How the Irish Were Always White

David Bernstein, in "Sorry, but the Irish were always 'white' (and so were Italians, Jews and so on)" over at the Volokh Conspiracy, touches on a topic that relates to my own past research.

The relevant scholarly literature seems to have started with Noel Ignatiev’s book “How the Irish Became White,” and taken off from there. But what the relevant authors mean by white is ahistorical. They are referring to a stylized, sociological or anthropological understanding of “whiteness,” which means either “fully socially accepted as the equals of Americans of Anglo-Saxon and Germanic stock,” or, in the more politicized version, “an accepted part of the dominant ruling class in the United States.”

Those may be interesting sociological and anthropological angles to pursue, but it has nothing to do with whether the relevant groups were considered to be white.

Here are some objective tests as to whether a group was historically considered “white” in the United States: Were members of the group allowed to go to “whites-only” schools in the South, or otherwise partake of the advantages that accrued to whites under Jim Crow? Were they ever segregated in schools by law, anywhere in the United States, such that “whites” went to one school, and the group in question was relegated to another? When laws banned interracial marriage in many states (not just in the South), if a white Anglo-Saxon wanted to marry a member of the group, would that have been against the law? Some labor unions restricted their membership to whites. Did such unions exclude members of the group in question? Were members of the group ever entirely excluded from being able to immigrate to the United States, or face special bans or restrictions in becoming citizens?

If you use such objective tests, you find that Irish, Jews, Italians and other white ethnics were indeed considered white by law and by custom (as in the case of labor unions).
Some of my graduate research in history involved looking into Irish immigration to the US from the 1830s to 1850s and the nativist response to it. At the time, the Irish were considered white even by the Anglo-Saxon Americans who opposed them. Race was understood quite differently then than it is now (as Bernstein points out later in the article), and the idea that the Irish were not white when they arrived uses today's race and ethnic studies definitions and projects them onto American society in the past. It has nothing to do with how Americans in the 19th century viewed the Irish and everything to do with how race and ethnic studies researchers view race today.

One factor that Bernstein does not touch on, probably because it is not widely recognized, is that nativism in America prior to the Civil War was not about immigration per se but rather religion. The nativists had no problem with many other immigrant groups coming in, but they had huge objections to Catholic immigration.

Read nativist writings and over and over you will read about how Catholics can never be true Americans because they owe their final allegiance to the Pope, whom nativists often depicted as a foreign prince. As millions of Catholics poured into the US, they developed a separate Catholic school system, avoiding one of the main ways immigrants were assimilated in the North. There were legal battles fought over whether states could mandate that schools use the Protestant version of the Bible (it wasn't questioned that they could mandate study of the Bible). The separate school system and various other Catholic social organizations that sprang up seemed like an effort by the whole population of Catholic immigrants to avoid becoming American. That's why the "nativists" (an epithet invented by their political enemies) called themselves "native Americans" and formed the American Party. As Catholics became important voting blocks in Northern cities and began to exercise political power, the nativists began to view mass Catholic immigration as an invasion by a foreign power.

All of this built on centuries of anti-Catholic sentiment in England which came to America early on. The Puritans, after all, wanted to purify the Church of England of all its Catholic aspects. Anti-Catholic bigotry was probably the oldest kind of bigotry in the American colonies, and it continued into the new nation. I've read that at the Constitutional Convention there was a debate over whether Catholics should be allowed to vote. The winning argument was that there were so few of them in the nation that it couldn't hurt anything to let them vote. That began to change with Irish immigration during the famines.


Grim said...

There is also -- as discussed here several times, if you want to search the archives -- a significant difference in the South versus the North. The South was much readier to accept the Irish (and Jews) as white, because it needed a strong felt unity between white people to balance against the danger of a slave rebellion.

Thus, the Irish in Savannah were allowed to adopt the Revolutionary war hero Sergeant Jasper as one of their own (he was actually from Central Europe). Go to his monument in Savannah, and it claims he was an Irish-American.

Likewise, Jews fought duels in the South with Christian gentlemen -- and gentlemen only duel with equals. But in the North, both Catholics and Jews were suspect. (Catholics had been actually banned by Georgia's colonial laws, but that was before slaves -- and during the religious wars of Europe, to which Britain was a party.)

Cassandra said...

Read nativist writings and over and over you will read about how Catholics can never be true Americans because they owe their final allegiance to the Pope, whom nativists often depicted as a foreign prince.

That's why it was such a big deal when JFK was elected. He remains the first (and only) Catholic president of the United States. I remember people talking about this when I was little.

Grim said...

In fairness, the Pope was fairly depicted as a foreign prince in 1776. The Vatican was still fielding armies at that time. It's still technically true, as the Holy See is sovereign over Vatican City, but it's not the same thing.

Tom said...

The South was much readier to accept the Irish (and Jews) as white

Well, the whole point of the article, and my own research confirms everything Bernstein says about it, is that the Irish were fully accepted as white everywhere in that time. It is only now that racial studies people have redefined race that they can look back and anachronistically say the Irish were not white.

My research focused on the North: New York City, Boston, Philadelphia. And I read lots of anti-Irish nativist essays from the 1830s - 1850s, some that explicitly dealt with race. I never found any sign, none whatsoever, that the Irish were regarded as anything but white in the North.

Now, in the North they were often seen as what we today would call white trash (speaking of anachronistic labels), but even those who use the category "white trash" today still call the targets of their derision "white".

Tom said...

I think anti-Catholic bigotry is still part of the left's mentality, to be honest. They love JFK, but he was not a terribly good Catholic, by all accounts. They're fine with bad Catholics.

Grim said...

In fairness, and for the same reason, most part of the right is similarly fine with bad Muslims. It's only the ones who really take it seriously that can potentially be a problem.

Of course, the best Muslims are better than bad Muslims for my money. Still, I could easily see a justification for a preference for Muslims who weren't all that serious about the strictures of their faith.

Tom said...

By the way, since I harbor a fantasy of returning one day to do a Ph.D. in history, if you know of any good evidence from the 19th century or earlier that some demographic in the US did not consider the Irish white, I would love to see it. That would be directly related to the research I did for my MA and would allow me to extend it.

Ymar Sakar said...

Scottia, founder of Scotland = Egyptian princess from the time of the Moses exodus.

Ginger haired, blue eyed people are found in places that they shouldn't be at, genetically speaking. When genetic tests are conducted, they find that the Berbers and Basques and Maori located gingers are natives and indigenous, not imports.

Tower of Babel. Atlantis from Plato's record.

The Flood during Noah's time is not a normal flood. Studying what the Divine Flood was, became an interesting story.

Ymar Sakar said...

The idea of being white, was created by the slave lord philosophers in around 1830s.

They will have to paper over the historical record sooner or later, as they conduct "white studies".

Assistant Village Idiot said...

I agree with Grim about the South's earlier acceptance of Catholics. The KKK retained considerable prejudice against Catholics and Jews well into the 20th C, but A) That group was also active in the Midwest, which muddies the waters as to who they have been over time and B) It was a segment, not a representative group anyway.

There was still considerable anti-Catholic sentiment in 1960, but I have since wondered whether Kennedy was gaming that a bit, playing the victim card skillfully in order to increase turnout.

My Puritan ancestors: Catholics? They didn't even like Quakers! Of course, Quakers in that day were likely to come into your Sunday services and pour blood on your altar.

No one liked much of anyone else, really. They developed a tolerance in order to trade.

Eric Blair said...

Well, not quite. Living in the land of Quakers, I've not heard of Quakers doing any sort of thing like that in the period.

Now it is true that the Continental Congress passed a resolution "Against Popery" in 1777 or 1778, but that didn't stop them from employing Polish soldiers of fortune like Pulaski or Koskuisko.

I think it was estimated that something like 25% of the adult white males in Indiana were in the KKK in the 1920's, but then, there was at least one Indiana regiment that deserted en masse after the Emancipation Proclomation. Go figure.

I saw anti-Catholic bias growing up in the midwest as late as the 1980s, but it tended to either be from Lutherans and Calvinists, plus those Jim Baker style preacher guys (what denomination was he supposed to be?)

But I always thought the "Irish weren't white" thing was some sort of Post-mondernist twaddle.

Tom said...

I've got no qualms with Grim's statements about Catholics and Jews being accepted in the South more than the North, just the idea that the Irish were not considered white.

So what was up with the KKK not liking Catholics and Jews? I've never really looked into them too much. Also, I didn't know they were that big in the North.

Eric: Nor did it stop them from accepting a lot of assistance from the Catholic monarch of France.

I'd never heard of that Indiana regiment. That's an interesting story.

As a broad generalization, I tend to think the Puritan spirit in America is strongest in the left. They've just traded in their Bibles for the gospel of progress. Otherwise, very similar.

Ymar Sakar said...

The Papists and Pope and Dominicans and Jesuits, used to sell Christians to Islamic slave traders as sex slaves, and as a bonus.

If Catholics had been allowed to dominate the US school system without restrictions, the homosexual Catholic priests hunting teenagers, would have had an even better ally in the Leftist alliance. Lucifer would have been able to command the Left to undermine American institutions, while also commanding the Catholics loyal to Lucifer, to undermine the religious faith of Americans, while always pretending that the Left was against all religion. The Left is not against all religion, if only because they worship Deus ex Machinas or Lucifer. And they also like FGM Islam pretty well.

Whether a system is evil or not, depends primarily on the virtue of the people and members. The weak link makes an entire chain link. FOr a hierarchy like Catholics with a head of religion, evil only had to corrupt the top leadership, which is only a mere handful of cardinals and archbishops. Lucifer's demons are numerous enough to handle that. They don't need to tempt or deal with millions upon billions of Catholic members, who have no authority over their scripture and doctrine anyways.

In the US, the Lord of Lies only had to get Hussein Obola. They didn't need the rest of your votes to get things done.

Lucifer was enthroned in the Vatican some decades ago, by Catholic priests. Whether the US bias against Catholics were accurate intellectual or not, makes little difference.

Grim said...

So what was up with the KKK not liking Catholics and Jews?

The KKK isn't the unitary organization that you might think. The original KKK was a guerrilla organization after the Civil War that didn't care about Catholics or Jews at all as far as I know; they were concerned with resistance to the occupation, and with suppressing freed blacks. It was dissolved after a few years as part of the reconciliation process (called 'the Redemption' in the South), in which most of the Reconstruction reforms were repealed in return for a final peace.

There was no KKK for many years, but in 1915 a new organization with that name was stood up in a big ceremony on Stone Mountain. This organization was much larger and more successful than the first one, at one point having the membership of a fairly substantial percentage of Americans including Senators. This is the one that was anti-Catholic and Jew.

The politics of 1915 were driven by the progressive movement, which was in part a reaction against immigration. The 18th Amendment, Prohibition, was about trying to impose a strictly Protestant morality on those drunken Irish and wine-swilling Italians (as well as the Germans, who though Protestant were also big drinkers and immigrants). The 19th Amendment was partly about diluting the immigrant vote, as more men than women tend to emigrate; that meant that giving the vote to women created more voters among non-immigrants than among immigrants.

The popularity of the Klan in this era was a part of this progressive wave. So was segregation, another attempt to reassert cultural control and dominance (brought to DC by Woodrow Wilson, the progressive lion). So was eugenics (Buck v. Bell found that forced sterilization did not violate any of your constitutional rights). The Klan is not usually thought of as a progressive organization, but it drew on the small farmer, free silver, nativist movement of the day.

Tom said...

Interesting. I knew the Progressive history with eugenics, etc., but not the new KKK's part in it, nor that the 19th being partly to dilute the immigrant vote.

Again, I ask out of ignorance, but would you consider either the first or second KKK to have been a terrorist organization?

Grim said...

The first one clearly was little except a terrorist organization, although they didn't use the term at that time. Still, spreading terror was one of its chief tactics in suppressing black political participation.

The second one had members who engaged in terrorist attacks (and lynchings, although you didn't need the Klan for a lynching in those days). It was not exclusively devoted to terrorism, though; it's major mode was political organizing. It was quite successful, too, and as much so outside the South as inside it.

Tom said...

Interesting. Thanks for the replies. I'll have to look more into it sometime.

Ymar Sakar said...

It was not exclusively devoted to terrorism, though; it's major mode was political organizing.

Of course they didn't need it as much, since they had Southerners in Congress. Insurgency only need terrorizing until they get into power, then they are the counter revolutionaries or secret police in maintaining power.

It was dissolved after a few years as part of the reconciliation process (called 'the Redemption' in the South), in which most of the Reconstruction reforms were repealed in return for a final peace.

The Northern propaganda that US Civil War 1 ended slavery, is proven false there. The "final peace" was the victory of the slave lords. It's how the US can win every battle in Vietnam, yet lose the war, due to the peace treaty.

The North, if they were behind the "War of Northern Aggression", should have been the ones using the KKK tactics. The South was able to get rid of Lincoln and replace him with a vp sympathetic to slavery and Southern Democrats. That trick would have worked even better against Southerners, who were focused around a few key land owning families, who had lost much of their wealth but not their influence. I see by the actions of humans, that it exposes the lies told by the victors.

The White Supremacist beliefs of the KKK, fools even modern humans today, and for precisely the same reason they deceived those back then, including its founder Bedford Forrest. Forrest had an entirely different idea of what a Masonic lodge for humanity was supposed to be for, one the KKK never lived up to. Problem with secret societies, Forrest, is that you never know who you really are working for.

Human conspiracies are easily broken. Look at how easily mortals die and confess their loyalty to human dictators and totalitarian fear systems.

Wilson said/wrote something interesting after Federal Reserve came into being.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

@ Eric Blair - no, the early American Quakers did that in Boston. See David Hackett Fischer's Albion's Seed on that. (I think.) They didn't kill anyone though. Pretty good for the era.