Francis W. Pickens and the Politics of Destruction

By John B. Edmunds Jr. | Go to book overview

Preface

A ntebellum South Carolina was unique in the nation. Politics was a passion that was interlaced with calculation and intrigue. In order to escape the boredom and loneliness of the rural southern life, the South Carolina cavalier sought refuge in the game of politics. The sons of Mother Carolina rushed to serve with a zeal unmatched anywhere. The players in the game were few and were connected by social and family bonds. Those struggling to ascend the political ladder had to appeal to the state's oligarchy, not to the contemptible masses. This made for a situation where intrigue held sway, as those in political circles manipulated each other to control the state's political establishment. Seldom were such machinations openly revealed, since to the southern mind appearances counted as much as realities. For years the myth abounded that the office should seek the man, not the reverse. The revelation that a man was a mere office-seeker classed him with the politicians, not the statesmen. In South Carolina a charade was played: beneath the veneer of dignity were office-courting, self-serving men who calculated the path for the fulfillment of their ambitions. There were differences in political philosophy, and those differences did set candidates apart; but the quest for office often caused beliefs to take a back seat.

This is not just a book about Francis Pickens; rather, it uses him as a vehicle to explore the labyrinths of antebellum South Carolina politics. The individuals are themselves fascinating, but coupling them with the most archaic political, social, and economic system in the nation makes for an amazing study. The Carolina temper, driven by mythical romanticism, lost all sense of reality as it found solace in provincialism. In seeking to preserve their parochial society in the face of great change, South Carolina's sons engaged in a politics of destruction that not only wrought havoc with the Union but also destroyed forever their own culture and way of life.

Although numerous works have examined the Palmetto State and those who determined her course, Francis W. Pickens is a figure who has for generations remained in the shadowy recesses of history. He was just as important as his contemporaries James H. Hammond and Robert Barnwell Rhett, yet a full study of his life has never before emerged. His correspondence is scattered in numerous manuscript collections and mainly concentrates on politics. He comes across as an arrogant, disingenuous person who, in his attempts at

-xi-

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Francis W. Pickens and the Politics of Destruction
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Illustrations ix
  • Preface xi
  • 1. Young Radical 3
  • 2. a Provocative Course 21
  • 3. a Vile Association 47
  • 4. Harbinger of Doom 71
  • 5. a Litany of Destruction 95
  • 6. an Insolvable Dilemma 112
  • 7. a Mere Office-Seeker 120
  • 8. the Rose of Texas 137
  • 9. a Fire-Eater Down to the Ground 150
  • 10. Governor and Council 167
  • 11- "There Can Lay No Peace for Me" 173
  • Notes 183
  • Bibliography 223
  • Index 241
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