Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Aristocrats and the Rise of the Common Man

At the close of the eighteenth-century, the Southern aristocracy of merchants, planters and lawyers was established as a small, but superior group of gentlemen, educated and of high character – it was they who helped establish the American Union.  The common people of the South were accustomed to aristocratic leadership and tradition for leading families to provide the political representatives of county and State. Rather than money or lust for power over others, "The love of honor, the tradition of family, and noblesse oblige were the dominant motives" in accepting public office.  This was to change.

Bernhard Thuersam, Chairman

North Carolina War Between the States Sesquicentennial Commission

"Unsurpassed Valor, Courage and Devotion to Liberty"


"The Official Website of the North Carolina WBTS Sesquicentennial"

Aristocrats and the Rise of the Common Man

The conservative reaction in political theory of the South . . . was countered by in 1828 by the election of Andrew Jackson to the Presidency.  His inauguration symbolized the rise of the common man to power, and it was the votes of the South and West that won the victory.

In a letter to William Gilmore Simms [of South Carolina, Beverly Tucker declared that Virginia] "had sunk into the slough of democracy, which has no sense of honor." James Monroe was the last President to wear the knee breeches and silk stockings of the eighteenth-century aristocrat.  A generation later, in 1860-61, three of the most important Southern States were led by men of distinctly plebian origins.

The rise of the common man to political power in the South was a serious threat to freedom of thought and of speech.  The essence of preserving freedom of thought and of speech is the protection of minority rights – the safeguarding the right to express opinions odious to the majority.  The masses can seldom endure any divergence from the majority opinion on matters of deep emotional content.

Lord Acton has observed that toleration is secured with more difficulty in a government controlled by the masses than in an aristocracy.  "For there is a reserve of latent power in the masses," he points out, "which if called into play the minority can seldom resist.  But from the will of an entire people, there is no appeal, no redemption, no refuge, but tyranny."

The cardinal doctrine of liberals, held by them from the time of Milton to the recent days of Justice Holmes, that error of opinion can be eradicated only by truth, and not by force, is unsatisfactory to the multitude, impatient for immediate results.  Since the common man is easily swayed by propaganda and the skilful manipulation of pressure groups, the laws and the courts are less important in suppressing free thought than is the power of social disapproval or ostracism."

(Freedom of Thought in the South, Clement Eaton, Duke University Press, 1940, pp. 28-29)