Sunday, February 19, 2017

Southern Manners and Personal Integrity

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Antebellum Southern concepts of manners and personal honor set a very high standard in education with the logical expectation that this would result in a more enlightened society and government.  Even code duello was seen to have a “decorous influence” on manners, as it made men careful in their conduct toward each other through personal honor and accountability.
Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com   The Great American Political Divide

Southern Manners and Personal Integrity

“[The official historian of the University of Virginia noted that the bulk of pre-Civil War graduates] . . . were of “the planting class.” Analysis of their post-college careers and modes of life led him to say that they were men who “kept alive in their country homes that loyal devotion to family, that chivalrous respect for womanhood, that considered tenderness for weakness, that high recognition of the claims of hospitality, that reverence for religion, and that quick sensitiveness upon all questions of personal integrity and honor, which they had inherited from their fathers.”

The cult of manners in the Old Dominion was so intertwined with the concepts of personal honor and integrity that all appeared part of a single theme. The diary notes of a young Virginian, attending VMI, contained the following passage, inserted as a kind of conclusion to the entries for the year 1842. It was set off in quotation marks:

“Among the many branches of education, that which tends to make deep impressions of virtue ought to be a fundamental object in a well-regulated government. For depravity of manners will render ineffectual the most salutary laws; and in the midst of opulence, what other means to prevent such depravity, but only a virtuous discipline?”

In this climate of opinion, with its emphasis on manners and personal integrity, the famous “Honor System” of American academic life first appeared. The founders were two professors at the University of Virginia; George Tucker, romantic litterateur before his appointment to the chair of moral philosophy; and his relative, Henry St. George Tucker, distinguished jurist before settling at Charlottesville as a teacher of law.

Judge Tucker submitted the epochal resolution to the faculty in 1842 that, at all future written examinations, the students should certify on their honor the receiving of no improper assistance. Later, this pledge was extended to include the imparting as well as the accepting of aid.

While visiting Richmond in 1853, Frederick Law Olmsted observed the importance of the cult of manners there. He added this observation to his travel diary, “In manners, I notice that between man and man, more ceremony and form is sustained in familiar conversations than well-bred people commonly use at the North.”

(Romanticism in the Old South, Rollin G. Osterweiss, LSU Press, 1971, excerpt, pp. 87-88)

6 comments:

  1. For a small, civilised society, this would be wonderful.

    For the current society though, I fear manners are too often perceived as weakness. So, perhaps for an in-group this is an ideal to strive for, but a different approach might be necessary when dealing with barbarians.

    The honour system continues at W&L btw, or did last I was there. At a different university, I saw much cheating when the opportunity arose, however.

    I both like and dislike the planters. They certainly brandished many virtues, unlike our ruling elite today.

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    1. Like communities may be all that is possible.

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    2. Smaller is also nice. Even diversity works somewhat when at a small level.

      Modern society specialises such that specialist workers move all over the place. And modern society benefits from economy-of-scale such that great interconnectedness (and interdependence) results.

      There are negatives to this large scale, however. As with socialism, you get corruption and other inefficiency from large scale due to difficulties in management and loss of competition.

      That's why I somewhat like the peasant ideal, the man who can do many things not expertly but well enough. (Plus, if you're doing things yourself, you're not paying taxes on that income :) ) Obviously we do want specialisation, just maybe not too much of it. Or if we do specialise and flow around the world, we should try to maintain a stable polity at home, to return to. I wouldn't mind traveling, living abroad; but I don't like the idea of being without a home and a people.

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    3. I agree and it's always nice to come back home.

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