University students, it seems, have always been problematic in the eyes of their elders from the smart young Sophists of ancient Athens, to the town-and-gown clashes of the Middle Ages, and to the student demonstrations of the 1960s and beyond. On a lighter note, there are also the high spirits discussed in Neil Steinberg’s If At All Possible, Involve a Cow: The Book of College Pranks (1992). In this context, James Cousins’s essay “The Free and Easy Generation of Kentucky and the War of 1812” on the Transylvania students of the “free and easy” generation of the era of the War of 1812 discusses a quite different university culture which demonstrated enthusiasm for military service as well as the virtues of self-determination, industry, morality, and public service. His essay is an illuminating analysis of this culture, which discusses its causes, motivations, and limitations. It would doubtless be an exaggeration to speak of this group of university students as the “greatest generation” of the nineteenth century, but they did, nevertheless, as James Cousins shows, uphold “standards of patriotic morality while building new definitions of honor and heroic conduct.”
In an increasingly secularized society, it is sometimes tempting to regard earlier eras as golden ages of peace and piety. There was piety, to be sure, but not always peace. In his essay “Barton Warren Stone: Revisiting Revival in the Early Republic,” Matthew Smith presents a comprehensive analysis of a key figure in the religious scene of ante-bellum Kentucky. Barton Stone was somewhat marginalized by the Campbellite movement, and his career reflects other key cross-currents [End Page 131] of the time. The Great Revival was a turning point for him, but this seismic event was also profoundly divisive. The elites then, as now, rejected such unseemly emotionalism. The Great Revival put strains on various denominations, particularly Kentucky Presbyterians. It also awakened Stone’s latent antislavery sentiments with all the tensions which such a stance entailed. And as if all this were not enough, Stone had to confront the rise of a new religious sect, the Shakers, which was more radical and individualistic than Stone himself. Matthew Smith’s essay shows how Stone’s many-faceted career embodied the profound religious, social, and political tensions of his era.
In the election of 1860, Abraham Lincoln won only 0.93 percent of the vote in Kentucky. Why, then, did Kentucky remain in the Union and why did the state, as E. Merton Coulter observed, “join” the Confederacy after the war was over? Jacob Lee explores these questions in his essay “Unionism, Emancipation, and the Origins of Kentucky’s Confederate Identity.” Francois La Rochefoucauld’s maxim that “virtues lose themselves in self-interest as rivers lose themselves in the sea” may seem overly cynical. Even so, Jacob Lee’s essay gives a sophisticated analysis of the Kentucky response to the crisis over time which would seem to illustrate, at least to some degree, the truth of this maxim. The perceived self-interest of many Kentuckians interacted with race, slavery, and emancipation, as Lee shows, as a key element in the complex response of Kentucky to the crises of secession and the Civil War. [End Page 132]