In 1864, a pamphlet appeared throughout the North that shocked voters. The pamphlet coined a new word, “miscegenation”, for the sexual union of blacks and whites. A year after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued, the pamphlet announced; “The word is spoken at last. It is Miscegenation — the blending of the various races of men — the practical recognition of the brotherhood of all the children of the common father.” Today, such a sentence would hardly be shocking, but in 1864 this self-proclaimed abolitionist pamphlet set public opinion on fire. It confirmed the worst fears of whites that the abolitionists were not interested in freeing the slaves, they were really lusting for sexual intercourse with them. 1
There had been a long history of white American revulsion at the thought of black men and white women sleeping together. The moral outrage that the thought of race-mixing raised had its political uses in defense of slavery. White abolitionists, a majority of whom were women, were often accused by slave owners of joining the movement to gratify their lust. 2
Amalgamation Waltz by Edward W. Clay is the first of three cartoons by Edward Clay published in 1839 showing graphically that emancipation of the slaves would lead to the seduction of white women by black men dancing the Amalgamation Waltz.
One of the great fears that slavery’s defenders mined in their argument for the preservation of human bondage was the certainty that if black men were free there would be widespread intermarriage. The resulting mixed race children, called “mulattos” (a name deriving from the same Spanish word as “mule”) were seen as a danger to society. Henry Hughes, in his 1854 Treatise on Sociology wrote that “if the white race is superior, their ethnical progress forbids intermixture with an inferior race.” He warned his educated readers that “Impurity of the races is against the law of nature. Mulattoes are monsters.” 3
The Waltz of course would lead to the Amalgamation Marriage of black men to white women.
Josiah Nott, a prominent surgeon and a leading American ethnologist from the South wrote that the “mulatto is a degenerate, unnatural offspring, doomed by nature to work out its own destruction.” He concluded that the “mulatto” was born in “violation of nature’s laws.”4
The sexual union of black man and white woman was expected to produce the “monstrous mulattoes” such as the girl and the baby shown here who have none of purity of their white mother.
While the 1864 abolitionist pamphlet made its argument for interracial sex based on religion (“We are all God’s children”) and political theory (“All men are created equal”), its central argument was scientific. Using the example of animal breeding the pamphlet argued that “while science has demonstrated that the intermarriage of diverse races is indispensable to a progressive humanity, its votaries, in this country, at least, have never had the courage to apply that rule to the relations of the white and colored races.” The authors of the pamphlet would show how a degenerate race like the Irish could be improved by interbreeding with blacks, or more specifically, why Irish women were meant for black men. Miscegenation 5
At a time when white Americans placed great pride in their racial purity, the Pamphlet insisted that “All that is needed to make us the finest race on earth is to engraft upon our stock the negro element which providence has placed by our side on this continent.” Using the language of livestock breeding, the authors boldly said that “Of all the rich treasures of blood vouchsafed to us, that of the negro is the most precious.” Since most Americans considered blacks members of an inferior race, and some thought blacks an inferior species, this abolitionist call for interracial breeding was bound to get a negative reaction.6
When the pamphlet Miscegenation; The Theory of the Blending of the Races, Applied to the American White Man and Negro was published just as the 1864 presidential campaign was getting underway, its radical call for cross-breeding was denounced by newspapers, churches, and from the floor of Congress. It showed the newly ascendant abolitionists would not sleep until they were sleeping with a black man or woman. The pamphlet’s declaration that “When the President proclaimed Emancipation he proclaimed also the mingling of the races” confirmed the worst racial fears of millions of whites. 7
What no one knew at the time was that the miscegenation manifesto was a black op cooked up by two Democratic journalists to discredit Republican President Abraham Lincoln as a race mixer. The hoaxers, one of whom was born in Ireland and was a member of a post-Protestant religious sect, made a special play on the racial marginalization of the Irish.8
The Irish had been placed, by American caste theory, on the lowest rung of the white race. In many Northern cities they were condemned to the same poorly paid jobs as free blacks. In the South, they did the work of slaves. Irish women were denigrated for being more likely to give birth to mixed race children than any other group of white women. Blacks were often called “smoked Irishmen” in reference to their seeming interchangeability with the new immigrants. In a country where race was everything, the Irish were precariously placed on the edge of whiteness, bordering on the disabilities of blackness in a racist society. 9
The Irish were an important constituency, and the two hoaxers hoped that they could mobilize the Irish vote against Lincoln by mining the fear the Irish had of losing even their lowly place in America’s racial hierarchy. With the Draft Riots only six months in the past, the pamphlet told the Irish that “Notwitlistanding the apparent antagonism which exists between the Irish and negroes on this continent, there are the strongest reasons for believing that the first movement towards [interracial marriages] will take place between these two races.” The pamphlet said that “Indeed, in very many instances it has already occurred,” in a swipe at poor “racial hygiene” among the Irish. 10
Here is an 1864 cartoon influenced by the Amalgamation Waltz. Here is an explanation of the cartoon from Ta Neshi Coates: The Miscegenation Ball at the Headquarters of the Lincoln Central Campaign Club, Corner of Broadway and Twenty Third Street New York Sept. 22d. 1864 being a perfect facsimile of the room &c. &c. (From the New York World Sept. 23d. 1864). No sooner were the formal proceedings and speeches hurried through with, than the room was cleared for a “negro ball,” which then and there took place! Some members of the “Central Lincoln Club” left the room before the mystical and circling rites of languishing glance and mazy dance commenced. But that Many remained is also true. This fact We Certify, “that on the floor during the progress of the ball were many of the accredited leaders of the Black Republican party, thus testifying their faith by works in the hall and headquarters of their political gathering. There were Republican Office-Holders, and prominent men of various degrees, and at least one Presidential Elector On The Republican Ticket. Caption from Ta-Nehisi Coates
The Irish were depicted as a degraded people, “no better than blacks”, throughout the pamphlet. In a sentence designed to stir up images of Irish women in wanton non-marital sexual relationships, the authors wrote that “Wherever there is a poor community of Irish in the North, they naturally herd with the poor negroes, and as the result of the various offices of kindness which only the poor pay to one another, families become intermingled and connubial relations are formed between the black men and white Irish women.”11
The authors warned Irish men that they would be no match for blacks in securing the sexual favors of their own women “The white Irishwoman loves the black man, and in the old country, it has been stated, that the negro, is sure of the handsomest among the poor white females.”12
Lincoln is shown on the far left bowing to a black woman in this depiction of a miscegenationist nightmare.
The Irish had been repeatedly denounced throughout the Civil War Era as inferior to other white Americans and the pamphlet said flatly that they were “a more brutal race and lower in civilization than the negro.” Because they were nearly brutes, the sexual “fusion, whenever it takes place, will be of infinite service to the Irish.” The Irish had long suspected that the Republicans were just Know Nothings in disguise, and the pamphlet seemed to confirm that fear saying that; The Irish are coarse-grained, revengeful, unintellectual, with very few of the finer instincts of humanity.”13
The pamphlet went so far as to claim that the Irishman was a degenerate form of African, saying the Irishman “was originally of a colored race, and has all the fervid emotional power which belongs to a people born in or near the tropics. His long habitation north, however, and the ignorance in which he has been kept by misgovernment, have sunk the Irishman below the level of the most degraded negro.”14
This pamphlet published after Lincoln’s election shows the sexual implications of the Abolitionists’ victory.
The authors tried to use social science to degrade the Irish, saying “Take an equal number of negroes and Irish from among the lowest communities of the city of New York, and the former will be found far superior to the latter in cleanliness, education, moral feelings, beauty of form and feature, and natural sense.”15
It also used the new science of physical ethnology to impugn the Irish:
One of the evidences of degeneracy which has been pointed out in certain of the negro races has been the prognathous skull, the projecting mouth, the flat and open nostril. Yet this is a characteristic as true of certain portions of the people of Ireland as of the Guinea African. The inhabitants of Sligo and Mayo, portions of Ireland under peculiarly bad government, have developed these precise types of feature. The people have become thin-legged, pot-bellied, with mouth projected, head sloped, nostril distended ; in short they exhibit all the characteristics by which we have marked the lowest type of the negro16.
New York’s Five Points, where many Irish did intermarry with blacks, was filled with immigrants from Sligo and Mayo.
While the term miscegenation may seem a relic of the distant past, most states had anti-miscegenation laws prohibiting interracial marriage until after World War II. States of the old Confederacy had these laws until 1967 when the Supreme Court ruled them unconstitutional.
The authors then touted the improvement that the Irish would experience if they mated with blacks: “The blending of the Irish in this country with the negro will be a positive gain to the former. With education and an intermingling with the superior black, the Irish may be lifted up to something like the dignity of their ancestors…” 17
The pamphlet includes this humanitarian call:
The Irish-American press of this country have a duty to perform to their patrons in impressing these facts upon our Irish population. The black man is their brother in more senses than one, and, as in times past the Irish have shown themselves the most prejudiced and inhuman toward their dark-skinned fellow-laborers and friend, they should in the future set aside the prejudice which is the result of unfortunate education, and proclaim, both by word and by the practice of intermarriage, their true relations with the negro.18
The forgery was important enough that it introduced a new word into the English language. Whether it would change any votes was yet to be determined.
Video: The History of Anti-Miscegenation Laws in the U.S.:
Here is an online copy of Miscegenation; The Theory of the Blending of the Races, Applied to the American White Man and Negro
1. Miscegenation; The Theory of the Blending of the Races, Applied to the American White Man and Negro (1864); Reelecting Lincoln: The Battle For The 1864 Presidency by John Waugh published by DeCapo Press (2001); Abraham Lincoln: Volume 2 by Michael Burlingame published by Johns Hopkins Press; Lincoln by David Herbert Donald published by Simon and Schuster.
2. Miscegenation; The Theory of the Blending of the Races, Applied to the American White Man and Negro
3. The Ideology of Slavery: Proslavery Thought in the Antebellum South, 1830-1860 edited by Drew Gilpin Faust published by LSU Press (1981) pp. 259-260.
4. The Ideology of Slavery: Proslavery Thought in the Antebellum South, 1830-1860 edited by Drew Gilpin Faust published by LSU Press (1981) p. 231.
5. Miscegenation; The Theory of the Blending of the Races, Applied to the American White Man and Negro p. 1.
6. Miscegenation; The Theory of the Blending of the Races, Applied to the American White Man and Negro
7 .Miscegenation; The Theory of the Blending of the Races, Applied to the American White Man and Negro
8. Miscegenation; The Theory of the Blending of the Races, Applied to the American White Man and Negro
9. Miscegenation; The Theory of the Blending of the Races, Applied to the American White Man and Negro
10. Miscegenation; The Theory of the Blending of the Races, Applied to the American White Man and Negro pp. 30-31.
11. Miscegenation; The Theory of the Blending of the Races, Applied to the American White Man and Negro p. 30.
12. Miscegenation; The Theory of the Blending of the Races, Applied to the American White Man and Negro p. 30.
13. Miscegenation; The Theory of the Blending of the Races, Applied to the American White Man and Negro p. 30.
14. Miscegenation; The Theory of the Blending of the Races, Applied to the American White Man and Negro pp. 30-31.
15. Miscegenation; The Theory of the Blending of the Races, Applied to the American White Man and Negro
16. Miscegenation; The Theory of the Blending of the Races, Applied to the American White Man and Negro
17. Miscegenation; The Theory of the Blending of the Races, Applied to the American White Man and Negro p. 31.
18. Miscegenation; The Theory of the Blending of the Races, Applied to the American White Man and Negro p. 32.
The Immigrants’ Civil War is a series that examines the role of immigrants in our bloodiest war. Articles will appear twice monthly between 2011 and 2017. Here are the articles we have published so far:
1. Immigrant America on the Eve of the Civil War – Take a swing around the United States and see where immigrants were coming from and where they were living in 1861.
2. 1848: The Year that Created Immigrant America – Revolutions in Europe, famine and oppression in Ireland, and the end of the Mexican War made 1848 a key year in American immigration history.
3. Carl Schurz: From German Radical to American Abolitionist– A teenaged revolutionary of 1848, Carl Schurz brought his passion for equality with him to America.
5. …And the War Came to Immigrant America -The impact of the firing on Fort Sumter on America’s immigrants
10. Immigrant Day Laborers Help Build the First Fort to Protect Washington-The Fighting 69th use their construction skills.
12. Immigrants Rush to Join the Union Army-Why?– The reasons immigrants gave for enlisting early in the war.
17. Immigrant Regiments on Opposite Banks of Bull Run -The Fighting 69th and the Louisiana Tigers
39. A German Regiment Fights for “Freedom and Justice” at Shiloh-The 32nd Indiana under Col. August Willich.
40. The Know Nothing Colonel and the Irish Soldier Confronting slavery and bigotry.
43. Union Leader Ben Butler Seeks Support in New Orleans-When General Ben Butler took command in New Orleans in 1862, it was a Union outpost surrounded by Confederates. Butler drew on his experience as a pro-immigrant politician to win over the city’s Irish and Germans.
49. The Irish Brigade Moves Towards Richmond-The Irish brigade in the Peninsula Campaign from March 17 to June 2, 1862.
50. Peninsula Emancipation: Irish Soldiers Take Steps on the Road to Freedom-The Irish Brigade and Irish soldiers from Boston free slaves along the march to Richmond.
54. Making Immigrant Soldiers into Citizens-Congress changed the immigration laws to meet the needs of a nation at war.
60. Emancipation 150: “All men are created equal, black and white”– A German immigrant reacts to the Emancipation Proclamation
106. The Draft Riots End in a Sea of Blood-July 14-15, 1863.
Immigration Vacation -Civil War Sites