Pat Buchanan’s Historical Amnesia: Collective Forgetting Essential to Racism?

soldiers(Photo: Wikipedia)
One of the many uninformed comments that Pat Buchanan has recently made is thus:

White men were 100% of the people that wrote the Constitution, 100% of the people that signed the Declaration of Independence, 100% of the people who died at Gettysburg and Vicksburg, probably close to 100% of the people who died at Normandy. This has been a country built basically by white folks.

Over at Dailykos, Ttujoe has a rebuttal, with nice photos and data on the errors in such wild assertions. He points out the extensive role of African Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, and Japanese Americans (and white women) in various American wars. Many more folks than white men were critical to all these efforts, including the first two (the U.S. Constitution and Declaration of Independence). Even in the first two cases, those 55 or so white men in each case (who were 100 percent of the delegates in the these rather un-democractic settings) would not have been there but for the substantial wealth generated by enslaved African Americans who worked for many of them, even accompanied them to such gatherings as servants, not to mention the many white women who labored for and with them as well:

Well, let’s take Vicksburg first, Pat, you’re just wrong. You must have forgotten about the Battle of Milliken’s Bend. That was the battle where African-American soldiers defeated Confederates who were trying to cut a union supply line. Now, Pat, obviously this was a battle during the Civil War. But what does this have to do with Vicksburg? Well, that supply line the Confederates were trying to cut just happened to be Grant’s supply line who were laying siege to Vicksburg. (By the way, I’m not surprised that you didn’t learn about this- after all, the National Park Service didn’t even have an exhibit or monument about these troops until 2007).

The African American soldiers and support troops in Civil War somehow get left out in most of the public discussions of US history, and in too many accounts of contributions as well. As a result of successful recruiting by Martin Delaney, Frederick Douglass, and other black (and some white) leaders, during the last years of the Civil War several hundred thousand African Americans (men and women), many formerly enslaved, served as Union soldiers and support troops–and thus did more to free enslaved Americans than did President Abraham Lincoln’s famous 1863 Emancipation Proclamation. Without them the war might have ended in a draw or worse. Lincoln was having trouble getting enough white men to right for the Union.

Like the black abolitionists, most of these Union soldiers and support troops undoubtedly held some version of a black liberty and justice counter-frame to the dominant white-racist frame in their minds. For example, the formerly enslaved John Washington, who ran away and became part of the Union Army’s support troops, described his new situation thus:

Before morning I had began to feel like I had truly escaped from the hands of the slaves master and with the help of God, I never would be a slave no more. I felt for the first time in my life that I could now claim every cent that I should work for as my own. I began now to feel that life had a new joy awaiting me. I might now go and come when I please This was the first night of freedom.

Another formerly enslaved member of Union support troops put it this way:

The next morning I was up early and took a look at the rebels country with a thankful heart to think I had made my escape with safety after such a long struggle; and had obtained that freedom which I desired so long. I now dreaded the gun, and handcuffs and pistols no more.

For formerly enslaved men and women, liberty and justice were much more than rhetorical abstractions. Their sacrifices on Civil War battlefields and behind the lines helped not only to free those enslaved, but also to put the United States on track to become a freer country. This is what Buchanan leaves out. It was men and women of color, and white women, who periodically, even centrally, helped keep the liberty and justice ideas out front at times when many white men were trying to maintain traditional forms of oppression.


  1. Nquest

    Buchanan (and poster Darin Johnson) failed to acknowledge the influence Native American democracy, the Iroquois Constitution, had on the Constitution of the USA:

    Washington — Benjamin Franklin, one of the original architects of the United States government, introduced as a model for the country’s framework document the constitution of the Iroquois Nation, according to a Smithsonian Institution specialist of American Indian history.
    The Iroquois, a North American Indian confederacy of several tribes, allied with some of the first European settlers of what later became the United States.
    The Iroquois’ detailed constitution — called the Great Law of Peace — guaranteed freedom of religion and expression and other rights later embraced in the U.S. Constitution . . .
    the Iroquois document also presented to framers of the U.S. Constitution the concept of a two-house legislature and a combined government structure of state jurisdictions and a national government . . .
    The Iroquois’ also said that when a legislator was presenting an issue to the governing chamber, others should be quiet, a practice adopted by Congress that contrasts with protocol in the British parliament, Hill said.
    Franklin, then Pennsylvania’s official printer, became familiar with the Iroquois political system by printing minutes of their meetings . . .

  2. This is fantastic, Joe, Ttujoe, and Nquest! I mean absolutely fabulous. I’d learned about the Iroquois federation, but always seem to forget sometimes. Nevertheless, I think this may be the first, or second, time I’ve heard the Framers used the Iroquios, just only the Greeks, as an example. It’s wonderful and fabulous, and why I desist from engaging with people like DJ.
    It’s no big secret that the soft subjects are Eurocentric, deceiving, and racist. Texas is trying to make things worse by removing Cesar Chaves and Thurgood Marshall from their history curriculum. Information like this is great, and if we really want to encourage young black students, and all students of color, to put forth real effort, we’re going to have to make it worth their effort.
    Forgive me guys, but I’m just real proud of black students right now. When you consider all that we know about their intelligence and racism in education, you just gotta give them their propers for acheiving as much as they have. It’s not easy learning that your people were slaves who didn’t free themselves and MLK came along and that’s it. Quite frankly, considering what they have to go through, it’s amazing black acheivement is what it is! I don’t want to put our students on the level of Soweto or even those black children in colonized Africa who had to answer essay questions like, “What good things have Germans brought us”; but African American students are quite as far off that mark as I had thought.
    Oh and you got to give it up to Amerindians kids! Wow!

  3. Kristen

    Great post, Joe. It is important to point out the facts that contradict common notions such as that expressed by Buchanan (and it is truly sad that so many people have been led to believe these things). And I think an even deeper consideration is reflected in your title for this piece. The collective memory scholarship asserts that national memory is the foundation of national identity. So that memories (and amnesias) that fail to give credit to people of color or to critique whites provide fuel to continue racist thinking and practice. And, on the other hand, the collective memory literature also argues that contemporary identity shapes how we remember. As long as our society feels the need to justify contemporary racial inequalities, we will maintain memories that support white supremacy.

  4. Joe

    Thanks, Victor. Now, with Gates and many others, we have the crime of YWB, yelling white black in your own house, and on your porch. The police report at that link is revealing on this too. Apparently a white women saw a black man on the porch of Gates house, Gates, and call it in to the police on her cell phone.

  5. Tay

    He’s a failed politician – what do you expect? I think you can measure his worth to the human race as no more than the value of the water and minerals in his body. I don’t think he has any other worth.

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