Over the years I  have occasionally encountered references to Edward P. Lawton’s book The South and the Nation. I was never able to find it until recently when  I was able to get a copy from  a company in India called Skilled Books.  This reprint is nicely printed and bound without any date or copyright  information.

Lawton was from Savannah, Georgia, and worked for many years as a career U.S. Foreign Service officer in various parts of the world.  He writes that he spent as much of his life abroad as in Georgia.  He was apparently retired at home when he was moved to publish this book in 1963 in the most intensive period of the civil rights revolution.

Lawton’s view of the South and America at this revolutionary juncture is a thoughtful understanding of the South and of America.  For context, you must remember that at the time he wrote the race question in national discourse was and always had been a question of the righteous North correcting the evil South.  Not until the riots of the 1970s was there any recognition that race was a national problem.

Lawton’s discussion of “the nation” is the most valuable part of his work. He sees  “The American Dream,”  a false, semi-religious but abstract  way of thinking as the guiding impulse of much of American history.  Such was an inadequate base for national morale and was not shared by the South.  In such case separation would have been better if it had been successful.

He noted in the Sixties increasing deterioration in American social life–juvenile delinquency, divorce, commonplace political and financial corruption–that stands as prophetic to a reader of 60 years later. There is much to be learned about the ideas of thoughtful Southerners during the major events of 20th century Southern history. Edward P. Lawton certainly should be looked at in any future studies.

Clyde Wilson

Clyde Wilson is a distinguished Professor Emeritus of History at the University of South Carolina where he was the editor of the multivolume The Papers of John C. Calhoun. He is the M.E. Bradford Distinguished Chair at the Abbeville Institute. He is the author or editor of over thirty books and published over 600 articles, essays and reviews and is co-publisher of www.shotwellpublishing.com, a source  for unreconstructed Southern books.


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