Browsing "Southern Conservatives"

No Submission to Northern Manufacturers

It is said that the tariff was the most contentious issue in the United States between 1808 and 1832, and this exploded with South Carolina threatening tariff nullification in that latter year. This was settled with Congress steadily lowering tariffs. Economist Frank Taussig wrote in 1931 that by 1857 the maximum duty on imports had been reduced to twenty-four percent and a relative free trade ideal was reached, due to Southern pressure. He also noted that the new Republican-controlled Congress increased duties in December 1861 and that by 1862 the average tariff rates had crept up to 47.06%.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

No Submission to Northern Manufacturers

“South Carolina had opposed the tariff from the earliest days of the republic. The very first Congress, in 1789, had included a group of Carolina representatives known as “anti-tariff men.” When the Washington administration sponsored a mild import measure, Senator Pierce Butler of the Palmetto State brought the charge that Congress was oppressing South Carolina and threatened a “dissolution of the Union, with regard to that State, as sure as God was in his firmament.”

The tariff of 1816, passed in a wave of American national feeling after the War of 1812, found six out of ten Carolina members voting against the bill. John C. Calhoun and the other three members who supported the measure were severely censured at home.

Almost the entire South opposed the tariff of 1824. The spreading domain of King Cotton now had a well-defined grievance: the Northeast and the Northwest were uniting to levy taxes on goods exchanged for exported cotton; their protective tariff policy, and concomitant program for internal improvements, was benefiting their entire section at the expense of the South.

The policy protected New England [cotton] mills and furnished funds for linking the seaboard States of the North with the new Northwest by means of canals and turnpikes. The Southern planters paid the bills: they were forced to buy their manufactured supplies in a high market and their chief article of exchange, cotton, had fallen from thirty cents a pound in 1816 to fifteen cents in 1824. In addition, the internal improvements program offered them no compensation; the rivers took their cotton to the shipping points.

When the “Tariff of Abominations” passed in 1828, all the Southeastern and Southwestern members of the house opposed it, except for three Virginians. In the Senate, only two Southerners supported “the legislative monstrosity.”

The opposition to Northern tariff policy was most vociferous in the Palmetto State. [English-born South Carolinian Thomas Cooper presented] Lectures on the Elements of Political Economy (1826) and other writings of the period [which] receive credit for doing much toward shaping opinion on the tariff.

In 1827, he told Senator Martin Van Buren of New York that if [Henry Clay’s] American system were pushed too far, the Carolina legislature would probably recall the State’s representatives from Washington.

Seven years after [Cooper’s] arrival in the Palmetto State, he made the famous declaration that it was time for South Carolina “to calculate the value of the Union.” This historic utterance of July 2, 1827, gave rise to shocked expressions of horror, even among some Carolina hotheads, but it had been indelibly burned into the thinking of a generation. It had a habit of cropping out down through the years. Webster and Hayne both alluded to it during their famous debate.

An English traveler, stopping at Columbia . . . in 1835, had the opportunity to hear Cooper expressing his opinions and to observe the attitude of those who surrounded the strong-minded college president [of South Carolina College]. After this occasion, he noted in his diary:

“I could not help asking, in a good-natured way, if they called themselves Americans yet; the gentleman who had interrupted me before said, “If you ask me if I am an American, my answer is No, Sir, I am a South Carolinian.” [These men] are born to command, it will be intolerable to them to submit to be, in their estimation, the drudges of the Northern manufacturers, whom they despise as an inferior race of men. Even now there is nothing a Southern man resents so much as to be called a Yankee.”

(Romanticism and Nationalism in the Old South, Rollin G. Osterweis, LSU Press, 1949, excerpts, pp. 139-141)

South Carolina Withdraws From the Union

The people of South Carolina saw the Union broken by several Northern States nullifying the United States Constitution with their personal liberty laws, the same States which railed against South Carolina in 1832 over tariff nullification. The incessant abolitionist agitation which threatened violent slave insurrection, and the election of a purely sectional president settled the matter for South Carolina as it chose to peacefully form a more perfect union.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

South Carolina Withdraws from the Union

“On November 13, the General Assembly in joint session ratified and act calling for a convention in Columbia on December 17. The election of delegates was set for December 6. Five former United States senators, the chief officers of Furman University and Limestone College, two railroad presidents, and a dozen clerics were among the 169 men elected as delegates to the convention. The majority were college graduates. More than one hundred were planters, and many of these planters had also passed the bar. More than forty had served in the State Senate, more than one hundred in the House of Representatives.

The convention assembled in Columbia’s First Baptist Church and, on its first day, unanimously resolved that “the State of South Carolina should forthwith secede from the Federal Union.” John A. Inglis introduced the resolution. Before the convention adjourned . . . [a committee was formed] to draft an ordinance and appointed John A. Inglis as chairman. By the next evening, the committee had agreed on the text that they would introduce for South Carolina’s Ordinance of Secession.

On November 29, the [Charleston] Mercury printed a draft ordinance contributed by a “W.F.H.,” who noted that “the speedy secession of the State may be considered a fixed fact” and offered “a sort of diagram on which the problem can be worked.” The draft took nearly one hundred lines of newsprint.

On December 4, the Mercury responded to the draft submitted by its “esteemed correspondent.” Robert Barnwell Rhett, Jr., son of the secessionist leader and editor of the newspaper . . . objected to the “batch of details” which blurred the draft’s “force and dignity.”

We do not know how many drafts the committee had to consider in the few hours in which it did its work, but besides the draft printed in the Mercury, a manuscript document containing two other drafts, both unsigned, survives.

The longest of these additional drafts, “An Ordinance to withdraw from the Confederacy heretofore existing under the name of the United States of America,” is dated December 11. Its preamble cites tariffs, the obstruction of the recovery of fugitive slaves, “hostile agitation against the Southern institution of Slavery,” and the election of Abraham Lincoln as its justification and notes the declaration of 1852.

Eleven sections follow. They declare “the Confederacy heretofore existing between the State of South Carolina and the other States” dissolved, amend the State constitution, direct the governor to send a commissioner to President [James] Buchanan, provide for [foreign] trade, and empower the governor to appoint postmasters.

Ingliss’s committee, doubtless to satisfy those who wanted no further delay in officially leaving the Union, chose to present a much shorter and simpler text. [In] the afternoon of December 20 [1860], Chairman Inglis rose to present the committee’s [Ordinance of Secession]. There was no need for debate. Behind closed doors, a roll call vote was taken, alphabetically by surname, ending with “Mr. President.” It began at 1:07 P.M. and ended eight minutes later, at 1:15 when [convention President] David F. Jamison said “aye.” South Carolina had seceded by unanimous vote.”

(Relic of The Lost Cause, The Story of South Carolina’s Ordinance of Secession, Charles H. Lesser, South Carolina Department of Archives & History, 1990, pp. 4-5)

The South Needs No Eulogy

Alexander White, antebellum United States Congressman from the Talledega District in Alabama and member of the State Convention in 1865, presented this speech to the convention. White “loved his country, he had loved the land of his birth, his native Alabama, before her disasters, before she was stricken down by armed battalions; but now in her misfortunes and desolation, now that she was in chains, he loved her more than ever.” Like Robert E. Lee, his country was his State, and to it he owed his allegiance above all else.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

The South Needs No Eulogy

“Mr. President:

The Bonnie Blue flag no longer reflects the light of the morning sunbeam, or kisses with its silken folds the genial breezes of our Southern clime. The hands that waved it along the crest of a hundred battle-fields, and the hearts, for the love they bore it, that so often defied danger and death, no longer rally around it. Another banner waves in triumph over its closed and prostate folds; but proud memories and glorious recollections cluster around.

Sir, I will refrain. The South needs no eulogy. The faithful record of her achievements will encircle her brow with glory bright and enduring as the diadem that crowns the night of her cloudless skies. The scenes of Marathon and Platae have been reenacted in the New World without the beneficent results which flow from those battle-fields of freedom, and our country lies prostate at the feet of the conqueror.

But dearer to me is she in this hour of her humiliation than she was in the day and hour of her pride and her power. Each blood-stained battle-field, each track of her devastation, each new-made grave of her sons fallen in her defense, each mutilated form of the Confederate soldier — her widow’s tear, her orphan’s cry, are but so many chords that bind me to her in her desolation, and draw my affections closer around my stricken country.

When I raise my voice or lift my hand against her, may the thunder rive me where I stand!

Though I may be false in all else, I will be true to her. Though all others may prove faithless, I will be faithful still. And when, in obedience to the great summons, “Dust to dust,” my heart shall return to that earth from whence it sprang, it shall sink into her bosom with the proud consciousness that it never knew one beat not in union with the honor, the interests, the glory of my country.”

(Reminiscences of Public Men in Alabama, William Garrett, Plantation Publishing Company’s Press, 1872, excerpts, pp. 562-564)

 

The South Seeks a Convention of the States

Contrary to mainstream belief, Lincoln and his Republican Party demonstrated no interest in preserving the Union and regularly spurned peace initiatives. Those who wanted to resort to the United States Constitution for a solution to the intense sectionalism in both North and South, saw a convention of the States as the method provided by the Founders. As in the peace overture noted below, all efforts to end the bloodshed of Lincoln’s war originated in the South, and all ended in failure due to Lincoln’s intransigence.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

The South Seeks a Convention of the States

“As early as February, 1863, it was rumored that [South Carolina Representative William W. Boyce] had been advocating in secret session of the [Confederate] House [of Representatives] some form of conciliation with the Northwestern States.

When the Democratic convention, meeting at Chicago August 29, 1864, adopted a platform declaring that efforts should be made immediately for a cessation of hostilities and that a convention of the States be employed to restore peace “on the basis of the Federal union of the States,” Boyce addressed an open letter to President [Jefferson] Davis urging him to declare his willingness for an armistice and such a convention that Northwestern Democrats proposed.

In his letter of September 29 Boyce argued that a republic at war inevitably drifted into despotism . . . [through] conscription, illegally laid direct taxes, [issuing] vast quantities of paper money . . . suspended the writ of habeas corpus . . . in short, [giving] the President all the powers of a military dictator.

Nor would the evils necessarily end with the war; that would depend on the nature of the peace. “A peace without reconciliation carried in its bosom the seed of new wars.”   A peace without harmony would be a mere armed truce. Such a peace would cause the North to develop a great military power and the South would be forced to do likewise. There would then be two opposing military despotisms under which republican institutions would permanently perish.

To prevent such an outcome a peace of harmony must be negotiated with the United States. In bringing this to pass a successful military policy was essential but it was not enough; it must be accompanied by a political policy, a political policy which could not succeed if Lincoln, representing the fanaticism of the North, were returned to the White House.

The South’s only hope for a satisfactory peace, therefore, lay in the victory [in November 1864] of the Northern Democratic Party which should be encouraged in every possible way. [Boyce’s advice was to] . . . Assure [Northern Democrats] of the South’s willingness to cooperate in a convention of the States, and let South cooperate even if an amendment of the Constitution be necessary for that purpose. Such a convention would be the “highest acknowledgment” of State rights principles.”

(South Carolina Goes to War, Charles Edward Cauthen, University of South Carolina Press, 1950, 1860-1865, excerpts, pp. 217-218)

 

Ridding the South of the Incubus

In 1819, Rev. Moses Waddel “was induced to give up his academy business” and take the reins of the University of Georgia. Born in North Carolina, educated in the ministry in Virginia and a preacher in Georgia, he had taught young John C. Calhoun and became the first native-born Southerner to fill the University presidency. It was not unusual then to hear open and reasoned discussion on ending the New England slave trade and repatriating Africans to their homeland.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Ridding the South of the Incubus

“Athens [Georgia] and he Lower South at this time [1810] were in the midst of laying the foundations of that social order and culture, beautiful and polished yet seamy, captivating the elite Englishman and practical Yankee who touched it, the admiration of some, the curse of some . . .

In the excitement of the Federal Constitutional Convention, Georgia had stood for the foreign slave trade, but she no sooner won it than she freely flung it away. In 1819 at a banquet in Athens this toast was drunk: “The [Foreign] Slave Trade – The scourge of Africa; the disgrace of humanity. May it cease forever, and may the voice of peace, of Christianity and of Civilization, be heard on the savage shores.”

At this time the whole subject of slavery was discussed in the Georgia papers with reason and dispassion, and in 1824 the president of the University “heard the Senior Forensic Disputation all day on the policy of Congress abolishing Slavery – much fatigued but amused.” Apparently the students were doing some thinking also.

The trustees, were, likewise not opposed to a possible disposition of slavery, for [Rev. Robert] Finley, whom they had just elected president of the University, had been one of the organizers of the American Colonization Society. He was, indeed, present in Washington at its birth and had been made one of its vice-presidents; and so vital did his work appear to one friend that he later wrote,

“If this colony [Liberia] should ever be formed in Africa, great injustice will be done to Mr. Finley, if in the history of it, his name be not mentioned as the first mover, and if some town or district in the colony be not called Finley.” He, indeed, never lost interest in the project to his dying day – and then it “gave consolation to his last moments.”

The South was genuinely interested in ridding itself of this incubus, realizing, with Henry Clay, that Negroes freed and not removed were a greater menace than if they remained in slavery.”

(College Life in the Old South, E. Merton Coulter, UGA Press, 1983 (original 1928), pp. 27-28)

Southern Academies and the Spirit of Christianity

Moses Waddel’s school at Lillington, South Carolina “was a simple frontier academy of the period which taught grammar, syntax, antiques of Greece and Rome, geography of the ancients, Greek and Latin. Waddel’s graduates included many governors and future statesmen to include John C. Calhoun, William H. Crawford, Hugh S. Legare, A.B. Longstreet, James L. Petigru, George Crawford, Preston Brooks, Thomas W. Cobb, Pierce M. Butler, and George R. Gilmer. It was later said of Waddel’s reason for taking the presidency of the University of Georgia was first to “raise the University and give it a respectability and usefulness in the State; and second, to communicate to public education the spirit of Christianity.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Southern Academies and the Spirit of Christianity

“In an article printed in the Atlantic Monthly, November, 1929, Count Hermann Keyserling expressed the belief that the South is the only section of America where a real culture can be produced. Only in this region have complete individuals lived. Here and only here can a uniqueness, an individuality which leads to a development of complete souls, flourish.

Writing in a similar vein John Crowe Ransom, a Nashville poet, says, “The South is unique on this continent for having founded and defended a culture which was according to European principles of culture; and the European principles had better look to the South if they are to be perpetuated in this country.”

The same point of view characterizes a symposium entitled “I’ll Take My Stand, by Twelve Southerners,” which has lately been published by Harpers. In the field of education these thinkers criticize our public schools, and desire a return to the ante-bellum system of formal training. Indeed, a great glorification of the academy, which was the most characteristic school of the pre-war South, is presented. With the lapse of the educational system of the Colonial Period . . .

“the South found a means of transmitting to its own people the essential of a good classical education, by the growth of an institution that never, to the same degree, affected the North. This institution was the academy. It was by its means and operation that the older Southern life and culture became what it was, and remained until the catastrophe of 1861-5 . . . The academies solved the problem of the gap between the mere acquisition of mere knowledge and the “acquisition of power for independent work” by putting the pupils into direct contact, not with undisputed masses of information and up-to-date apparatus, but with such teachers as could be found.

Their object was to teach nothing that the teacher himself had not mastered, and could not convey to his pupils. Their training was therefore classical and humanistic, rather than scientific and technical – as most of the available teachers were products of the older European and American schools.”

In America the academy was a “product of the frontier period of national development and the laisse faire theory of government.” Frequently it was motivated by “denominational interest and sectarian pride.” In the South the academies were of two types, the modest local institution which was sometimes called the “old field school,” and the more pretentious, more permanent school with a wider patronage. While fees were commonly charged, the academies were democratic in character, and usually the idea of individual development was dominant. Generally speaking the schools served the educational needs of the entire community.”

(Moses Waddel and the Lillington Academy, Ralph M. Lyon, North Carolina Historical Review, Volume VIII, Number 1, January, 1931, pp. 284-285)

 

Southern Christianity and Slavery

That Lincoln and his abolitionist colleagues did not propose a peaceful and practical to the African slavery they seemed to object to, is a national tragedy. Had they followed compensated emancipation as the British had done earlier (the British were primarily responsible for populating their American colonies with Africans), or helped advance a reasonable solution to the need for large numbers of workers to support their agricultural economy, a million lives would have been spared as well as the death, destruction and tortured legacy of the war Lincoln was responsible for.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Southern Christianity and Slavery

“ . . . Southern [slavery] reformers cast much blame on the Northern Abolitionist movement. They constantly complained that it was difficult to persuade planters that they should be teaching their slaves to read when the Abolitionists were sparing no effort in smuggling into the Southern States inflammatory literature which urged the slaves to rise up and slit their masters’ throats, among other things.

The palpable hostility and antagonism displayed by the Abolitionists toward the white South, their calls for a bloody slave rebellion, and their unrealistic demands for immediate and unconditional emancipation made slavery reform more difficult by producing resentment, fear, and a siege mentality among the whites.

[Many] Northerners (including Sen. Daniel Webster, Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story, and Princeton theologian Charles Hodge) condemned the Abolitionists for actually worsening the plight of the slaves and for creating hostility and distrust between the Northern and Southern people.

[It] is at least possible that an independent South might have enacted the reforms urged by her Christian leaders and thus avoided falling into a state of economic backwardness and dependency.  After all, Southerners consistently valued such non-monetary goods as country living, personal independence and liberty, and an harmonious and rich social life at least as much as mere wealth and material accumulation; and independence [from the North] might have created a more favorable environment for Christian reform of their labor system.

Southerners might have introduced a smaller and more humanely scaled industrialization to provide some measure of industrial self-sufficiency, and black Southerners might eventually have achieved legal equality and propertied independence.  In other words, an independent South could well have found an alternate – and perhaps more Christian – path to modernity.  Thanks to Mr. Lincoln, we shall never know.”

(Christianity and Slavery in the Old South, excerpt, H. Arthur Scott Trask, Chronicles Magazine, July 1999, page 33)

 

 

 

Skeleton at the Feast

Confederate Lieutenant-General Richard “Dick” Taylor was a Kentuckian and son of President Zachary Taylor, who arranged the surrender of Southern forces under his command in Alabama in 1865. At the truce convention, General Taylor received a stern lecture on the error of striking for political independence from a recently-arrived and high-ranking German mercenary.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

The Skeleton at the Feast

“Intelligence of the Johnston-Sherman convention [at Durham, North Carolina] reached us, and [Northern Gen. Edward] Canby and I were requested by the officers making it to conform to its terms until the civil authorities acted. A meeting was arranged to take place a few miles north of Mobile, where the appearance of the two parties contrasted the fortunes of our respective causes.

Canby, who preceded me at the appointed spot, a house near the railway, was escorted by a brigade with a military band, and accompanied by many officers in “full fig.” With one officer, Colonel William Levy, since a member of Congress from Louisiana, I made my appearance on a hand-car, the motive power of which was two Negroes. Descendants of the ancient race of Abraham, dealers in cast-off raiment, would have scorned a bargain for our rusty suits of Confederate grey. General Canby met me with much urbanity.

We retired to a room, and in a few moments agreed upon a truce, terminable after forty-eight hours’ notice by either party. Then, rejoining the throng of officers, introductions and many pleasant civilities passed. A bountiful luncheon was spread, of which we partook, with joyous popping of champagne corks for accompaniment, the first agreeable explosive sounds I had heard in years.

The air of “Hail Columbia,” which the band in attendance struck up, was instantly changed by Canby’s order to that of “Dixie”; but I insisted on the first, and expressed a hope that Columbia would be again a happy land, a sentiment honored by many libations.

There was, as ever, a skeleton at the feast, in the person of a general officer who had recently left Germany to become a citizen and soldier of the United States. This person, with the strong accent and idioms of the Fatherland, comforted me by assurances that we of the South would speedily recognize our ignorance and errors, especially about slavery and the rights of States, and rejoice in the results of the war. In vain, Canby and [Commodore James] Palmer tried to suppress him.

On a celebrated occasion an Emperor of Germany proclaimed himself above grammar, and this earnest philosopher was not to be retrained by canons of taste.

I apologized meekly for my ignorance, on the ground that my ancestors had come from England to Virginia in 1608, and, in the short intervening period of two hundred and fifty-odd years, had found no time to transmit to me correct ideas of the duties of American citizenship. Moreover, my grandfather, commanding the 9th Virginia Regiment in our Revolutionary army, had assisted in the defeat and capture of the Hessian mercenaries at Trenton, and I lamented that he had not, by association with these worthies, enlightened his understanding.

My friend smiled blandly, and assured me of his willingness to instruct me. Happily for the world, since the days of Huss and Luther, neither tyranny nor taste can repress the Teutonic intellect in search of truth or exposure of error. A kindly, worthy people, the Germans, but wearing on occasions.”

(Destruction and Reconstruction, Personal Experiences of the Late War; Richard Taylor, Appleton and Company, 1879, excerpt, pp. 224-225)

The Blood of Young James Taylor

South Carolinian James Hunt Taylor’s great-grandfather fought heroically for independence in the Revolution; his grandfather served as the first mayor of Columbia, governor, and United States congressman. Taylor’s father was a noted physician in Columbia, and the importance of duty to his State and country was instilled in him at an early age. This he carried with him as he joined in the defense of his home and country.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

The Blood of Young James Taylor

“Among the bravest Confederate soldiers were the colorbearers. As they stepped forward into battle, those young men and boys were bound by duty and honor to keep the Confederate and regimental flags flying at all costs. Virtually defenseless as they marched into the face of death, they proved to be inviting, and often easy, targets for enemy marksmen.

No position in the Confederate army was more revered and honored than the color sergeant. Consequently, despite the extreme dangers, soldiers willingly dropped their weapons to carry forward a flag after it had fallen in battle.

[Soon after the war began, a fifteen-year-old Taylor was with] the First South Carolina Volunteers [who] departed the Palmetto State under the command of Colonel (later General) Maxey Gregg. On their journey to Virginia, the soldiers carried with them a freshly made South Carolina flag. Today, that banner, preserved by the State of South Carolina, bears the damage of shot and shell and the blood of young James Taylor.

Following several months of fighting on the Virginia battlefields, Colonel Gregg entrusted the proud banner to Taylor’s hands . . . “as a reward for meritorious conduct as a soldier.” Taylor proudly and confidently carried the blue and white banner into battle after battle. His captain, Dan Miller, described the teenager as “bold, free and dashing.”

At Cold Harbor [in late June 1862] . . . the South Carolinians were greeted by heavy artillery fire. Taylor was soon hit . . . [and] ignoring his loss of blood and terrible pain, he continued to hurry forward, waving the flag to encourage the regiment to follow. Then he suffered a second wound . . . [and knocked] down by the blast, Taylor mustered enough energy to keep the flag flying from his prone position.

Upon seeing the color sergeant fall, Shubrick Hayne dropped his weapon and took the South Carolina flag . . . Taylor managed to stand up and stagger behind Hayne, who took but a few steps before he was mortally wounded. As the flag dropped from Hayne’s hands, Taylor took hold of it and attempted to inspire the men as he stumbled in the direction of heavy enemy fire.

For a third time he was wounded, a projectile smashing into his chest. The flag fell from his grasp, and he collapsed upon it, blood streaming from his body.

Lieutenant-Colonel Daniel H. Hamilton bent down to attend to his dying warrior. All James Hunt Taylor could manage to say was, “I can’t carry it any further, Colonel.”

(Let Us Die Like Brave Men: Behind the Dying Words of Confederate Warriors; Daniel W. Barefoot, John F. Blair Publishers, 2005, excerpt, pp. 37-39)

 

The Good Life in the South

Author Donald Davidson wrote of the decline of Northern cities committed to progress and the past resistance of Southern cities like Charleston and Savannah to the relentless march of industrial capitalism. But, he observed the ruins all around us as “the ruins of societies no less than the ruins of cities. Over the ruins stream mobs led by creatures no longer really human – creatures who, whether they make shift to pass as educators, planners, editors, commissars, or presidents . . .” lead the way on the path to destruction.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

The Good Life in the South

“Continuity of family, of family life, and family position – irrespective of economic status – was in fact a great distinction of Charleston among old American cities; for elsewhere that continuity had been generally broken by one cause or another. With this continuity Charleston had a stability that expressed itself in the pattern of its streets and the conservatism of its architecture. The map of Charleston in 1948 was not substantially different from the map of Charleston two centuries before.

If John Stuart, whom George III in 1763 appointed superintendent of Indian affairs in the South, could have returned in 1948 to seek his home, he would have found it at 106 Tradd Street, just where he built it in 1772 – for a brief occupancy, as it happened, since the Revolution ejected him, as a Tory, rather speedily from his new house.

The secret of Charleston’s stability, if it was any secret, was only the old Southern principle that material considerations, however important, are means not ends, and should always be subdued to the ends they are supposed to serve, should never be allowed to dominate, never be mistaken for ends in themselves.

If they are mistaken for ends, they dominate everything, and then you get instability. You get the average modern city, you get New York and Detroit, you get industrial civilization, world wars, Marxist communism, the New Deal.

Historians, noting that the antebellum South was in a sense materialistic, in that it found ways of prospering from the sale of cotton and tobacco, and relied heavily upon slave labor, have had the problem of explaining why that same South developed a chivalrous, courteous, religious, conservative and stable society quite different from that which obtained in the also materialistic, but more industrialized, rational, idealistic, progressive North.

The planters’ “aristocratic” leadership was the result, not the cause, of a general diffusion of standards of judgment that all the South, even the Negro slaves, accepted a basic principle of life. Mr. Francis Butler Simkins, in his book The South Old and New, has taken securer than the average historian when he notes that the South at the outbreak of the Civil War was almost the only true religious society left in the Western world.

That old, religious South set the good life above any material means to life and consistently preferred the kind of material concerns that would least interfere with and best contribute to the good life. Its preferred occupations were agriculture, law, the church and politics – pursuits which develop the whole man rather than the specialist, the free-willed individual rather than the anonymous unit of the organized mass.

[With] reference to material means of existence, such as money, one could clinch the discourse by pointing out the traditional attitude of the Southern Negro toward work and wages. If you paid the Negro twice the normal wage for a day’s work, you did not get more work from him – that is to say, more devotion to work within a given period, with increased production as the result. Not at all.

The Negro simply and ingeniously worked only half as many days or hours as before – and spent the rest of the time in following his conception of the good life: in hunting, dancing, singing, social conversation, eating, religion, and love. This well-known habit of the Negro’s, disconcerting to employers and statisticians, was absolutely correct according to Southern principles.

The Negro, so far as he had not been corrupted into heresy by modern education, was the most traditional of Southerners, the mirror which faithfully and lovingly reflected the traits that Southerners once all but unanimously professed.

That had been the idea in Charleston too. It was what Mr. Simkins in his book, perhaps being misled by his historical predecessors, had called the “country gentleman” idea. But Charleston, which had always been urban, always a town or a city of counting-houses, warehouses, factors, bankers, financial agents, and the like, was not a city of country gentlemen, exactly.

It had agreed with the country gentleman and with others of every sort, including the Negro, on letting the relationship between work, wages and life be determined by the metaphysical judgment indicated above. That was what made Charleston Charleston and not “The Indigo City” or something of the kind.”

(Still Rebels, Still Yankees, and Other Essays, “Some Day in Old Charleston,” Donald Davidson, LSU Press, 1957, excerpt, pp. 221-224)

 

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