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Pastoral and Politics in the Old South ByJohn M. Grammer Louisiana State University Press, 1997 185 pp. Cloth, $32.50 Reviewed by Mark Q. Malvasl, assistant professor of history at Randolph-Macon College and author of The Unregenerate South, a study of the Nashville Agrarians, from Louisiana State University Press, 1 997. Almost from the time of their first discoveries, Europeans projected images of Uberation and regeneration onto the New World. An extensive Uterature celebrated the Americas as lands free from avarice, luxury, corruption, decadence, and sinfulness. This Uterary tradition, based on a combination of bibUcal and classical sources, in time also helped Americans to envision themselves as a people unencumbered by the burdens of history that tormented a languishing Old World. Americans were new men and women. As peaceful, happy, and independent farmers, content to harvest the fruits of their own labor and to enjoy the blessings of the simple rural Ufe, they were wise innocents dweUing in an enduring earthly paradise. In PastoralandPolitics in the OldSouth,John M. Grammer investigates the southern version of this American pastoral saga by analyzing the representative works of five notable Virginia writers:John Taylor,John Randolph, Nadianiel Beverley Tucker, George Fitzhugh, and Joseph Glover Baldwin. Grammer argues that in their efforts to assemble a "coUective myth" of southern culture and identity, each of these thinkers found inspiration and guidance in a concept he identifies as "pastoral repubUcanism," a "hybrid body of thought" that incorporated elements of both the repubücan and pastoral traditions. Like seventeenth-century radical critics of the Smarts and eighteenth-century Country Party opponents of Robert Walpole, nineteenth-century Virginians feared the consoUdation of poUtical power and an accompanying corruption of government and society. The Virginians balanced these apprehensions with the hope that "the rural realm [would] be a secure retreat from the destructive processes ofhistory," convinced that agricultural Ufe provided the only means of sustaining repubUcan Uberty and independence. American thinkers who adopted the language and world view ofrepubUcanism 86 southern cultures, Winter 1999 : Reviews thus sought to resist tyranny in aU its forms. For them, Grammer asserts, history was the most brutal and relendess tyrant of aU. RepubUcan thinkers rejected the EnUghtenment view that history progressed inexorably toward the achievement ofhuman perfection. History in their judgment was instead a ceaseless tale ofwoe, marking the decline, decay, and death of even the most exemplary civiUzations. The antebeUum American thinkers who inherited the legacy ofrepubUcanism, therefore, had somehow to devise a mechanism by which to avoid or to reverse the seemingly inescapable and irrevocable process of degeneration. Nowhere were they more daundess in dieir attempts to elude history and to outwit the future than in the South. John Taylor of Caroline County, Virginia, the author of Arator, and Grammer's quintessential pastoral repubUcan and agrarian phüosopher , reasoned that for repubUcan Uberty to flourish it had to be grounded in a repubUcan poUtical economy, the principal characteristic of which was widespread property ownership. Taylor assumed, however, a conspiracy against the very property that comprised the foundations of repubUcan Uberty, placing the survival ofthe repubUc itselfin jeopardy. Taylor contended that the power of the national government was being used to transfer the ownership and control ofproperty from the people to a faction of merchants and financiers who put their private interests before the common good. Under these conditions, Taylor wrote, the federal government became a "parasite" or a "cannibal," robbing its citizens of their Uberty, reducing diem to slavery, and nourishing itself from their exertions until it devoured them. To reverse these tendencies, Taylor devoted himselfto the practice, improvement, and defense of agrarian Ufe. In Grammer's skülfuUy crafted argument, Taylor's Aratorrepresents the most elaborate and compeUing statement of pastoral repubUcanism. Grammer nevertheless primarily chronicles the deficiencies of the pastoral repubUcan vision in the antebeUum South.Joseph Glover Baldwin's Flush Times ofAlabama andMississippi and Party Leaders, both pubUshed during the turbulent 1 8 5os, are narratives of declension from the rational, tranquü, ordered, and patrician world of the old repubUc to the tumultuous, predatory, chaotic, and democratic world ofJacksonian America. RepubUcanism, of course, encountered another obstacle that prevented it from becoming the "dominant ideology" of the South...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-1488
Print ISSN
1068-8218
Pages
pp. 86-88
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-04
Open Access
No
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