A proposed Lee Association
The following is “The Duty of the Hour,” by Henry Ewbank, with additional editorial by W. Hand Browne, Southern Magazine, pages 177-183, August 1873, Vol. 6 No. 2, Old Series Vol. 13 No. 2, published by Turnbull Brothers, Baltimore. This publication was the official publisher for the Southern Historical Society. In reading this you can see that “Southern Strategies” have been proposed in conservative politics prior to the 20th century. What is also interesting is that Robert E. Lee as a hero of the Lost Cause is chosen to give his name to the association. Also, interesting is that the Lost Cause is understood as supporting a reactionary politics and is employed to attempt to do so. The oppression and menace that the article discusses is the attempt to give African Americans civil rights in the South. No record has been discovered whether this society was ever formed.
The following is the full article with follow on commentary by the editor.
The Duty of the Hour
“When the affairs of a nation are distracted, private people are justified in stepping a little out of their ordinary sphere.” Behind this proposition of Edmund Burke’s I shield myself: fully conscious that the suggestions made and enforced in this paper will be found deserving of attention, I am not less conscious that they would carry with them a weight that would command an appreciation of their importance, which, as a “private person,” I must necessarily fail to give them. But in view of the position and character of those to whom appeals such as this are addressed, it is sufficient that there be honesty of purpose in the writer, and a distinct flavor of truth in what he writes, to secure a courteous reception. There is an esprit de corps on which the present writer is persuaded he can confidently rely when addressing men of culture at the South. Let the call to duty be ever so faintly sounded, and there will be from that quarter a responsive echo. It is to make that echo reverberate from every valley and from every mountain in the South that this second paper on the Duty of the Hour in the present crisis is written.
To every watchful and intelligent observer of the signs of the times, no argument is necessary to establish the truth of this proposition, that the civilised world is demanding with importunate urgency, from men of culture, a solution of political and social problems so intricate in their nature, and threatening in their solution to exercise so vast an influence for good or evil on progressive civilisation, that to respond to that demand by desultory theorising, is, with almost suicidal criminality, to invite the evil which these problems solved by the masses of no-culture will of necessity create. This general proposition, it need not be said, has an intensity of application in the South; and Southern men alone can rightly estimate its pertinence and draw from it the practical lessons it teaches. When culture is the distinguishing characteristic of majorities among men, it may, like Alexander the Great, cut the Gordian knot and demand universal empire; but in the crisis we are now considering, the great Alexander is rather the prototype of a “power” that is not that of culture, and in the hands of that power Christian civilisation cannot safely trust the knot of Gordius. The trite expression, “bound hand and foot,” correctly describes the present condition of the South politically. This fettered political condition the South accepts with that becoming submission always distinctive of sound wisdom, when forced to endure evil that is inevitable; but this phase in the condition of the South is pointedly suggestive of a query of very serious import: Is this enforced condition of political oppression to be so broadly comprehensive that in a period of her history presenting phenomena fraught with issues the most momentous, she should be denied representation in a Congress of her “wise and prudent” men because, to the Congress of the United States, her moral inability to pronounce the
shibboleth of the party there regnant denies her entrance? Courtesy the most profound and charity the most overflowing would hardly point to the present occupants of Senatorial and other elevated positions in the South, and bid us see there reflected that intelligence and that statesmanship, those manners and those morals, which Southern culture, the legitimate and responsible guardian of Southern civilisation, dare recognise as representative. I state a very simple and incontrovertible proposition when I assert that the Christian civilisation of the South—a civilisation progressive under the law of God for the good of man—has no representative Congress, no authorised advocate to exemplify and maintain the cause of the true, the pure and the right before a world poisoned into the belief that “no good thing” can be spoken of that section of the United States of America, which, mirabile dictu, could rank amongst its most devoted and honored sons a Stonewall Jackson and a Robert E. Lee! Surely it would be a sad misapplication of terms to call the ruminations of the closet philosopher, the cold abstractions of the dialectician, or the elegant bemoanings of the aesthetic over the dangers threatening to abrade the polish and soil the purity of culture—to call these the representatives of Southern culture. Forcibly suggestive, irreproachably logical, and painfully pointed as may be the several efforts of these individual champions, of what avail can such efforts prove but to make more intolerable the darkness?—the more brilliant these intellectual coruscations, the greater and more painfully realised that dark future of the South, to the gloomy features of which they but serve to give definiteness and intensity. Far be it from me to cast a slur upon literary effort to stay the moral plague. It is well — it is eminently desirable to reply in kind to the feathered shafts that our Northern brethren of the pen discharge with an energy and a rapidity worthy of a nobler cause, against a culture offensive to them; but do we not perceive that under cover of these verba malevola discharges the main body is advancing, and that the contest is rapidly approximating a death-struggle between counter and irreconcilable influences? Is it not then directly to the point, and of supreme pertinence to ask: Is Southern conservatism prepared to meet this impending crisis? Without unity of purpose and concert of action, nerveless and desponding in the isolation of its members, what but defeat most thorough in its far-reaching issues of moral, social and political evil, can be expected? In such a struggle there can be but one issue if there be no concentration of effort; and there can be no concentration of effort if those who truly represent, and who alone are the accredited exponents of Southern culture — virtute et honore majores — do not combine in the erection of a platform of principles in lieu of that political platform from which, as professors of a creed other than that now dominant, they are hopelessly excluded. To a platform thus erected, and embellished by those moral and intellectual qualities most highly esteemed among men, there would flock as to an ark of refuge, or rather as to a tower of strength, all in the South who now in feeble isolation are tempted, with a selfishness begotten of despair, to abandon all thought and all effort for the general good, and to devote themselves to the securing for themselves and their children
whatever, from the debris of the wrecked civilisation of their country, individual effort may enable them to grasp and retain. Around a platform thus representative of Southern culture there would crystallise influences of power and light, and in this concrete of moral and intellectual elements there would be found a solid body of influence healthily and irresistibly operative through its several members; an influence active and reactive, imparting and receiving a vitality too robust in intelligence, and of too true a tone of moral feeling, to become the prey of those malign adverse influences which proceed from a culture in which truth, purity and honor are subordinate elements, if indeed elements at all.
It may be argued that in that section of the United States from which the South has reason to apprehend the aggression of pernicious influences, there are to be found defenders of a true faith as stern and unyielding as any of the most strenuous Southern protesters against Northern radicalism: but “what are they among so many?” Without hesitating for a moment to admit the truth of this presumption, rather acknowledging that it is founded upon trustworthy data, I gather from the fact itself a most suggestive lesson. If true conservatism—not the blind clinging to old things because they are old, but a resolution to preserve, so far as possible, all that our fathers have left us of good and honorable in morals, in politics, and in social life—is so manifestly in the minority at the North that its representatives there are impotent to stay the tide of radicalism, may we not with very great propriety ask ourselves this question: Is Southern conservatism so inconsiderable a force, its power of resistance to radicalism so circumscribed, fettered and overborne, that its course is plainly indicated in that hopeless, effortless drifting with the tide exhibited by the vainly-protesting conservatism of the North? Time was when Northern conservatism was a power to be feared as well as respected; but, admitting passion and sectional animosity into its counsels, it became blindly but surely a party to its own emasculation — a shorn Samson, painfully suggestive to Southern conservatism of a similar fate not far distant. Given only the failure clearly to apprehend the character and magnitude of the impending danger, and unity of spirit and action to avert it, and radicalism, strong to absorb and to assimilate, will, sooner or later, leave in the South but a helpless and hopeless remnant, a dormant, inappreciable conservative constituent of the then Southern body-politic. That which Northern conservatism has accomplished by its voluntary alliance with a power incongruous with itself, except in its virulent antagonism to Southern institutions — its own quasi-annihilation, Southern conservatism in its abandonment to isolation of its own forces is most deplorably inviting. But call in these scattered forces, organise them, furnish them with a pure and steady light to guide, and let them be inspired with that confident hope which the electric elbow-to-elbow touch thus secured will not fail to excite, and although the contest will be no short and brilliant affair of outposts, but a protracted and resolute struggle on both sides, the united defenders of Christian civilisation in the South will maintain their position of protest against radical aggression, will steadily advance it, and future
historians will not have to record another “Lost Cause,” the surrender by detachments of conservative truth, its ultimate subjugation, and the establishment upon its ruins of triumphant radicalism. “Nullum numen attest si sit prudentia”— a heathen’s utterance, but a word of wisdom for all time, and of especial application in the present exigency. If prudence—all that this word implies of foresight and skill —be actively exhibited by the leaders of thought in the South, Southern conservatism, roused from its dormant condition, will become a term significant of a moral antagonism that neither suasive nor aggressive radicalism will be able to subdue.
The crying need of the South is for the leadership of men of cultivated intelligence and administrative talent. The battle-gage defiantly thrown down by radicalism must be taken up by men profoundly conscious of the nature and extent of that campaign upon which it challenges the South to enter. Vitiated morality and prostituted intelligence, having at their command agencies skilfully adapted to seduce, betray, and pervert, are fully armed and equipped for the struggle. Has Christian civilisation at the South, claiming to be morally and intellectually untainted by radicalism, its agencies of defence and offence, relying upon the effective operation of which it may confidently await the issue? Such agencies — I speak of the rule, not its exceptions — there are not. To create them and give them vitality and force must be the work of those who are the leaders and exponents of Christian culture. A league thus initiated and controlled, having on its muster-roll all in the South to whom truth,
justice, purity and honor are something more than abstract nouns, would multiply itself indefinitely into minor leagues or corporations representative of purifying and tonic influences through all the walks of life the isolated forlorn-hopes of Southern civilisation would become consolidated into an acknowledged power—the power of Southern public opinion—to which might be entrusted, with assured confidence of ultimate deliverance, the redemption of the South from that tyranny of ignorance which encourages and fortifies the aggressive power of radicalism. Thus would be met those pernicious influences which symbolise a power for evil to which Christian civilisation cannot succumb and live.
Is it vain, is it not rather most reasonable to anticipate that from such a league there would radiate moral and intellectual activities interpenetrating all Southern life? If it is vain, then it is also theoretic trifling, and very manifestly illogical, to insist upon the ultimate prevalence of vital truth as the necessary consequence of its power when intelligently apprehended and practically exhibited. It is not metaphysical Christianity, or any other caricature of the gospel of “good will to men,” which can avail aught in that contest with a creed the disciples of which live and move and have their being in the earnest and practical enforcement of their principles of belief. Christian civilisation abstractly considered need apprehend no danger from the aggression of that restless ambitious spirit of evil now striving to become dominant in the civilised world, if also we are permitted to consider that spirit as an abstraction; but as neither individual nor nation can be saved by the abstract idea of
Christianity, so most assuredly cannot the Christian civilisation of the South be redeemed from the power of that death now threatening it, if vital activity be not substituted for dormant protest, if “good will to men” become not practically exhibited in the establishment throughout the South of agencies able to defend and active to promote pure culture, as the only antagonism that can ultimately prevail to the annihilation of that moral hydra, radicalism.
No more promising field for the operation of a league to promote pure culture can be conceived than that now presented by the South. In the political development of radicalism she has been taught to estimate the force of that power for evil which inheres in a government the resultant of that fearful combination of depravities — perverted intelligence and vicious morals. Against the political “powers that be” I am advocating no organised resistance. Against those moral powers that are struggling to become the principal factors in Southern civilisation, demanding that it become crystallised into radicalism, I have as a private person stepped a little out of my ordinary sphere to remonstrate and to suggest organised opposition, and as a further suggestion t would offer as a title of peculiar propriety that of “The Lee Association.” In the character of General Lee the civilised world has endorsed the judgment of the South; truth, justice, purity and honor were the distinctive features of that character. By what better title can a league formed to make truth, justice, purity and honor the distinctive and permanent features of Southern civilisation, be known? What motto more suggestive of a duty to be recognised and performed than that which to General Lee was more than an ancestral heir-loom— Non incautus futuri?
[The following is a commentary by the editor.]
I have never heretofore stepped out of the customary editorial impersonality to make any comment upon the views or suggestions of a contributor; but this paper of Mr. Ewbank seems to me to be so timely, and to involve matters of such vital importance, that I can not forbear from adding a word or two.
The status and condition of the South, it is generally said, were settled by the war. What then did the war settle? The question whether we could or could not maintain what we believed to be our rights by force of arms: this question and no other was submitted to the arbitrament of the sword, and by it decided against us. By that decision we are willing to abide in good faith; but we protest against its being made to involve the settlement of other questions which were not staked upon that issue. The questions whether our supposed rights were real ones; whether they might not be vindicated by peaceful and legal means; whether, even granting the will, we had the power to abdicate them, were not, and could not be, decided by the sword, much less, if less were possible, questions entirely independent of the matter at issue. Yet there seems to be an assumption that because the dynamic question was decided against us we have become a mere lump of clay in the hands of the potter, that we are to
be ground up politically, socially and morally in the Northern mill, tempered anew with the waters of New England doctrine, and shaped into vessels of honor or dishonor at the sovereign pleasure of our conquerors. This assumption is not only made, but—amazing to relate!—it is but faintly resisted. What we lost by the war was much, but it was the least of our possessions, and a loss that time will repair: what we preserved was of infinitely higher value; it can only be lost by our being false to ourselves, and if lost, the loss is irreparable forever.
Esau sold his birthright for a mess of pottage of lentils, and by so doing has become a by-word of scorn among the human race. Why this extreme severity of judgment? His argument of immediate necessity seems a good one: Behold, I am at the point to die, and what profit shall this birthright do to me? Why is this not allowed as a valid defence? Because he betrayed a trust; because he alienated perpetually that in which he had only a life-interest; because for his own personal advantage he wronged all his posterity. That his brother dealt wickedly with him is no excuse: the verdict of all mankind is that he should have died rather than do that irreparable wrong to his descendants, and the curse which followed him, confirms that verdict just.
What we have lost by force, we have lost, and our defeat is no disgrace. But they can not take from us our honor, our memories, the lessons of our brothers’ lives and the legacies of their death. They can not take from us all that we were justly proud of, all that gave Southern society its special purity, Southern men their dignity, and Southern women their unequalled charm. These we can not lose unless by our voluntary degradation we renounce them, or lose them by our own neglect, and thus incur Esau’s guilt without having Esau’s plea.
If Southern men would only see these things as they ought to see them, if they fell the awful responsibility that rests upon them, and saw the abyss toward which they are gliding with ever swifter descent, they would arise as at a trumpet-call, and by uniting become a power. Organisations for material ends are easily founded; why should there be any difficulty in forming one for the preservation, by peaceful and lawful means, of all that we hold most dear, and for the promotion of the well-being of our whole people?
In times past we allowed our enemies to speak for us, and we were calumniated all over the world, as we found to our sore cost when the day of trial came; we allowed our enemies to teach us, and they instilled with their teachings the poison of lies, and sometimes of dishonor. This was while they feared us: what are they doing now? We need only open our eyes to see.
I firmly believe that Mr. Ewbank is right, and that this is the critical moment. There is an awakening of thought and an awakening of spirit all over the South: whether it shall turn into the right channels or not rests with our people themselves. If put off, it will be too late. An organisation for the upholding our mental and moral independence, for the promotion of Southern culture, for the maintenance of all that is good and honorable of our own, and the repul-
sion of all that is: alien and pernicious, such an organisation ramifying through the whole country and pervaded by one great idea, would be a power unconquerable, irresistible, and sure of triumph. It all rests with ourselves: the alternative is before us whether to sink into serfs or rise up freemen but we must make the decision. If we make it aright, then our Lee, our Jackson, the heroes whom we honor because they gave their lives for us, the vast army of our brothers who went to death as to a feast in the hope of winning our freedom, and on whose graves we have this day strewn flowers that an hour’s sun will wither, poor symbols of a gratitude that should outlast life itself—if we do now what we can do, then they will not have died in vain.
I trust that those of our readers who feel the importance of these suggestions, or who may have anything to propose in the matter, will communicate with us; and so far as practicable we will open the pages of this Magazine to such communications as we think of public interest.
W. HAND BROWNE.