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PSYCHOBIOGRAPHY AND SECESSION: THE SOUTHERN RADICAL AS MALADJUSTED "OUTSIDER" Robert E. May Freud, E rikson, andthe methodsoî psychoanalytic biography have yet to make their full-fledged appearance in the scholarship of the antebellum South. While psychobiography has been applied to Yankee reformers , politicians, and literary figures, including Henry David Thoreau , Frederick Law Olmsted, Margaret Fuller, John Humphrey Noyes, Abraham Lincoln, Stephen A. Douglas, and John Brown, psychoanalytic inquiry has, with few exceptions, kept a respectful distance from comparable Dixie subjects.1 Nevertheless, psychobiography has been making substantial progress in one area of antebellum southern scholarship. Though lacking, for the most part, Freudian analytical terminology and the kind of explicit personality theory usually associated with psychobiographical inquiry, the work of several historians over the last two decades comports with Thomas A. Kohut's reminder that the "psychological dimension" of hisThe author is indebted to Howard Jones of the University of Alabama and Lynda L. Crist and Mary S. Dix of The Papers ofJefferson Davis for theirsuggestions regardingthis article. 1 Richard Lebeaux, Young Man Thoreau (Amherst: Univ. of Massachusetts P, 1977); Melvin Kalfus, "Sons of the Ante-Bellum Gentry: Olmstead [sic] and his Contemporaries," Journal of Psychohistory 7 (Fall 1979): 147-61; Katharine Anthony, Margaret Fuller: A Psychological Biography (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1921); Robert David Thomas, The Man Who Would Be Perfect—John Humphrey Noyes and the Utopian Impube (Philadelphia: Univ. of Pennsylvania Press, 1977); Charles B. Stozier, Lincoln 'sQuestfor Union: Public and Private Meanings (New York: Basic Books, Inc., 1982); George B. Forgie, Patricide in the House Divided: A Psychological Interpretation of Lincoln and HisAge (New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 1979); James West Davidson and Mark Hamilton Lytle, "The Madness of John Brown," in After The Fact: The Art of Historical Detection, ed. Davidson and Lytle, 2d ed., 2 vols. (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1986), 1:147-76. Additional psychobiographies of Lincoln and Thoreau merit their own topical headings in William J. Gilmore, ed. and comp., Psychohistorical Inquiry: A Comprehensive Research Bibliography (New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1984). See also Andrew Rolle's study of southern-born, nonsoutherner John C. Fremont: "Exploring an Explorer: Psychohistory and John Charles Fremont," Pacific Historical Review5l (May 1982): 13563 . Among the exceptions are Michael Paul Rogin, Fathers andChildren: AndrewJackson Civil War History, Vol XXXIV, No. 1, © 1988 by The Kent State University Press PSYCHOBIOCRAPHY AND SECESSION47 tory is too important to be reserved for psychohistorical methodology.2 Recent historiography suggests a composite understanding of the Old South radical as a maladjusted "outsider" seeking both refuge and advancement in secessionist advocacy from unresolved anxieties and repressed feelings relating to social and political isolation, physical incapacities , and family tragedies. William L. Barney's 1972 study, The Road to Secession, presents the clearest and most influential pronouncement upon maladjusted southern radicals. Looking at the careers of five "classic examples" of southern fire-eaters, Virginia's Edmund Ruffin, South Carolina's Robert Barnwell Rhett, Alabama's William L. Yancey, Mississippi's John A. Quitman, and Louisiana's James D. B. DeBow, Barney discovered a consistent pattern of "self-made men whose relationship to the recognized channels ofpower and prestige in the South was that of social and political outsiders." Barney makes a particularly persuasive argument regarding Yancey, who had an abolitionist stepfather, was raised and educated in the North, suffered a crushing setback in 1839 when his slaves were accidentally poisoned (forcing him into debt and the practice of law), and lacked the "temperament" and "self-discipline" necessary for consistent political success. Barney suggests that Yancey "projected " resentment of his stepfather onto the "entire abolitionist movement." However, Barney also builds a plausible case regarding his other subjects. Quitman was born and raised in the North. DeBow, a "quiet, bookishyouth," had to take on a succession of odd jobs in Charleston , South Carolina, includingclerking for a wholesale grocery business, when his father suffered financial setbacks, and then, following his removal to New Orleans, had to endure years as "a young man in a strange city, lacking money, friends, influence, and experience." Later, he experienced the death of an infant son and young wife in short succession, which seems to have triggered his radical advocacy of reviving...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1533-6271
Print ISSN
0009-8078
Pages
pp. 46-69
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-04
Open Access
No
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