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“Mexicans were learning to act like white people in Arizona, he reported, where Mexican restaurant owners … had recently placed signs in the windows that Negroes would not be served” (Foley)

1956: Ávila, Arizona Mexicans are learning to act white, i.e., not serve Negroes in restaurants

Educating Anglos to acknowledge the white racial status of Mexican [137] Americans represented a major political goal of the American GI Forum. To become white–and therefore truly American–required members to distance themselves from any association, social or political, with African Americans. When the AGIF News Bulletin, for example, printed an article in 1955 titled “Mexican Americans Favor Negro School Integration,” Manuel Ávila, an active member of AGIF and close personal friend of Hector García, wrote to state chairman Ed Idar that “Anybody reading it can only come to the conclusion [that] we are ready to fight the Negroes’ battles… for sooner or later we are going to have to say which side of the fence we’re on, are we white or not. If we are white, why do we ally with the Negro?”[38] Mexicans were learning to act like white people in Arizona, he reported, where Mexican restaurant owners, who normally served Negroes, had recently placed signs in the windows that Negroes would not be served. If Mexicans refused to serve Negroes, Ávila wrote, Anglo restaurants might begin serving Mexicans. Mexican Americans, he argued, must say to Negroes “I’m White and you can’t come into my restaurant.”[39]

A sympathetic white woman from rural Mississippi, Ruth Slates, who owned a store that served many Mexican and Mexican American cotton pickers, wrote to Dr. García in 1951: “My blood just boils to see these farmers… trying to throw the Spanish kids out of schools… and into negro schools. She pointed out that although some of the “Spanish kids” “hate negroes,” others, unfortunately, “mix with them.” She then advised Dr. García that Mexicans needed a strong leader to teach them “right from wrong,” because some “even marry negros and some white girls.” Slates was giving Dr. García a quick lesson in southern racial protocol: if Mexicans want to be white, then they cannot associate with, much less marry, black folk, and she also implied that marrying white girls, in Mississippi at least, might not be a prudent thing to do.[40] Ruth Slates liked “Spanish kids” and hoped that Dr. García would provide the kind of leadership required, as it is now fashionable to say, to perform whiteness.

Neil Foley, "Partly Colored or Other White: Mexican Americans and Their Problem with the Color Line," in Beyond Black and White: Race, Ethnicity, and Gender in the U.S. South and Southwest, ed. Stephanie Cole and Alison M. Parker, 123-144 (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 204), 136-137.


  1. [38]Manuel Ávila, Jr. to Ed Idar, Feb. 7, 1956, box 26, folder 28, HPG; News Bulletin 4, nos. 1 and 2 (Sept.-Oct., 1955): 1, HPG.
  2. [39]Manuel Ávila, Jr., to Ed Idar, Feb. 7, 1956, box 46, folder 28, HPG. See also Isaac P. Borjas to Hector P. García, June 2, 1940; Newspaper clipping, Caracas Daily Journal, [1960?], box 114, folder 22; and Ruth Slates to Dr. Hector García, Mar. 23, 1951, box 59, folder 33, HGP.
  3. [40]Ruth Slates to Dr. Hector García, Mar. 23, 1951, box 59, folder 33, HGP.

“we are not and never have been a civil rights organization. Personally I hate that word” (Hector Garcia, qtd. in Foley)

1949: Felix Longoria and American GI Forum

A few years after World War II ended, another Mexican American civil rights organization was founded, the American GI Forum. Significantly, the name of the organization did not include any reference to its being an organization for Mexican American war veterans. Hector García, a medical doctor who founded the American GI Forum, achieved a degree of national attention in 1949 when he challenged the Anglo owner of a funeral home near San Antonio for refusing the use of the chapel to the Mexican American family of a deceased veteran, Private Felix Longoria. Dr. García organized a statewide protest that attracted the attention of U.S. Senator Lyndon [136] Baines Johnson who offered to have Private Longoria buried in Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C., with full military honors, which the family graciously accepted. The incident established the American GI Forum as an effective civil rights advocate for Mexican Americans, even though Dr. García himself insisted, years after the Longoria incident, that the American GI Forum was not a civil rights organization but rather a “charitable organization.” As late as 1954 Dr. García claimed, “we are not and have never been a civil rights organization. Personally I hate the word.” What did Dr. García have against the phrase “civil rights”?[33]

Here it is worth noting that the phrase “civil rights” was so firmly linked in the post-World War II imaginary to the civil rights struggle of African Americans that Dr. García perhaps thought it best not to acknowledge too forcefully the American GI Forum’s own civil rights agenda. […] Robert Kennedy, like Dr. García, did not wish to alienate whites in Texas–or anywhere else–by appearing to join the struggle of black people for civil rights.[35]

By the early 1950s the American GI Forum, while still denying that it was a civil rights organization, sought to end discrimination in Texas schools, in employment, and in the use of public spaces. The core strategy depended on educating Anglos that “Americans of Spanish-speaking descent” or Latin Americans were Caucasians and that to identify them as anything but white, whether on birth certificates or traffic citations, was illegal. Making any distinction between Latin Americans and whites, he wrote, was a “slur,” an insult to all Latin Americans of Spanish descent.[36]

A decade later, Vice President Hubert Humphrey made the mistake of writing the American GI Forum to announce the government’s new program to offer summer jobs to teenagers, especially, he wrote, for “the non-white teenagers.” The AGIF Auxiliary chairwoman, Mrs. Dominga Coronado, rebuked the vice president: “If everyone in the government takes the position emphasized in your letter ([that Mexicans are] nonwhite), then it is understandable why the Mexican American is getting ‘the leftovers’ of the Federal programs in employment, housing and education.”[37] White people, she seemed to imply, do not eat leftovers.

Neil Foley, "Partly Colored or Other White: Mexican Americans and Their Problem with the Color Line," in Beyond Black and White: Race, Ethnicity, and Gender in the U.S. South and Southwest, ed. Stephanie Cole and Alison M. Parker, 123-144 (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 204), 135-136.


  1. [33]Hector García to Gerald Saldana, Mar. 13, 1954, box 141, folder 3, Hector P. García Papers, Texas A&M University, Corpus Christi, hereafter cited as HPG.
  2. [35]While not promoting the American GI Forum as a civil rights organization in 1949, García nevertheless wrote to the Texas governor that “Texas is in immediate need of a Civil Rights Program.” Hector P. García to Allan Shivers, Dec. 4, 1949, HPG.
  3. [36]Hector P. García to Editor, Lubbock Morning Avalanche, July 18, 1956, HPG.
  4. [37]Hubert Humphrey to Dominga Coronado, June 12, 1967; Dominga Coronado to Hubret Humphrey, June 26, 1967, HPG.

“His point was that the vast majority of El Paso Mexicans, who were not of the middle class, did not think of themselves as white and that El Paso blacks also did not regard Mexicans as white” (J. Hamilton Price, quoted and discussed in Foley)

J. Hamilton Price on Mexican protests of whiteness, non-coloredness. Followed Jim Crow patterns for colored, not white, people. / BB&W, p. 133.

Amidst all the protests that classifying Mexicans as “colored” insulted Mexicans on both sides of the border, little was heard from the African American community of El Paso, which, although small (less than two percent), could not have appreciated the Mexican community’s insistence that being classified in the same racial category as “negro” was the worst possible affront to Mexican racial pride. However, one El Pasoan, J. Hamilton Price, who was either African American or posing as one, wrote a long letter explaining how both blacks and whites in El Paso were roaring with laughter over the Mexicans’ exhibitions of wounded dignity.[29] Price wrote that local blacks did not consider Mexicans white, nor did they consider them to be superior to blacks. Furthermore, if Mexicans considered themselves superior to blacks, he wanted to know why Mexicans in El Paso ate, drank, and worked with people considered racially inferior. He went on to list the numerous ways in which Mexican behavior departed radically from Anglo-white behavior with respect to blacks. “One sees daily in this city,” he wrote, “Mexican boys shining the shoes of Negroes. If Mexicans are racially superior to Negroes,” he continued, “they shouldn’t be shining their shoes.”[30] It is worth listing all the behaviors Price described to indicate how ludicrous he found the Mexican claim to whiteness:

  • Some of the Mexican men had their hair made wavy to look more like the curly hair of Negroes.
  • In local stores Mexican clerks addressed Negro clients as “Sir” and “Ma’am.”
  • In local streetcars Mexicans occupied the seats reserved by law for Negroes.
  • Many Mexicans in El Paso preferred Negro doctors and dentists to those of their own race.
  • Many Mexicans were employed on ranches and in the homes and commercial establishments of Negroes.
  • Mexican boxers competed with Negroes in Juarez and would compete with them in El Paso, if it were permitted.
  • Mexican soccer players avidly played against Negroes, and many of the players on the Mexican teams were Negroes.
  • In some of the Mexican bars and small restaurants Negroes were as well received as Mexicans themselves.
  • Four out of five clients of Negro prostitutes were Mexicans.
  • In El Paso and Juarez many Mexican women were married to Negroes.

[134]Price wrote that the offspring of Mexican and black marriages were so numerous in El Paso that they were called “negro-burros,” literally, “black donkeys.” In Mexico, according to Price, many of these mixed-race persons were considered Mexican and occupied important positions in Mexican social circles. They often frequented the best theaters, restaurants, and Mexican hair salons, married Mexican women, and, if Democrats, were able to vote in the Democratic primaries in Texas, which otherwise barred blacks from voting. His point was that the vast majority of El Paso Mexicans, who were not of the middle class, did not think of themselves as white and that El Paso blacks also did not regard Mexicans as white. Price, angered by the manner in which Mexicans objected to being labeled as “colored,” ended his long leter with some racial invective of his own: “Though once pure Indians,” he wrote, “Mexicans had become more mixed than dog food–undoubtedly a conglomeration of Indian with all the races known to man, with the possible exception of the Eskimo.”[31]

Price’s letter brought a series of angry rebuttals from Mexicans who denounced Price as a coward for using a pseudonym–they could not find his name in the city directory. One writer, Abraham Arriola Giner, accused Negroes of deserving their inferior status for having tolerated oppressive conditions that no Mexican ever would. He boasted of the high level of culture attained by his Indian ancestors and belittled Negroes as descendants of “savage tribes” from Africa where they practiced cannibalism and did nothing to improve their lives. He reminded Price that American Negroes, as former slaves, did not have their own country or flag and that there was no honor for those who did not understand the meaning of liberty. In  afinal stroke of racial arrogance, Arriola Gina wrote that Mexicans would never tolerate any race claiming to be superior to Mexicans because “such superiority does not exist.”[32]

Neil Foley, "Partly Colored or Other White: Mexican Americans and Their Problem with the Color Line," in Beyond Black and White: Race, Ethnicity, and Gender in the U.S. South and Southwest, ed. Stephanie Cole and Alison M. Parker, 123-144 (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 204), 133-134.
  1. [29]El Continental, Oct. 14, 1936, CCC. An editorial appearing opposite Hamilton’s letter stated that the letter appeared to be written “por un negro” and that although vulgar (“grosera”), the editor decided to publish the letter to express a different point of view.
  2. [30]El Continental, Oct. 14, 1936, CCC.
  3. [31]Ibid.
  4. [32]Ibid., Oct. 16, 1936.

“Menchaca was comparatively well off, but only in relation to a San Antonio Tejano population undergoing a significant downward trend in economic status from landowners to a working underclass.” (Matovina and de la Teja)

1840-1850: Census documentation of declining Tejanx economic position

The 1840 census of the Republic of Texas recorded him as holding one town lot in San Antonio, presumably the location of his private residence, and two horses. He was also the agent of record for his widowed mother, who owned one town lot. After U.S. annexation of Texas, his level of prosperity remained relatively constant. In 1840, on the first U.S. census conducted in San Antonio, he was listed as a “merchant” who owned real estate valued at $2,000; a newspaper report from seven years later mentions Menchaca as one owner of transport carts loaded with goods that left San Antonio for the coast under armed guard during the infamous Cart War.[26]

[15] Still, in comparison to other San Antonio Tejanos, Menchaca’s retention of his homestead and mercantile interests placed him ahead of many contemporaries. Although incomplete, the census of 1840 showed that Tejanos owned 85.1 percent of the town lots in San Antonio, along with 63.8 percent of all land acreage titled to local residents. According to the 1850 census, they owned only 9.1 percent of real estate values claimed. Similarly, in 1830, when Tejanos comprised nearly all the population of San Antonio, the census showed that most residents were farmers and only 14.8 percent were laborers. No employment listings were given in the 1840 census, but in 1850, 61.4 percent of the Tejano population was in labor positions. Menchaca was comparatively well off, but only in relation to a San Antonio Tejano population undergoing a significant downward trend in economic status from landowners to a working underclass.[27]

Menchaca did not complacently accept the woes of his fellow Tejanos. He was a frequent witness for Tejano parties in court cases, particularly for veterans seeking the compensation due them by law for military service in the Texas Revolution. Convinced that the just claims of many Tejano veterans had been denied or unduly delayed as compared to the more prompt approvals their Anglo-American counterparts received, Menchaca was one of nineteen Tejano signers in 1875 of a letter to the Texas comptroller of [16] public accounts that sought to “disabuse [Comptroller Stephen H. Darden’s mind of any prejudice” against Tejano veterans and that demanded for themselves and their comrades “simply justice and nothing more.” His support of fellow Tejanos was so strong that apparently he did not even hold grudges against those who supported the Mexican side in the Texas Revolution. For example, he provided a deposition to support the legal claims of Francisco Esparza, a San Antonio native who, unlike his Alamo-defender brother Gregorio, had opted to fight in the Mexican army during the December 1835 Texan siege of San Antonio and was on reserve with the Mexican forces during Santa Anna’s Texas campaign. James Newcomb summed up Menchaca’s leading role as a legal advocate when he quipped that “in later years, when the titles to almost every foot of ground in the old city and county of Bexar were litigated in the courts, Captain Menchaca became a standing witness to prove up the genealogy of the old families.”[28]

Matovina and de la Teja, “Introduction: Antonio Menchaca in Texas History,” in Antonio Menchaca, Recollections of a Tejano Life: Antonio Menchaca in Texas History, edited by Timothy Matovina and Jesús F. de la Teja, with the collaboration of Justin Poché (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2013)., 14-16.

  1. [26][…] Gifford White, ed., The 1840 Census of the Republic of Texas, 15; V. K. Carpenter, comp. The State of Texas Federal Population Schedules Seventh Census of the United States, 1850, entry no. 179, 1:121; San Antonio Herald, 25 September 1857, p. 2. For a brief overview of the Cart War, see John J. Linn, Reminiscences of Fifty Years in Texas, 352-354; J. Fred Rippy, “Border Troubles along the Rio Grande, 1848-1860,” 103-104; Larry Knight, “The Cart War: Defining American in San Antonio in the 1850s,” 319-336.
  2. [27]White, ed., The 1840 Census of the Republic of Texas, 12-18; Carpenter, comp., State of Texas Seventh Census, 1:111-189; White, 1830 Citizens of Texas, 79-112. The downward trend in socioeconomic fortunes of Bexareños was not unique, either to Texas or to the Southwest generally. Arnoldo De León, in The Tejano Community, 1836-1900, was the first to explore this theme in a major work, not from the perspective of victimization, but from that of resistance and self-assertion. David Montejano, in confirming De León’s findings, expanded the focus to include the legalistic dynamics of Tejano marginalization in the nineteenth century in Anglos and Mexicans in the Making of Texas, 1836-1986. Beyond Texas, Richard Griswold del Castillo, in The Los Angeles Barrio, 1850-1890: A Social History, and Albert Camarillo, in Chicanos in a Changing Society: From Mexican Pueblos to American Barrios in Santa Barbara and Southern California, 1848-1930, trace the very similar processes at work in southern California during the nineteenth century. Even in New Mexico, where they remained such a large percentage of the population, Laura E. Gómez demonstrates in Manifest Destinies: The Making of the Mexican American Race that Mexican Americans faced socioeconomic decline. In all these cases, the result was the formation and reinforcement of a distinctly Mexican-based identity.
  3. [28]Antonio Menchaca, deposition, 1 January 1856, Antonio Fuentes file, and deposition, 28 July 1856, Carlos Espalier file, both in Memorials and Petitions, Texas State Library and Archives Commission, Austin; Juan N. Seguín, “Application for Pension,” 2 October 1874, in Seguín, Revolution Remembered, ed. De la Teja, 2nd ed., 187-188; Tejano citizens to Stephen H. Darden, 12 January 1875, in James M. Day, ed., “Texas Letters and Documents,” 84; Menchaca, deposition, 24 August 1860, Court of Claims voucher file no. 2557 (Francisco Esparza), Texas General Land Office, Austin; Newcomb, introduction to Memoirs, by Antonio Menchaca, ed. Chabot, 11.

“Practically, The Question of Slavery in the Territories” (Boston Daily Courier, December 11, 1860)

169. Practically, The Question of Slavery in the Territories

(Boston Daily Courier [Bell], December 11, 1860)

It does not lie in the power of Congress and the President to plant slavery in a single square mile of those Territories. Grant the right to do so, constitutionally, by unanimous act of both branches of Congress, with the consent of all the people,–give slavery every possible guaranty there for its protection and perpetuation–and yet not a slave would go there. It would require the act of a higher power–by change of climate–to make the conditions by which alone slaves can be taken and kept there. The reason simply is, because “it would not pay.” What will not pay will not be done.

There are more than 30 million acres of good fertile land, in a state of nature, unimproved and untouched by labor, within the bounds of the Cotton growing slave States–capable of producing twenty million bales of cotton, or about four times the present crop of that staple, or reservation of land enough to supply food for all the laboring force required for its cultivation and its employers. The labor for such a production would require three or four times the present number of field slaves now employed in these crops in all the United States. With the world at peace, trade and manufactures prosperous, and the markets for these productions extending in a ratio like that of the last twenty years, the value of labor–that is, the price of slaves,–must increase in all that region. They have lately been profitably worked at a value of $1500 or $1800 for each able-bodied “field hand.” Calculate the time required to supply this labor, and occupy this land with slaves, under the powerful stimulus of great profits. Not even the reopening of the slave trade under protection of the United States flag, aiding the natural increase of this class of labor, could supply it fast enough to prevent the five-fold greater stream of free labor pouring down from the Northwest, overflowing and possessing the country down to central Texas.

To talk of removing them from locations of such profitable use as this, and the still greater prospective profits, to a locality where they cannot be profitably used at any price–where they would be a tax and burthen to their owners to feed and clothe them, in comparison with the cost of hired labor, for any crops to which the soil and climate of the Territories are suited–is as absurd as to propose the reversal of the laws of matter, or the laws of trade. Slave labor, like all other [433] purchasable values, must follow economical laws.[1] Its prolonged stay after it has ceased to be profitable, in localities where it has long been established, is exceptional in appearance, because feeling and habit and domestic ties made the change difficult and slow, but not the less sure.

Look at Missouri. Slavery is there established by law, and amply protected by the irritation of opposition, by prejudice, by alliance with other slave States. Yet it has wasted and faded with an accelerating rate before free labor–because slave labor was more profitable elsewhere, hired labor cheaper and more profitable in Missouri. It is now virtually and to all intents and purposes a free State. How futile then the attempt to plant slavery in any Territory of the same latitude and climate.

Look at Texas, a slave state with rights guarantied of subdividing it into three more States. Southern Texas has soil and climate admirably adapted for slave labor, suitable for the slave grown crops. Land is cheap, immigration invited and urged. Yet such is the demand for the value of this labor in other cotton States, that it is doubtful if Southern Texas will have population enough for two States, before Northern Texas will be occupied by a non-slaveholding population.

Practically, then, there is no earthly power can plant any more slave States, and the North and the south are guilty alike of the supremest folly. The one is denying what she cannot give if she would, the other demanding what she cannot accept, and each is ready to rush upon the destruction of itself and the other, for this empty privilege of being insanely obstinate, the victims of the political demagogues who play upon these jarring chords to work their own selfish ends.

Howard Cecil Perkins, ed. Northern Editorials on Secession, Volume I (Gloucester, Mass.: Peter Smith, 1964), 432-433.
  1. [1]In the original the comma follows rather than precedes “like.”

“The Right of Secession” (Trenton Daily State Gazette and Republican, December 6, 1860)

66. The Right of Secession

(Trenton Daily State Gazette and Republican [Lincoln], December 6, 1860)

The recent threat of South Carolina to secede from the Confederacy has called forth considerable discussion among the journals of the country as to whether a State has, or has not, a right to secede–some contending for, and others against, the right of secession. Those who contend for the right say, that each State is an independent sovereignty, and, as such, has a perfect right to do its own sovereign will and pleasure without regard to the wishes of any other State or sovereignty; while those who contend against the right of secession take the position, that, though each State is a sovereignty, yet it is not absolutely, but only conditionally, so–that is to say, it is sovereign so far as relates to its State regulations, but not sovereign as to any powers confided to the General Government by the Constitution of the country.

We are of those who believe that no State has the right to secede; nor do we believe in submitting to any measures of mere expediency, when the basis for such measures must be founded upon a wrong. South Carolina may secede, so far as words and paper resolutions go; but when Abraham Lincoln takes his seat on the 4th of March next, he will tell them in a language not to be misunderstood, that secession can not be, and will not be, permitted.

The nature of the American government is in many respects, different from any that has ever existed. It is a government of checks and balances; the federal government has its limits, and the States have their sovereign rights. The questions upon which our political parties have divided have generally been such as involved the consideration of these respective sovereignties–national and State.

When the thirteen provinces–all of them having less than three millions of people–fell like unripe fruit from the parent stem they had no permanent connection with each other; they were united only by consanguinity of race, common interests, and most of all, a common cause. They were independent States, in league through their congress, as the nations of europe may be to-day, for mutual protection. That congress proposed a convention to form a confederation, but it was not till more than a year after the Declaration of Independence that the articles of confederation were agreed to and submitted to the several States; and it was not till 1781, or nearly five years after the Declaration, [194] that Maryland, the last to accede, came into the league, and the confederation was perfected. The object of that confederation was declared to be a “perpetual union,” but it was soon found that the States had not conceded sufficient powers for the general government properly to regulate the revenues and the public credit, and in 1787 congress adopted a proposition for a convention at Philadelphia, for the purpose of “revising” the articles of confederation, to render the federal constitution adequate to the exigencies of the government and the preservation of the Union.

The convention of 1787, instead of revising the old confederation, formed and submitted the constitution–which did not abrogate the “perpetual union” already existing, but proposed a “more perfect union,”–a union that should consolidate the States for specific purposes. This constitution did not provide for its own destruction, any more than God has provided man with the right and powers of suicide.

We may see the absurdity of peaceful secession, by examining its practical operations. We see Virginia, for instance, ceding to the National Government her vast interests in the Northwest, and even agreeing, with a generosity that it would be well for the North to remember and reciprocate, that it should be free forever, and formed into other States. Who believes that Virginia would thus have acted, if she had not thought the government permanent? Would she have said, here, take these lands and make of them five free States, if those States one and all of them, the day after their organization, would have the liberty of seceding from the Union, and become rivals of herself? Then we purchased Louis[i]ana and Florida, and paid large sums of money for Texas and California–for what?–that they might secede the next day? Proposterous proposition! What a fine idea it would be to pay a hundred millions of dollars for Cuba, as Mr. Buchanan proposed, and give to Cuba the right of becoming independent immediately, and that without a why or wherefore from us! And what wisdom we should show, to expend millions to clear the rivers and harbors of Michigan, or to build the Pacific railroad through Kansas, when to-morrow Michigan by her own will and against our wishes might be united to Canada, and Kansas set up independent under some military dictator! How could we ever declare war, or make peace, or have national revenue or credit under such an arrangement?

The right of secession, as the South term it, is a sham of shams, a humbug of humbugs, as gross a delusion as political insanity ever conjured up. We are one nation from many States; and for better or worse are we to remain so for ever, or till treason and revolution blot the stars [195] from our banner; and God grant that they may not fall as long as supernal powers hold the stars in the heavens.

Howard Cecil Perkins, ed. Northern Editorials on Secession, Volume I (Gloucester, Mass.: Peter Smith, 1964), 193-195.

“Chivalry” (Columbus Daily Ohio State Journal, June 3, 1861)

215. Chivalry

(Columbus Daily Ohio State Journal [Lincoln], June 3, 1861)

Some of the best words in our language have been prostituted to the basest uses. What term is in such bad odor as “affinity,” for instance, since its adoption into the vocabulary of the pestilent Free Lovers. Yet no more corrupt office does it perform than the word written above. “Chivalry” once had a noble meaning. We naturally associate with it the high tone of the ancient warriors, who disdained to strike an unarmed antagonist, and who would defend to the last even a foe who had eaten salt with them. But in the progress of time, with its changes, [536] we find the import of words accommodating itself to the habits, the thoughts and vices of men even. The civilization of slavery, which gilds treason into “peaceful separation,” humiliating concessions into “compromises,” and theft and robbery into an “accumulation of means,” readily transforms cowardly ruffianism, simply, into “chivalry.”

From the time Virginia first made negro-breeding her forte, South Carolina furnished a fine crop of poltroon tories for Marion’s bullets, and Louisiana opened her arms to receive the harlots and cut-throats of France–our Southern brethren have monopolized all the chivalry of the entire Western Continent. They couldn’t hear to the possession of a lingering spark of this element in the pleb[e]ian masses of the North, who work for a living, build churches and school-houses, construct railroads, pay their debts and fear God. These base Puritans never swagger. They have no servile population to bully. They consume a less amount of coarse tobacco and poor whisky, and have failed to reach the apex in brutal profanity and general beastliness. Hence their want of chivalry. Could these pitiable creatures be induced to embrace the saving grace of African slavery, repudiate their just debts, conspire against the Government, steal its property, the merchants turn their trading vessels into pirate ships, abolish the free school systems, devote themselves to dissipation, not forgetting the amusement, when maddened with “tangle-foot,” to stab or shoot some unoffending, unarmed neighbor in the back, they might yet possibly redeem themselves.

This Southern chivalry takes on many shapes. It is as various as the different degrees of ignorance and brutality of its champions. To cudgel a United States Senator in his seat, of his guard and with no means of defence, beating him with a bludgeon within an inch of his life, while other armed ruffians stand near to see that the job is thoroughly executed, is the height of South Carolina chivalry and daring. It made no hero of the perpetrator of such a deed, and had not Providence so signally shown his hand, this same drunken bully would now doubtless be occupying a high seat in the rebel synagogue of the South.

The chivalry of Missouri assumed a form in Kansas which is yet fresh in the public mind. There Clark and Gardner, vieing [sic] with each other in the display of valor, stole behind one Barber, guilty of entertaining Free State notions, and fired their rifles at his back. He fell dead, but it was impossible to determine which hero had taken him off. A pro-slavery President got along with the matter, however, by appointing one Post Master and the other Purser in the Navy. In Kansas, too, was where Hopps, another Free State agitator, was scalped by Murphy, who was rewarded with an Indian Agency; where a Free State town was [537] battered down and pillaged, everything portable being carried off; where a son of the old martyr Brown, a prisoner and unarmed, was hacked to pieces by a hatchet in the hands of one Gibson–where, in short, butchering Free State men and laying waste their property was the chief employment of the Missouri braves for two or three years.

Later we find the chivalry of Texas–after that State has committed the most disgraceful treason, and resorted to the most dishonorable means to capture the loyal soldiers of the Federal Government–cropping out in the paying of respects to a Massachusetts woman. It was discovered by the chivalric citizens of San Antonio that this unprotected female was guilty of the heinous offense of having been born in Boston. It was inferrable from this, of course, that she did not regard the system of African slavery as a little ahead of the atonement in the regeneration of a fallen world, and she was surrounded by the daring sons of the South, who led her into the public streets, stripped her bare, applied a soothing, unctuous plaster of tar to her naked person, set off with an outer covering of down, rode her in state around the public square on an unpolished rail, with a secession flag on either side, the march accompanied by the musical yells of an excited mob. It is not uncommon for slave women to be stripped and lashed, in the South; and the above incident but shows that Southern character is progressing in the natural direction. We are constrained to believe there is yet some show for Sodom and Gamorrah in the last day.

After this chivalry has thieved and robbed until there was nothing else to lay its hands on, and plotted the most damnable treason, setting up its vileness against the Federal Government, it asks to be recognized as an independent power, and intimates a desire to carry on war after the civilized programme. It commences this war, however, by setting seven or eight thousands of its bullies on a starving garrison of seventy soldiers, and when discovered that the post the latter held was wrapped in flames, the braves plied the red-hot shot the more furiously. The Southern chivalric plan of warfare continues as it began, and is, in fact, but an expansion of its ruffianism and assassinations in time of peace. Bribes have been offered our faithful soldiers, who were guarding entrances to forts, and sentinels have been shot down at their posts by concealed foes. The lives of entire regiments have been attempted through poisoned liquors, dealt out as if from friendly hands.–The slaveholding Indians of Arkansas and North Carolina have been instigated to visit their savage atrocities upon the loyal citizens of the United States when fitting opportunity should offer.

The assassin’s dagger and bullet, the savage’s tomahawk and scalping [538]knife, arsenic, prus[s]ic acid and strychnine are to be the weapons of chivalry in this war. Oh Dahomey! Ye cannibal realms of the South Pacific! hold up your heads!

Howard Cecil Perkins, ed. Northern Editorials on Secession, Volume I (Gloucester, Mass.: Peter Smith, 1964), 535-538.

“Blood Will Tell” (Detroit Daily Advertiser, Apr. 4, 1861)

208. “Blood Will Tell”

(Detroit Daily Advertiser [Lincoln], April 4, 1861)

Until Texas was admitted into the Union, it was considered the Botany Bay of America–the chief difference between the former and the British penal colony being, that one was the compulsory, and the other the voluntary resort of criminals. Every horse thief, murderer, gambler, robber, and other rogue of high and low degree, fled to Texas when he found the United States too hot longer to hold him. The pioneers of that State were cut-throats of one kind or another, with some honorable exceptions. Those of them who have escaped hanging or the State prison, and their descendants, are the men who have led the secession movement in that State. It is not strange that, with such [525] antecedents, they should turn out traitors when all other crimes had been exhausted.

If the population of the State had not been of such an origin, we might have looked for some slight show of gratitude from them towards the United States, and even towards the North. But as it is, the world will hardly be disappointed, infamous as their ingratitude and treachery has been. In their war for independence, Northern men fought gallantly and contributed largely to its ultimate emancipation from Mexican rule. The United States government has not only indulged the people of Texas, but it has paid their debts and involved itself in a war which cost the country three hundred millions of dollars.

Since 1848 nearly three-fourths of our active army have been employed in protecting the State of Texas from the Indian and Mexican incursions. We have maintained forts and garrisons at an enormous expense, to protect Texan people, and the return which their potent demagogues make us is the confiscation or seizure of United States property, and the impudent declaration that Texas has seceded from the American Union. A hoary-headed old traitor, Gen. Twiggs, who had grown rich upon the favors of the National Government, tried to betray the army under his command in Texas; but there was not a man, and but few of his officers, mean enough to follow his dastardly example.

Howard Cecil Perkins, ed. Northern Editorials on Secession, Volume I (Gloucester, Mass.: Peter Smith, 1964), 524-525.

“The yellow or bronze racial color is the hallmark of Oriental despotisms…” / “The White race was … ‘peculiarly fitted for self-government’” (Haney Lopez)

(Cf. 1836 Declaration from Texas on “unfit to govern themselves,” etc., which is cited in briefs in In re Rodriguez.)

The prerequisite cases also naturalized Whiteness by linking cognitive and cultural traits to physical difference. The prerequisite courts tied temperament, culture, intellect, political sophistication, and so on to physical features, treating questions of behavior as innate elements of human biology rather than as aspects of acquired identity.[16] Reconsider the justification offered by one court for the racial bar on Asian naturalization: “The yellow or bronze racial color is the hallmark of Oriental despotisms.”[17] This language draws a direct link between race and political temperament, thereby making culture a function of racial rather than social variability. This view of race seems to undergird the prerequisite laws, rendering fitness for citizenship not a question of learned behavior but of innate predispositions. To see this, contrast the remark about “despotism” with the view commonly held at the turn of the century that the White race was, as a leading scholar put it, “peculiarly fitted for self-government. It submits its action habitually to the guidance of reason, and has the judicial faculty of seeing both sides of a question.”[18] Whites qualified for citizenship because they were fit by nature for republican government; non-Whites remained perpetual aliens because they were inherently unfit for self-rule. Putative differences in temperament and culture were naturalized as “racial” differences.

Ian F. Haney López, White By Law: The Legal Construction of Race (New York: New York University Press, 1996), 162.


  1. [16]SMEDLEY, supra, at 27.
  2. [17]Terrace v. Thompson, 274 F. 841, 849 (W.D.Wash. 1921).

“The prerequisite cases show that race is a social construct fabricated in part by law.” (Haney Lopez)

The prerequisite cases show that race is a social construct fabricated in part by law. More than this, these cases specifically illuminate the construction of Whiteness, constituting that rare instance when White racial identity is unexpectedly drawn out of the background and placed abruptly in question. Moving away from legal theory, it is useful to ask what the prerequisite cases tell us about Whiteness. It may seem that these cases say relatively little, both because the courts failed to offer a developed definition of White identity, and also seemed to concern themselves much more with who was not White. In the end, however, it is exactly these practices that tell us most about the nature of White identity today, drawing into view both the maintaining technologies of transparency and the relational construction of White and non-White identity.

Ian F. Haney López, White By Law: The Legal Construction of Race (New York: New York University Press, 1996), 155.