restricted access Democracy in the Old South and Other Essays (review)
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BOOK REVIEWS Democracy in the Old South and Other Essays. By Fletcher Melvin Green. Edited by J. Isaac Copeland. (Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press, 1969. Pp. xx, 322. $8.50.) Fletcher Green's career as writer and teacher of southern history spans five decades of what is one of the most bitterly-contested areas of American historiography. While a certain conflict of generations is characteristic of historians, nowhere is the generation gap so wide as among those with a southern focus. Indeed even within a generation differences are sharply drawn. (Compare W. E. B. Du Bois with William Dunning for example! ) Yet there are historians of widely divergent opinions who share a debt to Green. Many of them have praised his special concept of integrity: that integrity consists of firmness and candor about the way one looks at historical reality; it consists in doing one's own thing rather than pursuing some fashionable area of "interest;" it consists in the very highest craftsmanship. Green's disarming openness in expressing his own views, combined witii a genuine tolerance for the views of others, may be seen in his essay on Wüliam Watson Davis, an historian of the Dunning School, whose racist views are likely to provoke such rage among our younger historians that they are apt to see nothing of value in his scholarship. Green, however, gives us an example of how one scholar can learn from another whose opinions he does not share. Green's approach has produced impressive results in the course of his long career, based primarily at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, though during these years he has served as visiting professor at many other institutions, including Stanford, Columbia, Harvard, and Oxford. His own bibliography numbers at least 225 entries, whüe the record of his students as a group, according to Wendell H. Stephenson in Southern History in the Making, equals, if it does not surpass, that attained by students at Johns Hopkins directed by Herbert Baxter Adams. Yet there is no Green School or Chapel HuI School of southern history. They share no common ideology except a certain concept of their craft. Their striking characteristics are individualism and the variety of their work. In the present volume the editor has given us samples from some of the various types of writing that Green has done over a period of more than thirty years. One, for instance, is an investigation of the notorious convict lease system. Another was occasioned by his discovery of a large collection of the personal papers of Duff Green (no relation to the 349 350CIVIL WAR HISTORY author). His study of this powerful figure in the Calhoun wing of the Democratic party is especially valuable for the insights it gives us into the problems the southerners faced in their efforts to develop a more balanced economy in the slave states. In a lighter vein are his charming essays, "Let the Eagle Scream," on Fourth of July celebrations, and "On Tour with President Jackson." Unlike the foregoing essays, which appear as fresh today as when they were written, the more interpretive ones naturally bear the stamp of time, historians and especially southern historians having never learned to pronounce eternal truths but always having to settle for how things look from here and now. Thus, in 1945, when "Democracy in the Old South" was written, it seemed that New Deal democracy had been vindicated at home and abroad. To Green it appeared that even the ante-bellum South, the institution of slavery notwithstanding, had continued to make its contributions to the ultimate triumph of democracy as religious and property qualifications on voting were removed and the constitutional basis for government was broadened. But the frustrations of the past twenty-five years have darkened the historian's pen. Many scholars today, Green perhaps included, viewing ante-bellum institutions from our "here and now", might ask if the democratization of the requirements for voting and office-holding had produced any change in the actual locus of political power. Did the expansion of political democracy have more influence over who made die decisions tiian the simultaneous concentration of economic power? From year to year...