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Old 04-06-2017, 06:05 PM
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Default Book Review: "Rhett: Turbulent Life and Times of a Fire Eater," by W.C. Davis (War between States)

Book Review: "Rhett," By William C. Davis
(Apollonian, 6 Apr 17)

"Rhett: the Turbulent Life and Times of a Fire Eater," by William C. Davis, U. of S. Carolina Press, Columbia, S.C., 2001, xvi, 702 pp., 589 text, notes, bib., index, some illustrations, is extremely worthwhile reading and history covering extensively the life of one of the most important and leading men of the Southern cause of secession, fm earliest times of the subject-matter, fm the S. Carolina "nullification" crisis of 1832-3, through the War of Northern Aggression, to 1876 when Rhett finally gave up the heroic ghost, having lost nearly all his property and suffering ill health.

Davis, the author, is generally a good writer, but his book, otherwise excellent, suffers not just a little fm his extreme prejudice against the subject of his work, Robert Barnwell Rhett (who changed his original surname fm Smith in 1838), and including the southern cause in general, esp. states rights, Rhett notable as one of the earliest and most intensive leaders of the secession movement, esp. fm about 1844, when he saw the Southern states' interests evermore ignored and disrespected by the ever-industrializing North which had raised the national tariff rates again in 1842, this coming after the great nullification crisis of 1832-3.

For the northern states and people didn't want blacks, truth be told and admitted, hence slavery, to spreading to the West--so what happened?--they ended up killing hundreds of thousands of their own people in the south, for no good reason, and put blacks in as enforcers against southern whites, w. equal rights including the vote (while for a time the whites were disfranchised), who then were allowed and enabled, as equal citizens, to spreading to the West, anyway--lovely.

Rhett saw at an earlier time than most that the interests of the two sections, North and South, were evermore diverging and alien, and he considered it was only natural as well as necessary there be a separation for political association, Rhett of course insisting the states were fully sovereign and that union of the states at the time had outgrown its usefulness to interests of the slave-holding South. Rhett did not fear war breaking out and insisted the North would not resort to war--which turned out to be fatal misjudgment, esp. of the truly psychopathic ruthlessness of the leadership.

So Davis's work on Rhett is esp. outstanding for coverage of history fm Rhett's perspective, a slave-holder of the south, Rhett born in 1800, through the nullification crisis of 1832-3 all the way through "reconstruction" period after the war. For Rhett became quite active in politics at early age, winning a seat in the state legislature of S. Carolina in 1826, and then serving in numerous offices, state Attorney Gen., then US Congressman, briefly as US Senator, replacing the late John C. Calhoun, and then as delegate to the Confederate Const. convention and part of the provisional Congress (prior to first formal elections). Rhett also bought, working as editor and writer, the Charleston Mercury newspaper, and became a plantation owner, w. over a hundred slaves.

Thus Rhett was, among many others in S. Carolina and the south, protege' of the great political theories of Calhoun, but differed w. Calhoun regarding practical use and value of the union, agitating rather for southern rights and political prerogatives, and esp. for outright secession and separation, whether or not along with any other southern states.

So what is the great significance of Rob. B. Rhett?--perhaps not terribly much as he held no formal leadership position in the confederacy, though he owned and published a prominent newspaper, but certainly before the war he was noted statesman and one of the early advocates, including through his newspaper, for the secessionist cause, secession without condition or even alliance w. other states. Un-questionably though, the work by Davis is outstanding for the historical value, Rhett serving as focus around which all the various events can well be observed, examined, and evaluated. Even if Davis's work isn't quite "must-read" material, it's well worth the time of the interested historian.
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