Henry Laurens: The Southern Man of Conscience in History

By Kelly, Joseph P. | South Carolina Historical Magazine, April 2006 | Go to article overview

Henry Laurens: The Southern Man of Conscience in History


Kelly, Joseph P., South Carolina Historical Magazine


IN THE HEADY AFTERMATH OF THE ALLIED VICTORY IN World War II, a seven-car train "resplendent in red, white, and blue" and guarded by marines rolled thousands of miles across the rails of the United States, exhorting citizens in every corner of the country to "rededicate" themselves to America.1 The Freedom Train, a museum on wheels, brought to the towns and cities crucial documents of democracy in an age when the ascendancy of free government could not be taken for granted. Organized in 1947, the train was conceived to celebrate the nation's victory over fascism, but the design soon shifted its aim to the threat posed by the new "peddlers of alien hates and foreign ideologies," the Russian Communists.2 To remind citizens of the sacrifices needed to secure and maintain liberty, the organizers displayed these core documents of freedom in the "atmosphere of a religious shrine" at which millions might worship.3

Of 115 documents, only a few referred to American slavery; they were, most prominently, the Emancipation Proclamation, the Thirteenth Amendment, and a private letter from a father to a son, which was introduced by this rubric: "Henry Laurens of South Carolina Denounces the Institution of Slavery."4 The train's board of directors selected these documents to finesse that part of the nation's history so manifestly inconsistent with the general, self-congratulatory purpose of the exhibit.5 They used Henry Laurens to represent, or rather misrepresent, southern ideology at the time of the Revolution. Laurens's letter managed to acknowledge that America once sponsored slavery, while at the same time it absolved Americans of guilt, as if the history of slavery could be summarized by these three documents: a southerner's regret at having to suffer under an institution imposed by foreigners, a northerner's fulfilling of that southerner's hope for relief, and the final Constitutional abolition of slavery.

The train gave no opportunity to ponder slavery further. For example, in its one day in Charleston, the train hosted 10,000 visitors. These patrons, "in shuffling but good-natured rows," each had only about fifteen minutes to view all 115 documents, time to do little more than read the label and glance at the artifact.6 Princeton University published a catalogue of the exhibits, but even the few who looked there would have found no reason to question this simplified history. Frank Monaghan, the national archivist who wrote the catalogue, pointed out that the Laurens letter, "written to his son John only a few weeks after the adoption of the Declaration of Independence[,] ... breathes the defiant spirit of liberty and it especially attacks the institution of slavery as an abhorrent denial of freedom." Monaghan then quoted the now-famous phrase that is probably known to most readers of this journal: "You know, my dear son, I abhor slavery."7 Laurens's letter was followed by one penned by Robert E. Lee to accept the post of president of Washington College, which was glossed by Monaghan thus: "In accepting the college presidency, Lee the warrior became Lee the conciliator. . . . [exhorting all Americans to] 'unite in honest efforts to obliterate the effects' of the" Civil War.8 The history presented by the Freedom Train obliterated the prodigious efforts of many prominent Americans, including Laurens and Lee, to preserve slavery.

But Laurens's letter did serve another, more salutary function of the train: preparing the South for federally mandated integration. Its conscience pricked by African American leaders, the Freedom Train's board of directors mandated that visitors to the exhibits could not be segregated, even in the Deep South. The edict was enforced only equivocally, but Memphis and Birmingham, whose civic leaders refused to conform to integration, were dropped from the train's itinerary amid much publicity.9 (The news accounts do not indicate whether whites mixed with blacks on the train in Charleston. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Henry Laurens: The Southern Man of Conscience in History
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.