The Ashley Cooper Plan: The Founding of Carolina and the Origins of Southern Political Culture

The Ashley Cooper Plan: The Founding of Carolina and the Origins of Southern Political Culture

The Ashley Cooper Plan: The Founding of Carolina and the Origins of Southern Political Culture

The Ashley Cooper Plan: The Founding of Carolina and the Origins of Southern Political Culture


In this highly original work, Thomas D. Wilson offers surprising new insights into the origins of the political storms we witness today. Wilson connects the Ashley Cooper Plan--a seventeenth-century model for a well-ordered society imagined by Anthony Ashley Cooper (1st Earl of Shaftesbury) and his protege John Locke--to current debates about views on climate change, sustainable development, urbanism, and professional expertise in general. In doing so, he examines the ways that the city design, political culture, ideology, and governing structures of the Province of Carolina have shaped political acts and public policy even in the present. Wilson identifies one of the fundamental paradoxes of American history: although Ashley Cooper and Locke based their model of rational planning on assumptions of equality, the lure of profits to be had from slaveholding soon undermined its utopian qualities. Wilson argues that in the transition to a slave society, the "Gothic" framework of the Carolina Fundamental Constitutions was stripped of its original imperative of class reciprocity, reverberating in American politics to this day.

Reflecting on contemporary culture, Wilson argues that the nation's urban-rural divide rooted in this earlier period has corrosively influenced American character, pitting one demographic segment against another. While illuminating the political philosophies of Ashley Cooper and Locke as they relate to cities, Wilson also provides those currently under attack by antiurbanists--from city planners to climate scientists--with a deeper understanding of the intellectual origins of a divided America and the long history that reinforces it.


Residents of South Carolina and visitors to the Lowcountry are familiar with the Ashley and Cooper rivers. The two rivers define the narrow peninsula occupied by the historic city of Charleston. They were named after a single person: Anthony Ashley Cooper, the 1st Earl of Shaftesbury, founder of the Province of Carolina.

Ashley Cooper and seven other noblemen established the Province of Carolina in 1670, chronologically midway between the foundings of Virginia and Georgia, the first and last of the original thirteen colonies. The province, which encompassed present-day North Carolina and South Carolina, created a social and economic framework in America that scholars in various disciplines have identified as a defining influence on national character.

Yet American history mostly neglects Ashley Cooper while celebrating other visionary founders such as Roger Williams, William Penn, and James Oglethorpe. The purpose of this book is to shine more light on the idealism underlying Ashley Cooper’s “darling,” as he called the colony, and then to follow the chain of events he set in motion to the present time. In doing so, it will be shown that he was influential in formatting one of America’s three principal political cultures. Further, it will be argued that the connection of contemporary political culture to the past is not a weak one, as Ashley Cooper’s perspectives and ideology remain with us today.

Ultimately, another purpose arises from the historical investigation, which is to offer inquisitive audiences practical new insight into the genesis of present-day political divides. In acquiring this new understanding, citizens and policy makers can become better advocates for progress in areas that currently seem to defy agreement. Readers who put this information to use may even be able to penetrate the veils of rhetoric separating them from their ideological critics, thereby attaining mutual understanding, if not agreement, in areas of critical concern.

The origins of today’s political divisions is a vast subject area, but one that can be better understood in part by following a specific thread of history from Ashley Cooper’s plan for Carolina to the formation of a unique regional political culture that eventually grew beyond its borders . . .

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