Letters from Georgia

Augustus Baldwin Longstreet

Augustus Baldwin Longstreet

I’ve had good luck with the primary sources lately. Back on Thursday, I had Wilmot’s own words about the Proviso. Then I gave Yancey’s response: the Alabama Platform. I went in search of another reaction and found Augustus Baldwin Longstreet, uncle to Lee’s corps commander and long time friend of John C. Calhoun.

Longstreet originally gained fame as a humorist, writing realistic, funny vignettes set in the South, but turned later to religion and politics. He played some role in the split of his Methodist church over permitting its bishops to own slaves and served as a university president in addition to his pamphleteering.

In a series of open letters from Georgia, his home state, to Massachusetts, hotbed of abolitionism, Longstreet directly states what I’ve said here about the Proviso and various other measures. I’ve only skimmed the letters, but some relevant passages leap right off the page.

Longstreet inveighs against abolitionism, putting Wilmot in company he repudiated:

A dreadful moral disease has seized upon the body politic North, the stench of which naturally allures such insects as Greeley and McElrath, which, in their disports over the infected carcasses, occasionally light, of course, upon the physicians, who, at peril of life, and with a benevolence sublime, labor to arrest it.

Don’t be afraid to tell us what you really think, Augustus. Horace Greeley owned, wrote for, and edited the leading reformist newspaper of the time, The New York Tribune. From context, McElrath would have a similar position but I don’t recognize the name.

Begging off further description of “the anatomy of Massachusetts,” Longstreet goes on to list “the names of those noble spirits” from the North who voted against the Wilmot Proviso. Then he discusses what the Proviso votes mean:

From the above list it appears, that of six and twenty Senators from the Northern and North-western States, but five had the firmness to support the Constitution, against the Wilmot onslaught; and that of one hundred and thirty-three Representatives, only twenty-six had firmness enough to do the like — a wonderful coincidence of proportions in both Houses. These are things of melancholy portent. If they do not open the eyes of the South to the perils of her situation, and silence the bickerings of her sons about Whiggery and Democracy, and unite them in some plan of systematic opposition to Abolitionism, why then let them take the consequences.

History requires making generalizations about what groups of people meant or how they saw things, but sometimes those generalizations come straight from the pens of the dead.

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2 comments on “Letters from Georgia

  1. Neat! It looks like they were partners in a publishing house:
    http://openlibrary.org/publishers/Greeley_&_McElrath. Of course Longstreet wrote Letters from Georgia in 1847 so he can’t be referring specifically to that book, but they had a long antislavery record before that.

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