Carolyn Edwards, PhD
18 min readMay 29, 2022

--

White Nationalist Great Replacement Theory — where did it begin?

What if the Great Replacement Theory origins can be traced to the Founding Fathers and our U.S. Constitution? The facts may surprise you. There are many explanations for the Great Replacement Theory origins that are frequently proposed and accepted. But what if we were to look back further in our own U.S. history? Would we find a darker past that promoted this theory going back to our Founding Fathers and even to President Abraham Lincoln? The following discussion looks at the current history of the Great Replacement Theory and then dives deeper into our past to see its promotion since our nation’s beginning.

The white Nationalist chant on May 13, 2017 in Charlottesville of “Jews will not replace us” is a variation of their official slogan “You will not replace us.” This slogan reflects the fear of white supremacists’ belief that the U.S. white majority is being threatened by the increasing numbers of non-European white Christians from the influx of immigrants and the increase in interracial relationships. White supremacists believe a reduction of their numbers is a reduction of their power and view others as a threat to their very survival.

According to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), the original white supremacist motto was “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children,” otherwise known as the “14 words.” This motto reflects their belief of Jews controlling and manipulating demographics to shift the balance of power through an alleged “rising tide of color” that could result in white extinction.

The ADL believes the new slogan of “You will not replace us” (YWNRU) began in a New York, anti-Trump rally in February 2017 when actor Shia LeBeouf live-streamed a project entitled “He (Trump) will not divide us.” The white nationalist response chant appears to have launched their new slogan. Members of Identity Evropa began chanting while live-streaming their anti-immigration march resulting in a new slogan hashtag on twitter and across social media platforms. Their slogan then spread via white supremacist fliers on college campuses across the country with links to Alt-right websites that spew racism and anti-Semitism. Richard Spenser initiated and led this Alt-right campaign that included fliers that showed a white family with a baby and declared “Love your race.”

On May 2, 2017, over 2000 Twitter posts referenced the new slogan on the college campus fliers with another Twitter spike following Charlottesville. On May 20, 2017, two Marines were arrested after they unfolded a banner with “YWNRU” at a pro-Confederate rally in Graham, North Carolina. The culmination of the slogan appeared at the Unite the Right event in August 2017.

This concept of YWNRU is often attributed to “The Great Replacement” theory promoted by French writer, Renaud Camus in a 2012 book of the same name. Camus was from an upper-middle class family in central France and was disowned by his parents when he came out as gay according to the Washington Post. In his early 20s, he was a member of the Socialist Party and a gay rights activist in Paris as he pursued academic achievements and enjoyed a liberated left leaning lifestyle, including hanging out with Andy Warhol. After obtaining advanced degrees in philosophy, political science, and the history of law and having no established career, Camus began writing novels and magazine articles. He received one of France’s highest honors, the Amic Prize from the French Academy for his body of published works.

Things begin to change in the early 1990s when Camus moved from Paris to a 14th-century fortress in the Gascony region of southern France where he has essentially remained a recluse to this day. In the mid 1990s, Camus claims that his great replacement theory fear was sparked by seeing veiled women in a nearby historic French village. In 1994, he made a diary entry noting there were too many Jews on French radio and then he published this entry in 2000. This comment sparked outrage over antisemitism which pushed Camus further right and eventually to the establishment of his own political party. He ran for president on an anti-immigrant platform, including the expulsion of immigrants to their original countries. His 2011 book, “The Great Replacement” is a culmination of his theory that the left-wing elite have a conspiracy plan to overthrow white Europeans with immigrants in a “genocide by substitution.” The book promotes a fear of mass immigration by Blacks and Muslims from outside of Europe and the idea they will replace European culture with their own. This fear spread across Europe and promoted a new nationalism that infiltrated the United States in early 2015.

https://www.splcenter.org/hatewatch/2019/11/12/miller-pushed-racist-camp-saints-beloved-far-right

The National Immigration Forum states the French author, Jean Raspail previously promoted the replacement theory in a novel entitled, The Camp of the Saints which is based on the destruction of a Western white society by a mass immigration from the Global South. The book was embraced by American white supremacists in the 1980s and 1990s and has been promoted into prominence by anti-immigration hardliners such as Stephen Miller and Steven Bannon. Time Magazine places the Great Replacement conspiracy theory further back than Raspail. They reference the father of French Nationalism, Maurice Barres, who stated in the early 1900s that Jewish people would overrun and “ruin our homeland” which was a theory later promoted by the Nazis in Germany.

The Washington Post cites another contributor to the Great Replacement Theory by Theodore G. Bilbo, a Democrat and self-proclaimed member of the Ku Klux Klan, who was twice governor of Mississippi and a U.S. senator from 1935–1947. While a senator, Bilbo published a book warning of the destruction of White civilization. Although a general racist, anti-immigrant, and anti-Semite, Bilbo’s focus was on the removal of Black Americans from U.S. soil. He provided details in his 1947 book, “Take Your Choice: Separation or Mongrelization” which expressed his concern about the growing number of African American descendants from the enslaved and therefore, an ethnic purging was required to protect the Caucasian race. He stated, “The mongrel not only lacks the ability to create a civilization, but he cannot maintain a culture that he finds around him” and warned “A White America or a mongrel America — you must take your choice!” Bilbo promoted his message in speeches about his perceived threat to white civilizations through “the present rate of interbreeding and miscegenation and intermarriage between the [Black people] and the Whites, that in nine generations, which is only 300 years, there’ll be no Whites, there’ll be no Blacks in this country. We’ll all be “yellow” or brown. Bilbo’s works were later revived by Jean Raspail and perpetuated by Renaud Camus.

While current thinking posits that the Great Replacement Theory started in Europe, there is ample basis for finding its U.S. roots with the Founding Fathers.

Thomas Jefferson is viewed by most Americans as one of our greatest Founding Fathers, but for many different reasons. He wrote the original draft of the Declaration of Independence, but there were eighty-six revisions made before the final draft, predominately by John Adams and Benjamin Franklin. Despite his status in the pantheon of American History, however, his feelings about Blacks in the United States did not live up to the pledge of equality he drafted in the Declaration of Independence.

Jefferson was concerned about state rights more than with the formation of the Federal government. He was a devout Virginian his entire life and considered his two greatest accomplishments as writing the Virginia state constitution (which served as a model for the Declaration of Independence) and his founding of the University of Virginia. Jefferson did view the 1776 Virginia Constitution as a starting point and saw it as “subject to be changed by subsequent legislatures, possessing equal powers with themselves” and as an act which should be superseded and “rendered permanent by a power superior to that of the ordinary legislature”; that is, by the sovereign people.

However, Jefferson went beyond the codification of existing statutes designed to prevent the increase in the Black population in Virginia. Jefferson proposed to make it illegal for free Blacks to enter Virginia on their own accord or to stay for longer than one year after being emancipated. A white woman having a child with a Black man was required to leave the state within a year of the birth. Failure to comply could result in lost citizenship privileges, potential enslavement, or even death by legalized murder. Fortunately, the 1785 version of the act that eventually passed did not include Jefferson’s recommendations…it should also be noted that Jefferson did not address the issue of Black women birthing babies fathered by white men as he was guilty of fathering numerous children with his enslaved, Sally Hemings. Jefferson’s “solution” to slavery consisted in “colonization” through emigration from the United States, preferably back to Africa or to Santa Domingo. Until his death, he could never envision a racial coexistence based on equality. Jefferson warned that a majority of Americans in his time could see the Black population reach six million, exceeding what he viewed as manageable which he envisioned as maximized at a million and a half Blacks.

White supremacists and nationalists, including domestic terrorist, Timothy McVeigh (bomber of the Oklahoma Federal Building in 1995), have been photographed wearing shirts with the words of Thomas Jefferson written in November of 1787, prior to the establishment of the federal government. In response to Shay’s Rebellion against the State of Massachusetts. Jefferson wrote “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” This has been interpreted as a justification for violence to defend white supremacy. McVeigh, a follower of the Turner Diaries (a fictional diary about a revolution against Jews, African Americans, feminists, and race-mixing) wrote a letter in 1994 stating that those “who betray or subvert the Constitution…are domestic enemies and should and will be punished accordingly.” McVeigh interpreted the Constitution as a document that supports and secures U.S. white supremacy.

Getty image — Charlottesville

This perspective is reinforced by Jared Taylor, the founding editor of a popular white supremacist magazine and website. In 2012, Taylor wrote an article entitled “What the Founders really thought about race” reminding readers that emancipation of the enslaved was proposed to be followed with an emigration of Blacks to colonies outside of the United States including the Caribbean and Africa. He includes quotes from numerous Founding Fathers. While he conflates some quotes or takes them out of context, it appears his primary contention is accurate in that the Founders did not see Black citizens as part of their “more perfect government” or even citizenship.

The following are actual sample quotes from the Founding Fathers on the emigration of Blacks and other race related topics that support the idea they indeed envisioned the U.S. as a white nation.

Thomas Jefferson

…our present interests may restrain us within our own limits, it is impossible not to look forward to distant times, when our rapid multiplication will expand itself beyond those limits, & cover the whole Northern, if not the Southern continent with a people speaking the same language, governed in similar forms, & by similar laws: nor can we contemplate, with satisfaction, either blot or mixture on that surface…The West Indies offer a more probable & practicable retreat for them. inhabited already by a people of their own race & colour; climates congenial with their natural constitution; insulated from the other descriptions of men; Nature seems to have formed these islands to become the receptacle of the blacks transplanted into this hemisphere. (Letter from Jefferson to James Monroe, Nov. 24. 1801)

James Madison

To be consistent with existing and probably unalterable prejudices in the U. S. the freed blacks ought to be permanently removed beyond the region occupied by or allotted to a White population. The objections to a thorough incorporation of the two people are, with most of the Whites insuperable; and are admitted by all of them to be very powerful. If the blacks, strongly marked as they are by Physical & lasting peculiarities, be retained amid the Whites, under the degrading privation of equal rights political or social, they must be always dissatisfied with their condition as a change only from one to another species of oppression; always secretly confederated agst. the ruling & privileged class; and always uncontroulled by some of the most cogent motives to moral and respectable conduct. The character of the free blacks, even where their legal condition is least affected by their colour, seems to put these truths beyond question. It is material also that the removal of the blacks be to a distance precluding the jealousies & hostilities to be apprehended from a neighboring people stimulated by the contempt known to be entertained for their peculiar features; to say nothing of their vindictive recollections, or the predatory propensities which their State of Society might foster. Nor is it fair, in estimating the danger of Collisions with the Whites, to charge it wholly on the side of the Blacks. There would be reciprocal antipathies doubling the danger. (James Madison to Robert J. Evans, June 15, 1819)

Benjamin Franklin

…Which leads me to add one Remark: That the Number of purely white People in the World is proportionably very small. All Africa is black or tawny. Asia chiefly tawny. America (exclusive of the new Comers) wholly so. And in Europe, the Spaniards, Italians, French, Russians and Swedes, are generally of what we call a swarthy Complexion; as are the Germans also, the Saxons only excepted, who with the English, make the principal Body of White People on the Face of the Earth. I could wish their Numbers were increased. And while we are, as I may call it, Scouring our Planet, by clearing America of Woods, and so making this Side of our Globe reflect a brighter Light to the Eyes of Inhabitants in Mars or Venus, why should we in the Sight of Superior Beings, darken its People? why increase the Sons of Africa, by Planting them in America, where we have so fair an Opportunity, by excluding all Blacks and Tawneys, of increasing the lovely White and Red? But perhaps I am partial to the Compexion of my Country, for such Kind of Partiality is natural to Mankind. (Benjamin Franklin, Observations Concerning the Increase of Mankind, Peopling of Countries, etc.,)

John Jay

With equal pleasure I have as often taken notice that Providence has been pleased to give this one connected country to one united people — a people descended from the same ancestors, speaking the same language, professing the same religion, attached to the same principles of government, very similar in their manners and customs… (John Jay, Federalist Papers, 2)

On March 26, 1790, the United States Congress passed, “An act to establish a uniform Rule of Naturalization.” It stated the following:

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America, in Congress assembled, That any Alien being a free white person, who shall have resided within the limits and under the jurisdiction of the United States for the term of two years, may be admitted to become a citizen thereof on application to any common law Court of record in any one of the States wherein he shall have resided for the term of one year at least, and making proof to the satisfaction of such Court that he is a person of good character, and taking the oath or affirmation prescribed by law to support the Constitution of the United States…

Even President Abraham Lincoln believed in emigrating Blacks to preserve economic opportunity and land for whites, stating:

I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people; and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality. (Abraham Lincoln, Lincoln — Douglas Debate September 18, 1858)

The Great Replacement Theory incorporates these white purity beliefs and quotes from the Founding Fathers, the U.S. Constitution, and public policy (including the Chinese exclusion laws of the 1880s). Chants of “Keep America American” from the 1920s and “Build the Wall” in the 21st century reflect those who embrace the idea that the U.S. is only for white Christian Europeans descendants (although, not all Europeans are viewed as white enough). The Founding Fathers, presidents throughout American history, and white supremacists appear to agree that the Constitution is evidence of the Founders’ apparent intent for America to be a white only nation.

https://www.thedailybeast.com/republicans-must-answer-for-great-replacement-theory-violence

Echoes of the Founders’ comments in the Alt-Right’s anti-immigration stance are now becoming mainstreamed due to their promotion by right wing candidates and conservative pundits, including the following as cited by The Guardian in May 2022 after the racist mass-shooting in Buffalo:

Senator Ron Johnson on Fox Business on April 15, 2022 stated “This administration wants complete open borders. And you have to ask yourself, why? Is it [that] really they want to remake the demographics of America to ensure that they stay in power forever?”

Senate candidate JD Vance in an April 2022 town hall proclaimed Democrats wanted to open up immigration to increase their voter rolls stating, “So you’re talking about a shift in the democratic makeup of this country that would mean we never win, meaning Republicans would never win a national election in this country ever again.”

Senate candidate Blake Masters, is an Arizona senate candidate running on the Great Replacement Theory platform and promoted through his podcasts and videos and a Tweet following the Buffalo shooting. On May 14, 2022, Masters tweeted, “The Democrats want open borders so they can bring in and amnesty **tens of millions** of illegal aliens — that’s their electoral strategy. Not on my watch.”

Congresswoman Elise Stefanik is a member of the Republican House leadership who promotes the Great Replacement Theory on social media claims that Democratic leaders want to provide immigrant amnesty to flood the voter rolls with 11 million new voters.

Congressman Scott Perry promoted the Great Replacement Theory during a House foreign affairs subcommittee hearing on immigration from Central America in April 2021: stating “For many Americans, what seems to be happening or what they believe right now is happening is, what appears to them is we’re replacing national-born Americans, native-born Americans to permanently transform the landscape of this very nation.”

Florida Congressman Matt Gaetz supports Tucker Carlson’s continual promotion of The Great Replacement theory and called the ADL racists for trying to have Carlson taken off the air and he tweeted, “@TuckerCarlson is CORRECT about about Replacement Theory as he explains what is happening to America.”

Texas lieutenant governor Dan Patrick, claimed on Fox News in September 2021 that the Democrats were supporting the influx of immigrants who would have multiple children to build their voting rolls. He claimed that increasing immigration is like “…trying to take over our country without firing a shot.”

Fox News’ Laura Ingraham warned on Fox News in October 2018 of a Democrat conspiracy to replace viewers with immigrants stating a Democratic dominated House of Representatives, “…want to replace you, the American voters, with newly amnestied citizens and an ever-increasing number of chain migrants.”

Fox News’ Jeanine Pirro stated in October 2019 that Democrats were plotting to remake America with the replacement of “American citizens with illegals who will vote for the Democrats”.

Daily Wire right wing podcast host Matt Walsh on August 13, 2021, supported Tucker Carlson saying “Now, we are told that if you speculate that the powers that be in this culture want to replace white people, we’re told this is the great replacement theory and it is a white supremacist conspiracy theory and it’s, pretty much, the worst thing you can ever say … I’m just trying to work through this in my head here, help me out — so we’re bringing in a flood of immigrants across the southern border, non-white. We’re putting policies in place with the express purpose of having fewer white people in universities and positions of power. And we’re celebrating the reduction in the white population. I mean, it sounds like you want to replace white people.”

Trump adviser, political operative, and podcast host Steve Bannon was the leader in popularizing and mainstreaming the Great Replacement Theory by frequently referencing “The Camp of the Saints” as an invasion explanation of the immigrant influx in Europe and elsewhere. In 2016, as editor of Breitbart, a far-right media outlet, he told Senator Jeff Sessions there was a war against liberals who were trying to change the demographics of the country. Bannon was Trump’s chief force for a ban on immigration and specifically targeted Muslim countries.

Trump adviser Stephen Miller in 2016 encouraged former Breitbart editors Katie McHugh and Julia Hahn to incorporate The Camp of Saints in their immigration coverage stating “[Y]ou see the Pope saying [the] West must, in effect, get rid of borders. Someone should point out the parallels to Camp of the Saints.”

President Donald Trump in a July 2017 speech in Poland promoted the Great Replacement Theory and stated that migrants were part of a conspiracy to “subvert and destroy” our “civilization.” He continued in a speech allegedly written Stephen Miller, “The fundamental question of our time is whether the west has the will to survive. Do we have the confidence in our values to defend them at any cost? Do we have enough respect for our citizens to protect our borders? Do we have the desire and the courage to preserve our civilization in the face of those who would subvert and destroy it?”

Tucker Carlson, a Fox host, perpetuates the Great Replacement Theory as a central theme on his show. According to a May 2022, New York Times investigation, more than 400 episodes of Tucker Carlson’s shows have “amplified the notion that Democratic politicians and other assorted elites want to force demographic change through immigration”

A December 2021 national poll by the Associated Press — NORC Center for Public Affairs Research indicates that roughly one third of Americans accept the theory that there is a deliberate effort underway to replace U.S. born citizens with immigrants. In addition, 29% of native-born Americans believe that an increase of immigrants decreases their economic, political, and cultural influence. Almost one in five Americans believe both tenets of The Great Replacement Theory with 36% of the citizens in favor of limiting immigration. The following 2021 graph from Time Magazine shows a further breakdown by political parties.

https://time.com/6177282/great-replacement-theory-buffalo-racist-attacks/

The Great Replacement Theory is as old as the Constitution and while it is difficult to accept, there is a reason why white supremacists today view this as what the Founding Fathers envisioned. Over generations, the majority of Americans have embraced the contributions of immigrants and people of color, primarily because these numbers have been increasing with each generation thus prompting the rising cries of “We will not be replaced.”

The Founders’ views may well have been largely accepted at the time of the Revolution which makes the conservatives’ devotion to “The Founders’ Intent” as the basis for government so unacceptable more than two centuries later. As Jefferson noted in Virginia, legislation could be subject to change by subsequent legislatures empowered by the sovereign people. The problem with “Originalism” (the belief that the constitutional text ought to be interpreted with its original public meaning at the time that it became law) is that it doesn’t allow for the evolution of people or thought. It is not a coincidence that those who support originalism also tend to have racist, anti-immigrant, anti-non-Christian, and anti-feminist views.

Americans must decide if we are a nation committed to white male Christian dominance or to a common theme in the American Revolution for a new nation committed to the ideals of liberty, equality, natural and civil rights, and responsible citizenship. This country cannot believe in both. The time is now for Americans to vote for the people who represent their views and vote out those who prevent the evolution of an America for all.

Cited Sources:

https://www.academia.edu/10711448/What_the_Founders_Really_Thought_About_Race

https://www.adl.org/blog/white-supremacists-adopt-new-slogan-you-will-not-replace-us

https://www.adl.org/education/references/hate-symbols/you-will-not-replace-us

https://www.adl.org/resources/backgrounders/the-great-replacement-an-explainer

https://www.americanrevolutioninstitute.org/why-the-american-revolution-matters/

AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. (May, 2022).“Immigration Attitudes and Conspiratorial Thinkers: A Study Issued on the 10th Anniversary of The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.” [apnorc.org/projects/immigration-attitudes-and-conspiratorial-thinkers]

https://avalon.law.yale.edu/18th_century/fed02.asp

Cohen, William. “Thomas Jefferson and the Problem of Slavery.” The Journal of American History 56, no. 3 (1969): 503–26. https://doi.org/10.2307/1904203.

http://www.columbia.edu/~lmg21/ash3002y/earlyac99/documents/observations.html

https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/01-01-02-0161-0001

https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/01-35-02-0550

Franks, Mary Anne. The Cult of the Constitution. Stanford University Press, 2019.

https://immigrationforum.org/article/the-great-replacement-theory-explained/

https://immigrationhistory.org/item/1790-nationality-act/

https://www.loc.gov/exhibits/jefferson/jeffdec.html#:~:text=Written%20in%20June%201776%2C%20Thomas,the%20document%2C%20and%20by%20Congress.

https://www.mediamatters.org/white-nationalism/fox-business-larry-kudlow-allows-sen-ron-johnson-push-racist-replacement-theory

https://www.nytimes.com/2022/05/15/us/replacement-theory-shooting-tucker-carlson.html

https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2022/04/30/us/tucker-carlson-tonight.html?chapter=3

https://press-pubs.uchicago.edu/founders/documents/v1ch15s65.html

https://www.splcenter.org/fighting-hate/extremist-files/group/american-renaissance

https://teachingamericanhistory.org/document/the-lincoln-douglas-debates-4th-debate-part-i/

https://www.teenvogue.com/story/great-replacement-theory-immigration-laws

https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1996/10/thomas-jefferson-radical-and-racist/376685/

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2022/may/17/republicans-have-invoked-the-great-replacement-theory-over-and-over-and-over

https://time.com/6177282/great-replacement-theory-buffalo-racist-attacks/

https://www.vice.com/en/article/n7nxmk/gop-great-replacement-theory

https://www.washingtonpost.com/history/2022/05/15/great-replacement-theory-buffalo-bilbo/

https://www.washingtonpost.com/history/2022/05/17/renaud-camus-great-replacement-history/

--

--

Carolyn Edwards, PhD

PhD in urban education with a research focus on U.S. history, white supremacy, and systemic inequity