In his 1902 novel The Leopard’s Spots, Thomas Dixon Jr. explores the racial problem that had plagued the South from the end of the Civil War up to the beginning of the 20th century. What to do with the newly freed Negro popultion is described by Dixon as the great “unsolved riddle,” as it remains for our entire country to this day. Even the mainstream media never tire of ominously informing us of the great “racial reckoning” that still awaits us.
Being an unapologetic defender of the South, Dixon naturally takes a very different view of the subject than that which is accepted in polite society today.
The hero of the novel is Charles Gaston, who is just a young boy as the disastrous Reconstruciton regime begins following the defeat of the South. His father had died in the war, and his mother also passes away shortly thereafter, leaving the young Gaston in the care of the town’s Baptist preacher John Durham.
As a man Gaston contemplates entering the field of politics, and the preacher, a staunch defender of the Old South, warns Gaston of the danger that he sees in any compromise on the race issue. Durham feels that as soon as blacks are granted equal political rights, the horrible logic of equality will slowly corrode the nation:
“[The preacher began] ‘When the white race begin to hobnob with the Negro and seek his favour, they must grant him absolute equality. That means ultimately social as well as political equality. You can’t ask a man to vote for you and kick him down your front doorstep and tell him to come around the back way.’
[Gaston replied]‘I think you exaggerate the social danger, but I see the political end of it.’
‘I don’t exaggerate in the least. I am looking into the future. This racial instinct is the ordinance of our life. Lose it and we have no future. One drop of Negro blood makes a negro. It kinks the hair, flattens the nose, thickens the lip, puts out the light of intellect, and lights the fires of brutal passions. The beginning of Negro equality as a vital fact is the beginning of the end of this nation’s life. There is enough negro blood here to make mulatto the whole Republic.’
‘Such a danger seems too remote for serious alarm to me,’ replied the younger man.
‘Ah! there’s the tragedy,’ passionately cried the Preacher. ‘You younger men are growing careless and indifferent to this terrible problem. It’s the one unsolved and unsolvable riddle of the coming century. Can you build, in a Democracy, a nation inside a nation of two hostile races? We must do this or become mulatto, and that is death. Every inch in the approach of these races across the barriers that separate them is a movement toward death. You cannot seek the Negro vote without asking him to your home sooner or later. If you ask him to your house, he will break bread with you at last. And if you seat him at your table, he has the right to ask your daughter’s hand in marriage.’”
At the climax of the novel, which has brought the reader from the end of the war to circa 1900, the state of North Carolina faces the threat of returning to a Reconstruction-era style of government. Gaston delivers a stirring speech at the state democratic convention, in which he argues forcefully for the preacher’s belief that the nation must either adopt some sort of formal racial apartheid or fall into the anarchy of black rule:
“‘The Anglo-Saxon is entering the new century with the imperial crown of the ages on his brow and the sceptre of the infinite in his hands. The Old South fought against the stars in their courses the resistless tide of the rising consciousness of Nationality and World-Mission. The young South greets the new era and glories in its manhood. He joins his voice in the cheers of triumph which are ushering in this all-conquering Saxon. Our old men dreamed of local supremacy. We dream of the conquest of the globe. Threads of steel have knit state to state. Steam and electricity have silently transformed the face of the earth, annihilated time and space, and swept the ocean barriers from the path of man. The black steam shuttles of commerce have woven continent to continent.
We believe that God has raised up our race, as he ordained Israel of old, in this world-crisis to establish and maintain for weaker races, as a trust for civilisation, the principles of civil and religious Liberty and the forms of Constitutional Government.
In this hour of crisis, our flag has been raised over ten millions of semi-barbaric black men in the foulest slave pen of the Orient. Shall we repeat the farce of ’67, reverse the order of nature, and make these black people our rulers? If not, why should the African here, who is not their equal, be allowed to imperil our life?’
A whirlwind of applause shook the building.
‘A crisis approaches in the history of the human race. The world is stirred by its consciousness today. The nation must gird up her loins and show her right to live, to master the future or be mastered in the struggle. New questions press upon us for solution.
Shall this grand old commonwealth lag behind and sink into the filth and degradation of a Negroid corruption in this solemn hour of the world?’
‘No! No!’ screamed a thousand voices.
‘What is our condition to-day in the dawn of the twentieth century? If we attempt to move forward we are literally chained to the body of a festering Black Death!
Fifty of our great counties are again under the heel of the Negro, and the state is in his clutches. Our city governments are debauched by his vote. His insolence threatens our womanhood, and our children are beaten by negro toughs on the way to school while we pay his taxes. Shall we longer tolerate negro inspectors of white schools, and negroes in charge of white institutions? Shall we longer tolerate the arrest of white women by negro officers and their trial before negro magistrates?
Let the manhood of the Aryan race with its four thousand years of authentic history answer that question!’
With blazing eyes, and voice that rang with the deep peal of defiant power, Gaston hurled that sentence like a thunder bolt into the souls of his two thousand hearers.
The surging host sprang to their feet and shouted back an answer that made the earth tremble!
Lifting his hand for silence he continued,
‘It is no longer a question of bad government. It is a question of impossible government. We lag behind the age dragging the decaying corpse to which we are chained.
Who shall deliver us from the body of this death?
Hear me, men of my race, Norman and Celt, Angle and Saxon, Dane and Frank, Huguenot and German martyr blood!
The hour has struck when we must rise in our might, break the chains that bind us to this corruption, strike down the Negro as a ruling power, and restore to our children their birthright, which we received, a priceless legacy, from our fathers.
I believe in God’s call to our race to do His work in history. What other races failed to do, you wrought in this continental wilderness, fighting pestilence, hunger, cold, wild beasts, and savage hordes, until out of it all has grown the mightiest nation of the earth.
Is the Negro worthy to rule over you?
Ask history. The African has held one fourth of this globe for 3000 years. He has never taken one step in progress or rescued one jungle from the ape and the adder, except as the slave of a superior race.
In Hayti and San Domingo he rose in servile insurrection and butchered fifty thousand white men, women and children a hundred years ago. He has ruled these beautiful islands since. Did he make progress with the example of Aryan civilisation before him? No. But yesterday we received reports of the discovery of cannibalism in Hayti.
He has had one hundred years of trial in the Northern states of this Union with every facility of culture and progress, and he has not produced one man who has added a feather’s weight to the progress of humanity. In an hour of madness the dominion of the ten great states of the South was given him without a struggle. A saturnalia of infamy followed.
Shall we return to this? You must answer. The corruption of his presence in our body politic is beyond the power of reckoning. We drove the Carpet-bagger from our midst, but the Scalawag, our native product, is always with us to fatten on this corruption and breed death to society. The Carpet-bagger was a wolf, the Scalawag is a hyena. The one was a highwayman, the other a sneak.
So long as the Negro is a factor in our political life, will violence and corruption stain our history. We can not afford longer to play with violence. We must remove the cause.
Suffrage in America has touched the lowest tide-mud of degradation. If our cities and our Southern civilsation are to be preserved, there must be a return to the sanity of the founders of this Republic.
A government of the wealth, virtue and intelligence of the community, by the debased and the criminal, is a relapse to elemental barbarism to which no race of freemen can submit.
Shall the future North Carolinian be an Anglo-Saxon or a Mulatto? That is the question before you.
Nations are made by men, not by paper constitutions and paper ballots. We are not free because we have a Constitution. We have a Constitution because our pioneer fathers who cleared the wilderness and dared the might of kings, were freemen. It was in their blood, the tutelage of generation on generation beyond the seas, the evolution of centuries of struggle and sacrifice.
If you can make men out of paper, then it is possible with a scratch of a pen in the hand of a madman to transform by its magic a million slaves into a million kings.
We grant the Negro the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness if he can be happy without exercising kingship over the Anglo-Saxon race, or dragging us down to his level. But if he can not find happiness except in lording it over a superior race, let him look for another world in which to rule. There is not room for both of us on this continent!’
Again and again Gaston raised his hand to still the mad tumult of applause his words evoked.
‘And we will fight it out on this line, if it takes a hundred years, two hundred, five hundred, or a thousand. It took Spain eight hundred years to expel the Moors. When the time comes the Anglo-Saxon can do in one century what the Spaniard did in eight.
We have been congratulated on our self-restraint under the awful provocation of the past four years. There is a limit beyond which we dare not go, for at this point, self-restraint becomes pusillanimous and means the loss of manhood.’
He then reviewed with thrilling power the history of the state and the proud part played in the development of the Republic. He showed how this border wilderness of North Carolina became the cradle of American Democracy and the typical commonwealth of freemen…
The crowd now had grown so entranced, and the torrent of his speech so rapid, they forgot to cheer and feared to cheer lest they should lose a word of the next sentence. They hung breathless on every flash of feeling from his face or eloquent gesture.
‘I am not talking of a vague theory of constructive dominion,’ he continued, ‘when I refer to the Negro supremacy under which our civilisation is being degraded. I use words in their plain meaning. Negro supremacy means the rule of a party in which negroes predominate and that means a Negro oligarchy… We will take from an unprofitable servant the ballot he has abused. To him that hath shall be given, and from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath. It is the law of nature. It is the law of God.
Yes, I confess it, I am in a sense narrow and provincial. I love mine own people. Their past is mine, their present mine, their future is a divine trust. I hate the dish water of modern world-citizenship. A shallow cosmopolitanism is the mask of death for the individual. It is the froth of civilisation, as crime is its dregs. Race, and race pride, are the ordinances of life.
The true citizen of the world loves his country. His country is a part of God’s world. So I confess I love my people. I love the South, the stolid silent South, that for a generation has sneered at paper-made policies, and scorned public opinion. The South, old-fashioned, mediaeval, provincial, worshipping the dead, and raising men rather than making money, family loving, home building, tradition ridden. The South, cruel and cunning when fighting a treacherous foe, with brief volcanic bursts of wrath and vengeance. The South, eloquent, bombastic, romantic, chivalrous, lustful, proud, kind and hospitable. The South with her beautiful women and brave men. The South, generous and reckless, never knowing her own interest, but living her own life in her own way! Yes, I love her! In my soul are all her sins and virtues. And with it all she is worthy to live .
The historian tells us that all things pass in time. Wolves whelp and stable in the palaces of dead kings and forgotten civilisations. Memphis, Thebes and Babylon are but names to-day. So New Orleans and New York may perish. African antiquarians may explore their ruins and speculate upon their life; but we may safely fix upon a thousand centuries of intervening time. On your shoulders now rests the burden of civilisation. We must face its responsibilities. For my part, I believe in your future.
The courage of the Celt, the nobility of the Norman, the vigour of the Viking, the energy of the Angle, the tenacity of the Saxon, the daring of the Dane, the gallantry of the Gaul, the freedom of the Frank, the earthhunger of the Roman and the stoicism of the Spartan are all yours by the lineal heritage of blood, from sire and dame through hundreds of generations and through centuries of culture.
Will you halt now and surrender to a mob of ragged negroes led by white cowards who at the first clash of conflict will hide in sewers?
I ask you, my people, freemen, North Carolinians, to rise to-day and make good your right to live! The time for platitudes is past. Let us as men face the world and say what we mean.
This is a white man’s government, conceived by white men, and maintained by white men through every year of its history, and by the God of our Fathers it shall be ruled by white men until the Arch-angel shall call the end of time!’”