Master Race - 'Master Race' in The United States

'Master Race' in The United States

In the United States, the concept of 'master race' arose within the context of master-slave race relations in the slavery-based society of historical America – particularly in the South in the mid-19th century. It was based upon both the experience of slavery and the pseudo-scientific justifications for racial slavery, but also on the relations between whites in the South and North, particularly during the American Civil War.

The Oxford English Dictionary credits William J. Grayson with having first used the phrase master race, in his poem The Hireling and the Slave (1855):

For these great ends hath Heaven’s supreme command

Brought the black savage from his native land,

Trains for each purpose his barbarian mind,

By slavery tamed, enlightened, and refined;

Instructs him, from a master-race, to draw

Wise modes of polity and forms of law,

Imbues his soul with faith, his heart with love,

Shapes all his life by dictates from above

where the phrase denotes the relation between the white masters and negro slaves. By 1860 Virginian author George Fitzhugh was using the "challenging phrase “master race”, which soon came to mean considerably more than the ordinary master-slave relationship". Fitzhugh, along with a number of southern writers, used the term to differentiate Southerners from Northerners, based on the dichotomy that Southerners were supposedly descendents of Normans / Cavaliers whereas Northerners were descendents of Anglo-Saxons / Puritans.

In 1861, the Southern press bragged that Northern soldiers would "encounter a master race" and knowledge of this fact would cause Northern soldiers' "knees to tremble". The Richmond Whig in 1862 proclaimed that "the master race of this continent is found in the southern states", and in 1863 the Richmond Examiner stated that "there are slave races born to serve, master races born to govern"

In the works of John H. Van Evrie, a Northern supporter of the Confederacy, the term was interchangeable with white supremacy, notably in White Supremacy and Negro Subordination, Or, Negroes a Subordinate Race and (so-called) slavery its normal condition (1861). In Subgeneation: the theory of the normal relations of the races; an answer to miscegenation (1864) Van Evrie created the words “subgen” to describe what he considered to be the "inferior races" and “subgeneation” to describe the ‘normal’ relation of such inferior races to whites, something which he considered to be the "very corner-stone of democracy"; but these words never entered the dictionary.

Following the defeat of the Confederacy the term master race immediately fell into disuse.

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