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PoP's Southern American: The Northerners Fundamental Mistake:

9/23/2011

The Northerners Fundamental Mistake:

The average Northerner’s image of the antebellum American South was based primarily on the exaggerations and fiction of writers who either had not journeyed southward in their lives, or knew by firsthand accounts what they were writing about.

Bernhard Thuersam, Director
Cape Fear Historical Institute

The Southern legend was unique…[and] begun innocuously by a young Baltimorean, John P. Kennedy. After visiting the plantation of his mother’s Virginia kin, he wrote a charming book called Swallow Barn (1832) – a series of sketches of a past time on plantations as it had come down to him through the pathos of distance and sentiment. Kennedy went on back North [and] the byplay of his imagination became the genesis of that glamorous plantation world that never was. From this model grew a body of glowing literature whose composite impression soon passed into folklore.

Writing even more from imagination than had Kennedy, the abolitionist authors drew a gaudy picture of harems of bright-skinned girls from the Potomac to the Gulf, being slavered over by a goateed colonel with a whip in one hand and a julep in the other. A composite character developed of this colonel, a sort of Cottonfield Caligula, who lived in imperious and splendid sin. The colonel was invariably lazy and proud, self-indulgent and quick-tempered, pleasure-loving and courtly, an utterly thriftless wastrel who squandered the wealth (which, despite these traits he had somehow acquired) in ostentatious and ruinous hospitality.

The apogee was reached in Uncle Tom’s Cabin, published in 1851, and the figures of Mrs. Stowe’s vivid imagination entered American folklore on the other side. From the enemy’s side, the worst was attributed to all. Much that European travelers found charming, Northern observers found deplorable, invariably attributing the conditions to lack of Southern lack of get-up-and-go and a slothful incapacity for material well-being.

The Northerners made a fundamental mistake: they measured the South by the yardstick they brought from home. To the Northerner, his factories represented “progress.” Upon this industrial progress were based the standards of an acquisitive competitive society which valued material possessions, the physical symbols of success – “conspicuous consumption” – and the traits and habits that directed a life toward these things. The observers, unable to conceive of a people without those values, cited the lack of factories as indicating backwardness and judged the people as failures for not achieving something they never wanted. As with Americans ever since, they could not believe that people different from themselves actually liked their own way of life.

While in the capitalistic North power fed on power – men who made money pooling their wealth with other money men, formed combines of power for wider spheres of exploitation, toward the ultimate goal of government control – the Southern planter wanted to enjoy what he had. To him the doctrine that “time is money” would have been incomprehensible and monstrous. Time belonged to man, not to the bank: it was his heritage from God.

Where Northern leaders regarded the Union as a nation of people, Southerners regarded it as a confederation of semiautonomous principalities. In their confederation with other States, no member of the ruling class ever dreamed of placing a strongly centralized government over himself. Even Jefferson, when old and dying, wrote his highest praise to Judge Spencer Roane for his outraged stand against a central government which presumed to encroach on the rights of the Commonwealth of Virginia.”

(The Land They Fought For, Clifford Dowdey, Doubleday & Company, 1955, pp. 11-13)

Meaning of plantation:
The planting, or setting in the earth for growth by farmers.



Most Southern Plantation/Farm homes look like this. Not like those in movies.

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