The Charleston Style
[W]e must forget to defer to senility, we must learn to respect energy and to make use of youth. -- William Trenholm, 1869
The logic of business class unity rested on the idea that its members were stockholders in a collective enterprise driven by a shared desire for growth and by the promise that sacrifice for the common welfare would be rewarded. The Atlanta spirit soared on the wings of economic prosperity. The Charleston style, in contrast, was one of dignified repose in the face of chronic economic stagnation before the turn of the century. A legacy of failed efforts to break the serene apathy of Charleston's business leaders only reinforced the cycle of demoralization and decline. The tendency was for individuals, instead of lending loyal support to any and all local ventures, to either "croak" about the feasibility of such plans or to quietly mind their own business and not take risks for the collective good. For the young and ambitious, the alternative was to leave and pursue opportunities elsewhere. Faced with the choice of moving themselves (or their capital) to more promising fields, resigning themselves to a defensive allegiance to the status quo, or agitating for change, most Charlestonians had traditionally opted for one of the former two courses, ensuring the failure of those who chose the third path.1
Economic stagnation and impotent community enterprise were mutually reinforcing, in short. The Charleston News and Courier, under Francis W. Dawson and, after 1889, John C. Hemphill, generally did its best to break that cycle, as did a number of civic-minded business leaders. According to their analysis of the problem, Charleston did not lack resources in the way of natural advantages, investment capital, or individual entrepreneurial skill; what was failing repeatedly was a capacity for community enterprise. "This has been the secret of our decay," the maverick mayor John Patrick Grace protested in one of his irate attacks on the old aristocracy; "it is the answer to those who have come and inquired what has kept us back. That answer is OURSELVES."2
With all its troubles, Charleston's economy was still capable of generating
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Publication information: Book title: New Men, New Cities, New South:Atlanta, Nashville, Charleston, Mobile, 1860-1910. Contributors: Don H. Doyle - Author. Publisher: University of North Carolina Press. Place of publication: Chapel Hill, NC. Publication year: 1990. Page number: 159.