SECRET AND SACRED: The Diaries of James Henry Hammond, a Southern Slaveholder by Carol K.--Ed. Bleser

SECRET AND SACRED: The Diaries of James Henry Hammond, a Southern Slaveholder

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A forgotten luminary of antebellum southern history tells all the details of his personal and political life. This pro-slavery, pedophilic plantation-owner was ahead of his time in indiscretion if not in politics. Hammond's diary was intended to take the place of ""a friend to whose sympathetic bosom I could confide anything. . ."" The resulting verbal self-portrait (written with an eye on future readers), empty of irony, is rich in self-aggrandizement, self-pity, and self-justification. Gifted with considerable political talent, this secessionist was governor of South Carolina, representative to Congress, and, late in life, a senator. His friends included two of South Carolina's most famous antebellum figures: statesman John Calhoun and novelist William Gilmore Simms. Hammond's promising political career was nipped in the bud when sexual indiscretions with four of his wife's teen-age nieces damaged his reputation--""wanton indulgences"" described in surprising detail. But despite his sexual weaknesses, ""the besetting sin of the strong,"" he still believed himself to be ""endowed. . .with both moral and intellectual qualities that would enable him to lead an army or rule a nation far better than any of those who occupy these positions in our country. . ."" Eventually, South Carolina came round to his point of view and elected him senator. Neither a brilliant stylist nor an acute observer of human nature, Hammond is instead a fascinating and unabashed self-creator. Like Benvenuto Cellini's picture of Renaissance Italy, Hammond's engraving of antebellum politics and plantation life is no less vivid for being extraordinarily self-involved. Bleser (History/Clemson Univ.) has done a good job of editing the diary; her introduction and bibliographical directory are informative, though fuller notes would have helped to flesh out Hammond's references to personalities and current events. In all, a fascinating glimpse into antebellum society and morals.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1988
Publisher: Oxford Univ. Press