Introduction to Chronicles of the South: In Justice to So Fine a Country
“The South” is a Problem. A Big Problem. This has been true at least since the 1790s when Mr. Jefferson and his friends rallied to put the kibosh—only temporarily, alas—on New England’s attempt to reinterpret the new Constitution and set up a central government powerful enough to enforce its economic and cultural domination. As Mr. Jefferson wrote at the time, “It is true we are completely under the saddle of Massachusetts and Connecticut, and that they ride us very hard, cruelly insulting our feelings, as well as exhausting our strength and substance.”
Actually, the sources of the Problem can be found even earlier. Richard M. Weaver’s last work, unfinished, was an American Plutarch, viewing American history through differing Northern and Southern figures—Hayne and Webster, Randolph and Thoreau, etc. In his “Two Diarists” Weaver laid side by side the early eighteenth century records of Colonel William Byrd II of Virginia and the Reverend Mr. Cotton Mather of Massachusetts. Allowing that both were Englishmen born in the North American colonies, the two men lived in different mental universes. While Byrd was writing in his diary about his good times, even the guilty ones, his wide reading, his socialising with cordial neighbours, his love of nature, and his adventures in the wilderness, Mather was secretly recording the evil hearts of his associates, the failure of the world to fully recognise his merit, and complaints and lectures to God about the injustice of His insufficient good favour. Mather was too provincial and too preoccupied with himself to notice the South, but if he had, you could be sure he would have seen a Big Problem. You can almost see the War Between the States laid out there a century and a half in advance.
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