Browsing "Southern Culture Laid Bare"

Endlessly Contemplating the Past on the Front Porch

The years after 1865 saw the family as the core of Southern society and “within its bounds everything worthwhile took place.” Even in the early twentieth century Southerners working in exile up North imported corn meal and cured hams, and missed the North Carolina home where “Aunt Nancy still measures by hand and taste,” and where “the art of cooking famous old dishes lives on.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Endlessly Contemplating the Past on the Front Porch

“The governing families [of the South] . . . possessed modesty and good breeding in ample measure; much informal geniality without familiarity; a marked social distinction that was neither deliberate nor self-conscious. Indeed, the best families in the South were the most delightful segment of the American elite.

Southern charm reached its culmination in the Southern lady, a creature who, like her plantation grandmother, could be feminine and decorative without sacrificing any privileges except the masculine prerogative to hold public office. Count Hermann Keyserling in 1929 was impressed by “that lovely type of woman called “The Southern Girl,” who, in his opinion, possessed the subtle virtues of the French lady.

What at times appeared to be ignorance, vanity or hypocrisy, frequently turned out to be the innate politeness of the Southerner who sought to put others at ease.

To a greater degree than other Americans, Southerners practiced what may be regarded as the essence of good manners: the idea that the outward form of inherited or imposed ideals should be maintained regardless of what went on behind the scenes. Southern ideals were more extensive and inflexible than those prevailing elsewhere in America. To the rigid code of plantation days was added, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the repressions of puritanism imposed by the Protestant clergy, who demanded that the fiddle be silenced and strong drink eschewed “on pain of ruin in this world and damnation in the next.”

Although Southerners were among the hardest drinkers in America, one reason they voted for Al Smith in 1928 was because he openly defended drinking. Many critics called this attitude hypocrisy, even deceit; the Southerners, however, insisted upon making the distinction between hedonistic tendencies and long-established ideals. If such evasiveness did not create a perfect code of morals, at least it helped to repress the indecent.

The home in the twentieth century remained the core of a social conservatism fundamentally Southern, still harboring “the tenacious clan loyalty that was so mighty a cohesive force in colonial society.” A living symbol of the prevailing domestic stability was the front porch where, in the leisure of the rocking chair, the Southerner endlessly contemplated the past. Here nothing important had happened since the Civil War, except that the screen of trees and banisters had grown more protective.

The most obvious indication of the tenacity of home life was the survival of the Southern style of cooking. Assaults upon it came from the outside, with scientists claiming that monotony and lack of balance in the eating habits of millions resulted in such diseases as pellagra.

National advertising imposed Northern food products upon those Southerners who would heed. Federal subsidies after 1914 enabled home economics to carry the new science of nutrition into Southern communities and schools. Yet no revolution in diet took place. Possibly, the . . . teachers overstepped . . . when they sought to introduce the culinary customs of Battle Creek and Boston. Their attempted revolution failed for the same reason as that of the Yankee schoolma’ams during Reconstruction.”

(The South Old and New, A History 1820-1947, Francis Butler Simkins, Alfred A. Knopf, excerpts pp. 292-295)

An End to Southern Abolition

Left alone regarding African slaves in their midst, Southerners, like the North before them, would have found solutions to what they saw as a great alien population among them, and a labor system they saw as detrimental to their progress. Southern emancipation efforts halted after the Nat Turner massacres in Virginia, which the South saw as fomented by fanatical abolitionists. Had the North channeled its energies into practical and peaceful solutions rather than violent ones, the country might have avoided that destructive war.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

An End to Southern Abolition

“I had a very interesting conversation with Governor [William] Graham on the subject of slavery, when I passed the day with him in the Spring of 1874. I told him that I had recently seen the commencement oration of my uncle, the Rev. John Haywood Parker, delivered at his graduation in 1832; and that it was an argument in favor of the abolition of slavery in North Carolina.

He replied that it was at that same commencement of 1832 that Judge Gaston, in his address to the Literary Societies, had made his famous plea to the young men of the State, that they should realize their duty of taking up that great problem and removing the burden of slavery which was depressing the influence, the development, and the best interests of the State. Governor Graham said that in 1832 the abolition of slavery was freely discussed in the State and was favored by many of our best and wisest men.

I asked him how it came about that there was such a sudden and total change in public opinion within the next twenty years. He replied that there were several concurrent causes of this. In the first place Nat Turner’s Insurrection in Southampton County, Virginia in 1831, had much to do with it. That short but bloody outbreak excited such horror and alarm that people feared talk of freeing the Negroes lest it might tend to suggest the idea of freedom to their minds and lead them to similar attempts at freeing themselves by force.

Also it was just about this period that the Quakers and others in the North began to send to Congress petitions for the abolition of slavery; and the struggles in Congress and the resentment of the people of the South at what they considered an interference in their domestic affairs caused a great revulsion of feeling. The Southern people were willing to consider the subject themselves, but they would not be dictated to.

I afterwards mentioned this conversation to Judge [George] Howard who agreed with Governor Graham; but he added that another element in the problem of abolition of slavery was the acquisition of immense territory by the Mexican War and then the discovery of gold in California immediately afterwards.

This opened so much additional territory for the extension of slavery in Texas and the Southwest, and so stimulated all values that slave property was more than doubled in value. When a Negro man was worth three or four thousand dollars, as he was before 1832, the abolition of slavery was one question. When the same Negro came to be worth one thousand dollars, as he came to be before many years had passed, the question of abolition had become a quite different one.”

(Nonnulla, Memories, Stories, Traditions More of Less Authentic, Joseph Blount Cheshire, UNC Press, 1930, pp. 136-137)

Emancipation in 1845 South Carolina

Always fearful of slave revolts as the black population steadily grew, and shaken by reality in the Nat Turner massacre of women and children, Southerners logically erected anti-emancipation laws to control slave populations. The constant agitation of slave revolt by Northern abolitionist fanatics, culminating in John Brown’s 1859 crime in Virginia, was an effective means to end even voluntary emancipation in the South. Peaceful emancipation initiatives from the North would have had a better effect and avoided war.

Bernhard THuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Emancipation Sentiment in 1845 South Carolina

“In 1840 there came up to the Court of Appeals the noted Carmille case. A slaveowner, Carmille, had died leaving a will which with reference to his slaves provided that they should be set free if possible . . . or conveyed in trust to certain trustees who would allow them to hire their time, paying only a nominal sum to the trustees.

This was unquestionably in conflict with the policy of the [South Carolina] statutes on the subject of emancipation. [A] court held that the will of the testator was not contrary to the principles of the act of 1820 and was not in violation of the State’s policy toward the Negro, and that the will ought to be carried out.

The decision . . . aroused the sentiment of the legislature and caused the passage of the sweeping act of 1841. The act of 1841 was intended apparently to close every avenue of approach to emancipation. These laws are always of course to be taken as a final indication of public sentiment. There was evidently a large class of persons who honestly desired to see a less severe policy pursued. Their views cannot be better expressed than in the clear and rugged style of Justice O’Neall. In 1845 he said:

“I think its policy [i.e., of the legislature against emancipation] so questionable that it ought to be repealed. A law, evaded as it is, and against which public sentiment, within and without the State, is so much arrayed, ought not to stand. It is better by far, that a wise and prudent system of emancipation, like that of 1800, should exist, rather than that unlicensed emancipation according to private arrangement should take place.

What is there in the policy of South Carolina to forbid emancipation by an owner, of a faithful, honest, good slave? Have we anything to fear from such a liberal and humane course?

Until fanaticism and folly drove us from that position of the law our State had uniformly favored emancipation by owners, of their slave property, with such limitations and guards as rendered the free Negro not a dangerous, but a useful member of the community, however humble he may be. It is time we should return to it and say to all at home and abroad, we have nothing to fear from occasional emancipation.”

(Control of Slaves in South Carolina, H.M. Henry, PhD Dissertation Vanderbilt University, 1914, pp. 173-174)

"Delta Is Ready When You Are"

“Delta Is Ready When You Are”

“When the 1992 presidential primaries moved South, the media was full of references to “the Bubba vote.” Yet, when the primaries were in the East, nobody referred to the “Loud-talking Yankee vote.” When they went to the Midwest, there was no mention of “the Frozen Fools vote.” When it was time for the California primary, there was nothing said about “the Nut and Fruit vote.”  Just the South. And I’m always a “Southern columnist,” or “Southern humorist,” or “that redneck from Atlanta.”

Ever hear of Mike Royko being referred to as a “mid-western columnist”? Or Dave Barry, of The Miami Herald, a “Cuban columnist”?

If you’re Southern, it’s always going to be mentioned. “Why don’t you people forget the Civil War?” I’ve heard so often from Northerners. Well, why don’t y’all leave us the hell alone and stop thinking of the South as an odd appendage? How about stopping with the stereotyping already? The “Bubba vote,” indeed.

I had a man write me a letter years ago . . . He had been called “Bubba” by family and friends for thirty-five years. He came from a small Georgia town and had gone to work with a large national firm in Atlanta. His boss . . . had been transplanted from New York [and said he] could no longer use the name “Bubba.’ “He said it sounded too “Southern and ignorant.”

[I] was incensed that the son of a bitch from New York City would say he was “too Southern and ignorant.” What if the man had been named “Booker T.”? would that have been too “black and ignorant”? What if he had been named “Dances with Fat girls”? “Too Indian and insensitive to persons of size?”

So I told the Bubba who wrote the letter to tell the jerk who wanted him to drop his name to kiss his ass and see if he could find a job with a firm that wasn’t being run by a lot of Yankees who looked down on Southerners and had their heads in their asses (cranial rectitus).

Another wrote, “I was transferred to Atlanta from New York six years ago. Every time I return to Atlanta on an airplane, I expect the stewardesses to say, “Welcome to Atlanta. Set your watch back two decades.” A woman wrote, “You Bubbas are all alike. All you can think about is football, beer swilling, and hillbilly music.”

My response to the first writer was, “Oh yeah? Every time I fly into New York, I expect the stewardess to say, “Welcome to New York. Get off the plane at your own risk.” To the other, I responded, “Read this: Delta is ready when you are.”

“Too Southern and ignorant . . .“ It makes my blood boil.”

(I Havent Understood Anything Since 1962, And Other Nekkid Truths, Lewis Grizzard, Villard Books, 1992, pp. 146-147)

Emancipation in Return for Determined Bravery

Southern General Thomas C. Hindman was among many who believed that the Confederacy should enlist black troops, and this initiative led to the Confederate Congress approving the enlistment of 300,000 black men in March 1865. The resistance from President Jefferson Davis stemmed from his belief that the South needed the African for its agricultural production, and that they should not serve as cannon-fodder or replacements for white troops who would not fight – as in the North.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Emancipation in Return for Determined Bravery

“Any hope of Confederate success in the field, [Hindman] asserted, rested on the principles that “the entire white male population” be placed in military service for the duration of the war and that exemptions be limited to essential employees of the Confederate and State governments.

Faced with a struggle for life itself, the Confederacy could not afford to overlook a single resource. “The ghosts of legions of Southern heroes . . . [would] haunt our pillows” if the Confederacy did not employ its “ultimate strength.” To those who would argue that property rights in slaves must remain inviolate, he stated that . . . white men in the army were the property of God, themselves, and their families. Was property in slaves “any more sacred,” he rhetorically asked.

To those who would claim that blacks would not fight, he pointed out the similar remarks about Northerners had been proved false. Blacks, he contended, were courageous and endured “pain and hardship” as well as whites. If they were put “by the side of white Southern soldiers,” . . . and assured of “freedom for good conduct,” he was confident that they would “display a determined bravery” in fighting for the Confederacy and their homes. Although a slave owner himself . . . he now was ready to support emancipation for blacks who would agree to fight in the Confederate army.

The idea of arming and enlisting slaves did not originate with him. As early as 17 July 1861, William S. Turner, a prosperous farmer from Hindman’s hometown of Helena [Arkansas], had written Secretary of War L.P. Walker and enquired in “Negro regiments . . . could be “received” for Confederate service. According to Turner, at least one man near Helena was willing to provide his son as a captain and “arm 100 of his own” slaves.

{Friend and former law partner General Patrick Cleburne] . . . proposed guaranteeing “freedom within a reasonable time to every slave in the South” who “remain[ed] true to the Confederacy.” In addition, “a large reserve of the most courageous of our slaves” must be trained for military service. With freedom for themselves and their families, black men, he predicted, would fight valiantly for the South.

Great Britain would respond with moral “support and material aid,” while Northerners, stripped of their “most powerful and honestly entertained plank in their war platform,” would soon tire of the fight. The presentation generated instant controversy . . . [and at its close, Generals William J.] Hardee and [Joseph E.] Johnston seemed “favorably disposed” . . . [and] Hindman was convinced that blacks must be enrolled as soldiers, and he risked his career to advance the concept.

On 16 January, he wrote a personal letter to [President Jefferson] Davis discussing the issue and other matters relating to the state of affairs in the army. According to his calculations, if “Negroes were allowed as teamsters, cooks, hospital attendants, laborers, and for the pioneer companies of divisions and engineer companies of the army, it would swell our ranks, at once, [by] about 20,000 men.” Such a revitalization of the armies “ought to ring in the ears of [every] Congressman” like the oratory of Cato.”

(Lion of the South, General Thomas C. Hindman, Diane Neal and Thomas Kremm, Mercer University Press, 1993, pp. 184-190)

Vindicating the South

The articles of Dr. Albert Taylor Bledsoe would often express “in vigorous language . . . the best types of literature of the conservative point of view” from the South. In battling against the inevitable tendencies of modernity changing the postwar South, he reminded Southerners that their civilization was one to cherish and perpetuate.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Vindicating the South:

“The most indefatigable champion of the Southern cause was the Southern Review, established January, 1867, by Alfred Taylor Bledsoe, formerly professor of mathematics in the University of Virginia and the author of the noteworthy book entitled “Is Davis a Traitor?” A man of undoubted intellectual power and with remarkable energy and resourcefulness, he had already during the war, by his studies in the British Museum, made himself familiar with the first hand sources necessary for the study of early American history.

He brought back into the South the point of view of John C. Calhoun and gave forth the arguments in favor of secession with searching logic and a scholarship that was more exact than that of the great statesman himself. He conceived it to be his duty through the Review to give permanent statements to the ideas that had been fought for by the Southern people. He would not let any criticism of his course to change him in his desire to set forth the Southern point of view.

“Shall we bury in the grave of the grandest cause that has ever perished on earth, all the little stores of history and philosophy which a not altogether idle life has enabled us to enmass, and so leave the just cause, merely because it has fallen, to go without our humble advocacy? We would rather die.”

He quoted with great gusto the words of Robert E. Lee: “Doctor, you must take care of yourself; you have a great work to do; we all look to you for our vindication.” None of the discouragement incident to the management of the Review or threatened poverty could for one moment cause him to swerve from his frequently expressed object. In a long article in Vol. VIII, in pleading with the Southern people to stand by him in the fight, he says:

“To abandon The Southern Review would be like the pain of death to me. It is the child of my affections. Money is not my object. I am willing to work for the South; nay, I am willing to be a slave for the South. Nothing but an unconquerable zeal in the cause of the South and of the truth, could have sustained us under the heavy pressure of its doubts, its difficulties, its trials, and its vexations in spirit.”

He has no sympathy for modern democracy, for to him it was the child of infidelity. He is opposed to all the tendencies of modern science, for it tends to destroy the faith of mankind. He is opposed to industrialism, looking upon it as the enemy to all that is chivalric and beautiful in civilization. He will have nought to do with German philosophy or German criticism, for they are both the inaugurators of the reign of radicalism and rationalism.”

(The South in the Building of the Nation, Volume VII, Edwin Mims, Southern Historical Publication Society, 1909, pp. 463-465)

Chapel Office of a Protestant Saint

As a college president after the war, General Robert E. Lee gave no indication of being a scholar, did not begin any research of his own, and showed no interest in collecting material for wartime memoirs. Lee informed Scotch visitor David MacRae that he had not read any accounts of the war or biographies. He said: “My own life has been written, but I have not looked into it. I do not want to awaken memories of the past.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 
Chapel Office of a Protestant Saint

“Offices are silent biographers of those who spend much of their lives in them. Beginning as inanimate rooms, offices become organic spaces, with personalities and meaning of their own. Robert E. Lee is gone, but his office is intact. After his death, college officials decided to preserve it exactly as it was when he walked out on a soggy fall day in 1870. No major item has been added or removed. Time has been blocked out and history boxed in.

Lee’s office is in the basement of [the chapel he insisted be built for Washington College, and authorized by the Trustees on 18 July 1866]. One naked electric light bulb shines at night, placed where an oil lamp hung in Lee’s day. The brick floor at the foot of the stairs has been worn and cracked by the feet of many pilgrims.

To the modern eye, the fifteen by eighteen foot room seems plain to the point of austerity. There is no rug on the pine floor of random-width boards, no curtains on the two windows, no paintings or prints on the plain white walls. The furnishings reflect the ear and the man.

The largest object in the room is a bookcase . . . [with only] Webster’s dictionary [being] the largest [book in it]. Most of the others were nineteenth century texts: DeVere’s Grammar in French, Brown’s English Grammar with Analysis, Morris’ Greek Grammar and Downes’ Algebra, for example. All are frayed and worn from frequent use.

On the mantle stand three faded pictures: George Peabody, a Northern benefactor, an unidentified Confederate family, and George Washington. Underneath the central table is a large wicker waste basket, given General Lee by a Negro woman. This is all one finds in the office of the American who is regarded by many as a sort of Protestant saints.

Across the hall, a few feet from the office, the earthly remains of Lee are sealed in a family mausoleum. Above him rests his wife. To his right is his father, “Light Horse Harry”; to his left his oldest son, Custis. The General is entombed not far from the place where he worked and where he led in peace a whole region which he could not free in war.

This was the focus and nerve center of his administration. Here we wrote, planned, conferred and meted out justice. Duty, like marrow, was in his bones. Precisely here the college was transformed into a university. Like his clothes, speech, manners and campaigns, the office, too, was fastidious. A passion for order dominated Lee’s whole life.

Rising early, he held private prayers, after which he went promptly to breakfast whish was usually delayed by his tardy wife. There were family prayers at this morning meal as well. Lee ate heartily and left promptly for the seven forty-five chapel service. Lectures began at eight o’clock. By then, he would have slipped downstairs to his office.

Faculty members had to report every week on every student. Lee tabulated and remembered the comments and grades. Soon after the grades were known, Lee arranged to see those who were doing poorly, sending Lewis, the college janitor, to their rooms with notes.

He attended many daily recitations. “I recited in the presence of General Lee many times. It was a severe ordeal,” C.A. Graves, an ex-student, remembered. “I have often wondered how he found the patience to endure the many hours of attendance on the many classes.”

(Lee After the War, The Greatest Period in the Life of a Great American, Marshall W. Fishwick, Dodd, Mead & Company, 1963, excerpts, pp. 128-132)

Biblical Basis of Learning in the Confederacy

The Confederate Spelling Book was written by Richard McAllister Smith (1819-1870), and included “Reading Lessons for the Young, Adapted to the Use of Schools or for Private Instruction.”  It was a companion book to the Confederate First Reader of Prose and Poetry,and was designed “to instruct the pupils, and at the same time to elevate their ideas and form correct tastes and instill proper sentiments.”

Bernhard Thuersam, Circa1865

 

Biblical Basis of Learning in the Confederacy

“The Confederate Spelling Book propounds its philosophy in its preface: “It is a delusion which has gained some foothold with the unreflecting, that a child should not be made to memorize what it does not in all respects understand. Nature has rebuked this idea by developing the memory in advance of the understanding.”

According to the Confederate Spelling Book, teachers of the Confederacy received no little assist in discipline and conduct from the teachings of the Bible. Interspersed with delightful dissertations on such subjects as the pleasures of traveling by steamboat are frequent admonishments supported by references to the Good Book.

The speller cites scripture such as “The Bible tells us that liars cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” A favorite admonishment was “God made all nature cheerful and he intended we should be cheerful also. Cheerfulness does not teach us to be giddy, and boisterous and rude, but to observe a pleasant and polite demeanor toward all whom we meet.”

(Plantation Heritage in Upcountry, South Carolina, Kenneth and Blanche Marsh, Biltmore Press, 1962, excerpts pp. 32-110)

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