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robert tharin: biography of a mountain abolitionist (ca. 1970) Editors’ Note: Since the 1940s, West had intended to write a full historical treatment of the antislavery traditions in the Mountain South. This essay, which was printed as an Appalachian Movement Press pamphlet in the 1970s, was one of several chapters West had completed. He was a young man,idealistic,inclined to be serious,perhaps naive—at least, inexperienced.He was not a slaveholder,nor the son of one.Nor was he a native of Alabama when he hung out his shingle over a law office in Wetumpka in 1860. He was a newcomer from the South Carolina hills. Born on a farm January 10, 1830, he had by hard work and perseverance managed an A.B. degree from the College of Charleston in March 1857. Going to Alabama where certain kinsmen lived in September of the same year,he continued work and study and graduated with the University’ in 1860.That was also the year he set up law practice in partnership with William L. Yancey at Wetumpka. Montgomery and Yancey’s main offices were only a few miles away. His name was Robert S. Tharin, A.B., A.M., and now a member of the Alabama Bar, admitted in 1859. The oath administered on that occasion made a deep impression on him. In it he swore allegiance to both the Constitutions of Alabama and the United States, and further, it stated that never was he “for considerations personal . . . to neglect the cause of the defenseless and oppressed .” Unlike many old South Carolina families whose ancestors had been Tories in the War of the Revolution, his grandfather had fought under the noted (and hated) “Swamp Fox.”84 His father, a loyal Union man, had opposed Calhoun ’s secession sentiment as treasonable.85 This was hardly the kind of heritage calculated to bring peace of mind, personal welfare, comfort, or security to a serious minded young southern mountaineer in Wetumpka, Alabama, in the year 1860. Nevertheless, he was there. And there never seems to be a limit to the audacity or dreams of the idealistic young. He had already married a beautiful 01.Prose.1-blnk 96/West 12/2/03, 11:48 AM 79 no lonesome road 80 Alabama girl and they had two children. How much a family can complicate and bring sorrow and hurt to such a one is only known to those who have themselves had the experience. Space does not permit going into fuller detail on this at this point.We mention it as a factor in the background of a man who was destined to be an exile and refugee from the land of his birth because he challenged the despotic rule of its Slavocracy. It was a time of trouble alright, the year 1860. Times were difficult, hard enough for the average man drugged by over-doses of racist oratory. But for the thinking, sensitive man of ideals, it was a time of spirit testing. As clouds got blacker tempers got hotter.Violence and disaster hovered about. Over the South frustration and confusion spread an intellectual black-out. From early times the slaveholder minority had ruled. For the past three decades it had dominated the national government in Washington. Boasting white superiority and a “superior” culture built upon slavery of the blacks, the oligarchy kept control by a constant appeal to prejudice and racial fears. In this the slaveholders were realists.They knew that control over what they chose to call the “mean whites,” or “white trash,” must be as certain, was as important, as the control of slaves. Edward Ruffin,Slavocracy’s spokesman par excellence,86 put it bluntly when he explained that they excluded all the “lower classes” from a voice in government , “whether slave or free, white or black.” Ruffin declared that if these “mean whites,” or property-less class, had the ballot they would use it to rob the rich of their property. And hadn’t the great Calhoun himself—patron saint and spiritual mentor for all true Confederates then or later—warned that free democracy “. . . would destroy our (Southern) system and destroy the South?” Just a bare mention of the word “free” was itself sufficient to start frothing of editorial mouths. “Free” was an obnoxious, a mean and ugly word. It became a red flag, as “subversive” and as suspect as the word “peace” was to become in the mid...


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