in good faith with England to settle what would be the Canadian border. Mexico to the south presented a different problem.
Texas declared independence from Mexico in 1836. This ultimately led to the Mexican-American War ten years later and because of our military success, there came a point where the country considered annexing all of Mexico. One of the reasons given was the desire not to impose democracy against a people against their will which somehow didn’t matter when gobbling up Indian land. The debate in Congress made clear that the primary reason to not absorb Mexico was because it would mean giving citizenship to millions of Mexicans. If you listen to the arguments today about a path to citizenship for those non-citizens in America today and the vitriol behind them. You’ll know what the debate was like in 1848. When ultimately America absorbed New Mexico and parts of California, it was because they were sparsely populated and not many Mexicans came along.
Reviewing the history of Manifest Destiny and the Monroe Doctrine preceding it. It is clear that America is far more the same despite the belief we have evolved. America is committed to the appearance of fair elections, equal rights for all of its citizens and an impartial justice system. In truth, America allows the disenfranchisement of some of its citizens through gerrymandering and voter suppression laws. It is rolling back the protections designed to achieve equal rights and conservative states like North Carolina, Mississippi, and Louisiana among others are actively removing protections for some of its citizens and it is only the reaction of the business community that is causing some delay in implementation. Lastly, our court system has demonstrated its partisan nature and pro-business leanings and with Citizen’s United has made clear that the rich and white will have every opportunity to have the upper hand.