Wlliam Gilmore Simms
Selections from the Letters and Speeches of the Hon. James H. Hammond, of South Carolina >> Front Matter >> Introduction

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Introduction

Documents | The Reprint Company; John F. Trow & Co. | 1866, 1978
Transcription INTRODUCTION

Posterity has not been kind to James Henry
Hammond, a fate he was fully capable of anticipating.
To those nineteenth-century historians who took their
cue from the winning side in the sectional conflicts in
which he engaged he was a prime example of the
Southern grandee�that arrogant, moody, nouveau
riche, rash, hypersensitive class of men who, accord-
ing to the dominant political mythology of the nine-
teenth century, brought down well-deserved destruc-
tion upon themselves by their malevolent efforts to
destroy the American republic. More recently deroga-
tory emphasis has shifted from the externals of his
career to the interior. One of the leading historians of
the antebellum South has put Hammond on the couch,
portraying him as "the Hamlet of the Old South"
vain, indecisive, lazy, in a word: neurotic.l
Whatever element of truth these characterizations
may contain, both depend ultimately on the standpoint
of the observer they are matters of perspective. Sir
Herbert Butterfield has reminded us that moral judg-
ments are treacherous for historians that what we
think are moral judgments are really aesthetic judg-
ments, that is, statements of taste or preference.2 The
first characterization represents a conqueror's taste,
and if convention insists that we find the Old South
unlovely to behold, then it follows that its spokesmen
must be ugly, too.
xi