Edited by Robert Hoyle.

A Discourse delivered at the Annual Commencement of Hampden-Sydney College, June 15, 1882, before the Philanthropic and Union Literary Societies.[1]

Young Gentlemen of the Philanthropic and Union Societies, and Ladies and Gentlemen of the Audience:

You will credit my expression of sincere embarrassment at this time when you consider that I am attempting a species of discourse somewhat unwonted to a preacher of the Gospel, and yet more, that I am placed here only as a species of Dernier Resort. We all had hopes that another gentleman would represent the two Literary Societies, better fitted to entertain and instruct this assemblage. But disappointment left the place, at a very late period, unfilled, and we were threatened with having this important part of our literary anniversary left a mere blank. I stand here, therefore, in the formula of your exercises very much in the place of that “infinitesimal quantity,” which the algebraist places equal to zero in his equation, without appreciable error.

This fact might have led me to decline the untimely effort but we who are passing off the stage of public action owe a sympathy to the young who are entering on it which would forbid our withholding any service or evidence of affection they may ask of us. It is this which has forbidden my saying “No” to your request.

In your case there is another weighty consideration which ought to reinforce your claim on us for a deep sympathy. This is found in the momentous difficulties of the arena on which the young men of the coming generation are called to act their part. And yet another thought crosses the mind. Ought the knowledge of the difficulties which are before you to stimulate the expression of our interest? Or ought it to dictate a modesty, which should silence us as advisers of our young countrymen? For it is by our hands that these cruel conditions of your life-problem have been transmitted to you. The heritage of freedom which our fathers left us we have not been able to bequeath to you.

As[2] memory reverts to my youth, when I stood where you now stand, it presents a contrast which might well seal my lips with grief and shame. Then my honored father and grandfather were just going off the stage. The one a soldier of the first war which won our independence and the other of the second war which confirmed it. Both examples of that citizen soldiery which had been the glory of America; plain, simple, unpretending, but incorruptible. And Virginia then stood with untarnished escutcheon. Poor indeed from the burdens of two wars and the legislative exactions of her partners in the Union; clad mostly in homespun but still the “great and unterrified commonwealth” which extorted this tribute from Cornwallis in his hour of victory: “mother of Statesmen and States.” Whose humblest citizen knew no master except God and the law of his own State’s election. Whose banner had never trailed before a conqueror, by whom no federal obligation had ever been dishonored, and no creditor ever defrauded of one penny. With a credit as solid as gold in the emporiums of trade and the firm and prudent mediator between federal power and the too impatient sprit of her sisters. Thus did our fathers transmit Virginia to our guardianship, the warrior-virgin, like the Pallas-Athene of Phidias, as she stood before the Parthenon, flashing the radiance of her golden helm and full-orbed shield across the Saronic gulf and Aegina and Salamis, to far off Maegara and Argos.

But we, vae nobis miserrimis! deliver her over to you not in this condition but rather a pallid, woeful widow, deflowered by subjugation, dismembered of her fair proportions, her weeds besmirched even by her own sons, virtually governed by the votes of an alien and barbarous horde, forced into her bosom by her late partners, now her ravagers, against her constant protest! As I remember this I ask myself, should not men who have so failed in their charge, who have suffered the glorious heritage of their fathers to be so marred in their hands, cover their faces and be silent?

But our sons, whom our weakness, or else our hard fate, has left disinherited, seem not to be ashamed of us! They ask us, they encourage us, to speak. This is my apology for presuming to speak today to the “New South” and of the New South.

Our apology is this: that in the endeavor to save the liberties transmitted by our fathers we did what we could. And in proof of this justifying plea we can point to the forms prematurely bent and the heads whitened by fatigue and camp diseases. We can point out the empty sleeves, wooden legs, and Confederate graves so thickly strewn over the land. Our apology is, again, that while we were contending for the rights and interests of the civilized world, nearly the whole world blindly and passionately arrayed itself against us. Such was the strange permission of Providence, that we, while defending the cause of all should be slandered and misunderstood by all.

But why should I say this fearful dispensation was strange? When we see that from the days of the Christian martyrs until now mankind have usually resisted and sought to destroy its true benefactors. So it was; we had the world against us. There was, after all, little exaggeration in the description which the Confederate soldier at Missionary Ridge, with the humorous exaggeration of his class, gave of his own case. He said that no misgiving of our final delivery had ever disturbed him until the early dawn of that final disastrous battle, as he was standing post on the advanced picket on Lookout Mountain, just when the stars were beginning to pale before the grey dawn, and all nature stood hushed in expectancy of the coming king of day, the solemn silence was broken by the words of command, rolling from the Yankee headquarters over the forests in these terms: “Attention, World! Nations, by the right flank, forward! Wheel into line of battle.” Yes, we had the world against us.

And this is one item of proof for that fact which completes our apology for failure: subsequent events have shown we were attempting to defend and preserve a system of free government which had become impossible by reason of the change and degeneration of the age. We did not believe this at the time for we had not omniscience. Nay it was at that time our duty not to know it, or to believe it. Even as it is the duty of the loyal son not to believe the disease of his venerable mother mortal, so long as hope is possible; not to cease efforts to his love, and not to surrender her to death while love and tenderness can contest the prize.

We had received this free government from our fathers, baptized in their blood, and we had received from them the sacred injunction to preserve it. We had witnessed its beneficent results. Of all men it was our duty to feel ourselves most bound by the maxim of the Roman republican, Non fas est de Republica desperare (they must not be hopeless Republic). The changes had silently taken place which rendered our fathers’ system too good for those who were to execute it. And yet it would have been treason to truth and right for us to despair of the better possibility until the impossibility stood sternly revealed. Thus the task which duty and Providence assigned us was, to demonstrate by our own defeat, after most intense struggle, the unfitness of the age for that blessing we would fain have preserved for them. Hard task and hard destiny to attempt the impossible! Nevertheless it is one which has often been exacted by a mysterious Providence from the votaries of duty. Yet it gives us this hard consolation: inasmuch as the survival of our old system had become impracticable, failure in the effort to preserve it might be incurred without dishonor.

And there is this concurrence in the justification of the Confederates, and the justification to which you, the “New South” will soon have to appeal for your actions: that both apologies are correctly drawn from the same premise. Because the old free system has become impossible for your times you will, therefore, be justified in living and acting under an opposite one.

There will be an apparent paradox in this. You shall applaud and revere your fathers for their determined opposition to forms and principles which you shall receive and even sustain. But the paradox will be only in seeming. Your justification will be found where we find ours: in the fact that the institutions which it was our duty to defend, because they still existed, it will be your duty to surrender, because you have learned by our innocent calamity that they cannot hereafter exist. “A new South” is inevitable and therefore it will be right for you to accept it in the same way that it was our duty to fight to prevent it. It may be the son’s duty tomorrow to “bury the dead mother out of sight,” whom it was the father’s most sacred duty yesterday to endeavor to keep alive.

The government our fathers left to us was a federation of the sovereign States. As such they emerged from the war of the revolution and were recognized by Great Britain. As such they met in convention to devise a “closer union.” As such they debated and accepted, or rejected, the terms proposed therefor (for some States at first did exercise their unquestioned sovereignty in rejecting the new union.) By their several and sovereign acts they created a federal government, with limited powers strictly defined, and deputed to this common agent certain powers over their own citizens, to be impartially exercised for the equal behoof of all the partners. All other powers, including that of judging and redressing vital infractions of this federal compact, they jealously and expressly reserved to themselves or to their people.

To the outside world they were to be one while to each other they were to be still equals and independent partners. Each State must be a republic as distinguished from a monarchy or oligarchy but in all else it was to be mistress of its own internal forms and regulations. The functions of the general government were to be few and defined, its expenditures modest, and its burdens in time of peace light.

Such was the form of government instituted for themselves by our free forefathers. It was well fitted to their genius and circumstances as communities of farmers, inhabiting their own homes, approaching an equality of condition, and having upon the whole continent no one city of controlling magnitude or wealth.

Six Adverse Conditions Introduced in the 19th Century That Render the Original American Republic Untenable

But this century has seen all this reversed and conditions of human society have grown up which make the system of our free forefathers obviously impracticable in the future. And this is so, not because the old forms were not good enough for this day, but because they were too good for it.

First – Iwould place as the first of these adverse conditions the silent substitution, under the same nomenclature, of another theory of human rights. A theory in contrast with, and hostile to, that of our fathers. Those wise men did indeed believe in a certain equality of all men but it was that equality which the British constitution (whose principles they inherited) was wont to express by the maxim: that every British citizen “was equal before the law.” The particular franchises of the peer and the peasant were very unequal, but in this important respect the two men were “equal before the law:” the peasant’s smaller franchises were protected by the same law which shielded the peer’s larger one.

This is the equality of the golden rule; the equality of that Bible which ordained the constitution of human society out of superiors, inferiors, and equals. It is the equality of the inspired Job (ch. 31:13-15) who in the very act of asserting his right to his slave, added: “Did not he that made me make him? If I did despise the cause of my man-servant or my maid-servant when they contended with me, what then shall I do when God riseth up?” This is the equality which is thoroughly consistent with that wide diversity of natural capacities, virtues, station, sex, and inherited possessions. A very real inequality which inexorable fact discloses everywhere and by means of which social organization is possible.

But in place of this, the equality taught by Hampden, Vane, Pym, Melville, and the Whigs of 1776, our modern politician now teaches, under the same name, the equality of the Jacobin, of the “Sans culotte.” An equality which absurdly claims for ever human the same specific powers and rights. Yes, your Greeley teaches, as the equality of Republicanism, the very doctrine of the frantic Leveller Lilburn, whose book these great English Republicans caused (not your tyrannical Stuart but the commonwealth’s men) to be burned in London by the common hangman!

Our fathers valued liberty but the liberty for which they contended was each person’s privilege to do those things, and those only, to which God’s law and Providence gave him a moral right. The liberty of nature which your modern asserts is absolute license. It is the privilege of doing whatever a corrupt will craves excepting only as this license is curbed by a voluntary “social contract.”

The fathers of our country could have adopted the sublime words of Melville: Lex: Rex. The law is king. Or have said with Sir Wm. Jones:

Men Constitute a State:                                                                       And sovereign Law, that State’s collected will,                                           O’er thrones and globes elate,                                                     Sits Empress, crowning good, repressing ill.                                 Smit by her sacred frown.                                                              The flend (construction) Discretion like a vapor sinks,              And even the all-dazzling crown,                                                  Hides his faint rays, and at her bidding shrinks.

But now, by this new Republicanism, the supreme law is the will or caprice of what happens to be the major mob; always the suggestion of the demagogue who is must artful to seduce.

These are a few items of the new creed, which has stolen the nomenclature of the old. Since it is a theory at all essential points antagonistic to the old its prevalence cannot but supplant those sound institutions which were the natural outgrowth of the orthodox doctrine.

Second – When our former constitution was adopted America contained no metropolis, not even any city of note. There were a few trading towns of which each State had one or more and of which none had any effectual ascendancy over the others. Hence State equality was practicable and could be effectively something more than a name.

But now the great emporium of this continent has made herself, by virtue of natural advantages co-operating with partial legislation, commercial mistress of all, and asserts a financial ascendency which brings the business and the welfare of the whole country to her feet. It used to be said that in England “all roads lead to London.” So, in this vast continent, all railroads tend to New York. Those which vainly attempt to reject her dominion soon feel it in the form of empty trains and vanishing revenues.

 Now, in view of that truth announced by Solomon, that “money answereth all things,” can a sensible man persuade himself that political independence and equality can permanently remain in a land where financial despotism has become established? “The borrower is servant to the lender.” The political subjection must, sooner or later, follow the financial.

Third – Our century has witnessed a general change of social conditions by means of the marvelous application of science and mechanic art to cheapen transportation and production. Once the commonwealth owned all the highways by water and by land, and each private citizen might become a carrier if he chose. Now the highways are the property of the great carrying corporations who command more men as their disciplined employes than the government’s own standing army and before whose revenues the whole incomes of commonwealths are paltry trifles. To the will of these great corporations legislatures hasten to bow. Each of these roads points virtually to New York. To that city, yes, to one corner of Wall Street in that city, center all their debts, their loans, their revenues, their chief management.

This centralization is as remarkable also in the producing arts. The time was when manufacturers were literally domestic; the occupations of the people in their homes. The industrious producing citizen was a “free-holder.” That the name of “free-holder” was of vital significance to British liberty our times have almost forgotten. He dwelt under his own roof-tree. He was his own man. He was the fee-simple owner of the homestead where his productions were created by the skill and labor of himself and his children, apprentices, and servants.

Now all this is changed and the loom is no longer heard in the home. Instead vast factories owned by monopolists (for whom the cant of the age has already found their appropriate name as “kings of industry”) now undersell the home products everywhere. The axe and hoe which the husbandman wields, the shoe placed on his mule’s feet, the plow with which he turns the soil, the very helve in his tool, all things once made at the country forge, now come from the factory.

The home industry of the housewife in brewing her own yeast can hardly survive but is supplanted by your factory “baking powders,” in which chemical adulterations may have full play. Thus production is centralized and capital is collected in commanding masses; at whose bidding the free-holding citizen is sunk into the multitudinous hireling proletariat. Conditions of social organization are again produced fully parallel to the worst results of feudalism in their incompatibility with republican institutions.

Fourth – From these changes have resulted the extreme inequalities of fortune, expenditures, and luxury which now deform American society. When our late constitution was enacted American citizens enjoyed a general equality of fortune and comfort. An equality which made a genuinely republican equality of rights practicable.

The only aristocracy recognized was that of intelligence and merit. The richest citizen was only a farmer somewhat more abounding than his neighbor in the breadth of his fields. A British writer, endeavoring to trace in the republican society the existence of a gentry, could find no greater incomes than those of Washington, of Mt. Vernon $20,000 per annum. And the Mt. Vernon mansion appeared in his eyes so modest that he spoke of it as “the cottage,” inhabited by the proprietor.

But now some of our “kings of industry” count their incomes by almost as many dollars per day. Set the more than regal luxury of a Vanderbilt, in his gaudy palace, beside the hireling laborer in his sordid tenement-lodging, who is his theoretical EQUAL! Yes, the starving hireling’s vote, who does not know whence tomorrow’s potatoes are to come for the pauper dinner of his ragged children, shall count for precisely as much as the vote of a Vanderbilt. This is the theory. And this wretch is to be so exalted by his manhood suffrage as to be thoroughly content with the monstrous inequality of enjoyments and to hearken to no cravings of envy or rancor, when he sees this rampant luxury flaunted before his misery? And this lordly millionaire, pampered by his immeasurable abundance, will feel no lust of power, no ambition to add civic dominion to the plutocratic power which he already possesses? Will he be satisfied to have the ignorant vote of his hireling weigh precisely as much as his own in every legislative act touching his tenure of his millions? He who knows human nature sees that to expect this is mere craziness.

This enormous inequality in wealth will seek to protect itself and to assert itself in politics. But our new-fangled Republicanism asserts that, politically, the Vanderbilt shall be the precise equivalent of the pauper. It leaves the rich man no legitimate form for the assertion of his superior weight or the protection of his superior interests in the State. Wealth, then, must seek for itself illegitimate forms. And in obeying the inevitable impulse through these illegal ways, it must corrupt itself, and the institutions of the land.

Fifth – The press has been looked to as the safe guardian of popular institutions. It has been called by an English Whig “the fourth estate of the realm.” But the influences under which the political press in America operates constitute this also one of the fatal hindrances to the subsistence of wise and free institutions.

The powerful journals must be also the creatures of money. The conditions of journalism are such that only a vast capital can float a journal into a safe and permanent haven of success. Literature is a commodity and money buys and sells it. Let the genius of an Addison, a Bolingbrooke, a Junius, a Macaulay all be combined on the one side, with all the richest resources of historical learning to publish the political truths which happen to be unpopular without a great capital; and let commercial capital give its support to the pen of the most ignorant demagogue to propagate the crudest absurdities in which capital supposes it has a selfish and corrupt interest. You shall see the wisdom of true statesmanship, embellished by all the graces of scholarship, consigned to an unread obscurity in this country while the vulgar stupidities of error shall visit every table and claim every eye. Mammon wills it so, and Mammon rules.

The reason is because the leading presses of the commercial centers are either the tools of the parties and used for exclusive partisan purposes, or else they are, like the calico mills, mere joint-stock concerns for money making. Either way, the result is the same: the contents of the journal are not dictated at all by truth or right, but solely by self-interest. What doctrine shall it assert? Only that which advances the strength of the faction, or which attracts the more numerous subscribers. Thus the press, instead of being the guide, becomes the mere sycophant of misguided public opinion. Let only any political heresy begin to be current enough to become an element of danger to sound institutions, and thenceforward it is the interest and business of the great journals to give it their support. To resist and explode it “would not pay.”

Sixth – One more change my time permits me to state. Another element which concurs to render the system of our fathers a thing of the past. This is the invariable extension of the suffrage which has attended every political change in America. This trait has characterized not only the violent revolution through which we have passed but every modification of constitution made by the States. We even see it working with equal certainty in the reform measures of once conservative England.

In every case where a State constitution has been opened to change that change has been towards universal suffrage. In no single case has a restriction of suffrage been even attempted. There is a reason for this fated law of progress downwards in the nature of the demagogue and it may be said in passing that this presents to us the fatal weak point in the theory of popular government. The selfish calculations and instincts of these courtiers of King Mob, always prompt them to advocate every extension, no matter how unwise or destructive, and seal their lips from opposing it.

Their calculation runs thus: Here is a new class whom someone has proposed to enfranchise. I know, as does every sensible man, that it is a folly. But perhaps the proposal may prevail. Hence, I cannot afford to oppose it, for should it prevail the newly enfranchised, when they come to the polls, will remember my action against me. But if I am a forward advocate of it their gratitude will make them vote for me. Thus the craziest and most ruinous proposition to create a new class of voters always has zealous assertors and for the same reason it meets with no effective opposition.

Such were the avowed motives (with sectional hatred and revenge) which prompted our conquerors to fix on the Southern half of the country that last extreme of political madness: the universal and unqualified suffrage of the slaves. And how deadly in their potency these motives of self-seeking are we may see in this fact: that they even silence the protest of our own politicians! There is not one of them who does not know that this measure is inevitably pregnant with the corruption and overthrow of honest and popular government. Yet there is not one of them, who is a candidate for votes, who has the nerve to say what he thinks, or to demand a reversal of the criminal blunder.

But when the leaders of the very people who are the first victims of this wrong are too much intimidated to lift a finger for its correction whence shall deliverance from the fatal incubus come? There will be no deliverance until suffrage shall have been so foully corrupted by this and its other perversions, that a despairing and ruined people take refuge from its intolerable tyrannies in the will of an autocrat and the ignorant and venal cease to vote only when and because all will be forbidden to vote.

Whether just and free institutions can co-exist in such a country as this, with its vast population and inequalities of condition, along with this extravagance of universal suffrage, needs no debate. Do you remember the prophetic letter of Lord Macaulay to Mr. Randall of New York? Do you remember the homely instances by which a greater than Macaulay, and a more prophetic statesman, was wont to close his arguments in favor of that sheet anchor of liberty, free-hold suffrage? Mr. Randolph used to exclaim: “Sirs, the empty sack does not stand upright.”

In an advanced material civilization like ours every political action touches property somewhere. If the vote which represents no property is made of equal weight with the vote which represents large property, then, with such inequalities of wealth, with such ostentatious displays of the luxury of the few piquing the envy of the impoverished many, just so surely as men are men, greedy in desire, selfish and unrighteous, and the more unrighteous where their crime is wrapped up from the eye of conscience in the folds of associated actions, two results must follow and are already at work:

  1. The attempt of the proletariat and their demagogues to use their irresponsible suffrage for plunder.
  2.  The resistance of the capital holding minority to this plunder.

But for this resistance, though it be as inevitable as the instincts of self-preservation, your radical theory offers no recognized, legitimate mode. Radicalism ordains that the small shall be equal to the large, the dependent shall counterweigh the independent, and that the vote which has nothing to lose shall dispose of the vote of him who has all to lose. The result is that self-defense invents illegitimate modes and the unrighteous assault on property is met by the illegal use of property to protect itself and to inflate itself until the moral corruptions wrought in our politics fester to putrescence and dissolve the body.

The True State of Affairs Resulting From These Changes

As we thus look back upon the social revolution which had established itself in our century we see that political revolution had become unavoidable. The assault on our rights and institutions was but the first wave of the cataclysm. It swept over our best resistance because there were other waves behind it which are destined in turn to conquer our conquerors.

He is a shallow man, indeed, who supposes that the revolution will pause at its present stage, leaving the conquering section ascendant, and rendering this unstable equilibrium of the moment permanent. No, we have now seen but the first act of the drama, and it has been a tragedy. The curtain has fallen, for the time, to the music of a miserere. The jarring chords of which have fretted the heartstrings of such as Lee and his comrades into death. It may well happen that after the fashion of the mimic stage, the next rise of the curtain may be accomplished by the garish lights of a deceitful joy, the blood stains of the recent tragedy covered with fresh saw dust, and the new actors ushered in with a burst of gay melody. But the other acts are to follow. May they not be tragic also?

That popular suffrage does not now really govern this country, that it is notoriously a marketable commodity, that the United States have really ceased already to be what they pretend, a federation of republican States, no clear sighted man doubts. Under a thin veil of radical democracy the government has already become an oligarchy.

Are not State conventions traded off by the magnates as openly as blocks of railroad bonds? Are not legislatures bought as really and almost as openly as cargoes of corn? Are not “corners” made in politics by which the weaker capitalists are sold out as really as in the pork market? It is Washington or Wall Street which really dictates what platforms shall be set forth and what candidates elected and what appointments made, not the people of the States.

Some of you may have heard of the incident which happened in our neighboring town in that year when our Southern conservatives, in their wisdom, made Horace Greeley their standard-bearer. By so doing it seems that they, like the superstitious Jews, were hoping to “cast out devils through Beelzebub, the chief of the devils,” and to retrieve the cause of order and right through the arch incendiary and agitator of the country. Several hopeful souls were arguing his success from the many sings of his acceptance with the people. It was said, whole radical towns, whole Union Leagues in the northwest were coming over to Greeley. A sagacious banker standing by quietly shook his head. Our friends, almost vexed at his skepticism, asked: “Why, do not all these accessions, with the Southern support, promise him success?” His answer was: “Gentlemen, I do business in Wall Street, and Wall Street does not want Greeley.” And so the country did not have Greeley, and Greeley did not have the presidency he coveted, but went aside to die of chagrin.

So Wall Street saw in the third term imperialism thinly masked, and as its oligarchs preferred to be masters themselves, rather than have Grant their master and ours, Wall Street sent to Chicago and nominated Garfield as its convenient lay figure. But having carried its main point it really cared very little about the choice between him and Hancock and for a time did not trouble itself. So the people were about to elect Hancock. But one fine morning this simple minded “beefeater” perpetrated the faux pas of endorsing the greenback victory in Maine. And now that Wall Street saw that the Hancock regime was committed to “soft money,” it did trouble itself, and woke up and put its hand to the canvass. It would none of Hancock and his soft money, and so the people could not have Hancock nor he have the presidency.

Obviously the government now ascendant in the country, while “Republican” in name and ultra-democratic in theory, is an oligarchy in fact. Extremes often thus meet. Nothing can be more fallacious than that view, advanced by some of our conciliatory statesmen, which represents the recent revolutions as only a temporary excitement and partial fit of excess from which the institutions of the country will react under prudent management and regain their old constitutional status. There will be no reaction in that sense. The morbid causes which were so potent to overthrow will yet more certainly be powerful enough to resist and suppress the weak efforts of a crippled and prostrate constitution. The obstacles between us and a return to past precedents are too mountainous.

Consider for instance, that “spoils system,” now strong with a generation’s growth. If it is to be perpetrated this of itself makes popular constitutional government impossible. For every intelligent man sees that it converts the office-holders from servants of the people to paid agents for circumventing the people’s will at the polls all the while paid with the money of the people they help to enslave. This is the very signature of despotism: that the citizen’s money is taken to bribe agents for suppressing the citizen’s will. Under this system the office-holders are the praetorian cohorts of the usurper.

But let one think out now the conditions essential to the realizing of that “civil service reform,” which each party pretends to promise but which neither party purposes, as the appropriate remedy for the spoils system. One of the requisite conditions is that one of these parties, upon ousting the other from power, shall exercise the self-denial and magnanimity to leave all their rival’s appointees (except those expressly punishable for official malfeasance) undisturbed in their offices and salaries. For if the victorious party is to signalize its accession, won, we will suppose, on the promise of civil service reform, by expelling all the office-holders of the opposite and defeated party, this will not be to inaugurate the wholesome remedy, but only to repeat the abuse. And thus they would more than ever ensure at the next turn of the wheel of fortune that their reinstated rivals would imitate their vindictive example, turn out all their new appointees and again postpone the happy change.

Let us suppose, for example, that the people should again elect a conservative President and that he should not, like poor Mr. Tilden, submit at the bidding of Wall Street to the robbery of himself and the people of America, but should be inaugurated. Shall he magnanimously leave every appointee, though an agent or a tool of the present spoils system, undisturbed? Then there is no official reward for his supporters who have toiled for his election. They must have worked for naught but an idea, a prompting of pure patriotism. Whence is the money to come to wage the campaign when all will have been notified in advance that there will be no way for them to repay themselves out of the public crib?

It is well known that a national campaign now costs as much as a military one and that money is to it as essential as “the sinews of war.” Does any party in America possess this lofty patriotism? Will either party thus work for nothing? But let us suppose that the incoming conservative shall make a pretext that the office-holders he finds in place have been there as “spoils-men” and turn them out to make room for his supporters. Then the inevitable result is that the opposing party will denounce him as a traitor to his own civil service reform and devote themselves to retaliation. Such are the obstacles which beset the abatement of this peril in America. “Canst thou draw out Leviathan with a hook, or his tongue with a cord which thou lettest down? Canst thou put a hook into his nose?”

Such are the fatal influences which obstruct all return and ensure the progress of the revolution. There is a new era and hence there must be a “New South.”

Guiding Principles for the “New South” and the Temptations Which She Must Avoid

What manner of thing shall the “New South” be? To prognosticate or prophecy is not the proper part for us to play who fell with the old South. For us a more modest part is appropriate. We shall claim our prerogative forever of defending our own principles, which a decadent country has pronounced too elevated for it to tolerate, and of consulting our own self-respect. Justice to you requires that we shall leave you to guide your own destiny in that new and untried sea into which you are launching.

But there are some principles which we may safely inculcate on you, because whatever else may change these cannot change. The glory of our old independence and its history and the beneficence of the confederate principles of our old constitution concurred to teach us an exalted and perhaps even an overweening appreciation of the value of such political institutions. But we do not forget that other people have had other forms of government, whether aristocratic or regal, and under them have had their share of the domestic virtues, of patriotism, of civilization, of Christianity. (But under the illicit and dirty oligarchy of which our present regime is a virtual specimen, no people has ever had or can ever have anything but corruption, ignominy, and vice.)

Our best prayer for you is that out of the present foul transition a good Providence may cause some new order to arise which is tolerable for honest men. The changes implied in the introduction of this new order may be accepted by the old confederates as old age, as infirmity, or as a not distant death. They must be accepted by me as the inevitable. But the principles of truth and righteousness are as eternal as their divine legislator. These must be upheld under all dynasties and forms.

Here, in one word, is the safe pole-star for the “New South:” let them adopt the scriptural politics in full assurance that they will ever be as true and just under any new regime as under the one that has passed away. Let them trust in the fact “That righteousness exalteth a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people.” That “wisdom and knowledge shall be the stability of thy times, and strength of salvation; the fear of the Lord is His treasure.” That “he that walketh righteously and speaketh uprightly; he that despiseth the gain of oppressions, that shaketh his hands from holding of bribes, that stoppeth his ears from hearing of blood, and shutteth his eyes from beholding evil; he shall dwell on high; his place of defense shall be the munitions of rocks.”

Some of the applications of these unchanging principles are obvious to experience guided by truth. Permit me briefly to unfold three of these to you which are shown to be timely and momentous by the special temptations to which a subjugated people are exposed while passing of necessity under a new and conquering system.

First – One plausible temptation is to conclude that the surest way to retrieve your prosperity will be to BECOME LIKE THE CONQUERORS. This is an inference as false as it is specious; the fact that your fathers are conquered may ground a good inference perhaps, that you should seek to be in some respect UNLIKE US. May you be unlike us in being more fortunate! But a very brief observation of history will teach you that violent aggressors, in overthrowing their rivals, also usually prepare their own overthrow. Their calamities are only postponed to second place.

The Jacobins overthrew Louis XVI. but Bonaparte crushed the Jacobins and Europe crushed Napoleon. Shall this be the best reparation for the miseries of the fall of the Confederacy: that you shall share, for a few deceitful days, the victors’ gains of oppression, to be overwhelmed along with him in his approaching retribution? Be sure of one thing, “his curses will come home to roost.” In order to escape the fearful reckoning, you must not only make yourselves unlike us but unlike them.

The North triumphed by its wealth.” This is the temptation to the New South, to which I already see ominous symptoms of yielding, to make wealth the idol, the all in all of sectional greatness. I hear our young men quote to each other the advice of the wily diplomat Gorstchacoff, to the beaten French: “Be strong.” They exclaim: Let us develop! develop! develop! Let us have, like our conquerors, great capitalists, great factories and commerce and great populations; then we shall cope with them.

Now here is a path which will require of you the nicest discrimination, and the most perspicacious virtue and self-denial. On the one hand it is indisputable that under our modern, material civilization, wealth is an essential element of national greatness. The commonwealth which presents a sparse and impoverished population, in competition with a rich and populous rival, will come by the worse in spite of her martial virtues; and may make her account to be dependent and subordinate. Hence to develop the South is one of the plainest duties of patriotism. To increase its riches is one way to increase its power of self-protection. And a knowledge of, as well as a hardy and diligent practice of, the industries of production are among the civic virtues which it behooves the New South to cultivate. So much is to be asserted on that side.

But on the other side lies the deduction that all our section has to do is to imitate the conquering section in that one of its qualities by which it got wealth: to make the appliances of production the all in all. To simply exclaim, as so many do, of the factories, and mines, and banks, and stock boards, and horse-powers of steam, and patent machines, “These be thy gods, O Israel!” This would be a deadly mistake!

Does not history teach that “wealth is the sinews of war?” But does it not teach at least as often that wealth and material civilization have been the emasculators of nations and the incitements of their enemies at once; only ensuring the deeper destruction for the rich and cultivated people. Our own overthrow is near at hand to teach us this lesson, for we were the richer section subjugated by the poorer; which was shrewd enough to hie on the pauper proletaries of a hungry world upon our wealth as their prey.

Do some of you exclaim: “What, the South the richer section?” Very likely many of you are already so indoctrinated in that tuition of lies, against which I shall have to caution you anon, that this will be news to you. Nevertheless is it true: the South was by one-quarter if not one one-third, the richer section, as was proved by the stubborn evidence of the census returns of the government itself, as managed by our enemies.

The wisdom of the New South, then, must be in pursuing the sharp line which divides the neglect from the idolatry of riches. If they be pursued as an end instead of a means they become your ruin instead of your deliverance. If riches, when acquired, are employed to enervate your manhood with costly pomps and luxuries instead of being consecrated to the noble uses of charity and public spirit then the richer the New South becomes the weaker she will be. The problem you have to learn is how to combine the possession of great wealth with the personal practice of simplicity, hardihood and self-sacrifice. That people which makes selfish and material good its God is doomed.

In this world of sin the spirit of heroic self-sacrifice is the essential condition of national greatness and happiness. The only sure wealth of the State is in cultured and heroic men who intelligently know their duty and are calmly prepared to sacrifice all else, including life, to maintain the right. Well then did the President of the Confederacy utter these golden words, that “the spirit of self-sacrifice is the crown of the civic virtues.” I know that there is a generation, “O, how lofty are their eyes and their eyelids lifted up,” who will boast that their cuteness is in pursuing the “main chance,” and who flout this virtue of disinterestedness as a weak of folly; and yet for lack of this virtue their prosperity is ever perishing and their material civilization is ever, like the tawdry pyrotechnics of some popular feast, burning out its own splendors into ashes, darkness, and a villainous stench of brimstone. The New South then needs wealth, but it also needs men, high-minded men, undebauched by wealth, who, like the “high privates” of the Confederate ranks, shall know how to postpone ease and the delights of culture for the invincible endurance of hardship and danger.

Second – Subjugation presents to the honorable conquered man another alternative of temptations. The one is that of moral disgust, prompting him to turn with proud disdain from all concern with public affairs, and wrap himself like a hermit in the folds of his own self-respect. It is to the best natures that this is most alluring.

How attractive is the thought of thus easing one’s infinite disgusts? How plausible the argument which says: Let those who have by fraud or force usurped the helm bear the responsibility of wrecking the ship. But the error of this resort is that it neglects the claims of patriotism and robs the State, in the moment of her need, of the virtues and faculties most essential to her deliverance. These unbending spirits who cannot be reconciled to disgrace are the very ones that can now least be spared. To conquer the burning repugnance towards all the loathsome incidents of misconception, slimy slander, corruption, and ingratitude with which one must meet in serving a State under the eclipse of subjugation may be a cross as bitter as death. But how many of our noblest and best have already borne the cross of death in the same cause?

The alternative temptation is yet more seductive to the more supple temperament. This is to exaggerate and pervert the plea of acquiescence in the inevitable; to cry, “Oh there is no use nor sense in contending against fate,” and on this argument to act the trimmer and turncoat. How much easier is this to the pliable temper? And it may be, how profitable to the pocket? It is so sweet a relief to the lassitude which such a mind experiences at being ever in the self-respecting the righteous and the unsuccessful minority. Ah, how tiresome is it to such a man to hold up the standard of principle when it is unsustained by the breeze of popularity? Poor soul, how his arms ache, and how do they crave rest in the arms of the corrupt majority.

But even by the light of that policy, which such men make their pole-star it would be better, while recognizing the inevitable, still to cleave to moral consistency and principle. For I surmise that when you seek a market for your capacities in the forum of the new regime its managers will tell you that turncoats are decidedly a drug in that market. The demand is utterly overstocked and the market glutted. It is the men who have convictions and who cleave to them who are the article in demand; in demand even with political adversaries who, themselves, have no principles. For such men, however venal, soon learn the truth that the turncoat who could not be trusted to cleave to his principles can as little be trusted to stick to the master who has bought him.

Third – It behooves the New South, in dismissing the animosities of the past, to see to it that they retain all that was true in its principles or ennobling in its example. There are those pretending to belong in this company who exclaim: “Let us bury the dead past. Its issues are all antiquated, and of no more practical significance. Let us forget the passions of the past. We are in a new world. Its new questions alone concern us.” I rejoin: Be sure that the former issues are really dead before you bury them!

There are issues which cannot die without the death of the people; of their honor, their civilization, and their greatness. Take care that you do not bury too much, while burying the dead past; that you do not bury the inspiring memories of great patriots, whose actions, whether successful or not, are the eternal glory of your race and section. Be careful not to bury the influence of their virtues and the guiding precedents of their histories. Will you bury the names and memories of a Jackson and Lee, and their noble army of martyrs? Will you bury true history whose years are those of the God of Truth?

This is one point on which you insist too little. A point which is vital to the young citizens of the South. That is: that he shall not allow the dominant party to teach him a perverted history of the past contests. This is a mistake of which you are in imminent peril.

With all the astute activity of their race our conquerors strain every nerve to pre-occupy the ears of all America with the false version of affairs which suits the purposes of their usurpation. With a gigantic sweep of mendacity this literature aims to falsify or misrepresent everything from the very facts of history to the principles of the former Constitution as admitted in the days of freedom by all statesmen of all parties. The characters and motives of our patriots, the purposes of parties, the very essential names of rights and virtues and vices are all perverted and miss-portrayed.

The whole sway of their commercial and political ascendancy is exerted to fill the South with this false literature. Its sheets come up, like frogs of Egypt, into our houses, our bed chambers, our very kneading troughs. Now, against this deluge of perversions I solemnly warn young men of the South, not for our sakes, but for their own. Even if the memory of the defeated has no rights, even if historical truth has no prerogatives, even if it were the same to you that the sires whose blood fills your veins and whose names you bear be written down as traitors by the pen of slanderous history, still it is essential to your own future that you shall learn the history of the past truthfully. For the institutions which are to be, however unlike those which have been, must have a causal relation to them and must be in some sense the progeny of them.

The chrysalis is very unlike its progeny but none the less its traits determine those of the gorgeous butterfly. The acorn is not like a tree yet its species determines the shape and qualities of the monarch of the forest. Tomorrow’s configuration of the planets may be very dissimilar from that of to-day but it will be rigidly consequential thereon. Hence the astronomer who misconceives and miss-states the positions of the orbs today, must inevitably err in his prediction of their conjunctions tomorrow. So if public men will gratify their spite, or their spirit of revenge, or their lust of sectional power by misrepresenting the late events, they thereby condemn themselves to fatal blunderings and mistakes in prognosticating that future which can only be the caused sequel to this.

If you would not be mere blunderers in your new constructions then you must understand aright the structure of those recent actions on which they must found themselves. You will seek to learn them, not from a Greeley or a Henry Wilson, but from a Stephens and a Davis. While you do not allow your judgment to be hoodwinked by even the possible exaggerations of our own patriots, still less will you yield your minds to the malignant fables of those partisans who think they can construct history as unscrupulously as a political ring.

Our age presents the strange instance of a numerous party, who think they can circumvent the restless forces of truth by systematically misnaming facts and fallacies, who are deliberately building a whole system of empire on the substitution of light for darkness and darkness for light, of good for evil and evil for good. They call that master in our government which was servant, that patriotism which was treason, and that treason which was true, law-preserving patriotism, and that aggression which was righteous self-defense. If you wish to be buried deeper than thrice buried Troy beneath the final mountains of both defeat and shame, go with these architects of detraction. They are but arraying themselves against that unchangeable God who has said: “The lying tongue is but for a moment, but the lip of truth shall be established forever.”

Only by Loyalty, Piety, and Virtue Will the New South Survive[3]

I have admitted, young gentlemen, that constitutions and laws may change, but honor, justice, and right are immutable. Be loyal to these in all novel emergencies, and you will act safely. If this virtue, the foundation of all the civic, exists in you, it will, it must manifest itself most plainly in reverence and enthusiasm for the heroic and the self-sacrificing of your own people and State. Their actions have placed the right before you incorporate, with all the definiteness of outlines and vividness of coloring which belong to concrete realities. Their actions concern your hearts by virtue of all the ties of neighborhood and patriotism.

As long as the hearts of the New South thrill with the generous though defeated endurance of the men of 1861; as long as they cherish these martyrs of constitutional liberty as the glory of their State and its history, you will be safe from any base decadence. If the generation that is to come ever learns to be ashamed of these men because they were overpowered by fate then this, this I say, will be the moral death of Virginia[4]. A death on which there will wait no resurrection. But I do not fear this.

I recall what my own eyes witnessed at the last great civic pomp in which I was present. This was the installment of that statue of Jackson near our State capitol; which Virginia received as the tribute of British statesmanship and culture to her illustrious dead. At this ceremonial there were gathered almost the whole intelligence and beauty of what was left of the old commonwealth. As the long procession wound through the streets marshaled and headed by General Joseph E. Johnston, under the mild glory of our October sun, while the atmosphere was palpitating with military music and the whole city was gone upon its house-tops, it was easy to perceive that all eyes and all hearts were centering upon one sole part of the pageant.

This focus was not the illustrious figure that headed it: the commander in so many historical battles bestriding his charger with his inimitable martial grace. Nor was it the cluster containing the remnant of Jackson’s staff. We might have supposed that we would receive some reflected distinction from the luminary to which we had been satellites so near, and that some romantic curiosity might direct itself to those who had habitually seen him under fire, heard, and borne those orders which had decided memorable victories, and bivouacked under the same blanket with him; but no eyes sought us. Then came hobbling a company of two hundred and thirty grizzled men with empty sleeves, wooden legs, scarred faces, and hands twisted into every distortion which the fiery fancy of the rifle-ball could invent, clad in the rough garb of a laboring yeomanry, their faces bronzed with homely toil; this was the company for which every eye waited, and as it passed the mighty throng was moved as the trees of the forest are moved by the wind. The multitudinous white arms waved their superb welcome and the thundering cheer rolled with the column from end to end of the great city. It was the remnant of the Stonewall Brigade! That was the explanation. This was the tribute which the sons, the daughters, the mothers of Virginia paid to sturdy heroism in defeat. And as I saw this my heart said with an exultant bound, “There is life in the old land yet!”

[1] This heading appears in The New South as originally organized in volume iv. of Discussions by R.L. Dabney. The headers to follow are my own additions designed to make the work more accessible to the modern reader.

[2] This is the first of several edits made in the construction and length of the sentences and paragraphs as they appear in the original. The words remain those of Dr. Dabney, always in spirit, and nearly always in exact reproduction. The removal of run-on sentences and the addition of paragraph breaks was done with the modern rules of language in mind. The only alterations to the exact wording of the original were those necessitated by the updating of punctuation and syntax.

[3] As previously indicated this header does not appear in the original. The terms Loyalty, Piety, and Virtue were selected to summarize the thought of Dr. Dabney with specific definitions in mind. In the tradition of Ciceronian political thought, which Dabney is here upholding, Piety is ascribed to that filial veneration of one’s native people, land, customs, and institutions which bind them together as a polis and define them in distinction from other peoples. Virtue, in its turn, is the disinterested esteem of truth, beauty, justice, honor, and integrity; in short, those traits without which no civil polity can long persist. Loyalty is here used by Dabney himself to exhort his audience to steadfast perseverance in the course of Piety and Virtue which he has prescribed.

[4] A moral death that I fear has come upon us. As I did the work of transcribing and editing this work one of my several sons came to me with a book on the cover of which is an image of the Robert E. Lee monument in Richmond VA, 40 miles from my home. He asked me what the image meant. He then asked me if we could go see it. I had to tell him that it was even now in the process of being removed. If there is life in the old land yet then it is only to be found in the few lonely souls who have avoided the errors and temptations of modernity which Dr. Dabney has herein enumerated and have persisted in a loyal sense of piety and virtue. The “Mother of States and Statesman” may have passed away but her spirit and the spirit of men such as Dr. Dabney must subsist wherever a filial devotion to one’s own coincides with a Christian sense of virtue and a manly sense

Robert Lewis Dabney

Robert Lewis Dabney (1820-1898) was a Southern Presbyterian theologian and a biographer of Thomas J. Jackson.


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