White Supremacists Attacked Democracy and Have Thus Far Faced No ConsequencesRoundup
tags: White Supremacy, Capitol Riots, January 6 Commission
Carol Anderson is the Charles Howard Candler Professor and Chair of African American Studies at Emory University and the author of White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide.
American democracy’s most dangerous adversary is white supremacy. Throughout this nation’s history, white supremacy has undermined, twisted and attacked the viability of the United States. What makes white supremacy so lethal, however, is not just its presence but also the refusal to hold its adherents fully accountable for the damage they have done and continue to do to the nation. The insurrection on 6 January and the weak response are only the latest example.
During the war for independence, after the British captured Savannah, the king’s forces set out to capture a wholly unprepared South Carolina. John Laurens, an aide-de-camp of George Washington, pleaded with the South Carolina government to arm the enslaved because the state didn’t have enough available white men to fight the 8,000-strong British force barreling toward Charleston. This was a crisis born of South Carolina’s decision to divert most of the state’s white men from the Continental Army to fight the Redcoats and, instead, enlist them in the militia to control the enslaved population, whom they defined as the primary threat.
The response to Laurens’ plan was, therefore, “horror” and “alarm”. Umbrage even. The state’s political leaders were so appalled that they questioned whether “this union was worth fighting for at all”. The United States of America was not nearly as important as maintaining slavery. They, therefore, toyed with the idea of surrendering to the British, making a separate peace. For that flat-out refusal to fight with every resource at its command, and clear willingness to sacrifice the United States simply to maintain slavery, South Carolina suffered no consequences. It wasn’t ostracized. It wasn’t penalized. Instead, the state’s leaders were fully embraced as Founding Fathers and welcomed into the new nation’s halls of power.
Several years later, at the 1787 constitutional convention, the south once again put white supremacy above the viability of the United States. In tough negotiations, South Carolina, North Carolina and Georgia’s representatives were willing to hold the nation hostage and risk its destruction unless protection of slavery and the empowering of enslavers was embedded in the constitution. The negotiators acknowledged exactly what was going on and even, sometimes, how reprehensible it was. When, for example, the delegates bowed down to the south’s demands for 20 additional years of the Atlantic slave trade, James Madison admitted that without that concession, “the southern states would not have entered into the union of America”. And, therefore, as “great as the evil is” he added “the dismemberment of the Union would be worse”.
The same refrain played after the infamous three-fifths clause passed under the southern threat to walk away and, thus, scuttle the constitution and the United States. Massachusetts delegate Rufus King called the nefarious formula to determine representation in Congress one of the constitution’s “greatest blemishes” while lamenting that it “was a necessary sacrifice to the establishment of the Constitution”.