Saturday, July 04, 2009

TR on South Carolina

In a 1906 letter to Owen Wister regarding his new Novel "Lady Baltimore" :

"The South has retained some barbaric virtues which we in the North which we have tended to lose in the North... On the other hand, the Southerners have developed traits of a not very healthy kind. They are not as dishonest, they do not repudiate their debts as their predecessors did... but they do not send as valuable men into the national councils as the Northerners. They are not as efficient, and they exaggerate the common American tendency to use bombastic language which is not made good by performance. Your particular heroes the Charleston aristocrats, offer as melancholy an example I know of people whose whole lives have been warped by their own wilful perversity.

In the early part of South Carolina history, there was a small federalist party and a later small and dwindling union party of which I cannot speak too highly. But the South Carolina aristocrats, the Charleston Aristocrats and there kinfolk, have never made good their pretensions.

They were no more to blame then the rest of the country for the colonial slave trade but when the rest of the country awoke they shut their eyes tight to the horrors, they insisted the slave trade be kept, and succeeded in keeping it open for 25 years after the Revolution and they went into succession, partly to re-open it.

They drank, and dueled and made speeches but they contributed very, very, little toward anything Americans are now proud of. Their life was not as ignoble as that of the Newport people whom you (Wister) condemn, yet I think it was really an ignoble life.

South Carolina and Mississippi are very much alike. Their two great men of the deified past were Calhoun and Jefferson Davis and I confess I unable to see how any conscience-less financier of the present day is worse than these two slave owners who spent their years trying to feed their thirst for personal power by leading their followers to the destruction of the Union.

Remember that the Charleston Aristocrats wanted to re-open the the slave trade at the start of the Civil War. Reconstruction was a mistake as it carried out., and there is very much to reprobate in in what was done by Sumner and Seward and their followers. But the blame attached to them is nothing compared to the blame attaching to the Southerners for forty years preceding the Civil War and for the years immediately succeeding it. There never was a war, so far as I know, where it can be honestly said that right was wholly on one side, and wrong wholly on the other. Even the courage and prowess the South Carolina aristocrats was shown only at the expense of their country and only in an effort to tear in sunder their own flag.

In the revolutionary war, in the remote past which you idealize, as compared to the present, the South Carolinans made as against the British a fight which can only be called respectable. There was little heroism; and Marion and Sumter show at a disadvantage when compared to the Boer leaders. In the War of 1812 South Carolina did nothing. She reserved her strength until she could strike for slavery and against the Union.

As for Reconstruction, they brought the punishment absolutely on themselves and are in my judgment not entitled to one particle of sympathy. The North blundered, but the blunders were in trying to do right in impossible circumstances, which the South had itself created, and which the South was solely responsible. "

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