AN EXAMPLE OF BIGOTRY — PART 1

Frederick Douglass

On Stephen Douglas’ Bigotry

Background

When we call someone a bigot, we risk a certain irony. We risk playing the part of a bigot. With such name-calling, we risk displaying our own intolerance. Ironically, even the term bigot has a questionable background.

William Camden wrote that the Normans were first called bigots, when their Duke Rollo, who when receiving Gisla, daughter of King Charles, in marriage, and with her the investiture of the dukedom, refused to kiss the king’s foot in token of subjection – unless the king would hold it out for that specific purpose. When being urged to do it by those present, Rollo answered hastily “No, by God”, whereupon the King, turning about, called him bigot, which then passed from him to his people. This is quite probably fictional, as Gisla is unknown in Frankish sources. It is true, however, that the French used the term bigot to abuse the Normans. (from here)

The Online Etymology Dictionary says this about the origin of the word.

bigot (n.)Look up bigot at Dictionary.com1590s, “sanctimonious person, religious hypocrite,” from French bigot (12c.), of unknown origin. Earliest French use of the word is as the name of a people apparently in southern Gaul, which led to the now-doubtful, on phonetic grounds, theory that the word comes from Visigothus. The typical use in Old French seems to have been as a derogatory nickname for Normans, the old theory (not universally accepted) being that it springs from their frequent use of the Germanic oath bi God. But OED dismisses in a three-exclamation-mark fury one fanciful version of the “by god” theory as “absurdly incongruous with facts.” At the end, not much is left standing except Spanish bigote “mustache,” which also has been proposed but not explained, and the chief virtue of which as a source seems to be there is no evidence for or against it.

In support of the “by God” theory, as a surname Bigott, Bygott are attested in Normandy and in England from the 11c., and French name etymology sources (e.g. Dauzat) explain it as a derogatory name applied by the French to the Normans and representing “by god.” The English were known as goddamns 200 years later in Joan of Arc’s France, and during World War I Americans serving in France were said to be known as les sommobiches (see also son of a bitch). But the sense development in bigot is difficult to explain. According to Donkin, the modern use first appears in French 16c. This and the earliest English sense, “religious hypocrite,” especially a female one, might have been influenced by beguine and the words that cluster around it. Sense extended 1680s to other than religious opinions.

So what about that example promised in the title of this post? The example — or should I say examples — are from the Lincoln – Douglas Debates.

An Excerpt From The Lincoln – Douglas Debates

The Lincoln–Douglas Debates of 1858 were a series of seven debates between Abraham Lincoln, the Republican candidate for the Senate in Illinois, and Senator Stephen Douglas, the Democratic Party candidate. (from here)

In what follows, we have portion of Douglas’ speech in the second debate. Douglas defended the “right” of each the states to impose the institution of slavery on the black race. The portions in parentheses provide comments from the audience.

You Black Republicans who say good, I have no doubt think that they are all good men. (White, white.) I have reason to recollect that some people in this country think that Fred Douglass is a very good man. The last time I came here to make a speech, while talking from the stand to you, people of Freeport, as I am doing to-day, I saw a carriage, and a magnificent one it was, drive up and take a position on the outside of the crowd; a beautiful young lady was sitting on the box-seat, whilst Fred Douglass and her mother reclined inside, and the owner of the carriage acted as driver. (Laughter, cheers, cries of right, what have you to say against it, &c.) I saw this in your own town. (“What of it.”) All I have to say of it is this, that if you, Black Republicans, think that the negro ought to be on a social equality with your wives and daughters, and ride in a carriage with your wife, whilst you drive the team, you have perfect right to do so. I am told that one of Fred Douglass‘ kinsmen, another rich black negro, is now traveling in this part of the State making speeches for his friend Lincoln as the champion of black men. (“White men, white men,” and “what have you to say against it?” That’s right,&c.) All I have to say on that subject is, that those of you who believe that the negro is your equal and ought to be on an equality with you socially, politically, and legally, have a right to entertain those opinions, and of course will vote for Mr. Lincoln. (“Down with the negro,” no, no, &c.)

Why did Douglas refer to Republicans as Black Republicans?  That is perhaps best explained by a extract from the first debate.

We are told by Lincoln that he is utterly opposed to the Dred Scott decision, and will not submit to it, for the reason that he says it deprives the negro of the rights and privileges of citizenship. (Laughter and applause.) That is the first and main reason which he assigns for his warfare on the Supreme Court of the United Sates and its decision. I ask you, are you in favor of conferring upon the negro the rights and privileges of citizenship? (“No, no.”) Do you desire to strike out of our State Constitution that clause which keeps slaves and free negroes out of the State, and allow the free negroes to flow in, (“never,”) and cover your prairies with black settlements? Do you desire to turn this beautiful State into a free negro colony, (“no, no,”) in order that when Missouri abolishes slavery she can send one hundred thousand emancipated slaves into Illinois, to become citizens and voters, on an equality with yourselves? (“Never,” “no.”) If you desire negro citizenship, if you desire to allow them to come into the State and settle with the white man, if you desire them to vote on an equality with yourselves, and to make them eligible to office, to serve on juries, and to adjudge your rights, then support Mr. Lincoln and the Black Republican party, who are in favor of the citizenship of the negro. (“Never, never.”) For one, I am opposed to negro citizenship in any and every form. (Cheers.) I believe this Government was made on the white basis. (“Good.”) I believe it was made by white men for the benefit of white men and their posterity for ever, and I am in favor of confining citizenship to white men, men of European birth and descent, instead of conferring it upon negroes, Indians, and other inferior races. (“Good for you.” “Douglas forever.”) (from here)

Douglas believed Republicans favored full citizenship for blacks. So instead of calling Republicans white Republicans, he called Republicans black Republicans.

Did Senator Stephen Douglas‘ beliefs make him a bigot? Since Douglas is many years dead and no longer popular, it would be an easy thing to call him one. Nonetheless, before we pronounce judgments (needlessly) it would be interesting to know what his opponent had to say.

Here are the other posts in this series:

Part 2: On Abraham Lincoln’s Bigotry – 21 Aug 2013

Part 3: Similarities Between The Book of Job and The Lincoln – Douglas Debates — 28 Aug 2013

Part 4: Contentment And Truth – 29 Aug 2013

Part 5: When Does Government Become God? – 5 Sep 2013

Part 6: How Abraham Lincoln Used The American Creed To End Slavery – 9 Sep 2013

Part 7: When Abraham Lincoln Took An Oath To Support And Defend The Constitution How Serious Was He? – 14 Sep 2013

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