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BOOK REVIEWS Beverley Tucker: Heart Over Head in the Old South. By Robert J. Brugger. (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1978. Pp. xvii, 294. $15.00.) Sometimes the complaint is made tiiat historians write only about winners, that losers—those who could have made a different pastreceive no attention. That complaint cannot fairly be made in regard to die study of the ante-bellum Soutii. Eugene Genovese has compelled us to look again not only at U.B. Phillips, but atGeorge Fitzhugh. Last year Drew Gilpin Faust focussed our attention on the so-called Sacred Circle of Southern intellectuals who were so far from being winners that they were even alienated from most of their fellow Southerners. And now Robert Brugger has written a whole book about one member of the Sacred Circle. Unfortunately, it needs to be admitted at the outset that his book does not add much to what we have already learned from Faust's study of five pro-slavery Southern intellectuals. The truth of the matter is that the life of Beverley Tucker is not sufficiently interesting or important to justify a full biography and though he was as beguilingly extreme as Edmund Ruffin—Brugger speculates that Tucker would have committed suicide, too, at the fall of the Confederacy, if he had lived that long—his ideas were never so cogently expressed nor so different as to increase significantly our understanding of these strange, self-pitying men who took thought to save the South from change. Like George Holmes of the Sacred Circle, and, curiously enough, like several other intellectual defenders of the South, such as Thomas Dew and Thomas Cooper, Tucker was a college professor (and before that a judge), but his political impact was slight. Perhaps his greatest moment was a long private debate with Andrew Jackson in the White House during the nullification crisis, at the end of which Tucker convinced himself—we have no other report—that he had talked Jackson out of signing the Force Bill! His second greatest moment was his attendance at the ill-fated Nashville Convention of 1850, where again he thought he had made history. It is true that Tucker has some claim to intellectual priority. He antedated Fitzhugh in seeing a free labor industrial society as excessively individualistic and competitive and therefore inferior to a slave society. And, like Fitzhugh, Tucker did not find it necessary to 352 book reviews353 declare blacks less tiian human in order to defend slavery. In fact, just because he believed in social hierarchy, he rejected what George Fredrickson has called the idea of "herrenvolk democracy," which several less alienated Southern politicans advanced in defense of slavery. A further measure of Tucker's intellectual priority as well as of his alienation from the mainstream of Southern social and political thought was his detestation of John C. Calhoun, a view he shared with others in the Sacred Circle. Particularly contemptible in Tucker's eyes was Calhoun's use of the idea of state sovereignty in the doctrine of nullification. To Tucker not even three-quarters of the states could overrule a sovereign; the proper remedy for an abuse of federal power was secession and nothing less. Tucker, Brugger points out, was probably the first Southerner to call for secession. Those who may still doubt that Calhoun sought to preserve the Union as well as protect the South, need only look to Beverley Tucker to appreciate Calhoun's love for the Union. Since Tucker's life has only slight historical interest, Brugger probably should not have devoted so much space to biography. His two historiographical essays at the end of the book show, moreover, that he recognized that ideas deserved the greater consideration. Yet, for some reason, he did not press in the direction his intelligence pointed. For this is unquestionably a thoughtful, often subtly written book, as well as a carefully researched one. But as often happens in history, the questions we can ask of the past cannot always be answered from the evidence available. Since Tucker's father, St. George Tucker, was a leading antislavery Southerner, a reader naturally wonders how the son, who apparently never repudiated his father, became...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1533-6271
Print ISSN
0009-8078
Pages
pp. 352-354
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-04
Open Access
No
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