Author Henry C. White of the University of Georgia relates below that: “Deep thinkers were the men of the plantations; wide readers, keen observers and profound reasoners.” Not accustomed to widely publish their thoughts on great philosophical topics, their views were usually “disseminated through oral discussion with friends and neighbors and hospitably-received visitors from abroad upon the great patriarchal estates, by voluminous correspondence, by family teaching, and in the schools and colleges . . . manned by instructors of the same modest and retiring type.”
Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com
Southern Contributions to Philosophy
“And yet, if the aim of the highest philosophy be the apprehension of the fundamental and eternal principles of governing right living and determining the relations of man to God, his neighbor and Nature, the ideals of conduct exemplified by the men of the South in their individual lives and their social relations, born of their close observation and thoughtful reasoning and commended to their children and their immediate communities, must have had an influence upon current local thought and upon the development of the communal life even greater than that which would have been afforded by technical investigation and publication, no matter how profound.
It is not contended, by any means, that exemplary living was universal throughout the South, nor is it denied that its peculiar social institutions involved something of evil to all concerned and something of injustice in the classification of peoples’ consequent thereon.
But all observers are agreed that, from its early settlement to the time when its intellectual energies were absorbed in the great political disputes which led to the War of Secession, the thought of the South and its communal spirit were directed and dominated by the quiet and profound thinkers of the great plantations and the superb examples of ethical living which they afforded.
Perhaps, therefore, the noteworthy and peculiar contribution of the South to philosophy in its early history was the creation and the fine effort at realization of high ideals of human conduct based upon the essential and immutable principles of truth, equity and justice.
The great teachers of the schools and colleges of the South of the period, many of whom, after the fashion of the times, were clergymen as well, held to these ideals and exalted them in the estimation of their pupils and thus, although contributing but little to the literature of philosophy, they impressed upon the community at large a truly philosophic mode of thought which subsequently became creative and now bids fair to become highly and richly productive.
The various philosophical movements in America became sectionalized in their broader aspects, the North standing for idealism, while the South stood for materialism and the middle West for the philosophy of common sense. [The] earlier writers of the South were some whose works are worthy to rank as original and valuable contributions to the technical literature of philosophy.
The Essays, Moral and Philosophical, of the brilliant and versatile George Tucker (1775-1861), the biographer of Thomas Jefferson and for many years professor of philosophy at the University of Virginia, contain, among many other reflections which are valuable, a treatment of the Will which is strikingly original and suggestive.
Other native materialists of the South [were] Joseph Buchanan (1785-1812) . . . another early materialist was Thomas Cooper (1758-1840) . . . another was Frederick Beasley (1777-1845), who was born in North Carolina . . . John Berry Gorman (1793-1864) of South Carolina . . . Thomas Lanier Clingman (1812-1897) of North Carolina . . . Another type of contribution of this period which should be taken into account . . . is furnished by writers of the character of Joseph LeConte and Nathaniel Southgate Shaler, some of whose works are more philosophic than scientific.”
(The South’s Contributions to Philosophy, Henry C. White, The South in the Building of the Nation, Volume VII, Southern Publication Society of Richmond, 1909, excerpt, pp. 261-265)