Frederick Law Olmsted, a Critic of the Old South

Frederick Law Olmsted, a Critic of the Old South

Frederick Law Olmsted, a Critic of the Old South

Frederick Law Olmsted, a Critic of the Old South

Excerpt

Frederick Law Olmsted's writings on the South and slavery coincided with the most exciting period in the political history of the United States--1853 to 1861. These were years during which lesser men were cast for parts without their witting it, and fanned fires that had been left smouldering by Calhoun, Webster and Clay--until Lincoln, a new figure of the first magnitude, set the field ablaze to consume the last combustible elements. The Compromise of 1850, despite furtive endorsements two years later, was put in the way of disruption by the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854. Seward, Chase, Sumner, Davis, Toombs, Yancey, Douglas played parts in the drama which rapidly passed to its climax through such acts as the struggle over Kansas, the Books-Sumner incident, the birth of Republicanism, the surrender of the Supreme Court in the Dred Scott decision, the clashes of Lincoln and Douglas, John Brown's raid, the election of 1860 and "the first shotted gun" that opened on Fort Sumter.

This was above everything else a period of lapse, of related controls. The witches' brew, compounded of much that was honorable but wrongheaded and of more that was partisan and reckless, bubbled more and more furiously. Two books were added brands thrust under the seething mass -- Mrs. Stowe "Uncle Tom's Cabin" and Helper "Impending Crisis." The one whipped the North on to assault, while the other stung the South to violent self-defence.

Olmsted did what he could to save the pot from boiling over by dashing in a ladle of cold water. If the temperature subsided, it was but for a moment. However, the attempt at salvation was a notable one. For passion he sought to substitute thoughtfulness, for raving rationality, and for invective a calm examination of facts and their historical antecedents that should induce tolerance.

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