Today, the United States officially takes the position that all races are equal. Our country is also committed―legally and morally―to the view that race is not a fit criterion for decision-making of any kind, except for promoting “diversity” or for the purpose of redressing past wrongs done by Whites to non-Whites.
Many Americans cite the “all men are created equal” phrase from the Declaration of Independence to support the claim that this view of race was not only inevitable but was anticipated by the Founders. Interestingly, prominent conservatives and Tea Party favorites like Michele Bachman and Glenn Beck have taken this notion a step further and asserted that today’s racial egalitarianism was the nation’s goal from its very first days.
They are badly mistaken.
Since early colonial times, and until just a few decades ago, virtually all Whites believed race was a fundamental aspect of individual and group identity. They believed people of different races had different temperaments and abilities, and built markedly different societies. They believed that only people of European stock could maintain a society in which they would wish to live, and they strongly opposed miscegenation. For more than 300 years, therefore, American policy reflected a consensus on race that was the very opposite of what prevails today.
Those who would impute egalitarianism to the Founders should recall that in 1776, the year of the Declaration, race slavery was already more than 150 years old in North America and was practiced throughout the New World, from Canada to Chile. In 1770, 40 percent of White households in Manhattan owned Black slaves, and there were more slaves in the colony of New York than in Georgia. It was true that many of the Founders considered slavery a terrible injustice and hoped to abolish it, but they meant to expel the freed slaves from the United States, not to live with them in equality.