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278CIVIL WAR HISTORY derstanding of the Old South's struggle toward self-identity, a tragic course in which values, both Christian and customary, no less than selfinterest , played a decisive part. B ERTRAM WYATT-B ROWN University of Florida Francis W. Pickens andthe Politics of Destruction. By John B. Edmunds, Jr. (Chapel Hill, North Carolina and London: The University of North Carolina Press, 1986. Pp. 270. $25.00.) This carefully researched study of Francis W. Pickens fills a significant gap in the biographical literature of prominent antebellum southerners because no onehas hitherto written a full length biography of this important South Carolina leader. Other historians may have been daunted by the formidable task of finding and reading his widely scattered papers, but now, through the diligence ofJohn B. Edmunds, Jr., Pickens's political life has been pieced together into a single portrait. Pickens was a central figure in the political life of antebellum South Carolina. While he was never quite so important a figure as John C. Calhoun, he holds a solid place in the second tier of that state's powerful political leaders—alongside such men as the more thoroughly studied James Henry Hammond or Robert Barnwell Rhett. The strength of this biography of Pickens is that it carefully follows all the complicated maneuvers in the political career of a man whose life spanned the great events of antebellum South Carolina history. We learn about the man himself as well as a great deal about his political world. Pickens was often in important political positions at critical historical moments. He was in Congress for the Nullification controversy. During his early years in politics he was closely allied withJohn C. Calhoun and for a while remained a loyal supporter during the various twists and turns in Calhoun's political career. He served in the South Carolina Senate during the 1840s, but a split with Calhoun led to several unsuccessful attempts to become governor, senator and congressman. Then Pickens reemerged as a central political figure during the years just before the Civil War. By creating links to the Democratic party, he was appointed ambassador to Russia in 1858. His ultimate political triumph (and tragedy) occurred on his return to South Carolina in 1860. At the very moment of secession, he became governor of the state and retained that post during the difficult early years of the Civil War. No other American governor quite faced the kinds of issues Pickens had to handle—almost immediately as head of an independent republic on the edge of battle and then later as governor of a Confederate state at war and partially occupied by "foreign" troops. Of course, no governor of South Carolina could have been successful at such a moment in history. It is no surprise that neither his contemporaries nor his biographer re- BOOK REVIEWS279 garded him as a skillful statesman. In the end, the Civil War destroyed Pickens as it destroyed his world. He died in 1869, an outcast in a state controlled by political leaders he distrusted and feared. The great strength and weakness of this study of Pickens's life is that it is a traditional political biography of a man and his times. As with many such biographies, the central focus is on a man and his attempts to achieve and then govern in public office. The book tells us a great deal about the nature of political success and failure in nineteenth-century South Carolina. But, as with many such biographies, the focus on public office follows from a definition of politics which is narrow and leaves much unexplored. Pickens did not just "govern" in legislatures and statehouses, he also "governed" slaves on plantations. The book tells us nothing about Pickens's life on his plantation or about his relations with any slave. Pickens also "governed" in a family, but we learn very little about his family relations. Edmunds tells us that Pickens married three times, yet we learn almost nothing about his relations with women. We learn little more about Pickens's children than that they had names. The existence of an illegitimate child is mentioned only briefly, almost as an afterthought. All these omissions would be...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1533-6271
Print ISSN
0009-8078
Pages
pp. 278-279
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-04
Open Access
No
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