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 xvii
petitions must be unequivocally rejected. What was at
stake was non-negotiable-the survival of the South as a
self-governing society. He was in no mood to minimize
the size or significance of the threat. While a certain
aversion to slavery was natural among people with
different habits and traditions than the South's,
Hammond remarked, that was not sufficient to explain
the sudden appearance in the thirties of abolitionism.
Rather, "other causes are at work. This excitement
belongs to the spirit of the age." The new spirit,
according to Hammond, was not related to the American
Revolution, which he regarded as a part of the "war of
intelligence against political oppression." Rather, a new
egalitarianism had sprung from the French Revolution.
"Since that period, man appears no longer to be the
being that he was." Hammond is for the people, that
self-governing community of independent citizens who
carried out the American Revolution, but not for the
mob, that "ignorant, uneducated, semi-barbarous mass
which swarms and starves upon the face of Europe."
Because the New World lacked any hereditary
privileged class like the old, the Jacobinical spirit had
here selected the slave-holding class as its most
convenient target.
His two annual messages to the legislature while
Governor perhaps display Hammond in his best light.
The Governor in South Carolina had relatively little
constitutional power but considerable influence and
discretionary authority, since the legislature met for
only about a month each year and local government was
weak. As Governor, Hammond courageously took on
the vested interest of the Bank of the State of South
Carolina which was entangled in the affairs of the state in
the same way the second Bank of the United States had
been in national affairs a decade before. In this he was