I bet Michael, when he submitted this Comment of the Day, had a feeling I’d groove on it. After all, it’s about a President, I’m a Presidents nut, and he ends up agreeing with me, which is always welcome.
He also raises and interesting question that was not considered in the post. If we judged Presidents on a racism scale that weighted their attitudes according to how they compared to the culture and predominant beliefs of the day, which Presidents would come out looking best? That’s how baseball stat analysts judge players across eras, and it makes sense: players are compared to league averages while they were playing, and then the stats are adjusted accordingly. For example, Carl Yastrzemski’s .301 average in 1968 was more impressive, and represented better hitting in his offensive context, than Lou Gehrig’s .354 mark in 1936, when ten players hit at least .350.
Analyzed that way, Woodrow Wilson comes out as the most racist President, more than the slaveholders. Jefferson, despite being a slaveholder, looks relatively good in the context of his times. So, I think, does Teddy Roosevelt, unapologetic white supremacist that he undoubtedly was.
Here’s Michael’s Comment of the Day on the post, “Unethical Quote Of The Month: Joe Biden”:
Too little time and space to go into a full historical review here but…The closest to “non-racist” may have been JQ Adams, who was very strongly against slavery. Alas, by modern standards he would probably be considered “racist” because he did nothing against slavery while in the cabinet or when he was President. From my now-fading memory of law school studies, JQ’s famous arguments in winning the Amistad case before the Supreme Court, so over-fictionalization in the movie Amistad, were based more on laws related to seizure of ships and laws in GB and Spain that outlawed slavery (although Spanish law still permitted slavery at the time of the ship’s seizure) than in any arguments about the equality and rights of men. Two of his great friends in legislature were Calhoun and Clay, another strike against him.
However, he did fight staunchly against slavery and for the rights of all men after he left the Presidency. (Including Amistad). JQ believed the fault was in the Constitution which accepted slavery through the compromise for counting population for purposes of representation. His dad, John, is frequently cited as a staunch abolitionist, and probably was. He did, however, hire enslaved people to work in the White House — and paid their owners for the labor. So, another staunch abolitionist and champion of the rights of all people who would be a racist by today’s standards. Then there’s Kennedy (whoops, facts abound to support calling him “racist” including his reluctance to actively intervene in the South and his refusal to invite Sammy Jr to the inauguration) and Johnson and the Civil Rights Act (wait, among other concerning facts, he used some pretty strongly racist language in trying to convince key Southern Senators not to block passage).
I started out to argue against your premise that all Presidents, at least through Nixon, would be considered “racist” by standards being promoted today. Convinced myself otherwise. In 8th grade (almost 6 decades ago) I had a great math teacher. Mrs Martin would just stand quietly and let me argue against some math principle she was teaching. Why? She eventually told me she always let me argue because she knew I would convince myself and others that the principle she elucidated was correct.
Guess my debate skills haven’t progressed much.