The Roots of the Culture of Greed and Self-Interest in America
The roots of the greedy and selfish element of the American culture go all the way back to the original English colonists who established the original English American settlement in Jamestown in the Virginia Colony in 1607.
Jamestown was the first colonial settlement in America, named in honor of King James I of England, and it was established by the corporate capitalist Virginia Company of London. The colonists who settled there were wealthy English aristocrats and entrepreneurs, and they considered themselves Christians because they were, after all, following Christian traditions. In fact, a vicar of the theocratic Anglican Church of England performed the first known service of Christian communion in America in Jamestown in 1607.
Jamestown and the Virginia Colony became known for its tobacco plantations. But, the settlers of Jamestown were also known as the first to steal from and cause war with Native Americans who were trying to protect their property and land, and Jamestown is known as the first colony in America to enjoy the free labor of slaves captured in Africa and brought to Jamestown in 1619.
Of course, Dutch slave ship owners were as guilty for the establishment of slavery in America as the English were. But even so, the wealthy Jamestown aristocrats from England operated from an attitude and mind set based on the “Christian Doctrine of Discovery” which dated back to the Fifteenth Century in Europe.
The Doctrine of Discovery had declared the "divine right" of Christian monarchs to invade and occupy the lands of Native indigenous peoples all over the world. It dehumanized indigenous peoples as “pagans” and "heathens and uncivilized savages" with no rights to their land, or to their independence and freedom.
That doctrine was used to justify the English colonists of the Virginia Colony, but not all the English Americans accepted its validity. For example, when Thomas Jefferson became president in 1801, his official policies regarding the treatment of Native American (Indians) were respectful, as was evident in his orders to Lewis and Clark when he commissioned their Corps of Discovery.
Yes, Jefferson was a Virginian who owned slaves. However, we have to realize that Jefferson was a man of his times, even though he was a highly educated Renaissance man and a revolutionary “Enlightenment” thinker. And at that time the idea of indentured servants and slaves was socially acceptable among most of the English Americans, even though some had begun to question and even denounce the institution of slavery.
Jefferson, however, was not like some slave owners who employed cruel overseers who whipped and even lynched runaway slaves to make examples of them. And even though slaves in Virginia could not marry by state law, Jefferson respected slave marriages. They had large families at Monticello, and he treated them relatively and comparatively well. He allowed his slaves to become literate and educated. He gave them time off on Sundays, holidays and after-work hours. On Sundays, his slaves could travel to Charlottesville to the market to sell produce and goods to earn money, and they could visit with friends and family in the plantation community.
In other words, Jefferson was an example of the better and more educated part of Southern culture, and because of his great contribution and service it is easy to excuse his beliefs regarding gender and race. For in fact, during his time, Jefferson’s principles were the most democratic and humanitarian, which is why Abraham Lincoln later said: “The principles of Jefferson are the axioms of a free society.”
That is true for many reasons, but perhaps the basic reason was because Jefferson’s principles were founded on the idea that if there was to be an aristocracy, it should be based on virtue and education, and on hard work, and not simply on wealth, or on religion.
You see, Thomas Jefferson rejected the doctrines and dogma of that had established Theocratic Christian traditions that entitled and enabled the wealthiest few. He believed a man’s religious beliefs were between him and God. And, while he loved the core moral values taught by Jesus of Nazareth, he believed and demonstrated that in certain ways the “New Testament” canon of the Christian Church “corrupted” the message of Jesus. (That is why Jefferson edited the New Testament to produce the “Jefferson Bible,” which retained the true morality of the essential and core Christian message but removed “corruptions,” supernatural elements, exaggerations and fabrications that created the Christian myths.)
Jefferson’s liberating democratic principles were also what inspired him to establish the first public schools in America, because he realized that America could not be a Democratic Republic unless its citizens were literate, educated, and informed.
Jefferson even tried to institute free higher education at public expense as well. He failed in that, as is painfully evident even today, but he tried because he realized that without equal opportunity to higher education, it would become available only to the wealthiest few. (And that was certainly been the case in America until the 1950s, and has increasingly become the case again during the last 30 years.)
All these facts are important for Americans to learn or remember now, because the principles of Jefferson were not widespread in the South. While he was an advanced thinker, many in the South clung to old British traditions brought to Jamestown by wealthy English aristocrats. And part of the culture that was established in Jamestown reflected the most wrong, greedy, offensive, exploitive and divisive elements in England, but claimed to be patriotic, righteous and religious.
Since the greatest refuge of a scoundrel is patriotism and the greatest refuge of a hypocrites is religiosity, it is not surprising that was the case in Jamestown, and it is not surprising that is the case now in certain circles not only in the South, but in many different areas in America.
That element of the American culture is expressed by those who think they are superior, whether their sense of superiority is based on religion or race or original nationality or culture or political ideology. And that is why it has always been expressed by the greediest of the wealthiest few who resent anyone telling them how to operate their profit-making enterprises.
They do not want anyone telling them what they can and cannot do, and that is why they always argue over the power and rights of the wealthy landowners, and over the regulatory power of central government.
Why the U.S. Constitution Was Necessary
The argument over the power and rights of the wealthy landowners and over the regulatory power of central government became heated in 1787 as most Americans realized a U.S. Constitution was necessary. And that argument was also over the ability of the U.S. Federal Government to promote the general welfare and ensure equity and justice for all citizens of the nation.
See, most Americans don’t know it, but the Constitution was written and established six years after the American Revolution ended and after the U.S.A. had won its independence from England in 1781. Prior to the Constitution there were only the Articles of Confederation, which had enabled the South to became a major political force. And it insisted upon and enjoyed little federal interference in the affairs of the states.
That didn’t work for long, though, because the Articles of Confederation failed to maintain the political and economic viability and cohesiveness of the union. It became necessary to create the U.S. Constitution in Philadelphia in 1787, assigning certain specified powers to the federal government to ensure compatibility and equity in interstate commerce, and in the laws of the land nation to preserve the integrity of the union.
Even so, because most of the wealth in America was held by Southern aristocratic plantation owners, Southern political leaders were able to protect their sectional interests during the Constitutional Convention of 1787. They were able to prevent the insertion of any explicit anti-slavery position in the Constitution, and they were even able to force the inclusion of the "fugitive slave clause." Consequently, “Antebellum Slavery” was perpetuated.
By the way, the Fugitive Slave Clause is the name given to a provision in Article Four of the United States Constitution that requires that slaves that escaped to another state be returned to the owner in the state from which they escaped. Southern leaders had insisted upon that in 1787, and it wasn’t until the South was defeated in the Civil War 1865 that the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution made slavery illegal, repealing the slave clause in Article Four.
Why Jefferson and Lincoln Were Right
Of course, it must be said that even though slavery had become a controversial issue even in 1787 when the Constitution was adopted, it was practiced in both the South and the North. It must also be said that not all Southerners were slave owners, that only an aristocratic elite wealthiest few were slave owners, and not all of them were of the sort that resorted to cruelty and even lynchings to control their slaves.
Since 1974, and particularly since 1980, as the South has risen once again (so to speak), the idea that Thomas Jefferson was “Anti-Christian” and that Abraham Lincoln was “Anti-Liberty” and "pro-slavery" has become more and more prevalent among Southerners and those of like mind.
Naturally, few of them would admit that in public. In fact, most people in the South believe that racism and anti-Union attitudes are all behind them. However, many in the South have actually not reconciled themselves with the “Union” of Abraham Lincoln, or with the ideals and principles of Thomas Jefferson. In fact, right-wing Southern politicians in Congress obviously reflect the Anti-Union and Anti-Government attitude (even though they want control of government), and many Southerners are simply in denial about the racist and rebellious past and present.
That is because there is a very strong and influential element in the South that has a very different idea of Christianity than Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln had. (In fact, most of the other Founding Fathers had similar feelings and beliefs about that, as is revealed in Quotes of the Founding Fathers Regarding Religion.)
Both Jefferson and Lincoln were very bright critical thinkers, and they did not take the Christian Bible literally. They did see the great value in the moral teachings of Jesus of Nazareth around the golden rule that is the center and core of Christianity, and they believed in Divine Providence. But, they were courageous enough to question and even criticize some of what is written in the Christian canon.
Both Jefferson and Lincoln believed in God, but both men were highly critical of the theocratic dogmatism of those who used religion for political purposes. For during Jefferson’s and Lincoln’s time they were both confronted by preachers who did that --- particularly Southern preachers who used their pulpits for political grandstanding.
Now, and during the last 30 years as the South has “risen” once again, we have witnessed Southern preachers and others across the country who think like them, who have once again been quoting what they call “The Word of God” (the Christian Bible) to justify themselves, just as their counterparts did in the 1860s, and it is time to analyze the reasons why.
The South initiated and fought the Civil War of 1861-1865 on religious grounds then too, because while most Christians in America had come to promote the abolition of slavery, the people of the South were more influenced by some Christian leaders in the South who insisted that slavery was a biblicly approved practice, sanctioned by God. And Southern plantation owners used that idea to justify the Westward expansion of their plantations and the slave labor that made them rich.
They justified themselves as being righteous Christians, as opposed to “misguided” people of the North who claimed to be Christians but did “not accept the Word of God” (the Christian Bible, which, after all, would seem to condone the practice of slavery). So they insisted that it was the right and the godly privilege of each state to maintain the practice of slavery if they so chose, especially since it was an "approved" practice according the their bible.
Southern clergy who defended the institution of slavery noted that in the Bible, Abraham had slaves; that the Ten Commandments orders that you “shall not covet your neighbor's servants;” that in the New Testament, Paul returned a runaway slave, Philemon, to his master; and that while slavery was widespread throughout the Roman world, Jesus never spoke out against it.
In May 1861 a significant group of Southern clergymen defected. In December they met in Georgia to adopt an official statement to justify the church’s secession from the Union as well as justify slavery. And the most influential clergyman who had drafted the statement then became a champion of the Confederacy and one of the strongest advocates of slavery in the South on the basis of biblical justification.
Their statement did declare that: “We have no right, as a church, to enjoin [slavery] as a duty or to condemn it as a sin.” It stated that their “position is impregnable unless it can be shown that slavery is a sin.” To answer that question, as a church, they declared that: “the only rule of judgment is the written word of God.”
They said: “Slavery has existed under every dispensation of the covenant of grace, in the Church of God.” “God sanctions [slavery] ... and Moses treats it as an institution to be regulated, not abolished; legitimated and not condemned.”
To get around the Golden Rule, they declared that: “no principle is clearer than that a case positively excepted cannot be included under a general rule.” And they even claimed that they were “acting as Christ and His apostles have acted before us.”
They were wrong, of course. But even after they lost the war they didn't stop fighting. And one example of that was in fighting against the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which outlaws slavery and involuntary servitude.
Despite strong, persistent and defiant Southern resistance, the Thirteenth Amendment it was adopted on December 6, 1865. It was the first of the three Reconstruction Amendments adopted after the American Civil War, and President Lincoln introduced and promoted it because he was concerned that the Emancipation Proclamation would be dismissed as a temporary war measure. It had been declared in 1863 by Lincoln’s war powers act to free the slaves in ten Confederate states then in rebellion and at war against the Union. However, the Emancipation Proclamation did not free any slaves in the border states, nor did it make slavery illegal, which is why the Thirteenth Amendment was necessary.
Lincoln became more successful in promoting the abolition of slavery because he received more help from other abolitionists, and that enabled him to finally prevail. (And that opened the door to the Fourteenth Amendment, which established civil rights in the states 1868, and the Fifteenth Amendment, which banned racial voting restrictions in 1870.)
Now, all this is important to consider because even though the South lost the Civil War, the “Aristocratic Southern Christian” culture persisted. Southerners found ways to establish and enforce strict racial Apartheid and other ways to institutionalize racism, and it eventually and inevitably led to another civil rights conflict in the 1960s.
Of course, the civil rights movement of the 1960s had really begun in the 1950s, after an extremely brave black African American woman, Rosa Parks, dared to sit in the front of a bus, rather than continue to sit in the back as Southern white racists had been ordering.
The reverend doctor Martin Luther King, Jr. had become a civil rights activist and he had led the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott and helped found the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in 1957, serving as its first president.
Dr. King's efforts led to the 1963 March on Washington, where King delivered his great and inspired "I Have a Dream" speech. There, he established his reputation as one of the greatest orators in American history. And that is what led to the enactment of The Civil Rights Act of 1964 which sought to establish equal civil rights for women and African Americans, a truly Christian thing to do.
Conflicting Ideas of Christianity In America
Liberal and progressive Christians believe Christianity is a religion based on the idea that we should do unto others as we would want others to do unto us -- a religion that serves to teach people how and why the humble, generous, gentle, peaceful and meek shall inherit the earth.
“Conservative fundamentalist Christians,” on the other hand, believe Christianity is a religion based on the idea that only if you profess Jesus of Nazareth was "God Himself" can you be "saved," and that anyone who does not believe that is doomed to an eternal hell.
Those two drastically different beliefs have two drastically different implications and consequences, and one is right and the other is wrong. The right one can produce a loving, peaceful, harmonic society honoring mutual respect, cooperation and collaboration, while the wrong one produces conflict, division, and even war. The history of Christianity since the fourth century has demonstrated that quite clearly, as the article About Christianity
Now it is time for all Christians in America to realize what a Christian really is, because a true Christian, ironically, is someone like Martin Luther King, Jr., who willingly laid his life on the line for the cause of civil rights, social justice, peace, and love for his fellow man.
Doctor King was not a Theocrat. He did not thump his Bible trying to rule in the name of religion. And yet he preached peaceful non-violence and passive demonstrations to call for civil rights and social justice, advocating for peace, for the poor, and the least of our brethren, like Jesus of Nazareth did.
False Christians are Theocrats, and have been so during most of the passing age, especially ever since the fourth century. They caused the oppressive Dark Ages, the bloody Crusades, the cruel Inquisition, and a whole lot of military industrial imperialism and colonialism in the name of “spreading God’s word.”
The hypocritical Theocratic mentality preaches that the Christian Bible is the inherent “Word of God,” not to be questioned or criticized. But it totally ignores the intent of the Founding Fathers and the principles of Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln, and it even ignores the actual intent of Jesus of Nazareth.
What Was the Civil War Really About?
During the last 40 years there has been increasing revival of the idea that the Civil War was a battle for “State’s Rights” vs abuse of power by the federal government. But, the main issue was preserving the Union, not about state’s rights, and the main cause of the war was created by Southern states that seceded from the Union because they wanted to spread and expand the institution of slavery Westward, and were going to be prevented from doing that.
Modern controversy over the cause of the Civil War has increased because the issue has been further complicated by historical revisionists who have tried to improve the image of the South by lessening the role of slavery, or even denying that it was an issue.
That is why Americans should understand why the Civil War was not just the South against the North. It was the South was against the North, the North-East, the West, and most of the Mid-West. The states fighting for the Union included the Western states of California, Oregon and Nevada, as well as the states and territories of the Mid-West.
Americans should also understand why after Lincoln was elected as president in 1860, and even before he took office on March 4, 1861, seven Southern slave states seceded and formed the Confederate States of America, and why in April 1861 they started the Civil War by firing on Fort Sumpter, launching a barrage that lasted for more than a day.
They did that because they were aware of Abraham Lincoln's political record, which had begun in 1858. That is when Lincoln tried to unseat incumbent Senator Stephan Douglas because he had sponsored the Kansas-Nebraska Act. Lincoln was against that because it allowed slavery to expand and spread Westward, and Lincoln was also against the Dred Scott case ruling which had declared African Americans were not and could not be citizens.
In two of a series of debates with Douglas back in 1858, Lincoln had said much about slavery and slaves, and it is interesting because in certain instances what he said seems to be contradictory.
For example, on one hand, Lincoln said: “I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution in the States where it exists. ... I have no purpose to introduce political and social equality between the white and black races. There is a physical difference between the two, which, in my judgment, will probably forever forbid their living together on the footing of perfect equality, and inasmuch as it becomes a necessity that there must be a difference, I am in favor of the race to which I belong having the superior position."
However, on the other hand, the very next thing he said was this: "I have never said any thing to the contrary, but I hold that notwithstanding all this, there is no reason in the world why the negro is not entitled to all the rights enumerated in the Declaration of Independence --- the right of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. I hold that he is as much entitled to these as the white man.”
Considering those two statements made in the same speeches, it becomes clear that even though Lincoln obviously doubted that black people and white people would ever live together on equal footing, he believed not only that black people should be entitled to all the rights enumerated in the Declaration of Independence — the right of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness — but also that black people are as much entitled to these rights as white people.
It is even safe to assume that since the Declaration of Independence says that “all men are created equal,” by extension Lincoln believed that black men were created equal. In fact, that becomes obvious when you realize why Lincoln was originally against the Kansas-Nebraska Act and the Dred Scott ruling.
That's why the very wealthy Southern aristocrats who controlled the rebelling Confederate States hated Lincoln. They were mostly huge plantation owners whose wealth had been built upon the backs of slaves. They wanted to maintain the status quo and their way of life, and they even claimed that all states had the right to keep the institution of slavery on constitutional grounds, and also on biblical grounds. It was, as Southern preachers claimed, according to “The Word of God.”
(Of course, it could easily be argued whether the exploitative industrial “sweat shops” in the industries of the North were any better than the exploitation of slaves. However, while both were wrong, surely most people would agree that slavery is a worse violation of human rights. Slaves were considered as property to be bought and sold, forced against their will to do what their master ordered without recompense, and severely punished and even killed for being disobedient.)
Now, it should also be mentioned that some revisionist "historians" also claim that Lincoln did not issue his Emancipation Proclamation to free the slaves. But that is not true.
Granted, the Emancipation Proclamation was an executive order proclaiming that all the slaves in the Southern states that seceded were free, and it did not free slaves in the slaves states that stayed in the Union. However, the Proclamation was actually a political tactic, as well as a war tactic, and it was only the first step in the abolition of slavery in America.
Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 when the Union military forces had won advantage and momentum in the war, and the Proclamation made the abolition of slavery a very clear goal of the war, in addition to the goal of preserving the Union.
Lincoln ordered the Union Army to treat all slaves as free men in the ten Southern states that were still in rebellion. And the result was that 50,000 slaves were immediately freed, and nearly all the rest of the 3.1 million slaves were freed between 1863 and 1865 when Union armies finally won the war.
Another aspect that should be remembered is that the Proclamation was brilliant not only because it was a strategic political and military move by Lincoln because it demoralized white plantation and slave owners in the South. It was also brilliant because it also encouraged abolitionists and anti-slavery forces, and it discouraged those in Europe who wanted to intervene to help the Confederacy.
Lincoln's Gettysburg Address in November 1863 made reference to the Proclamation, saying that the ending of slavery as a war goal would bring a "new birth of freedom." And ultimately, the Emancipation Proclamation served to initiate the implementation of his agenda to ensure that African Americans would have all the rights that the Declaration of Independence provides, as Lincoln had clearly stated in his speeches in his debates with Stephen Douglas in 1858.
Why the Actual Historic Facts Are Important
All these facts from the historical record are important because many Americans in the South today would prefer that everyone simply forget about all that, and some are still in denial about it. There are many people in the South whose families have kept their history of holding slaves a secret, and today they are or would be shocked to find the real truth.
The truth must be realized, and accepted. We all must face our past, and offenders must be held accountable for offenses in the past and the present. And the fact is that all the efforts to restore Southern pride in the flag of the Confederate States are misplaced and wrong. It should be a symbol of shame, not pride.
Southerners who cling to the idea that the Civil War was merely a conflict over “state’s rights” ignore that after the U.S.A. had won its independence from England in 1781, and before the U.S. Constitution was established in 1787, the South was able to insist upon and enjoy little interference by the federal government in the affairs of the states. And the wealthy leaders of the Southern states became spoiled.
Because of the wealth and power of Southern political leaders, they had been able to prevent the insertion of any explicit anti-slavery provisions in the U.S. Constitution, and they were even able to force the inclusion of the "fugitive slave clause" in Article Four. Consequently, what is called “Antebellum Slavery” was perpetuated, and it was successfully spread Westward.
In 1820 the Missouri Compromise allowed somewhat limited Westward expansion of slavery. But in 1854, Southern politicians were able to get the U.S. Congress to pass an act that opened all new territories to slavery. That provoked terrible conflicts that led to violence from the East to the Mid-West over the issue of slavery.
In 1857 the controversial Supreme Court ruling in the Dred Scott case reaffirmed the legality of slavery in the territories and declared that black people could never become citizens, and that provoked the activism of conscientious humanitarian “Abolitionists” who were against the institution of slavery. But the political activism of the Abolitionists prompted leaders in Southern slave states to claim that the Abolitionists were against their “Christian way of life.”
Then, when Abraham Lincoln was elected as president, wealthy Southern leaders incited seven Southern states — South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana and Texas — to secede from the United States Union.
Considering the actual facts of the matter, it is not difficult to see what the Civil War, as well as the later conflicts of the 1960s over the civil rights of African Americans, was really about. It was really about right vs wrong – regardless of states or regions.