The Self-Inflicted Wound: Southern Politics in the Nineteenth Century

The Self-Inflicted Wound: Southern Politics in the Nineteenth Century

The Self-Inflicted Wound: Southern Politics in the Nineteenth Century

The Self-Inflicted Wound: Southern Politics in the Nineteenth Century

Excerpt

The old south was a "body politic" in the elemental if not the technical sense of the expression. Politics largely served the region as a shield against outside threats to its institutions, especially against threats to its "peculiar institution" -- slavery. The premier architect of this shield was John C. Calhoun of South Carolina, who expounded the doctrines of state nullification, a regional veto on national legislation, and, as a final measure of self-preservation, secession. These doctrines eventually led to actual secession, defeat in the Civil War, the sequel known as Reconstruction, and the overthrow of Reconstruction by a resurgent South dedicated to white supremacy and regional merger into the nation's industrial and commercial mainstream.

Robert F. Durden tells concisely and ably the story of southern politics from Jeffersonian liberalism to Bourbon conservatism, all stages, ironically, rooted in states' rights. As his title indicates, he emphasizes the role of southern politics in its intractable support first of slavery and then of racism. His closing sentence illustrates with shocking clarity the enduring dilemma of a democratic society: how to reconcile its ideals with the will of the people when the two are in conflict. He says, "The South's greatest enemy in the nineteenth century...proved all too sadly to be the great majority of southern whites."

Because southern politics has both reflected and affected all other aspects of southern life, the present study is essential to "New Perspectives on the South." The series is designed to give a . . .

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