Tuesday, June 16, 2015

June 14, 1861 - W.H. Russell on Southern moral degradation and delusions

The great British war correspondent William Howard Russell travels from Natchez up through Vicksburg to Jackson, echoing what he has learned from Our Man in Charleston as he meets with the governor of Mississippi

June 14 ... There were a number of volunteer soldiers in the trainand their presence no doubt attracted the girls and women who waved flags and cheered for Jeff Davis and States Rights. Well, as I travel on through such scenes, with a fine critical nose in the air, I ask myself, "Is any Englishman better than these publicans and sinners in regard to this question of slavery?"; It was not on moral or religious grounds that our ancestors abolished serfdom. And if to-morrow our good farmers, deprived of mowers, reapers, ploughmen, hedgers and ditchers, were to find substitutes in certain people of dark skin assigned to their use by Act of Parliament, I fear they would be almost as ingenious as the Rev. Dr. Seabury in discovering arguments physiological, ethnological, and biblical, for the retention of their property. And an evil day would it be for them if they were so tempted ; for assuredly, without any derogation to the intellect of the Southern men, it may be said that a large proportion of the population is in a state of very great moral degradation compared with civilized Anglo-Saxon communities.

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The Governor conversed on the aspect of affairs, and evinced that wonderful confidence in his own people which, whether it arises from ignorance of the power of the North, or a conviction of greater resources, is to me so remarkable.
"Well, sir," said he, dropping a portentous plug of tobacco just outside the spittoon, with the air of a man who wished to show he could have hit the centre if he liked, "England is no doubt a great country, and has got fleets and the like of that, and may have a good deal to do in Eu-rope; but the sovereign State of Mississippi can do a great deal better without England than England can do without her." Having some slight recollection of Mississippi repudiation, in which Mr. Jefferson Davis was so actively engaged, I thought it possible that the Governor might be right ; and after a time his Excellency shook me by the hand, and I left, much wondering within myself what manner of men they must be in the State of Mississippi when Mr. Pettus is their chosen Governor ; and yet, after all, he is honest and fierce ; and perhaps he is so far qualified as well as any other man to be Governor of the State. There are newspapers, electric telegraphs, and railways ; there are many educated families, even much good society, I am told, in the State but the larger masses of the people struck me as being in a
condition not much elevated from that of the original back

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