Congressman John Sharp Williams on Sentiment

“We hear much about a “New South.” There is no New South. What there is of change is a change in the direction of the energies of the people; and if there be anything great and good in the so-called “new” South, as far as I have been able to ascertain, it is always something whose growth has its roots in the soil of the Old South. Everything admirable in the so-called “new” South is built upon the old, as a house is built upon the rock of its foundation. We hear much about letting the “dead past bury its dead.” No poet who was ever a philosopher, and perhaps no real poet, would ever have uttered that sentence. There is no such thing as a dead past.

We meet to celebrate the cause and the men of the sixties. What was the cause? Was it secession? Not a whit of it. Secession was merely the remedy, which was invoked for the assertion of a right, for the maintenance of a cause. It had been twice before virtually invoked in these United States, though the sword had not been drawn to support its invocation – once by New Englanders in opposition to what they considered the tyranny of the Embargo Laws, and once by the South Carolinians in denial of the constitutional right of a government for all the people to levy tribute upon all the people in order to make the capital of a part of the people more profitable, or the labor of a part of the people better compensated.

What was the cause then? Was it slavery? Not a whit of it. Slavery was undoubtedly the occasion of the quarrel and of the fight; but had the South been attacked in any of her other property and civil rights, she would have defended them just as readily; in fact, more readily than she did in this case. It was merely upon the side of slavery that our right to local self-government was attacked.

And yet, my friends, there are people who say that all this sort of talk is “sentiment,” that what we want to do is to “come down to cotton and corn and pork,” buying and selling, negotiating bank exchange; that everything else is “sentiment,” and that sentiment is “rot.” Let it be a point with you, young boys and girls, to remember that the only thing in this world which is not “rot,” is sentiment.”

Business is all right, so is moneymaking. Every man should be diligent in business. We have apostolic authority for that. Every man should want to make money in order that he may look all other men straight in the eye with the independence of true manhood, owing no man anything, saying with poor Bobbie Burns:

“Not for to hide it in a hedge,

Nor for train attendant,

But for the glorious privilege,

Of being independent.”

But the man who subordinates his nature, who prostitutes his chief energies to the business of piling one dollar upon another, who forgets that there are flowers and poetry, a past and a present for himself and for his race, on earth and in heaven, who has narrowed himself to the point where everything but money-making and so-called business has become “rot,” would be bored to death in the kingdom of heaven in twenty-four hours . . . a country without memories is without history, a country without history is without traditions, and a country without traditions is without ideals and community aspirations, and a community without these is without sentiment, and a country without sentiment is without capacity for achieving noble purposes, developing right manhood, or taking any great place in the history of the world.”

(Rep. John Sharp Williams of Mississippi, Fall 1904 address to Memphis UCV, November 1904 Confederate Veteran Magazine, pp. 517-519)

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