Home  »  Volume XVII: American LATER NATIONAL LITERATURE: PART II  »  § 5. Southern Writers Opposed to Secession; Francis Lieber

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21). rn VOLUME XVII. Later National Literature, Part II.

XXI. Political Writing Since 1850

§ 5. Southern Writers Opposed to Secession; Francis Lieber

Against this rabid sectionalism there were a few notable protests. William J. Grayson, Collector of the Port of Charleston, and a lifelong champion of slavery, boldly opposed the secession movement in his state. So too did Benjamin F. Perry, an up-country editor, and Bishop Ellison Capers of the Protestant Episcopal Church. It is also a strange coincidence that a nationalistic philosophy, as radical as that of the secessionists when compared with the thought of earlier days, also emanated from South Carolina. Its author was Francis Lieber, a German liberal who, persecuted in his native land, sought refuge in America and became Professor of Political Economy in South Carolina College—a position he held from 1835 to 1857, when he went to New York to join the faculty of Columbia College. Like contemporary Southerners, he rejected the social compact theory; he could assign no definite explanation for the origin of the state, but found it to be in the institutional forces of human nature. Most significant was the distinction he drew between the people and the nation. The former signifies “the aggregate of the inhabitants of a territory without any additional idea”; the latter implies a homogeneous population having “an organic unity with one another as well as being conscious of a common destiny.” In other words, the nation is organic, not contractual, in nature. In it, not in the individual states, lies sovereignty, which is one and indivisible. Such was the elemental thought in Lieber’s Political Ethics (1838) and Civil Liberty and Self Government (1853), books which in time profoundly influenced political science in the United States. That Lieber, holding such views and also having no sympathy for slavery, could live so long in the very heart of the cotton kingdom, is remarkable. While his son lost his life in the Confederate Army, Lieber became legal advisor to President Lincoln and was the author of Instructions for the Government of the Armies of the United States in the Field, which was a starting point for more humane rules of warfare, both in this country and abroad.