Popular Science Monthly/Volume 22/February 1883/The African in the United States
By Professor E. W. GILLIAM.
THE future of the African in the United States is, in the judgment of many, the gravest question of the day. It must, from its nature, swell in volume and thrust itself forward more and more; and though the evils as depicted in these pages be in their worst forms comparatively remote, yet, if there be real grounds for them, the time for action in seeking and applying a remedy lies in the present. The far-reaching and critical character of the subject demands that it should be approached without political bias, and treated solely from the point of view of the national welfare.
In this spirit the reader is referred to the tabulated figures on a succeeding page, derived from an analysis of the census of the United States, and of several of the Southern States, for each decade from 1830 to 1880 inclusive, and showing the rate per cent of increase or decrease of the white and the black population for the basis of the following discussion.
The very high rate of increase for the whites in the United States, in the first, second, and third decades, is due to a copious immigration adding itself to a lesser population. As the population of a country swells, and the immigration remains about the same, the rate per cent of increase falls.
The enormous rate of increase in several of the States, in the early decades, notably Arkansas and Mississippi, is altogether abnormal, and readily accounted for. These were then new regions, just opening to settlers, and the older slave States poured into their rich bosoms an overwhelming tide. Multitudes of whites, with and without slaves, like bees from a hive, swarmed forth from the older States, to settle in these cheap and productive parts. Hence it is that South Carolina, for an example, shows, from 1830 to 1840, an increase of only one half per cent for the whites, and three per cent for the blacks, while for Arkansas the corresponding figures are two hundred and six per cent, and three hundred and thirty-two per cent. Only when States have been fairly settled, and peculiar causes affecting population removed, does an enumeration reveal the natural increase of a people; and this, as a wide and accurate observation in the United States has shown, can not be, under the most favorable circumstances, above thirty-five per cent—at least for the white race.
Thoughtful minds awaited with special interest the results of the census for 1880. It closed the first decade of freedom for the blacks; and whether this race, under its new conditions, was an increasing or decreasing one—whether it was increasing more rapidly than the whites, or otherwise—these were questions of critical and far-reaching importance.
It is seen that over the United States the gain for the whites has been twenty-nine per cent, that for the blacks thirty-four per cent, and that the latter is by much the highest figure reached by the blacks in the several decades. Referring to the figures of the last decade, belonging to the States, it is further seen that, while the gain in all these States, both for white and black, is remarkably high, the gain in several instances—as in the case of Arkansas, South Carolina, and Mississippi (for the blacks)—is too high to be credible, transcending as it does the natural procreative power of the most prolific race. (The reader will remember that from 1870 to 1880 the population of these States received little or no accession from immigration.) The gain in population, immediately succeeding a continued and desolating war, must be more or less abnormally large. It is readily accounted for by the separation of husbands and wives, the procrastination of marriage on the part of the young, and the prevailing destitution, at least comparative destitution, accompanying a state of war. But, with every allowance on these grounds, the rate of increase in the States just mentioned remains incredible, and either the census for 1870, or that for 1880, must be in error.
The error is doubtless in the former. The census for 1870 was made under the old law of 1850, a law which those well qualified to judge deem, in some important particulars, grossly defective. Again, the enumerators were, for the most part, negroes, often ignorant and inefficient; and it is on evidence that the enumeration of counties (at least as regards South Carolina) was not unfrequently made at court sessions and on muster-grounds, and not by a house-to-house canvass. The exceedingly high rate of increase in South Carolina as a State, and particularly in certain districts thereof, induced the Census Superintendent for 1880 to send thither a special agent, for the purpose of ascertaining the facts. Not all the State was canvassed, but enough to substantially verify the census for 1880; and this, with the further consideration that the census for 1880 was made under a new and improved law, and by enumerators who, as a body, were thoroughly qualified, ought to be considered as settling the matter, and placing the error at the door of the preceding census. It is to be observed, in passing, that if the error, as practically it does, bears equally against white and black alike, however the figures for the two races, taken absolutely, may vary from the truth, yet are they still a proximate guide, considered relatively, to the comparative rate of increase of the races.
It is estimated that five per cent from the rate of gain for the entire Southern blacks, as by census for 1880, is a fair allowance for this error, making their real gain about thirty per cent. Yet, as an obvious consideration points to the conclusion that the blacks will for the future develop in the South under conditions more and more favorable, it is not unreasonable to think that, in subsequent decades, this five per cent will be regained.
That consideration is the more complete adjustment of the black man to his new surroundings. His comparative helplessness immediately after emancipation was a condition adverse to his increase. The absence of thrift, energy, and management, many think, marks negro character at its best. It is certain that the contraries to these qualities had, under a long condition of servitude, been abnormally developed. Emancipation found the negro without the master's care (and, as a body, slaveholders, at least from motives of self-interest, were humane), without the customary oversight and medical attention, dependent, not self-reliant. No wonder that many of the negroes have been worse off than under their former bondage; that the burden of life has been so often excessive; that infanticide has been so often resorted to, to lessen it; and that death from want and exposure has been so exceptionally frequent. A body of four million slaves, ignorant, uncivilized, and trained in habits of dependence, suddenly set free, then invested with the ballot, and intoxicated with political power, then checked, and in many instances violently checked, by the necessary and wholesome self-assertion of the white race, that they should have increased as they have done is astonishing, and can be accounted for only by the remarkable fecundity of the African. For the future the adverse influence to population, arising from this cause, will become less and less potent. The negro, adjusted to his surroundings, will work with more ease and effect. He is ascending from the lowest round. Education must give him increased power to accumulate, experience must improve his thrift, and, life passing under better conditions, it is reasonable to think that in subsequent decades he will add five per cent of increase to that of the past. We put this rate at thirty-five per cent.
The gain for the whites in the last decade is very nearly thirty per cent. This is to be docked in the Southern States to the extent of five per cent for the error in the census of 1870. Since, however, this error appertains only to the twelve million Southern whites, and the census in regard to the thirty million Northern whites is accepted as correct, the rate of increase for the total white population is a fraction under twenty-nine per cent. Of this at least nine per cent should be attributed to immigration. Immigration is now, and for a year or two past has been, largely in excess of this figure, but probably not for the past decade; and the resultant is a gain of twenty per cent for the entire native white population.
There is a wide, and, at first view, startling difference between the twenty per cent for the whites and the thirty-five per cent for the blacks. The solution is found in the superior fecundity of the latter. This superiority, while it belongs to the blacks as a race, is strengthened for them—1. As being the laboring class; 2. As laboring under favorable climatic conditions; that is to say, living in a semi-tropical region.
The laboring class is naturally the more fruitful class. In the case of a laboring woman the child-bearing period is greater by a number of years than in one more delicately reared. Again, in estimating fecundity, the pain and danger attendant upon parturition are factors, and its comparative ease to the laboring woman, contrasted with the profound and long-continued prostration it brings to the lady of tender palms and jeweled fingers, is well known.
Again, the African on climatic grounds finds in the Southern country a more congenial home. In many districts there, and these by far the most fertile, the white man is unable to take the field and have health. It is otherwise with the African, who, the child of the sun, gathers strength and multiplies in these low, hot, feverish regions.
The wide advantage, therefore, in the rate of increase on the side of the African finds its solution in a superior natural fecundity, exerting itself under these favoring conditions.
Now mark the following: The white population, increasing at the rate of twenty per cent in ten years, or two per cent per annum, doubles itself every thirty-five years. The black, increasing at the rate of thirty-five per cent in ten years, or three and a half per cent per annum, doubles itself in twenty years. Hence we find:
Our interest is in the progress of population in the Southern States, where the blacks almost altogether now are, and where they will continued to be massed more and more; and above stand the significant figures. These will be modified more or less by disturbing causes, the most prominent being immigration. But even should immigration ever take a pronounced Southern direction, yet immigration must slacken, and before many years practically cease, while the black growth must be perpetually augmenting, perpetually advancing its volume; and, every allowance being made, it is morally certain that, in seventy or eighty years (as things now go) the blacks in every Southern State will overwhelmingly preponderate.
The second factor in our argument is the impossibility of fusion between whites and blacks. The latter have been, and must continue to be, a distinct and alien race. The fusion of races is the resultant from social equality and intermarriage, and the barrier to this here is insurmountable. The human species presents three grand varieties, marked off by color—white, yellow, and black. One at the first, in origin and color, the race multiplied and spread, and separate sections, settled in different latitudes, took on under climatic conditions acting with abnormal force in that early and impressionable period of the race's age—took on (we say) different hues, which, as the race grew and hardened, crystallized into permanent characteristics. Social affinity exists among the families of these three groups. The groups themselves stand rigidly apart. The Irish, German, French, etc., who come to these shores, readily intermarry among themselves and with the native population. Within a generation or two the sharpness of national feature disappears, and the issue is the American whose mixed blood is the country's foremost hope. It can not be—a fusion like this between whites and blacks. Account for it as we may, the antipathy is a palpable fact which no one fails to recognize—an antipathy not less strong among the Northern than among the Southern whites. However the former may, on the score of matters political, profess themselves special friends to the blacks, the question of intermarriage and social equality, when brought to practical test, they will not touch with the end of the little finger. Whether it be that the blacks, because of their former condition of servitude, are regarded as a permanently degraded class; whether it be that the whites, from their historic eminence, are possessed with a consciousness of superiority which spurns alliance—the fact that fusion is impossible no one in his senses can deny.
These, then, are the factors in our argument, and the source of the inferences to follow: 1. That the black population is gaining on the whites; 2. That the former is, and must continue to be, a distinct and alien people.
Two inferences follow—the first of a social character; the second, political:
1. The status of the black population, as a distinct and alien race, condemns the race to remain, in perpetuum, the laboring class. If its blood can not commingle with that of the whites, social advancement ceases at an early stage; the higher social planes are incapable of attainment; whereby is broken a fundamental social law that allows to the individual full freedom to rise or fall in the social scale, without hindrance from race prejudice or prestige.
That is the healthiest society which is the freest, which gives the fullest play to individual intelligence and energy; and in such a social state we note a tendency on the part of the rich upper class to sink, and the poor laboring class to rise; we observe therein a social cycle at whose completion the rich and the poor, the upper and the lower orders, are found, as a whole, to have changed places. It is a law of slow action, but sure.
The causes are apparent. The sons of the rich eat daintily, exercise daintily, keep late hours for resting and rising, are self-indulgent and extravagant. There are, of course, exceptions. Undoubtedly, however, the surroundings of the sons of wealth create tendencies this way, toward effeminacy of body and uneconomical habits of mind. These are downward tendencies, and, pressing through a cycle of years, bring the descendants of the rich, as a class, to the social bottom.
The poor, on the other hand, are compelled, by their condition of life, to strength-giving exercise, and careful, saving methods in the management of means. Robust bodies and thrifty ways give upward tendencies, which, acting through the social cycle, lift the descendants of these poor to the higher planes. Taking men in the mass, tendencies and results are this way.
Now, as regards the blacks, this fundamental law is broken, and the issue, in a state of society theoretically free, is approaching disorder.
The blacks are an improving race, and the throb of aspiration is quickening. Progress with the pure African is, indeed, slow. How could it be otherwise? A long dark night of barbarous ignorance in his native land, succeeded on these shores by nearly a century of servitude, wherein letters were denied him, and improvident, unthrifty habits necessarily engendered, could rapid progress for the race, under these circumstances, be rationally expected? Advancement in mental training and in economic science must needs be slow—but there is advancement.
That portion of the colored population known as mulattoes show, in mind and manners, a marked superiority, drawn from the side of their white parentage. This element, though increasing among themselves, is not increasing (appreciably) from admixture of bloods; because the white man can not now cohabit with negresses with the impunity belonging to days of slavery. With all its gradations it still, however, forms a very large class. They mingle freely with the pure African on terms of perfect equality, have the African instinct, and make a great factor in determining the average progress of the race.
This laboring class, working upward along the social cycle, meets, almost on the threshold of development, an impassable barrier. With growing aspirations incapable of being realized, they are doomed to remain where they have been, and be hewers of wood and drawers of water. Individuals here and there, by force of peculiar talent and fortunate circumstances, break through the opposing obstacle, and attain high positions; or such positions may be conferred in the interest of some political party. The heart knows, however, that the incumbents are recognized with an involuntary wince. They are tolerated by reason of their fewness. The mass of the blacks are held back in their state of toil. It is the mandate of American instinct.
We say American instinct—which is, that America is for Americans, not for German, Irish, or African, as such. The German here rises and rules, not as a German; nor the Irishman as an Irishman. When the German gets out his naturalization papers, he theoretically gets out of his German skin. Practically, he gets out of it in a generation or two, through intermarriage and association; mingles freely and equally with the mass of population; and, in the attainment of the highest social or political privilege or distinction, is limited solely by the worth of his individuality. The rise and rule of the African must be, according to American spirit, after the same method. Disappearing in the mass of population, he must lose the African cast, and transform himself, by intermarriage and social association, into an actual American; for he could be no American, however the letter of the law might read, who, after the lapse of a century, should retain the exclusive hue and affinity of a stranger race. But this transformation is impossible, seeing the blacks stand apart from the whites, and make a distinct and alien people. Any advancement of the blacks is an advancement of the African, as such; and the advancement of individuals, here and there, above the laboring level, is the vanguard of the race's advancement.
The advancement of the blacks, therefore, becomes a menace to the whites. No two free races, remaining distinctly apart, can advance side by side, without a struggle for supremacy. The thing is impossible. The world has never witnessed it, and a priori grounds are all against it. Hence, the whites instinctively oppose the black invasion (as it were), and seek to keep this people below the labor-line; and a large superiority, at present, in numbers, and a vastly larger superiority in intelligence and wealth, make them easily, and perhaps without conscious effort, successful.
But a fundamental social law is thus broken—a law, under whose operation, in a free social state, the poor, lower, laboring class naturally rise, while the rich upper class descend; and no law, whatever the sphere to which it belongs, can be broken with impunity. To the discontent arising from this source may be traced the periodic exodus movement among the negroes. Politicians, for party ends, have assigned other causes, and declared that "exodus" means bull-dozing, Ku-kluxing, imposition, oppression, enforced pauperism, etc. These are all wide of the mark. Since the Southern States have been under the rule of its intelligent population, the blacks, as a whole, and in the main, have been free in the exercise of political rights; and, moreover, they have prospered as never before. The underlying cause of the exodus fever, stimulated to some extent by railroad men and other side agencies, is the broken social law obstructing the upward tendency of the laboring class. Naturally they are uneasy and restless at the prospect of being held perpetually in one place, and made the bottom caste under a social status professedly free. Hence, these periodical upheavals and outflowings toward Kansas, Indiana, etc., in expectation of relief hoped for in vain; for there, too, they are no less a distinct and alien race, and the same broken social law bears its issues.
But what will the upshot be, when the black population, advancing on the white, finally outnumbers it? The outlook is most serious. It is a repetition of the Israelites in Egypt, a lower and laboring class gaining in population on the upper, and, as a distinct and alien race, causing apprehensions to the Egyptians. There is a point at which mere numbers must prevail over wealth, intelligence, and prestige combined. Unless relief comes, when that point approaches, woes await the land. This dark, swelling, muttering mass along the social horizon, gathering strength with education, and ambitious to rise, will grow increasingly restless and sullen under repression, until at length conscious, through numbers, of superior power, it will assert that power destructively, and, bursting forth like an angry, furious cloud, avenge, in tumult and disorder, the social law broken against it.
2. Treatment of the political aspect of our subject follows a similar line of thought, and must needs be brief.
We take it for a certainty that a distinct and alien race like the blacks will always, in the main, vote together. Why they all are now Republicans is readily seen. But should present political parties break up, and others be formed on new issues, the blacks would still naturally go as a body. The circumstances under which they live here, compelling them to stand together socially, will also morally compel them to stand together politically. Confined injuriously by a social barrier, they may be expected to develop abnormally the natural race-instinct, and, under a powerful esprit de corps, cast a solid ballot.
It is here to be said that we regard it as a mistake, both for the country and for the interests of the Republican party (and this we say with complete freedom from political bias), that the enfranchisement of the blacks followed immediately upon emancipation. The glittering sentence in the inaugural of the late lamented President Garfield, that there is no middle ground between citizenship and the ballot, will scarcely bear examination. The ballot is not a natural right, but a trust, to be granted or withheld for cause. The free blacks, in the early part of the present century, were (if we mistake not) a voting body. Experience, however, showing that the ballot in their hands became a wide-spread source of corruption, and therefore an evil, the privilege was withdrawn. It was a mistake, we conceive, to have given this privilege to a people just freed from the bonds of slavery, and still characterized, as a whole, by profound ignorance; and, that no greater harm has resulted is, because white intelligence has been able to exert a controlling influence and shape legislation. Certainly, while the whites were disfranchised, and the blacks politically supreme, the state of the South was intolerable. Had the Republican party, devoting its entire energies to the moral and intellectual elevation of the blacks, deferred their enfranchisement to a more reasonable day, when the race, in the mass, would be less unworthy of the ballot, the power of that party throughout the South would have been otherwise than it is to-day. The issue of the war had practically settled and silenced the old Democratic State-rights doctrine. Notwithstanding the war-engendered bitterness, a large white minority, if not a majority, at the South—partly the remnants of the old-line Whigs who antagonized the political tenets connected with the war's beginning, partly converts to results which force had imposed, partly recruits from moribund Democracy—these were ready, in good faith, to accept the new order of affairs, and act with Republicanism; and if the Republican party, rejecting the mistaken policy of seeking a foothold in the South through negro suffrage, had fostered the friendly white element, it could easily have developed this element, aided by executive patronage extending through a series of terms, into overwhelming Republican strength. Under the course pursued the almost extinct Democratic party at once revived, from a pressing sense among the whites of self-preservation. The negroes voting as a body on one side, the whites necessarily became politically massed on the other. It made little difference under what name they rallied. The term "Democrat" had been opposed to Republican in days gone by, and was now adopted. Yet thousands, banded under this party title, had no sympathy with leading and distinctive Democratic doctrines, such as those regarding the tariff, finance, or State rights. They were against negro political supremacy, as meaning disaster to the land. It had prevailed for a short period (just after the war), and left desolation in its course. The ignorance and inexperience of this unlettered mass, fresh from slavery, were immensely unequal to the science of enlightened governing. For the whites it was a matter of life or death. They became a "solid South," as any other people, similarly circumstanced, would have become. Wealth and intelligence gave them the victory, as it ever will, where numbers approach an equality—a victory that does not mean injury to the blacks, but which is the pledge for good government and order—the proof whereof is the present peaceful and prosperous condition of the Southern States, for the blacks no less than for the whites, compared with their state of wretchedness, under negro political rule, in the days following immediately upon the close of the war.
We must again ask the question, What, from this standpoint, will the upshot be when the blacks numerically will so far exceed the whites as to overcome the vantage that the superior wealth and intelligence of the latter now give them? The outlook here is no less serious. Whatever civic capability the blacks may have, it is now in germ; whatever governing aptitude the race may possess, it is at present dormant. In the history of nations it has nowhere, as yet, been exhibited. If this race in the United States is improving, its improvement, as was to have been expected, is slow; and in every political virtue it will still be vastly below the whites, when in voting strength its fecundity will have put it vastly beyond them—so far beyond as to overcome every counter-influence, and give the political reins entirely into its hands.
Who can doubt that, when this day comes, the blacks will obey a race-instinct which all their surroundings will have powerfully tended to develop, and vote blacks alone into office? Thus have they done wherever the power existed. Kept, as they are, a distinct and alien race, no other issue is reasonably conceivable. And who can doubt that, under this state of affairs—an inferior and incompetent race completely dominating, by mere numbers, a superior one—the worse disorders would ensue? The whites would not submit, and a violent and disastrous conflict of races must follow. The whites would hold (1) that, while America is a nation governed by majorities, yet by those who framed the Constitution it was never intended that a race brought here as slaves, an inferior race, one kept distinct by this very inferiority, should, merely through a superior fecundity, become politically supreme, and lord it over the land. They would hold (2) that this political lordship would be ruinous to every interest; that for a short period subsequent to the close of the war it had partially prevailed, and with the unhappiest results; and that, should this lordship become distinctively fastened upon a large section of the Union, the incompetency of the negro to provide, legislatively, for the manifold and complex interests of an advanced civilization, would arrest its activities, paralyze its trade, and spread a decline throughout the entire country.
These are real and gigantic evils gradually looming up, and they merit the immediate and best attention of American statesmen.
Colonization, we conceive, is the remedy—a scheme which the farseeing Henry Clay so warmly advocated, though it cost him the presidency. President Mr. Clay doubtless would have been had his opponents not raised against him the cry of being an abolitionist. But he was no abolitionist. He was a colonizationist. In the negro element, even in the relatively small proportions it bore in his day, his political sagacity saw an increasing danger. It was not only that the negro, while in bondage, made a breach between the free and the slave States (whereof the civil war was the issue), but his clear-sightedness saw evil in the presence of the negro as a negro, whether bound or free. The negro, he perceived, could not unite with any branch of the whites, and in the mass of population lose race distinctiveness. He was compelled to stand off by himself, a separate and alien people. Like food incapable of digestion, and which lies in the stomach only stimulative of disease, he remained in the body politic a foreign element, without opportunity or power of assimilation, and a perpetual source of alarm. Hence, Mr. Clay advocated colonization; and happy would it have been for the country if his views had prevailed, and the slaves been bought up by the Government at an appraised rate, and transported either to their native land or to some section provided for them exclusively.
We have an impression that a move was made in Congress last winter by some Senator, looking to the acquisition of territory in Central America as a home for the blacks. Though nothing came of it, it is matter for rejoicing that Congressmen are turning their eyes this way. The sole ground whereon we favored ex-President Grant's project to buy San Domingo was that it would afford a home for our black population. Some home for them outside of this country must be provided at an early day, or ultimately their presence here will lead to complications and disorders of appalling character. The current news from the South, amid much that is cheering, strengthens our forebodings. There are a present peace and prosperity; but, to an attentive ear, mutterings of this storm are already beginning to be heard.
The republic is so rich and so prosperous, and its future, from some stand-points, so fair, that it seems invidious, perhaps, to mar the picture and reveal a frightful evil slowly developing in its bosom. Some would fain deem the danger imaginary; and, even when fully realized, the trouble, in its ultimate and worst forms, is comparatively so remote that there is a tendency to forget it, or at least to transfer its consideration to another day and generation. The remoteness of an evil, however, does not carry with it remoteness in applying the remedy. Let American statesmen of the present day be looking in the direction we have indicated. A subject so vast and so momentous it is the part of wisdom to regard before immediate threatenings compel consideration. Assuredly, the question will more and more thrust itself forward for solution. The black man is still the "irrepressible conflict." Great difficulties, under any circumstances, must attend its solution. Let it be solved while a peaceful adjustment is yet practicable, for there is a point beyond which the attempt to solve it would involve the rupture of the republic.