THE VARDAMAN IDEA
How the Governor of Mississippi Would
BY HARRIS DICKSON
|"VARDAMANISM!" " Demagogic appeals!" "Negro
phobia!" By these and like expressions the Governor of Mississippi is
frequently pointed out as the Apostle of the Rabid Idea. College
professors, highly educated and unco' wise, accord to him the unique distinction of originating a new
James K. Vardaman must smile guiltily at all of this, must wonder how long the deception can last, how long it will be before his rank plagiarism will be discovered and himself unmasked as a mere believer in the repetitions of history.
Here is the Vardaman Idea---a very simple matter, after all. It does not take two men and a boy to comprehend it:
"The negro should never have been trusted with the ballot. He is different from the white man. He is congenitally unqualified to exercise the most responsible duty of citizenship. He is physically, mentally, morally, racially and eternally the white man's inferior. There is nothing in the history of his race, nothing in his individual character, nothing in his achievements of the past nor his promise for the future which entitles him to stand side by side with the white man at the ballot-box.
"This inestimable privilege was thrust upon the negro snatching him out of his twenty thousand barbaric years and placing him shoulder to shoulder with the heir of all the ages. This was a stupendous blunder, worse than any crime, and the sober second thought of the nation should correct it.
"We must repeal the Fifteenth and modify the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. Then we shall be able in our legislation to recognize the negro's racial peculiarities, and make laws to fit them. This would leave the matter precisely as was intended by the fathers of the Republic."
This is what Vardaman says, and a vast number of patriotic citizens who are standing face to face with the sordid problem think practically the same thing. The only difference is that Vardaman says it.
The statement made is no more than an echo of Abraham Lincoln's words, with a change in the tense. In his speech delivered at Charleston, Illinois, on September 18, 1858, Lincoln said:
I will say, then, that I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social or political equality of the white and black races.
I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor of intermarriage with white people, and I will say, in addition to this, that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality. Inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they do remain together there must be a position of superior and inferior, and I, as much as any other man, am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race.
Ten years before the ballot was ever placed in the negro's hand this marvelous man from Illinois stated accurately the position taken by Southern whites in the light of forty years' experience with negro voters. He spoke in a spirit of prophecy, pointing out a pitfall into which he hoped the nation would never tumble.
Can it be doubted if Lincoln were alive to-day he would be big enough, brave enough and generous enough to undo the wrong against which he had lifted his mighty voice in vain? Would mere political expediency prevent? And what a spectacle that would present-the rail-splitter of Illinois and the fire-eater of Mississippi making common cause upon a common platform! Would it then be called "Lincoln's negrophobia"?
Was this idea original with Lincoln? Indeed, no. [Robert] Toombs said exactly the same thing in Boston two years before:
I maintain that so long as the African and Caucasian races coexist in the same society, the subordination of the African is its normal, necessary and proper condition, and that such subordination is the condition best calculated to promote the highest interest and the greatest happiness of both races, and, consequently, of the whole society-that the white is the superior and the black the inferior, and that subordination, with or without law, will be the status of the African in this mixed society. Therefore, it is to the interest of both, and especially of the black race, that this status should be fixed, controlled and protected by law.
What did Mr. Toombs mean when he said it would be especially to the interest of the black race that it be assigned a permanent position of subordination? Every white man
|in the South understands what Mr. Toombs meant. And the student who
does not live among negroes need only turn the pages of history and read
From the beginning of time the white races have never bowed to a superior, and have rarely brooked an equal. They have tolerated other peoples so long as those other peoples did not come into direct competition and conflict with them--so long as other races took nothing from the white man which the white man desired for himself. For instance, the white man needed the Indian's land--and took it. The Indian resisted--and disappeared.
Under present conditions the negro rarely comes into direct competition with the white man, either North or South. At the North this is because there are so few negroes in proportion to the total population even these few being in most cases barred from trades unions and like organizations.
In the South the negro was formerly well under control; he is now drifting rapidly from all control; yet he cannot be reckoned the white man's rival. The white mechanic and farmer work side by side with him in peace.
Should the negro be forced upon his own resources into competition with whites, he must stand or fall by the natural law of survivorship. If he cannot survive he must die. Such is Nature's law. It is matter of common knowledge that no like race has ever been able to survive in competition with the whites.
The negro's greatest safety and greatest happiness require that he should be spared a battle which gives no quarter. Should that competition come into the trades, it means that the white man, because of superior competency and intelligence, will demand the best places and the best wages; in commerce the white man will outwit him, in politics control him, in war annihilate him. This is the world-old lesson of the dominating Anglo-Saxon. Mr. Toombs simply meant that the negro could not survive in such a contest of competency, and for his own best interest he should be spared it. Matthew Arnold, the great Englishman, speaks of Anglo-Saxon stocks as "the most moral races of men that the world has yet seen, with the soundest laws, the least violent passions, the fairest domestic and civil virtues." Again he wrote: "Science has now made visible to everybody the great and pregnant elements of difference which lie in race."
Louis Agassiz, the intimate friend of Charles Sumner, realized this keenly. In 1863 he wrote: "Social equality I deem at all times impracticable--a natural impossibility from the very character of the negro race. . . ." Professor Agassiz held earnestly to the opinion that the negro was utterly unfit for political equality with the whites; he considered the experiment as dangerous, if not ultimately destructive of free institutions.
These are some of the men who advanced the Vardaman Idea before Vardaman was born. Lincoln did not originate it, nor Toombs, nor Agassiz, nor Arnold. The idea developed in the very cradle of human existence; it was an infant disease of mankind, the earliest unsolved riddle that the sun ever shone upon. The ancient Egyptians were seeking an answer to it, writing of it on their scrolls and carving it on their monuments from seven to eighteen thousand years before America was discovered. Their learned men were even then teaching the Vardaman idea how to shoot.
Human history begins in the valley of the Nile. Equatorial Africa, occupied by negroes, has been vaguely known to Europeans for about four centuries; that portion occupied by Egyptians has a recorded history variously estimated at from five thousand to seventeen thousand years before Christ. Throughout this staggering antiquity we catch an occasional glimpse of the negro, described in the writings or sculptured on the Egyptian monuments, always as a savage, always as a slave.
God planted the Egyptian and the negro side by side, in that fabled valley, with equal opportunities. The earth was new; all things lay before all men. No man could borrow from his neighbor, because his neighbor had naught to lend. No man could learn from his neighbor, for his neighbor had naught to teach. Here was the virgin earth, fresh and moist from the hand of the Creator. There was the mysterious sea; and far away in the shining spaces of the night lay the uncounted stars with their lessons spread. All of these were to be studied, all were to be conquered. The door of hope stood broadly open, and no color-line was drawn.
There were no tyrants in those days, no masters and no slaves; there was neither riches nor poverty. Nothing had been preempted, nothing patented; there were no Jim-Crow cars; everything was equal.
|Mark the lapse of a few centuries. The achievements of Egypt can
scarcely be catalogued, they are so versatile and so magnificent. The
Egyptian had erected constitutional government, created the kingly dignity
and safeguarded the people's rights. He was skilled in medicine, and wrote
works on astronomy, architecture, anatomy --fragments of which remain to
this day. H e had built cities which are yet the wonder of mankind; he had
devised an elaborate system of religion, he had harnessed the Nile, reared
the pyramids and measured the stars.
But the negro's jungle was still a jungle. He had no government, no cities, no learning; he had no clothing, no arts, no aspirations. He had dreamed no dreams, hoped no hopes, indulged no visions. He had desired nothing, planned nothing, executed nothing in any wise more intellectual than the accomplishments of the gorilla--except his crude superstition, a form of serpent-worship which no white intelligence has ever yet been able to understand.
His sole place in history is the one accorded him by his enterprising neighbor--a driven slave sculptured upon the resting-place of kings.
Left alone, contented in his jungle, he had progressed backward and become a feeder upon human flesh, a polygamist, without religion, family ties or morals. He was the inventor and promulgator of slavery, the patentee and proprietor of cannibalism--these being the twin institutions which he had contributed to human progress.
The Egyptians observed these traits of the negro which had kept him at a standstill, and promptly assigned the reason. Oddly enough, it is the same reason given by Lincoln, Stanley, Livingstone, Vardaman et al. ad infinitum -"the skull of the negro is different. They had the elongated skull, the low, prominent forehead, hollow temples, thick lips, broad shoulders, salient breast, undeveloped lower part of the body"--all minutely described by careful hands which now repose as mummies in royal mausoleums beside the Nile.
Modern science teaches that the sutures in the skulls of the Caucasian races remain open and loosely jointed until the late maturity of manhood, thus giving the white man's brain an opportunity to expand into the highest possible development of mental power. With the African these sutures close at a comparatively early period in youth; the skull becomes permanently ossified, of extraordinary thickness-well-nigh impermeable. There is little difference between children of the two races. It is no uncommon thing to see a negro child that is exceedingly bright, learning with ease. But Nature seems to have said: "Thus far shalt thou learn, and no further." Development beyond a certain point seems to be absolutely forbidden by the physical, the purely mechanical, structure of his skull. Possibly the Egyptians knew all these details, possibly not; but they did say "his skull is different."
Curiously enough, we find these early Egyptians deploring the evil effect upon their race caused by an admixture of negro blood. It seems uncanny in this twentieth century of grace to hear this far-away protest against miscegenation, and to reflect how little humankind has changed.
Thus complained the Egyptians:
The large number of black women found in the harems of the rich, and even in the huts of the common people, quickly impaired the purity of the race, even among the upper classes of the nation, and the type began to resemble that of the negro tribes of Equatorial Africa; the language fared no better in the face of this invasion, and the written character soon became as corrupt as the language. The taste for art decayed; technical ability began to deteriorate. The moral and intellectual standards declined, and the mass of the people showed signs of relapsing into barbarism.
King Taharqa, whose negro blood is betrayed in his sculptured face, a mixed degenerate, was driven from the
|throne by the Assyrians. (Maspero's Egypt, Vol. VII, page
This is what did happen to Egypt, the most cultured and refined country of antiquity. Yet when Vardaman says the same thing might happen ultimately to Mississippi, under worse conditions, he is called "an alarmist, in advance of his time."
This was not a new story, even in those faint, far centuries. Mark Twain would possibly explain this striking similarity by charging those ancient Egyptians with plagiarizing Vardaman's Rabid Idea.
The negro started neck-and-neck with the Egyptian in the valley of the Nile. He helped to build the Temples of Rameses, he polished the columns of Karnak, he toiled at the hundred gates of Thebes. But he gained no more conception of those colossal works than did the donkeys which helped him drag the stones.
He touched with his hands, he heard with his ears, with his eyes he beheld the material things about him, but no comprehension of the spirit which reared those massive monuments ever penetrated his skull. Then, as now, perhaps, he merely watched the sun dial for five o'clock to come, and listened for the foreman's voice, "It's time to knock off." He had done his day's labor, and no more.
Under the lash of Egypt he could build the pyramids; without a higher intelligence to guide him he builds a hut of poles.
The story of man ran on. The Assyrians conquered Egypt; the Persian dynasty followed, and fell; the. Hebrews came, and went their way. These peoples taught the negro nothing of arms, of science or of the moral law.
Phoenician galleys, with sails of royal purple, floated past on restless explorations; the negro gained no knowledge of commerce or of navigation. Mighty Carthage rose, dominated the maritime world, and fell beneath the steel-tipped wrath of Rome; but neither Carthaginian nor Roman had a lesson for the negro. Northern Africa shook with the tread of Genseric's hordes returning from the pillage of Rome; the negro gaped at the marching myriads without rousing his ambition or stirring his pulse.
Conquering Moslems swept westward along the Mediterranean, crossed into Spain and subjugated it. They bore the Koran in one hand, the sword in the other, building new empires and spreading a new civilization. They left enduring marks upon the entire Western world--except upon this changeless negro.
New nations came out of the North, white savages from German forests, who beat down the barriers of Rome and overran the world. Crusaders flaunted their banners along the shores of Africa. Bonaparte fought his modern gladiators in the shadow of the pyramids. The negro watched them all, and remained as he was.
The black man reappeared in history again and again, but only as an article of unholy commerce. Virginia enacted the first recorded laws in restraint of the slave trade, which were promptly vetoed by successive Kings of England.
The American Colonies won their independence. A second war was fought, and the white man freed the black.
Throughout these sixty turbulent centuries history knew nothing of the negro, and the negro knew nothing of history. He had contributed nothing to the onward march, and gained nothing from it. All the peoples of the world had blazoned their names upon the great book of the world's events--all save one.
Humankind passed through sixty centuries of bloodshed, convulsion and tutelage--the leaven to make it wise and free. But all these centuries of change left no impress upon the stolid and changeless negro. Immutable as the graven sphinx he stood stock-still, wondering at these restless nations who dreamed their glittering dreams, beyond his comprehension. Of all created things he alone escaped the universal uplifting, the world-wide betterment. As he was in the beginning, so is he now. For six thousand years he had bred and multiplied in his jungle. That was all.
Upon many obelisks of ancient Egypt the pen and inkstand are oft-repeated hieroglyphics. Six thousand years later the negro is disfranchised in Mississippi because he cannot read or write. Descriptions of him to-day by such explorers as Stanley, Livingstone and DuChaillu are but repetitions of what the Egyptians wrote upon their papyrus scrolls. Mr. Charles Francis Adams, in the Century Magazine, after a visit to Africa, abandons all previous theories which he had so ably advanced. He tells the same story of hopeless barbarism, and urges that a difference be made in our fundamental law to fit the negro's limitations. This is Vardaman's position to a T.
| The present negro population of Africa is estimated at
double the entire population of the United States-without a semblance of
civilization, not a schoolhouse, not a newspaper, not a law. The door of
hope has rusted on its hinges for lack of a hand to open
Such is the phylogeny, the life-history, of the negro race, unbroken generations of barbarism which have fixed their characteristics indelibly upon him. Our American negroes for the most part came from the West Coast; they are Guinea blacks, the easy prey and hereditary bondmen of other slave nations. All historians and explorers agree in assigning to them the lowest position in the scale of Equatorial Africa--except that of the Bushman. Travelers and missionaries to-day describe in most revolting terms these negroes at home. They are naked cannibals, selling their own flesh and blood when they do not eat it, precisely what the Afro-American voter would be had he been left to his own devices. And this is the type to which, from all historical evidence, these same Afro-American voters would speedily revert if the enforced civilization of the white man were suddenly removed. Instances of this reversion might be indefinitely quoted upon the highest authority. Why should the negro revert? Because he has not been long enough out of his natural state to create for him a second nature strong enough to overcome the first. Twenty thousand years of jungle habit cannot be eradicated in a day.
With him there has been no voluntary transition. Left to himself he has never done anything for himself--has never shown the slightest inclination to better his condition. Ridpath says: "The black peoples of Nigritian stock do not choose to exert themselves beyond the range of purely natural wants."
When the strong hand which controls the negro relaxes its grasp, like the released plummet, he drops by sheer force of gravity into his natural level. The wild horse of Texas must be kept under saddle and constantly reminded of the compulsory civilization to which he is subject. Slip his halter for a moment only and he is again the bucking bronco, "a branded hide full o' hell," as madly resentful of harness as if leather had never touched his back. Let him taste an hour of freedom, and he must be captured, broken and civilized again.
When French restraint in Hayti and San Domingo was removed the negro returned to barbarism at once. His rapid reversion in Liberia is "as natural as the return of the sow that is washed to her wallowing in the mire," to quote Professor Barringer.
The Congo native has not advanced an inch in civilization from contact with tile Portuguese; in Senegal he has gained nothing from the French; Cecil Rhodes built an Empire at the Cape--and the naked negro is still the servant of them all. There must be a reason for this. In no place upon the broad globe has he met a more kindly protection, better teaching and a more tolerant charity for his invincible limitations than in the Southern States of America. These people have taught him all he knows.
It is very clear that by himself and of himself the negro has no aspirations. Where all of his neighbors live in mud huts and feed upon human flesh, huts and fat friends are good enough for him. He is imitative, but his imitation does not reach the basic virtues of his model.
In isolated instances this imitation may succeed to all external appearance. But beneath the skin remains the changeless savage, without real foundation upon which to build cultured and moral gentlemen as judged by Anglo-Saxon standards.
The reason is not far to see, both in his jungle history and present mode of life. Hear the testimony of John Clark Ridpath:
It is not far from correct to say that marriage as an institution does not exist among them.
. . In so far as Nature produces a family, to that extent the African social system had a foundation, but no further. . . . In no other race is the fidelity of the man to the woman, or she to him, so little regarded. . . . It seems impossible for them to realize the profound immorality and shocking consequences that must follow. . . Domestic infidelity is a characteristic of the whole race, yet they do not
feel even the inconvenience of an ever-broken family tie. The American negro remains under dominion of the old race impulses. In the United States, notwithstanding the impact of a civilization and the force of a strongly monogamous people, the inquirer must still be struck with the almost universal depravity of the marital and social estate of the African population. . . . The American negroes still follow the blind instincts of Nature, and remain unable even to understand the higher laws of virtue and fidelity.
The searcher for truth may pursue this subject further in Ridpath's Great Races of Mankind, Vol. IV, pages 638 et seq .
| To this the
writer must add his personal testimony as to present conditions, based
upon intimate knowledge of the negro, and twenty years' experience in
criminal courts. If the plain truth were told it would shock a sensitive
world more deeply than all the harrowing stories of the slave ships. The
negro is not immoral, he is simply unmoral. As Froude says of him, "He
never felt the guilt of sin."
None of these delinquencies draws upon the negroes the disapproval of their own people. There is no punishment of any kind, no loss of social prestige, no frown, no inconvenience. Serving a term in the pernitentiary is often regarded as a badge of aristocracy. One negro will say of another: "Better let dat nigger alone; dat's a bad nigger; he's been in the pentenshiarry seben times." He who wins the homage wears it.
All of this being true, unquestionably, undeniably true, is, or is not, the negro different from the white man? The Egyptian thought so; Lincoln said so; Vardaman maintains it.
Their social condition is accepted as a matter of course throughout the South; it causes no comment, and the laws in that regard are not pretended to be enforced. To enforce these laws would fill the prisons and empty the fields. It is a common thing to see a family of brothers and sisters in three or four different shades. No lady ever inquires into the personal character of her servant-she dare not.
When our Anglo-Saxon ancestors ran wild in the northern forests they were men of clean lives-one husband, one wife. The family was the unit out of which they built their government. Upon the purity of their hearthstones and the sanctity of their homes they cemented the foundations of a granite empire.
No white man ever falls so low or becomes so lost to decency that he forgets the first few years of his life. His teachings at a gentle mother's knee and the guidance of a respected father abide with him forever.
It is a melancholy fact that the negro, as a race, has none of these. When the young negro goes forth into the world --God pity him! he has no such anchorage to hold him steady in the storm. Herein lies the vital essence of the negro problem.
For instance, take a negro boy from Mississippi, send him to the public schools and the high schools; then some philanthropist, perhaps, pays his tuition at Harvard, gives him an education, a bulldog, a silk hat and patent-leather shoes. What can that make of him with such a home behind him and such an instinct within himself? It is quite impossible to make gentlemen by veneer.
The negro cannot be remodeled by beginning at the ballot, the highest duty of citizenship, and then working downward. The cleansing process must begin in his home, in his private character, at the elemental duties, and work upward. Schooling may sharpen his intellect, but it does not make character.
White men have earned preeminence by centuries of struggle. They possess rights and duties to-day which it would have been impossible for them to comprehend a thousand years ago. Nations and individuals are alike; they must grow by their own efforts, or the growth is flabby. The body must be strengthened by physical exercise, each man for himself. No man can take exercise for another. The white man cannot, by law, confer his own instincts, his genius for government, his capacity and power of comprehension upon the negro.
Unable as he is to control himself, the negro is singularly tractable and amenable to control by his well-recognized superiors. For this reason the Egyptians, Romans and Turks paid higher prices for them than for other slaves. They never fretted in captivity; it was their natural state.
The negro throve and attained: his highest development in slavery. Transplanted to a new country, where the climate suited him, where he was not raided, massacred
and eaten, he multiplied like imported rabbits in Australia. During slavery their children were well cared for, and there was a wonderful increase. But since freedom came, this has been checked by the frightful mortality among their infants. Men and women alike lead such irregular lives that new diseases, utterly unknown before the war, sweep them off like sheep. Since the war the percentage of black insane in Mississippi, as compared with whites, has increased four hundred per cent. Tuberculosis, formerly unknown, is now extremely common.
The South's Bitter Dose of Black Rule
THE fathers of the present generation were better men than their
sons-healthier, more reliable, more industrious. There were better
artisans and mechanics among the slaves than among free men to-day. Young
negroes are idler, more vicious, and have been educated into six hundred
per cent more criminality.
Vardaman is six feet,
black-haired, erect as an Indian, wide-hatted, white-cravated, stalwart
and picturesque. A man of intense personality, he says what he thinks, and
says it in unmistakable English. Then he backs it up with all the might
that in him lies.
His propensity for speaking out in meeting without regard for diplomacy has kept him on the fighting-line all his life. But Vardaman would be happy nowhere else.
Before the Spanish War he was editing a newspaper at Greenwood, Mississippi. He preached intervention. Then he deemed it his duty to help fight the war he had advocated. Leaving wife and family, he enlisted as a private in the First Mississippi Volunteers. A neighboring company elected him captain, but the then Governor of Mississippi refused to commission him. His indignant company wanted to disband, but Vardaman held them together and forced the election of another leader. He immediately reenlisted in the Fifth U. S. Volunteers of yellow fever immunes, although himself not an immune. The situation at fever-stricken Santiago was so desperate that Colonel Roosevelt and other officers, in the famous round-robin, said if they were not taken out of there they would die. Vardaman, with the Fifth Immunes, was sent to relieve them. A few months after his arrival in Cuba he was appointed Major.
"General Wood," says the Governor, "told me an incident that happened to Colonel Roosevelt in the battle of San Juan. It seems that a negro regiment had broken, and some of them were lying down in front of Roosevelt's position. When the negroes got cool and began to look around them, one big, black fellow raised his head and remarked: ' Dis ain't our c'mand.' 'Keep your position,' ordered Roosevelt.
"' We'se goin' back to our c'mand,' the negroes insisted.
" 'Keep your position,' Roosevelt repeated. 'The first man that moves. I will kill! If you don't believe I will kill you, ask that man,' pointing to a sergeant.
"'Yes, he Will kill you,' the sergeant assured them cheerfully. And the negroes lay quiet.
"That is just like a negro," the Governor commented. "Under the leadership of one brave white man, while the band is playing, you can lead him into the mouth of hell. But once get his tail turned to the enemy and it's 'Good-by wife and potato-patch."'
After ten months in Cuba, Vardaman returned to Mississippi, ran for Governor, and was defeated. Four years later he was elected.
There has never been a Governor in the South who has striven more earnestly to protect negroes. He has pardoned more negroes than white men. He broke up the White Cap organization, and sent many of them to the penitentiary for outrages upon negroes.
On one occasion a lynching was threatened in a distant county. Vardaman rushed to the scene on a special train, and personally brought the negro back to Jackson, where he would be safe until the day of trial. This is only one instance. There are many others. His administration of State affairs has been scrupulously honest and successful; even his enemies concede that much.
The necessity for the repeal of the Fifteenth Amendment is not so much for the protection of the white man against the encroachment of the black man as it is to protect the black man against inevitable destruction by the white man. If we undertake to adjust the white man's civilization to the negro it lifts him to a condition and atmosphere in which he cannot live, any more than a fish can live out of the water. Neither can we draw the white man down to his level. Therefore, we have got to make laws for the utterly distinct moral and intellectual requirements of the respective races. Thomas Jefferson saw that more than a hundred years ago. Abraham Lincoln realized it fifty years ago. Every observant man in the South knows and feels it to-day.