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Albert Taylor Bledsoe

Defender of the Old South and Architect of the Lost Cause

Terry A. Barnhart

Publication Year: 2011

Albert Taylor Bledsoe (1809–1877), a principal architect of the South’s “Lost Cause” mythology, remains one of the Civil War generation’s most controversial intellectuals. In Albert Taylor Bledsoe: Defender of the Old South and Architect of the Lost Cause, Terry A. Barnhart sheds new light on this provocative figure. Bledsoe gained a respectable reputation in the 1840s and 1850s as a metaphysician and speculative theologian. His two major works, An Examination of President Edwards’ Inquiry into the Freedom of the Will (1845) and A Theodicy; Or, Vindication of the Divine Glory, As Manifested in the Constitution and Government of the Moral World (1853), grapple with perplexing problems connected with causality, Christian theology, and moral philosophy. His fervent defense of slavery and the constitutional right of secession, however, solidified Bledsoe as one of the chief proponents of the idea of the Old South. In An Essay on Liberty and Slavery (1856), he assailed egalitarianism and promoted the institution of slavery as a positive good. A decade later, he continued to devote himself to fashioning the “Lost Cause” narrative as the editor and proprietor of the Southern Review from 1867 until his death in 1877. He carried on a literary tradition aimed to reconcile white southerners to what he and they viewed as the indignity of their defeat by sanctifying their lost cause. Those who fought for the Confederacy, he argued, were not traitors but honorable men who sacrificed for noble reasons. This biography skillfully weaves Bledsoe’s extraordinary life history into a narrative that illustrates the events that shaped his opinions and influenced his writings. Barnhart demonstrates how Bledsoe still speaks directly, and sometimes eloquently, to the core issues that divided the nation in the 1860s and continue to haunt it today.

Published by: Louisiana State University Press

Series: Southern Biography Series

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. v-vi


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pp. vii

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pp. ix-xii

I first encountered Albert Taylor Bledsoe, many years ago now, as a graduate student. My initial inquiries into Bledsoe’s life and thought occurred in a seminar on the American Civil War and Reconstruction era taught by the late John N. Dickinson at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. Dr. Dickinson suggested that Bledsoe deserved more attention than he had received...

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Introduction: Albert Taylor Bledsoe and the Intellectual History of the Old South

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pp. 1-9

Writing in the autumn of life, Albert Taylor Bledsoe lamented that his solitary devotion to intellectual pursuits had largely alienated him from the world about which he so earnestly thought and wrote. Bledsoe grappled with several perplexing problems connected with causality, Christian theology, moral philosophy, political theory, and mathematics. ...

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1. Education and Vocation: The Origins of a Southern Intellectual

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pp. 10-21

Albert Taylor Bledsoe was a Kentuckian by birth yet spent much of his early adult life in the North. The social and cultural contexts in which he was raised, educated, and first pursued a durable vocation represent a little-known but important period in his life. Between 1825 and 1839 he attended the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York...

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2. Public Order and Private Liberty: The Political Creed of an Illinois Whig

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pp. 22-38

Bledsoe’s years at Springfield, Illinois, were a decisive period in the development of his political thought. There he first declared his conservative principles in a partisan eulogy of William Henry Harrison delivered in May 1841. Bledsoe’s tribute voiced the Whig Party’s pledge to redeem the Republic and restore it to its “purer days.” He joined Abraham Lincoln, Stephen Trigg Logan...

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3. Southern Education and Politics: The Making of a Sectionalist

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pp. 39-56

The thirty-eight-year-old Bledsoe arrived at Oxford, Mississippi, in the fall of 1848 as professor of mathematics and astronomy. Except for a brief sojourn as an Episcopal clergyman in Lexington, Kentucky, in the spring and summer of 1837, it was the first time he had permanently resided in a slave state since leaving Kentucky for West Point at age fifteen. ...

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4. Philosophy of the Will: Metaphysical and Theological Speculations

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pp. 57-74

Bledsoe’s interests in metaphysical and theological inquiries consumed him throughout his diverse career. He periodically wrote on these subjects between 1837 and his death in 1877. His works were original, learned, and well-argued treatises that earned him something of a following among advocates of free will who shared his disdain of Calvinism. ...

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5. Southern Slavery Justified: A Watchman’s Response to Abolitionism

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pp. 75-100

In 1856, Bledsoe emerged as a propagandist of slavery with the publication of An Essay on Liberty and Slavery. The treatise was arguably one of the most erudite and thorough apologies written in defense of that dubious cause. His arguments were part of a conservative counterrevolution in social and political thought that challenged the egalitarian assumptions of abolitionism...

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6. A Southern Discourse: Replies to Liberty and Slavery

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pp. 101-124

An Essay on Liberty and Slavery was Bledsoe’s most important work. The treatise is the most comprehensive statement of his social and political theory he ever made. It launched his career as a southern spokesperson, for which undertaking he remains a key figure in southern intellectual history. Bledsoe’s major reviewers hailed his exertions in defense of slavery as superior to all...

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7. Broken Faiths and Covenants: Sectionalism, Secession, and War

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pp. 125-145

The early part of 1860 found Bledsoe comfortably entrenched at the University of Virginia, where he had been a faculty member for six years. At least for the moment, life at Charlottesville continued in its normal courses. Bledsoe was at the apogee of his academic career. He was widely known in southern intellectual circles as a scholar, teacher...

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8. Writing the Revolution: A Confederate Interpretation of the Civil War

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pp. 146-168

Bledsoe began his literary mission for the Confederacy soon after his return to Charlottesville. When George Frederick Holmes dined at Bledsoe’s home on the evening of November 13, 1862, Bledsoe read him the introduction to a manuscript entitled “The Fall of the American Union.” Holmes observed in an entry to his diary that “he opens his subject with great vigor”...

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9. The Judgment of History: The Right of Secession and the Lost Cause

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pp. 169-187

Bledsoe returned to Virginia in February 1866 and took an oath of loyalty to the Constitution and laws of the United States on June 27 of that year.1 His demeanor on the occasion is not a matter of record, but one may suppose it was grave. Richmond and much else of the former Confederacy lay in ruins. His family’s situation during the last two years of the war...

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10. Rising Up from The Ashes: The Mission of the Southern Review

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pp. 188-210

No sooner had bledsoe brought forward Is Davis a Traitor? than he established a southern literary and historical magazine called the Southern Review. The prospectus announced that the new quarterly would be edited and published in Baltimore and dedicated to “the despised, the disfranchised, and the down-trodden people of the South.” Writing to Robert E. Lee...

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Writing a Life: A Note on Sources

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pp. 211-216

Writing a biography of Bledsoe is a challenging endeavor because so few of his personal papers have survived. Only fragments of his life appear in the extant correspondence. Writing letters was a confessed burden for Bledsoe, and he occasionally apologized for being a poor correspondent. The meagerness of his surviving letters, however, owes far more to his negligence...


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pp. 217-261


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pp. 263-270

E-ISBN-13: 9780807139394
Print-ISBN-13: 9780807137246

Page Count: 288
Publication Year: 2011

Series Title: Southern Biography Series