Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Featured Book Reviewer
- Jan 7, 2013
- Long Island, NY
While all of us know about the Civil War career of James Longstreet, you may not know that before the war, the future general's uncle Augustus Longstreet was quite well known. A professor, college president, and humorist, Augustus was later described as a predecessor of Mark Twain.
During the Antebellum period, Augustus was known for developing the academic defense of slavery and proposing secession.
Here is a brief sketch of his career:
Born in 1790 in Georgia, he graduated from Yale in 1813 and was educated for a year at Tapping Reeve’s law school in Litchfield, Connecticut. He was admitted to the bar in 1815. Longstreet’s career after that involved practicing law, serving briefly in the Georgia legislature beginning in 1821, and then as a superior court judge from 1823 to 1825. For more than dozen years after that, his career was practicing law and farming; in 1838 he became a Methodist minister, and in 1840 he became president of Emory College. For eight years he was president of Emory, during which time he wrote two pro-slavery pamphlets, the obscure Letters on the Epistle of Paul to Philemon published in 1845, and a series of letters A Voice from the South: Letters from Georgia to Massachusetts published in 1847. Longstreet was, with William A. Smith, of Randolph Macon College, central to the split of the Methodist Episcopal Church, which occurred because of the slavery controversy. Longstreet’s first set of letters, on Paul’s letter to Philemon, was designed to show that slaveholding is not sinful and there is no moral evil in slavery.
But at the time he wrote it, Longstreet already realized that the gap between Northerners and Southerners was enormous. Southerners thought of Northerners as “a tribe of self-infuriated mad-men, rushing through the country with the Bible in one hand and a torch in the other— preaching peace, arousing to butchery— lauding liberty, and firing liberty’s last temple.” That work was aimed at other Southerners. His more widely read work, Voice from the South, was written in the form of letters from the state of Georgia to her “sister,” the state of Massachusetts. The nine letters review common tropes about slavery— that it was imposed on the South by northern merchants, that the South supported the North during the Revolution (and was owed support in return now), that emancipation was impractical, that the North would not even support the American Colonization Society, and that abolitionists violated the Constitution and incited slaves to rebellion. Longstreet predicted that abolitionists would lead to the destruction of the Union. He was already in 1847 boasting about how secession would be successful, in part because of the economic importance of cotton. Central among Longstreet’s complaints was the Wilmot Proviso, which would have barred slavery from territory acquired from Mexico during the Mexican-American War. He thought— in common with many at the time— that the Wilmot Proviso was unconstitutional and, further, that abolitionists, even though they admitted the Constitution was pro-slavery, attacked it by urging people to break their oaths to the Constitution, by trying to limit slavery in the territories, and by proposing that free states leave the Union and thus separate themselves from the South. [Brophy, Alfred L.. University, Court, and Slave: Pro-Slavery Thought in Southern Colleges and Courts and the Coming of Civil War (pp. 79-80). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.]