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James Henry Hammond and the Old South

A Design for Mastery

Drew GilpinFaust

Publication Year: 1985

From his birth in 1807 to his death in 1864 as Sherman’s troops marched in triumph toward South Carolina, James Henry Hammond witnessed the rise and fall of the cotton kingdom of the Old South. Planter, politician, and partisan of slavery, Hammond built a career for himself that in its breadth and ambition provides a composite portrait of the civilization in which he flourished. A long-awaited biography, Drew Gilpin Faust’s James Henry Hammond and the Old South reveals the South Carolina planter who was at once characteristic of his age and unique among men of his time. Of humble origins, Hammond set out to conquer his society, to make himself a leader and a spokesman for the Old South. Through marriage he acquired a large plantation and many slaves, and then through shrewd management and progressive farming techniques he soon became one of the wealthiest men in South Carolina. He was elected to the United States House of Representatives and served as governor of his state. A scandal over his personal life forced him to retreat for many years to his plantation, but eventually he returned to public view, winning a seat in the United States Senate that he resigned when South Carolina seceded from the Union. James Henry Hammond’s ambition was unquenchable. It consumed his life, directed almost his every move, and ultimately, in its titanic calculation and rigidity, destroyed the man confined within it. Like Faulkner’s Thomas Sutpen, Faust suggests, Hammond had a “design,” a compulsion to direct every moment of his life toward self-aggrandizement and legitimation. Hammond envisioned himself as the benevolent, paternal, but absolute master of his family and his slaves. But in reality, neither his family, his slaves, nor even his own behavior was completely under his command. Hammond ardently wished to perfect and preserve the southern way of life. But these goals were also beyond his control. At the time of his death it had become clear to him that his world, the world of the Old South, had ended.

Published by: Louisiana State University Press

Series: Southern Biography Series

Front Matter

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Contents and Illustrations

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pp. xiii-xv

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pp. xvii-xviii

Many individuals and institutions have helped me in my work on this book. The National Endowment for the Humanities, the American Council of Learned Societies, and the University of Pennsylvania all provided financial support. The staffs of the Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress, the Southern Historical...


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pp. xix

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pp. 1-4

On a ridge high above the Savannah River stands Redcliffe, presiding over carefully planned avenues of magnolias and groves of hickory and pine that slope down towards Augusta, visible mure than five miles away. The house was designed to dramatize the magnificence of this view. Its first floor was elevated well above ground...

Part I: To Be Great Among Men

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Chapter 1. A Father's Pride and Ornament

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pp. 7-22

James Henry Hammond's father never doubted that his firstborn son was a genius. From the time of James's birth in 1807, Elisha Hammond lived, as his son later recounted, "for me & in me." The father's hopes burdened the boy with expectations he would spend his life trying to meet. His "heart dwelt on me," James remembered, "with...

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Chapter 2. Ways and Means

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pp. 23-38

Hammond left South Carolina College with ambition, but without vocation. For almost three years the institution had provided a social place and purpose. In gaining his degree, he lost the security of the academic world in which he had thrived. But James was not to be permitted the luxury of idleness while he sought an appropriate...

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Chapter 3. We Are with the South

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pp. 39-57

In his 1829 Fourth of July oration Hammond had made his first public statement for the southern cause. His audience was prophetic in its response, for their toast following his address implored that the "display of eloquence on this day" might "prefigure his future distinction and usefulness." But this triumph was one his father...

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Chapter 4. A Means of Extrication

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pp. 58-65

Hammond's life was not entirely dedicated to his law practice and editorial duties. Since late in 1829 he had been actively courting Catherine Fitzsimons, a Charleston heiress whose older sister had married Columbia's Wade Hampton II, one of the wealthiest and most politically powerful men in the state. On a visit to her...

Part II: My Little Kingdom: The World of the Plantation

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Chapter 5. In Search of Despotic Sway: Hammond as a Master of Slaves

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pp. 69-104

A dozen miles south of Augusta, Georgia, the Savannah curves gently, creating two bends that antebellum river captains knew as Stingy Venus and Hog Crawl Round. Close to the mouth of Boggy Gut Creek the channel narrows, and decaying wrecks of steamboats bear witness to the waterway's importance in an era long...

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Chapter 6. Our Farms Will Be Our Factories: The Planter as Agricultural Entrepreneur

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pp. 105-134

Plantation management Hammond once ruefully observed, was like "war without the glory." For three decades he battled with his slaves, as both master and bondsmen implemented ingenious strategies of tactical advances, surprises, and retreats. But Hammond's struggles in his role as planter were not restricted to conflicts with his...

Part III: The Hazards of Power

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Chapter 7. A More Elevated Ambition

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pp. 137-155

Preoccupied by new responsibilities of marriage and family and by the bitter controversy with the Fitzsimonses over Silver Bluff, Hammond abandoned his accustomed political activism during the spring and summer of 1831. "Absence," he wrote home in August from his honeymoon trip, "without affecting my sentiments has done...

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Chapter 8. Anticipations of Greatness

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pp. 156-164

Hammond's new life in Washington would not begin for over a year. The ambitious young Carolinian had been elected to serve in the Twentyfourth Congress, and the Twenty-third still remained in active session. Not until March would Hammond be officially commissioned by the new governor, George McDuffie, and not until...

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Chapter 9. Magnificent Intentions

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pp. 165-185

When Charles Dickens visited Washington, D.C., in the 1840s, he dubbed America's capital the "City of Magnificent Intentions" and remarked upon "Spacious avenues, that begin in nothing and lead nowhere; streets, mile long, that only want houses, roads and inhabitants; public buildings that need but a public to be...

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Chapter 10. A Slaveowner in a Free Society

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pp. 186-203

For the antebellum American, a European journey was an event of far greater moment than it has become in our modern world of rapid, comfortable, and economical travel. The grand tour was usually the occasion of a lifetime. Expected to shape indelibly the voyager's character and attitudes, the journey was an episode recorded...

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Chapter 11. The Sound of the Trumpet

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pp. 204-223

Hammond's long-anticipated return was every bit as gratifying as he had dreamed. Carolinians and former congressional colleagues visiting in New York provided an enthusiastic welcome, as well as company for a round of homecoming celebrations, excursions to the races, and shopping expeditions. But Hammond did not tarry long...

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Chapter 12. The Crisis of My Fate

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pp. 224-254

For James Henry Hammond, as for most South Carolinians in the early 18405, times were hard. Nationwide depression had struck so deeply in the seaboard cotton states that even many masters of five hundred slaves, Hammond reported, found difficulty procuring the cash to "pay their negroes for chickens." The expenses of his lavish new...

Part IV: In a Different Sphere

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Chapter 13. A More Virtuous Energy: Hammond and the Works of Mind

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pp. 257-283

After his rebuff by the legislature, his quarrel with the Hamptons, and his unsuccessful rebellion against Calhoun, Hammond retained few illusions about his immediate political prospects. Although he could not yet assess the impact of these recent crises on his long-range opportunities, Hammond recognized that for the near...

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Chapter 14. To Enlighten and Warn the South

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pp. 284-303

Despite his resolution to abandon public affairs, Hammond could not easily slip into a life of rural contentment. He had been trained, as he described it, to regard politics as the arena of highest mortal achievement, and he could relinquish neither his need nor his "delight to accomplish." The political "treachery" he had...

Part V: The Irony of Success

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Chapter 15. A Predominant Family of Our Name

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pp. 307-330

James Henry Hammond found personal relationships difficult. Both his own temperament and the values of his culture demanded that he always dominate those around him; southern planters, he once explained, "are accustomed . . . to control and scorn to be controlled." Yet Hammond was a man of almost boundless emotional needs...

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Chapter 16. The Violation of Order

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pp. 331-359

As South Carolina flirted with secession during the 18505, James Henry Hammond confronted a paradox. Long the advocate of an independent southern nation, Hammond found himself in the years after Nashville actively opposed to his state's movement toward disunion. Although he had in no way abandoned his commitment...

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Chapter 17. The Time to Die

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pp. 360-379

Hammond soon abandoned all reservations about secession. The prompt response of other states to Carolina's lead surprised and delighted him, and he hastened to embrace the separatism he had so recently deplored. "The moment I saw that it was a movement of the People of the South" and not just a "bullying movement of the...

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pp. 380-382

Hammond lived a life of irony and contradiction. Caught in the rapidly changing world of the early nineteenth century, he was lured by the future, yet clung to the past. As a result, his design for self-aggrandizement, for fame, fortune, and dynastic achievement crumbled under the weight of the illusions on which it was...

Appendix: Charts and Tables

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pp. 383-392

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Bibliographical Essay

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pp. 393-397

James Henry Hammond's almost obsessive record-keeping left extraordinarily rich materials for the historian. The great bulk of his papers are divided between two repositories: the Library of Congress has a James Henry Hammond Collection of 33 volumes and 17 manuscript boxes, which is also available on twenty reels of microfilm...


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pp. 399-407

E-ISBN-13: 9780807152478
Print-ISBN-13: 9780807112489

Page Count: 432
Publication Year: 1985

Series Title: Southern Biography Series