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Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 August 2009

Department of History, Dartmouth College E-mail:


Recent scholarship on Southern intellectual history has tended to minimize the importance of America's most reactionary defenders of bondage. This essay revisits the significance of proslavery extremists by attending to how George Fitzhugh and a group of fellow polemicists legitimated Confederate authoritarianism during the early 1860s. By joining together as avowed counterrevolutionaries during a period of rapid change, these publicists vindicated force and “institutionalism” as an alternative to the American founders' commitment to consensual government and equal political rights. Conjuring up sweeping historical vistas and developing a modish vocabulary of organic social development helped these popular essayists gain a hearing for their strikingly frank hostility towards popular government. In their growing attention to martial themes, they forecast an impending transition within Southern authoritarianism. As emancipation made earlier proslavery efforts obsolete, the enduring affinity for martial principles among Southern conservatives demonstrated the prescience of those writers who first recast an emphasis on racial domination into an even broader species of reactionary militarism.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2009

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1 Wish, Harvey, George Fitzhugh: Propagandist of the Old South (Baton Rouge, 1943)Google Scholar; Vann Woodward, C., “George Fitzhugh, Sui Generis,” introduction to George Fitzhugh, Cannibals All! Or, Slaves without Masters (Cambridge, 1960; first published 1857)Google Scholar.

2 The countervailing “moderation” of more influential proslavery voices is addressed in Faust, Drew Gilpin, “A Southern Stewardship: The Intellectual and the Proslavery Argument,” American Quarterly 31 (1979), 6380CrossRefGoogle Scholar; O'Brien, MichaelOn the Mind of the Old South and Its Accessibility,” Intellectual History Newsletter 4 (1982)Google Scholar; idem, “Conservative Thought in the Old South: A Review Article,” Comparative Studies in Society and History 34 (1992), 566–76; and Bonner, Robert E., Mastering America: Southern Masters and the Crisis of American Nationhood (New York, 2009)Google Scholar.

3 Hartz, Louis, “The Reactionary Enlightenment: Southern Political Thought before the Civil War,” Western Political Quarterly 5 (1952), 3150CrossRefGoogle Scholar; idem, The Liberal Tradition in America (New York, 1955); John Ashworth, Slavery, Capitalism, and Politics in the Antebellum Republic, vol. 1, Commerce and Compromise (New York, 1995), 28–45; Ericson, David F., The Debate over Slavery: Antislavery and Proslavery Liberalism in Antebellum America (New York, 2000), 107–19Google Scholar; Sklansky, Jeffrey, The Soul's Economy: Market Society and Selfhood in American Thought, 1820–1920 (Chapel Hill, 2002), 73104Google Scholar; Hartnett, Stephen John, Democratic Dissent and the Cultural Fictions of Antebellum America (Urbana, 2002), 4092Google Scholar; and Morone, James, Hellfire Nation: The Politics of Sin in American History (New Haven, 2003), 169–82Google Scholar.

4 O'Brien, Michael, Conjectures of Order: Intellectual Life in the American South, 1820–1860 (Chapel Hill, 2004)Google Scholar; Molke-Hansen, David, “Intellectual and Cultural History of the Old South,” in Boles, John B., ed., A Companion to the American South (Oxford, 2002), 212–31Google Scholar; Turner, James, “Did the Old South have a Mind of Its Own?MIH 2 (2005), 121–33CrossRefGoogle Scholar; and Bonner, Robert E., “Ordering Southern Thought,” Reviews in American History 33 (2005), 5463CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

5 Genovese, Eugene, The World the Slaveholders Made: Two Essays in Interpretation (New York, 1969)Google Scholar; idem, The Slaveholders’ Dilemma: Freedom and Progress in Conservative Southern Thought, 1820–1860 (Columbia, SC, 1992); idem, The Southern Tradition: The Achievements and Limits of an American Conservatism (Cambridge, 1994); idem, The Southern Front: History and Politics in the Culture War (Columbia, MO, 1995); Fox-Genovese, Elizabeth and Genovese, Eugene, The Mind of the Master Class: History and Faith in the Southern Slaveholders’ World View (New York, 2005)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Fox-Genovese, Elizabeth and Genovese, Eugene, Slavery in White and Black: Class and Race in Southern Slaveholders’ New World Order (New York, 2008)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

6 Fitzhugh, “The Revolutions of 1776 and 1861 Contrasted,” Southern Literary Messenger 37 (Nov.–Dec. 1863), 723. James M. McPherson presents the secession moment of 1860–61 as a “pre-emptive counter-revolution” in Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (New York, 1988), 245–6; borrowing from Mayer, Arno, The Dynamics of Counterrevolution in Europe, 1870–1956: An Analytic Framework (New York, 1971)Google Scholar. See also Rable, George C., The Confederate Republic: A Revolution against Politics (Chapel Hill, 1994)Google Scholar; Sinha, Manisha, The Counterrevolution of Slavery: Politics and Ideology in Antebellum South Carolina (Chapel Hill, 2000)Google Scholar; idem, “Revolution or Counterrevolution? The Political Ideology of Secession in Antebellum South Carolina,” Civil War History 46 (Sept. 2000), 205–26; and Freehling, William, The Road to Disunion, vol. 2, Secessionists Triumphant, 1854–1861 (New York, 2007)Google Scholar.

7 Fitzhugh, Cannibals All!, 243. The rightward drift of some Northern intellectuals in this period is a major theme of Fredrickson, George, The Inner Civil War: Northern Intellectuals and the Crisis of the Union (New York, 1965)Google Scholar; though this view is effectively challenged by Butler, Leslie, Critical Americans: Victorian Intellectuals and Transatlantic Liberal Reform (Chapel Hill, 2006)Google Scholar. The tendency of war to elevate force over popular sovereignty informs Royster, Charles, The Destructive War: William Tecumseh Sherman, Stonewall Jackson, and the Americans (New York, 1993)Google Scholar; a far more dramatic instance of how war can accelerate reactionary tendencies appears in Jeffrey Herf, The Jewish Enemy: Nazi Propaganda during World War II and the Holocaust (Princeton, 2006).

8 Fitzhugh, “Blackwood's,” DeBow's Review 28 (Dec. 1860), 733; idem, “Southern Thought: Its New and Important Manifestations,” DeBow's Review 23 (Oct. 1857), 348; idem, “Privateers and Privateering,” DeBow's Review 31 (Dec. 1861), 480. The centrality of periodicals is the theme of Christopher Kent, “Higher Journalism and the Mid-Victorian Clerisy,” Victorian Studies 13 (1969–70), 181–98; and O'Brien, “On the Mind of the South and its Accessibility”; while the specifics of Fitzhugh's variant is documented in Wish, George Fitzhugh and O'Brien, Conjectures of Order, 972–91.

9 John Quitman Moore, “Louis Napoleon and the French,” DeBow's Review 16 (April 1854), 382–96; idem, “Quo Tendimus?” DeBow's Review 29 (Oct. 1860), 411. Biographical information can be found in the entry for Moore's father (a Wilkinson County planter and owner of forty slaves) in the 1850 Slave Schedule for Mississippi (US Census Records, National Archives), 621–23, and in Moore's Confederate military records at the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, Jackson, MS.

10 John Quitman Moore “‘Eikon Basilike’—Now as Then,” DeBow's Review 30 (March 1861), 277–8; idem, “National Characteristics—The Issues of the Day,” DeBow's Review, 30 (January 1861), 42–53. Moore formalized his “regular contributor” status in a 9 Aug. 1860 letter to DeBow, J. B. D. DeBow Papers, Duke University Rare Books and Manuscripts Library.

11 [William Falconer], “The True Question: A Contest for the Supremacy of Race, as between the Saxon Puritan of the North and the Norman of the South,” Southern Literary Messenger 33 (July 1861), 19. Falconer to Bagby, 6 Jan. 1862, in Bagby Papers, Virginia Historical Society, Richmond, VA, establishes authorship of this and the following articles: “The Difference of Race between the Northern and Southern People,” Southern Literary Messenger 30 (June 1860); “Northern Mind and Character,” Southern Literary Messenger 31 (November 1860), 343–9; ‘An Alabamian,’ “The One Great Cause of the Failure of the Federal Government,” Southern Literary Messenger 32 (May 1861), 329–34; and “The African Slave Trade,” Southern Literary Messenger 33 (August 1861), 105–12. Falconer's relationship with President John Tyler is documented in “Historical and Genealogical Notes,” William and Mary College Quarterly 1 (1898), 57–63.

12 McMahon, Darrin M., “The Counter-Enlightenment and the Low-Life of Literature in Pre-Revolutionary France,” Past and Present 159 (1998), 77112CrossRefGoogle Scholar; and idem, Enemies of Enlightenment: The French Counter-Enlightenment and the Making of Modernity (New York, 2001). The historical and cultural context for Isaiah Berlin's notion of a “gegen-Aufklärung” (which, as with Louis Hartz's work, confined reactionary ideas primarily to the realm of philosophical discourse) is discussed in Joseph Mali and Robert Wokler, eds., Isaiah Berlin's Counter-Enlightenment (Philadelphia, 2003).

13 Otis Clark Skipper, J.D.B. De Bow: Magazinist of the Old South (Athens, GA, 1958). Two contrasting views of the federal capital during the “Hunker” ascendancy are provided in George Fitzhugh, “The National Metropolis,” DeBow's Review 26 (April 1859), 385–407; and [George Bagby], “Washington City,” Atlantic Monthly, Jan. 1861, 1–8.

14 [John R. Thompson], “Feudalism in the Nineteenth Century,” Southern Literary Messenger 15 (Aug. 1849), 465–72; idem, “Colonial Life of Virginia,” Southern Literary Messenger 20 (June 1854), 330–42; idem, “Letter from an Old Fogy,” Southern Literary Messenger 23 (Aug. 1856), 133–6.

15 King, Joseph Leonard, Dr. George William Bagby: A Study of Virginian Literature 1850–1880 (New York, 1927)Google Scholar. By the time of secession, the influential Southern Quarterly Review and Russell's Magazine were both defunct.

16 [George William Bagby], “Editor's Table,” Southern Literary Messenger 32 (March 1861), 342; Spratt, “Slave Trade in the Southern Congress,” Southern Literary Messenger 32 (June 1861), 409–20; William Henry Holcombe, “The Alternative: A Separate Nationality or the Africanization of the South,” Southern Literary Messenger 32 (Feb. 1861), 81–8; [Edward A. Pollard], Hints on Southern Civilization,” Southern Literary Messenger 32 (April 1861), 308–11; “The New Republic,” Southern Literary Messenger 32 (May 1861), 388–92; “The Philosophy of Secession,” Southern Literary Messenger 34 (Sept. and Oct. 1862), 550–58.

17 L. W. Spratt, The Philosophy of Secession (n.p., 1860), first published in the Charleston Mercury, 13 Feb. 1861; [Falconer], “Northern Mind and Character;” 349; [idem], “The African Slave Trade,” 107; Moore, “Quo Tendemis,” 442; Americus Featherman, “Our Position and that of Our Enemy” DeBow's Review 31 (July 1861), 34–5.

18 [George William Bagby], “Editor's Table,” Southern Literary Messenger 32 (Jan. 1861), 74–5; Drescher, Seymour, The Mighty Experiment: Free Labor versus Slavery in British Emancipation (New York, 2002)Google Scholar; Davis, David Brion, Slavery and Human Progress (New York, 1984)Google Scholar.

19 McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom, 245–6.

20 Cf. Robert Nisbet's contention that “the priority of the social” was “perhaps the single most important contribution” of early nineteenth-century conservatives in A History of Sociological Analysis (New York, 1978), 98. A subtle difference existed between John Quitman Moore's sense of basic social stasis (as expressed in “Southern Statesmanship,” 402; and “National Characteristics,” 46) and other reactionaries’ more typical emphasis on the dynamism of modern society (a point most lucidly presented by Featherman, “Liberty and Government,” DeBow's Review 31 (Feb. 1861), 202).

21 Fitzhugh, “What Is a Constitution,” DeBow's Review 31 (March 1861), 307; Spratt, The Philosophy of Secession.

22 Important discussions of proslavery Comteans include (but are not limited to) Wyatt-Brown, Bertram, “Modernizing Southern Slavery: The Proslavery Argument Reinterpreted,” in Kousser, J. Morgan and McPherson, James M., eds., Region, Race and Reconstruction: Essays in Honor of C. Vann Woodward (New York, 1982), 2750Google Scholar; Sklansky, The Soul's Economy, 93–103; Theodore Dwight Bozeman, “Joseph LeConte: Organic Science and a ‘Sociology for the South’” Journal of Southern History 39 (Nov. 1973), 565–82; O'Brien, Conjectures of Order, 1060–66.

23 Spratt, L. W., A Series of Articles on the Value of the Union to the South, Lately Published in the Charleston Standard (Charleston, 1854), 34Google Scholar; idem, The Foreign Slave Trade the Source of Political Power, of Material Progress, of Social Integrity, and of the Social Emancipation of the South (Charleston, 1858); Takaki, Ronald, A Proslavery Crusade: The Agitation to Reopen the African Slave Trade (New York, 1971)Google Scholar. Spratt's interaction with Gorrie appears in Spratt, The Nature of an Universe of Life (Jacksonville, FL, 1896), 7–8; the American proslavery origins of “slave society” is addressed in Higman, B. W. “The Invention of Slave Society,” in Moore, Brian L., ed., Slavery, Freedom and Gender: The Dynamics of Caribbean Society (Kingston, Jamaica, 2001), 5775Google Scholar.

24 “Report on the Slave Trade,” DeBow's Review 24 (June 1858), 473–6; Speech upon the Foreign Slave Trade, before the Legislature (Columbia, SC, 1858), 11; “Southern Convention at Vicksburg, Part 2,” DeBow's Review 27 (Aug. 1859), 214. Spratt's organic metaphors suggest the influence of Charleston naturalists (who worked in the Lutheran tradition rather than that of Spratt's own Unitarianism) described in Stephens, Lester D., Science, Race and Religion in the American South: John Bachman and the Charleston Circle of Naturalists, 1815–1895 (Chapel Hill, 2000)Google Scholar.

25 The Oxford English Dictionary lists the earliest English use of “institutionalism” in 1862, two years after Moore's “Feudalism in America” contrasted this tendency with “individualism,” a term popularized by Alexis de Tocqueville. The origins of “institutionalism” within the context of early modern French Catholic legal traditions is addressed in Bates, David, “Political Theology and the Nazi State: Carl Schmitt's Concept of the Institution,” MIH 3 (2006), 415–42CrossRefGoogle Scholar. The secular reactionaries of the Confederacy generally ceded religious themes to the clergy; though the Bavarian-born Featherman expressed his appreciation for the admirable adaptability of ecclesiastical institutions in “Catholicism,” DeBow's Review 29 (Nov. 1860), 583–98.

26 Moore, “Eikon Basilike,” 282; “Quo Tendimus?”, 442.

27 I develop these European and American aspects of Confederate ethnology in “Round-Headed Cavaliers? The Context and Limits of a Confederate Racial Project,” Civil War History 48 (2002), 34–59; and “Civil War Diplomacy, Racial Science, and the Confederate Mission of Henry Hotze,” Civil War History 51 (2005) 288–316; while the longer history (which begins with Blumenbach) is covered in O'Brien, Conjectures of Order, 215–52.

28 For suggestive comments on Northern concern for “ethnological” differences between different ethnic “stocks” see Knobel, Dale, Paddy and the Republic: Ethnicity and Nationality in Antebellum America (Middletown, CT, 1986)Google Scholar; the closest proslavery counterpart to such late antebellum nativism appeared in South Carolina, a point developed in Sinha, Counterrevolution of Slavery, 130, 196.

29 Moore, “Southern Statesmanship,” 401; idem, “The Conflict of Northern and Southern Races,” DeBow's Review 31 (Oct.–Nov. 1861), 394; Fitzhugh, “Superiority of Southern Races,” 369; Moore, “Our Domestic and Foreign Relations,” DeBow's Review 31 (Sept. 1861), 288; Fitzhugh's “The Black and White Races of Men,” DeBow's Review 30 (April 1861), 446.

30 Fitzhugh, Sociology for the South (Richmond, 1854), 187–8; Hartz, “The Reactionary Enlightenment,” 39–44. Constitutional organicism in the US was shaped by French as well British influences, as could be seen in the translation of M. le Comte Joseph de Maistre, Essay on the Generative Principle of Political Constitutions (Boston, 1847).

31 Moore, “The Past and the Present,” 197; idem, “National Characteristics,” 48.

32 Moore, “Eikon Basilike,” 285; Moore, “National Characteristics,” 47.

33 [Falconer], “The One Great Cause of the Failure of the Federal Government,” 334; [idem], “The True Question: A Contest for the Supremacy of Race,” 24–5; idem, Bloom and Brier: Or, As I Saw it, Long Ago. A Southern Romance (Philadelphia, 1870), 367, 391; David P. Currie, “Though the Looking Glass: The Confederate Constitution in Congress, 1861–1865,” Virginia Law Review 90 (2004), 1257–1399.

34 Alfriend, “A Southern Republic and a Northern Democracy,” Southern Literary Messenger 37 (May 1863), 287; idem, “The Great Danger of the Confederacy,” Southern Literary Messenger 37 (Jan. 1863), 40–3.

35 Richmond Enquirer, 27 April 1863.

36 Fitzhugh, Sociology of the South, 85; “The Declaration of Independence and the Republican Party,” DeBow's Review 29 (Aug. 1860, quote at 185; “Mr. Bancroft and the Inner Light,” DeBow's Review 29 (Nov. 1860), quote at 610. Fitzhugh explored the larger implications of combat and military discipline as sources of authoritarian social cohesion in “Love of Danger and War,” DeBow's Review 28 (March 1860), 294–305; “Johnson, Boswell, and Goldsmith,” DeBow's Review 28 (April 1860), 420–21; “Frederick the Great,” DeBow's Review 29 (Aug. 1860), 151–67; “The Siege of Ismail,” DeBow's Review 29 (Sept. 1860), 293–301; “Reminiscences of Zouave Life,” DeBow's Review 30 (June 1861), 659–68; “The Times and the War,” DeBow's Review 31 (July 1861), 1–13; “The Great Day at Manassas,” DeBow's Review 31 (Sept. 1861), 282–8.

37 Fitzhugh, “The Conduct of the War and Reflections on the Times” DeBow's Review 33 (May–Aug. 1862), 33. Mark E. Neely Jr, Southern Rights: Political Prisoners and the Myth of Confederate Constitutionalism (Charlottesville, 1999); and Paul Escott, Military Necessity: Civil–Military Relations in the Confederacy (Westport, CT, 2006) effectively supersede the once-influential interpretation of an excessively democratic Confederacy provided by David Donald, “Died of Democracy,” in David Herbert Donald, ed., Why the North Won the Civil War (Baton Rouge, 1960), 77–90.

38 Moore to John Quitman, 28 Dec. 1854, in Quitman Papers, Mississippi Department of Archives and History, Jackson, MI; Moore to DeBow, 23 Nov. 1861, DeBow Papers, Duke University; Moore, “National Characteristics,” 53.

39 Moore, “The Belligerents,” DeBow's Review 30 (April 1861), 71; Wyatt-Brown, “Modernizing Southern Slavery.” Despite his lowly rank as private, Moore rallied comrades through his oratorical skills, as was noted in [Canton, MI] American Citizen, 5 Dec. 1862; and in Gunner with Stonewall; Reminiscences of William Thomas Poague, a Memoir, Written for His Children in 1903 (Jackson, TN, 1957), 106. The appeal of military service to “civic republicanism” of the seventeenth century is a major theme of J. G. A. Pocock, The Machiavellian Moment: Florentine Political Thought and the Atlantic Republican Tradition (Princeton 1974).

40 Moore, “The Belligerents,” 71; Spratt quoted in “Southern Convention at Vicksburg, Part 2” DeBow's Review 27 (Aug. 1859), 214. See also Spratt's coverage of the “birth” of the Confederate army for the Charleston Mercury of 20 May 1861, where (under the byline of war correspondent “L.W.S.”) he marveled at how a “monstrous mass” of enlisted soldiers had become a “potent and perilous creation” that was “instinct with energies and motive of its own.”

41 [Falconer], “The True Question,” 26.

42 Hotze, “A Military Election,” in London Index, 8 May 1862.

43 Moore, “Our Domestic and Foreign Relations,” 293–5; idem, “Shall We Have a Navy? Shall we Pursue the Defensive Policy, or Invade the Enemy's Country?”, DeBow's Review 32 (March 1862), 211–23. Fitzhugh, “The Times and the War,” DeBow's Review 31 (July 1861), 3–4; idem, “Privateers and Privateering.”

44 George Fitzhugh, “Observations and Reflections on the War—Conduct of the War,” Richmond Daily Dispatch, 21 Sept. 1861; idem, “Conduct of the War,” DeBow's Review 32 (Jan.–Feb. 1862), 139–47. See also “Reflections on the Conduct of the War,” DeBow's Review 31 (Oct.–Nov. 1861), 427–35; “Conduct of the War and Complaints against It,” Richmond Daily Dispatch, 30 Sept. 1861; and “Conduct of the War—Educated and Improvised Officers,” Richmond Daily Dispatch, 5 Oct. 1861.

45 Victoria Jane Rideout, “Strange Relations: The Personal and Intellectual Dialogue of George Fitzhugh and Gerrit Smith,” MA thesis, Syracuse University, 1986; Fitzhugh, “Camp Lee and the Freedman's Bureau,” DeBow's Review n.s. 2 (Oct. 1866), 352.

46 Moore, “Modern Armies—Their Spirit and Organization,” Crescent Monthly 1 (June 1866), 212–13.

47 [Falconer], “The Southern People,” in Montgomery Ledger, 8 Aug. 1865. Featherman, A Social History of Mankind, 8 vols. (London, 1882–90); idem, Thoughts and Reflections on Modern Society with an Introduction on the Gradual Social Evolution of Primitive Man (London, 1894); Spratt, Man in Continuation at This Earth of a Nature of Reality throughout the Universe by Nature of That Reality from its Original Universe of Force (Washington, 1894); idem, The Nature of an Universe of Life; idem, Man at This Earth to the Man Possible of an Essential Being of the Universe (Jacksonville, 1902).

48 Most pertinent among the more than thirty articles Fitzhugh wrote for the postbellum Review were “The Uses of Morality in War and Peace,” DeBow's Review n.s. 1 (Jan. 1866); “The Impending Fate of the Country,” DeBow's Review n.s. 1 (Dec. 1866); and “The Return of Good Feeling,” DeBow's Review n.s. 3 (Dec. 1867). His postbellum failure to reach Northern conservatives is addressed in Fred Hobson, Tell about the South: The Southern Rage to Explain (Baton Rouge, 1983) and Wish, George Fitzhugh. Hartz, “The Reactionary Enlightenment,” 50.

49 Falconer, Bloom and Brier, 415–16. Such complaints (which echoed Moore's 1866 article) anticipated the now discredited argument presented in Donald, “Died of Democracy,” cited above in n. 38.

50 Frost, Dan R., Thinking Confederates: Academia and the Idea of Progress in the New South (Knoxville, 2000)Google Scholar; Andrew, Rod Jr, Long Gray Lines: The Southern Military School Tradition, 1839–1915 (Chapel Hill, 2004)Google Scholar; Blight, David W., Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory (Cambridge, 2001)Google Scholar; Hahn, Steven, A Nation under Our Feet: Black Political Struggles in the Rural South from Slavery to the Great Migration (Cambridge, 2003), 265313Google Scholar.

51 Hobson, Tell about the South; Charles J. Holden, In the Great Maelstrom: Conservatives in Post-Civil War South Carolina (Columbia, SC, 2002).

52 Weaver, Richard, The Southern Tradition at Bay: A History of Postbellum Thought (New Rochelle, NY, 1968), 28Google Scholar; Ransom, John Crowe, “Reconstructed but Unregenerate,” in Twelve Southerners, I'll Take My Stand: The South and the Agrarian Tradition (New York, 1930), 3Google Scholar; Tate, Allen, “Ode to the Confederate Dead,” in idem, Poems: 1928–1931 (New York, 1932), 4951Google Scholar.

53 Mannheim, Karl, Conservatism: A Contribution to the Sociology of Knowledge (New York, 1986)Google Scholar. See also Genovese, The Southern Tradition; and idem, The Southern Front.