Political Feeling.

from a series of sketches by J. W. De Forest: "Chivalrous and Semi-Chivalrous Southrons."

            Walking the streets of Greenville I met a child of six or seven—a blonde, blue-eyed girl with cheeks of faint rose—who, in return for my look of interest, greeted me with a smile. Surprised at the hospitable expression, and remembering my popularly abhorred blue uniform, I said, “Are you not afraid of me?”

            “No,” she answered; “I am not afraid. I met three Yankees the other day, and they didn’t hurt me.”

            We of the North can but faintly imagine the alarm and hate which have trembled through millions of hearts at the South at the phrase, “The Yankees are coming!” The words meant war, the fall of loved ones, the burning of homes, the wasting of property, flight, poverty, subjugation, humiliation, a thousand evils, and a thousand sorrows. The Southern people had never before suffered any thing a tenth part so horrible as what befell them in consequence of this awful formula, this summons to the Afrites and Furies of desolation, this declaration of ruin. Where the conquering army sought to be gentlest it still devoured the land like locusts; where it came not at all it nevertheless brought social revolution, bankruptcy of investments, and consequently indigence. A population of bereaved parents, of widows, and of orphans, steeped in sudden poverty, can hardly love the cause of its woes. The great majority of the Southerners, denying that they provoked the war, looking upon us not as the saviours of a common country, but as the subjugators of their sovereign States, regard us with detestation.

            I speak of the “chivalrous Sonthrons,” the gentry, the educated, the socially influential, the class which before the war governed the South, the class which may soon govern it again. Even if these people knew that they had been in the wrong they would still be apt to feel that their punishment has exceeded their crime, because it has been truly tremendous and has reached many who could not be guilty. I remember a widowed grandmother of eighty and an orphan grand-daughter of seven from each of whom a large estate on the Sea Islands had passed beyond redemption, and who were in dire poverty. When the elder read aloud from a newspaper a description of some hundreds of acres which had been divided among negroes, and said, “Chattie, that is your plantation,” the child burst into tears. I believe that it is unnatural not to sympathize with this little plundered princess, weeping for her lost domains in fairy-land.

            Imagine the wrath of a fine gentleman, once the representative of his country abroad, who finds himself driven to open a beer saloon. Imagine the indignation of a fine lady who must keep boarders; of another who must go out to service little less than menial; of another who must beg rations with low-downers and negroes. During the war I saw women of good families at the South who had no stockings; and here I beg leave to stop and ask the reader to conceive fully, if he can, the sense of degradation which must accompany such poverty; a degradation of dirt and nakedness, and slatternly uncomeliness, be it observed; a degradation which seemed to place them beside the negro. Let us imagine the prosperous ladies of our civilization prevented only from wearing the latest fashions; what manliest man of us all would like to assume the responsibility of such a piece of tyranny?

            Moreover, “Our Lady of Tears,” the terrible Mater Lachrymarum of De Quincey’s visions, fills the whole South with her outcries for the dead. It is not so much a wonder as a pity that the women are bitter, and teach bitterness to their children.

            Of course there are lower and more ridiculous motives for this hate. Non-combatants, sure of at least bodily safety, are apt to be warlike, and to blow cheap trumpets of mock heroism. Furthermore, it is aristocratic to keep aloof from Yankees; and what woman does not desire to have the tone of grand society?

            When will this sectional aversion end? I can only offer the obvious reflection that it is desirable for both North and South, but especially for the weaker of the two, that it should end as quickly as possible. For the sake of the entire republic we should endeavor to make all our citizens feel that they are Americans, and nothing but Americans. If we do not accomplish this end, we shall not rival the greatness of the Romans. It was not patricianism which made Rome great so much as the vast community and bonded strength of Roman citizenship. Let us remember in our legislation the law of solidarity: the fact that no section of a community can be injured without injuring the other sections; that the perfect prosperity of the whole depends upon the prosperity of all the parts.

            This idea should be kept in view despite of provocations; this policy will in the end produce broad and sound national unity. As the Southerners find that the republic brings them prosperity they will, little by little, and one by one, become as loyal as the people of other sections.

De Forest, J.W., “Chivalrous and Semi-Chivalrous Southrons” Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, Volume 38, Issue 225, February 1869; New York: Harper & Bros.

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