I call Wise a good Southerner because he would have wanted it that way. He took pride in efforts to sustain the best traditions of Southern masterhood while acknowledging the influence of world opinion and respecting the powerful forces opposed to the South. He never stood with those in his state or region who counseled resistance to change. Indeed, he embraced to some extent the ethic of his eventual enemies on the battlefield. Systematic, industrious, and always with an eye to the main chance, he believed that he might defeat the Yankees at their own game. He regarded himself as flexible, resilient, and well-informed. The dull men around him inspired only his contempt, which of course they cordially reciprocated. Reversing Virginia's decline from her Revolutionary glory created challenges enough to fill a lifetime. Innovation and modernization--whether in the form of improved education, political rights for the white masses, or internal improvements on a grand scale--would allow his troubled state to ride out the storm. If enough could change while enough remained the same, Virginia might even reclaim her entitlement. The Wises, more prescient than most, would thus stand ever deserving of their state's and the Union's honors.
Wise's vision allowed him to project a sense of hopefulness and energy that focused popular aspirations. Although many found him incomprehensible and bewildering, and others despised his arrogance, most accorded him a grudging respect--if for no other reason than that his presence automatically jacked up the emotional ante. He never bored anyone. Disgusting and loathsome some felt he was--as they inspected his shabby clothes, grew more than vaguely uncomfortable at having their conversations dominated, stood clear of his spewing tobacco juice, and tried to overcome their embarrassment at his foul language. Fascinating and incredible, others exclaimed. Perhaps only Virginia could have produced such a paradoxical man. His later portraits suggest a man of no half measures. Thin and intense, hard-eyed and coiled, he seems ready to assault anyone who might dare to stand before him and utter a trifling remark or suffer such a thought to pass.
Wise's politics looked to the transcending of many of the choices he finally made. Deflected from his hopes by national