A Good Southerner: The Life of Henry A. Wise of Virginia

By Craig M. Simpson | Go to book overview

Chapter 7 Political Entitlements

Wise was not tempted to snatch too quickly the fruits of a brilliant success, and for good reason. He remained a renegade. Old Tom Ritchie, though screened away in Washington with the editorial control of a major Democratic organ, still dominated the Enquirer and thus Virginia's Democracy. His long memory hobbled Wise, who predictably was soon pronouncing consistency "the worst enemy to the public service that I know of." 1 When Ritchie finally died in 1854, many old Jacksonian apostates, including Senators Hunter and Mason, must have rejoiced. The way now seemed open for a confirmation of new political entitlements. There would, of course, be a fight for supremacy, with slavery increasingly the test of every aspirant's credentials.

Wise was more comfortable as a slavery politician than as a slavery advocate, though even here, his inconsistency undermined trust among those disciplined enough to remember. For example, Wise proudly recalled his centrality in the gag rule debates, though never acknowledging his ambivalences. He claimed as much credit as he dared for the annexation of Texas but indulged no further allusions about abolition as a crowning result. Along with many Southerners, he anathematized the Compromise of 1850, charging that the "military arm" had legislated "free soilism" into California. 2 Surely such fierce and valiant defenses of Southern rights guaranteed him more plaudits than the waffling Whigs could ever earn. Yet whenever Wise posed as a Southern extremist; difficulties followed. As we shall see, Wise believed that the loss of California cost the South a last, golden opportunity to emancipate itself at a profit.

Thus Wise had his problems as both a partisan and an ideologue. No group looked more fondly to restricting his maneuverability than the small coterie of young Virginians who preferred loyalty to South Carolina. Elder statesman and in many cases mentor of the group was Professor Nathaniel Beverley Tucker, though to his dying day in 1851 he remained a far more dedicated disunionist than most of his pupils. Because he suffered from a

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A Good Southerner: The Life of Henry A. Wise of Virginia
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Illustrations ix
  • Maps x
  • Preface xi
  • Acknowledgments xvii
  • Chapter 1 the Character and Politics of a Young Virginian 3
  • Chapter 2 a Long Farewell to Jackson 16
  • Chapter 3 Defending Shaky Outposts 29
  • Chapter 4 Supporting Tyler and Escaping the Consequences 45
  • Chapter 5 the Good Slaveholder 61
  • Chapter 6 Political Compromise and the Protection of Slavery 78
  • Chapter 7 Political Entitlements 87
  • Chapter 8 Saving Virginia, Preserving the Union 106
  • Chapter 9 a Futile Effort to Revive the Old Dominion 135
  • Chapter 10 Kansas 157
  • Chapter 11 Two Men at Harpers Ferry 203
  • Chapter 12 Failed Hope and the Choice of War 219
  • Chapter 13 Steadfast to the Last 252
  • Chapter 14 Confederate Past, Yankee Future 285
  • Abbreviations 315
  • Notes 319
  • Bibliography 395
  • Index 435
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