The White Man’s Burden in the Creole South
Albert Taylor Bledsoe
Shall we bury in the grave of the grandest cause that has ever perished on earth, all the little stores of history and philosophy which a not altogether idle life has enabled us to enmass, and so leave the just cause, merely because it has fallen, to go without our humble advocacy? We would rather die.
Races topple before their monuments. The last Roman, nameless, fell beneath the fire of Vesuvius, unwilling to relinquish his post in cowardice and fear, though for centuries thereafter men loudly protested that they were Romans, proudly bearing upon their lips and hearts the badge civis Romanus, though in their hearts and actions they were hardly Romans (for did not even S. Paul make this boast, not only civis romanus sum, but ego autem et natus sum – a Roman by birth?). What was Governor Wallace when he recited the words of his speechwriter, and spoke of “the great Anglo-Saxon Southland… the greatest people that have ever trod this earth“? The Southron – here we mean a real Southron, in spirit or in blood, not merely a resident of the geographic Southeastern United States – will feel a stirring within him when he hears that speech, answering “the call of the freedom-loving blood that is in us“. It is a flickering candlelight of the once mighty bonfire of Race-spirit that possessed the Saxon Southerner, now by a history of defeat so greatly diminished that it cannot deter from the ruins of his nation the great flocks and packs of plundering carrion birds and beasts. Fraser is wrong: the last Anglo-Saxon, nameless, fell beneath the fire of Yankee cannon and musketry. His comrades, less fortunate than he, wandered the earth like lost spirits, some vengeful, some forlorn. The race vanished, and now its monuments are beginning to fall. The WASP, as we have come to know him, is uniquely Yankee and wholly the successor of the last traces of Saxon Weltgefuhl that informed the various English tribes emergent on the American continent.
The Southron is a unique scion of the English nation, perhaps the only one so keenly aware of his own heritage, and yet, by the time of Governer Wallace, unable to disentangle himself from New England Yankee language – for by that time, Anglo-Saxon was a self-referential term for the decidedly Yankee tribe who were still finding their sea legs as world-rulers. J. Quitman Moore wrote in late 1862 of a Norman civilization among the Southerners, to define them against their vulgar “Saxon” counterparts in the North in a Romantic appeal to misapprehended Norman chivalry. In reality, the Southland was populated by a very unique and wholly Saxon people in spirit, deriving from three sources: the South of England, especially around Wessex, the Scotch-Irish borderlands which we have already established built their culture on Saxon foundations and, finally, Barbados, correctly identified by Michael Cushman as the most crucial cultural and spiritual component of Southern identity and nationhood. Combining these different ethnoi, into a new whole, the South itself became, like the Scotch Borderlanders, Saxon in spiritual origin but something far more in substance.
The essential quality of the Southron is found in three things, which must work in tandem or they cease to be Southern in any distinguishable sense and may be applied broadly to all English people(s) of the Americas or even more broadly. The first is the agrarian quality of the South, and by this we mean not just its rootedness in a Planter Class, but indeed the necessary bonds to the soil only possible when one exists at both the beginning and the end of husbandry. The Southron from his earliest emergence to his full coalescence has ever been a husbandman, either a yeoman or a Planter. It is not only his state, it is his aspiration to be so.
Second, the rootedness in an almost Mediterranean fixation on the classics gives the impression of a Mediterranean mind and heart, and led our aforementioned Mr. Moore to describe the South as Norman. In reality, the old Germanic fixation on learning that earned King Alfred the title “the Great”. It is Norman only in that it looked to the continent, but it also looked far beyond where the Norman eye landed, deeply entrenched as the Norman ever is in worldly concerns. The Norman loves the classics for their pragmatism; the Saxon clings to them for aesthetic. The Southron has the benefit of being a balanced hybrid of the two, favouring aesthetics – for what use did the otherwise illiterate young apprentices who filled the lower ranks of the Confederate Army have for Horace and Seneca? Yet, they spoke dog latin more fluently than many in the Yankee Army spoke English.
Finally, the Southron is a hierarchical and traditional man, ruled by custom and a sense of justice born not in law but in the commons – here we must dispute Fraser when he echoes Walter Ullman that jurisprudence is the cornerstone of civilization. This is not so, and neither was it among the Saxons. Written law, codified and enforced in standing courts of law was an altogether continental and Roman practice put in place largely through the administrative genius of Henry II; common law is the gift of the English to the West, and the Common Law remained the backbone of Southern society, augmented as it often was by the unwritten Honor Codes enforced on the dueling field and, more (in)famously, Lynch’s Law, which allowed for communities to correct themselves without outside interference (accounting for its infamy in an age of deracinated bureacracy).
The South is therefore far more customary than constitutional, despite the airs affected by the Fire-eaters and contemporary “States-Rights” rhetoricians. The South sought secession for precisely this reason: the emerging rigidity of the bureaucratic Yankee state, bound up in codified legalism enforced objectively, was offensive to Saxon sensibilities as it was to those of the clannish hill folk. It was in this quality, the traditional and the customary, that the real soul of the South first begins to reveal itself, due largely to the Barbadian touch which made Southerners more Creole than White, always keeping their Mother Country, be it the United Kingdom or the United States, at arm’s length.
The Creole as an American Type
There is a Southern creole in the narrow sense, mostly to be found in the Gulf coast regions of Mississippi and Louisiana. The South broadly, and especially those places settled by the Planting Class pejoratively termed “Slave Power” by the hysterical ladies of New England and their obedient husbands, was a land of Creoles in the spirit of the Spanish and Portuguese criollos, and with similar social and cultural significance. It was a land populated by not only a planting elite, but a sizeable population of laborers and freeholders quite similar, as Luraghi has pointed out, to the short-lived Crusader States of the Levant and, arguably, of Northeastern Europe. Luraghi draws parallels with the Levant in order to highlight a certain Mediterranean quality of the Plantation South, but the structure of the monastic state of the Teutonic Knights offers a decidedly parallel phenomenon outside the Mediterranean geographically, culturally, and spiritually. Likewise, the mistaken view of the South as Mediterranean or part of a wider Hispanic Plantation world (a popular belief among the Southern expansionists of the Golden Circle project) finds its roots in this similitude with the Spaniards and Portuguese as the last standard-bearers of the Crusading spirit. In fact, the popular conception of the Antebellum South as a land mimicking Medieval Europe with its noble courts, chivalric romance, and knightly warriors is for all its Romantic attachments not far from the truth of the matter.
For our purposes, we must give a real definition of the Creole as a cultural type. Only then can we understand the Creole in the American context. For this, we consider the unnamed cultural type occurring in the Crusader States of the foreign-born European Christian, many of whom could never have hoped to hold a position of real power or social influence in Europe, but in the East were guaranteed as Europeans to belong not only to a ruling class, but in all likelihood hold and wield real political power. This class of Outremer European were often challenged by European nobles and royalty who arrived with their own claims to power and influence and sought to unseat these rulers, who, in several of the most well-known cases, were the daughters of the first and second Crusading generations. A similar dynamic developed in the Spanish colonies, particularly in Mexico, whereby American-born Spaniards had tremendous wealth and influence but were explicitly denied high station, and grew to resent their co-ethnics from Spain proper. This class, referred to pejoratively by the peninsulares, the peninsular Spanish, as criollos, were found throughout Latin America and had similar relationships with both the mother country and her inhabitants. In many cases, the criollo population was of mixed descent, but in the case of the Mexicans in particular, their relationship with the Aztecs and other Mexican peoples was purely mythological.
In the Levant, too, a close bond was developed particularly in the northern Crusader States of Antioch and Edessa with the Armenians of the Kingdom of Cilicia; intermarriage between the Armenian royal family and nobility and the Frankish Crusaders was frequent, and the results of these pairings considered themselves European but showed marked loyalty to the native peoples of the Levant, adjusting their policies accordingly. A well-known example is the rivalry between Raymond III of Tripoli and Guy de Lusignan, heavily fictionalized in the atrocious Kingdom of Heaven (2005); a less renowned but perhaps more ideal example is that of the half-Armenian Melisende of Jerusalem, whose fight for her own independent rule against the designs of the French nobility ended with her marriage to Fulk of Anjou, a success that preserved her family’s claim and permitted Fulk to rule as King of Jerusalem only by virtue of his wife’s claim. Melisende, much like Constance of Antioch, represents the earliest of the Creole type in Western Civilization.
The Creole came into conflict not only with the native secular nobility of Europe, but also with the ecclesiastic hierarchy. We may suppose that a lack of shared experience drove this rift, but it is as much a matter of the European nobility having a different worldview as it is a matter of Creole accession to local power. Most Creoles throughout the history of European colonization originating in lower classes and being thrust, sometimes within a lifetime, sometimes within a generation, into power that their ancestors would have regarded as beyond the realm of wildest imagination. These were Cinderella stories – in the original sense, since Cinderella’s father in the fairy tale is clearly middling gentry, not some poor peasant farmer as modern renditions would have it. Men of the lower and middling gentry, well-off but lacking social and cultural influence due to their recent arrival as a cultural entity and their lack of connections in the ascendant classes, could on Crusade or in the Americas make of themselves a real power, attaining lands and the people who lived on them which rivaled the grandest feudal manors of the European continent.
European nobles took generations and centuries to amass the land they possessed when these parvenus departed for foreign lands, slowly cultivating their place in society. This meant, on the one hand, European nobles became acquainted with wealth and power on a longer timeline, developing a sense of history and intergenerational planning, while the Creole gentry were suddenly given land, title, and power all at once with practically no planning or the difficult social effort necessary to attain it at home. On the other hand, however, it also meant that the European noble readily admitted that his place was inherited, that he worked his own lands very little and exerted influence far exceeding his actual investment in his social status and real estate, while the Creole had to physically work the fields of his land, becoming closer with his retainers and was therefore placed on a very steep learning curve – one that selected for personal excellence. Both groups could readily consider themselves superior to the other, and neither could rightly accuse the other of basing their self-image in anything other than objective fact about their historical and contemporary circumstances.
The Church has always been a conservative institution – it matters not what body is correct to claim to be the Church, they are all alike in this respect. Creole societies tend to be deeply religious but often come into open conflict with the Church in no small part because of its clear and close relationship with the First Estate to which the Creole gentleman could never hope to aspire. As a result, in Virginia we find spirituality of a more superstitious and pagan form shaping the religious sensibilities of the Planting Elite; in the Hispanic World, the relationship between the encomiendas and ecclesiastical hierarchy was at times openly hostile – such that eventually the ruling classes abandoned Christianity altogether for a mystagological form of Freemasonry, and spent two centuries winning a liberal war against the Church. Even in the Crusader States, Rome frequently found itself powerless to dictate religious policy to the upstart Kings of Jerusalem – and this centuries before thought of a Reformation was even conceptually possible for European Christendom.
Speaking of the American Creole, then, it is easy to see how he could easily fall into line with a revolutionary line of behavior even if he retained a reactionary pattern of thought – and this combination of reactionary life-ways and values but revolutionary, or at least seditious, behavior defines the Southern Colonies and the American Creole as a type essentially different than the Merchant gentry of the Middling colonies and the purveyors of the Protestant Ethic in the far Northeast. Some of these values were brought to the South from their origin in England, a la David Hackett Fischer, but so much more were they the result of the new soil into which these men dug their roots.
Social Hierarchy, Power Dynamics, and Yankee Whiteness
The American hierarchies were likewise shaped in this way. In New England, a man might speak of Black and White as categories before the arrival of the new immigrants of the 1840s, with the browbeaten savages as a third, outsider population. Already in the 18th century, though, we find in the South a complex hiearchy blurring lines between the castes from the Creole Proper, our Planting Gentility, to the mixed and middling folks of the cities, to the Cracker, the Poor White, the White Trash of the small farms and hillsides, to the Civilized Indians to the Free Negro to the Negro Slave to the feral savages of the frontier. Only the Creole Proper would be able to distinguish among all these. The Cracker would tend to see different shades above and below his own station, and while even he would and did differentiate between the Free Negro and the slave, he would not distinguish, as Andrew Jackson did not distinguish, between the land-holding, civilized redskins of Georgia and South Carolina farms and those savages of the frontier who burned barns, trampled infants and children, and raped women in plain sight of their dying husbands and fathers. For them, the economic competition from the former and physical threat of the latter were too immediate for a meaningful distinction to ever be made. After all, the Civilized Tribes were by and large a Creole project. The same is true of the Negro, who regardless of his place and education, tended to see things in terms of power dynamics – using vocabulary, like “massa” or “nigra”, which they borrowed from Cracker culture. Free Negroes as a result were often eager to acquire slaves of their own or to breed with those closest to the Planter class, producing a large slave-holding caste of mulattoes and quadroons that dominated the Lousianan economy and society up to and, to a certain extent, after the War.
Today, we frequently hear reference made to the numerous black slave-holders of Louisiana and Mississippi, typically as a means to alleviate some of the burden on Whites of what is now regarded as the Original Sin of America. This speaks to the degree to which the Antebellum Caste system has been forgotten, and the stark categories of the Judeo-Yankee have come to the fore. There can never be for the Judeo-Yankee any distinction but friend/enemy, outsider/insider, Gentile/Hebrew – degrees of comity and enmity within a functioning society, alleviated or exacerbated by personal feud and clan alliance, is foreign to their conception of the world. For them, morality as personal law is subject to interpretation and commentary, but the material world is a much more stark dichotomy. This is utterly foreign to the Creole spirit, who by necessity of history must have had more subtlety in approaching the social order, and who strove to keep each part of the hierarchy in its proper order, but for whom things like moral law, duty, and personal honor were the points of real distinction, in which only two categories existed: morally good and socially intolerable. There was no such thing as a half-way honorable gentleman, a half-honest merchant, a half-obedient slave, but one would tolerate a free Negro in his appropriate place at church, and no one would raise an eyebrow at a slave seated in his master’s pew or box. The real segregation of the Creole South was not between or among “the races” but between the decent and depraved, the upstanding and the lawless. Likewise, while Common Law withered under harsh regimentation of bureaucratic law in the North, it was robust even until the 20th century in the South.
This changed significantly with the overthrow of the South and the extermination of the bulk of her manhood in the War. Some 290,000 men who had come of age in this culture were killed in the war, and another eight hundred thousand were wounded, crippled, or displaced. This constitutes quite nearly the entire manhood of the South – clearing the way for only a small remnant of the former population to resist Yankee (and explicitly Yankee, not merely Northern – the identification of the two was largely an outgrowth of these turbulent years) conquest, subjugation, and humiliation of Southern society.
Free Negroes and former slaves instituted the first laws mandating segregation of the races, smashing the nuanced hierarchy and creating a stark black-white divide. Churches became segregated by race first – long before schools and streetcars at the turn of the 20th century. Some Southern resistance organizations, like the first – and the only actually Southern – iteration of the Ku Klux, rejected the new order, making open war on the Yankee Whites, while others, like the White League and the Redshirts, adopted the New South in an attempt to steer it. While the former withered on the vine, the latter persisted and became the seeds of contemporary White Nationalism. Poor Whites and former Planters (what few were left), targeted as part of a single group of offenders by the Yankee occupying governments, banded together along racial lines to retake their states and culture. Blacks, now all freed and with tremendous social and political power they had neither the human capital, education, or experience to wield, became natural targets of frustration from the nascent White political bloc, exacerbating the racial divide and further vaporizing the nuances of the pre-War caste system.
By 1880, a New South had emerged, with the Whites having won a hard-fought battle to regain enfranchisement and the Blacks, lacking material support they had enjoyed from the carpetbagger businesses and occupying governments, lost the necessary organization and leadership to remain in political power. The new White bloc, meanwhile, was utterly dedicated to guaranteeing the Yankee could never wield the Black as a weapon against them again. They turned those laws introduced by Black Republican governments, disenfranchising Whites and segregating the races, against the Blacks themselves in the form of the Jim Crow regime, which maintained the peace for the next sixty years.
To the North, the Yankee WASP watched with mixed horror, fascination, and admiration at how the New South handled the question of the racial divide. The new Whiteness of America, informed by the South and the changes it underwent, emerged, and with it an argument over its place in the Anglo-Yankee moral order. These arguments coincided and intersected with the emergence of the Progressive worldview, a new Puritanism that had evolved beyond the need of an identifiable God, and the development of a cultural comity between Jewish and WASP values as the former were at last openly welcomed into the elite of the Anglo world – long before the Second World War. The shift this effected – the emergence of the Rootless Cosmopolitan Elite as the dominant Anglo tribe, the coding of antisemitism and racial categories as proletarian (and therefore undesirable), and the abandonment of physical colonialism in favor of spiritual colonialism – will be discussed in subsequent installments.
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This is a *fascinating* take on the Old South. I’ve read a good bit of Southern history and have not really encountered the Creole analysis before, at least not applied to the whole region as opposed to Louisiana. Can you recommend any more reading on it? Thanks.
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The majority of the influence on my theory of the broader Southern creole type comes directly from Raimondo Luraghi, who was also a big influence on Michael Cushman and his book Our Southern Nation. I found Cushman to be one of the most fascinating pieces of self-reflection to come from an Anglo-Southern mind. He misses the forest for the trees at times, but since he is writing as a Southern Anglo himself, it’s not really a fault as much as a feature of him commenting on his own people.
You forget the true last Anglo saxons you American mongrel: Australians. And we ain’t dead yet