South Carolina Fire-Eater
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South Carolina Fire-Eater is the first book-length biography of Laurence Massillon Keitt, one of South Carolina's most notorious advocates of secession and apologists for African American slavery. A politician who wanted to be a statesman, a Hotspur who wanted to be a distinguished military leader, Keitt was a U. S. congressman in the 1850s, signed the Ordinance of Secession, and represented his rebellious state in the Confederate Congress in 1861. Through this thoroughly researched volume, Holt Merchant offers a comprehensive history of an important South Carolina figure.

As a congressman, Keitt was responsible for no legislation of any significance, but he was in the midst of every southern crusade to assert its "rights": to make Kansas a slave state, to annex Cuba, and to enact a territorial slave code. In a generation of politicians famous for fiery rhetoric, Keitt was among the most provocative southerners. His speeches in Congress and on the stump vituperated "Black Republicans" and were filled with references to medieval knight errantry, "lance couched, helmet on, visor down," and threats to "split the Federal temple from turret to foundation stone."

His conception of personal honor and his hot temper frequently landed him in trouble in and out of public view. He acted as "fender off" in May 1855 when his fellow representative Preston Brooks caned Charles Sumner on the Senate floor. In 1858 he instigated a brawl on the floor of the House of Representatives that involved some three dozen congressmen. Amid the chaos of his personal brand of politics, Keitt found time to woo and wed a beautiful, intelligent, and politically astute plantation belle who after his death restored the family fortune and worked to embellish her late husband's place in history.

After Abraham Lincoln was elected president, Keitt and the rest of the South Carolina delegation resigned their seats in Congress. He then negotiated unsuccessfully the surrender of Fort Sumter with lame-duck president James Buchanan, played a major role in the December 1860 Secession Convention that led his state out of the Union, and a lesser role in the convention that formed the Confederacy. Bored with his position as a member of the Confederate Congress, Keitt resigned his seat and raised the 20th South Carolina Infantry.

Keitt spent most of the war defending Charleston Harbor, sometime commanding Battery Wagner, the site of the July 18, 1863, assault by the 54th Massachusetts Regiment of African American troops, made famous by the movie Glory. Keitt took command the day after that battle and was the last man out of the battery when his troops abandoned it in September 1863. In May 1864, his regiment joined the Army of Northern Virginia and Keitt took command of Kershaw's Brigade. Inexperienced in leading troops on the battlefield he launched a head-long attack on entrenched Federal cavalry in the June 1, 1864, Battle of Cold Harbor. Keitt was mortally wounded advancing in the vanguard of his brigade. With that last act of bravado, Keitt distinguished himself. He was among the few fire-eater politicians to serve in the military and was likely the only one to perish in combat defending the Confederacy.

A biography of one of South Carolina's most notorious advocates of succession and apologist for slavery



Publié par
Date de parution 07 juillet 2014
Nombre de lectures 0
EAN13 9781611173505
Langue English
Poids de l'ouvrage 1 Mo

Informations légales : prix de location à la page 0,2100€. Cette information est donnée uniquement à titre indicatif conformément à la législation en vigueur.



The Life of Laurence Massillon Keitt, 1824-1864

2014 University of South Carolina
Published by the University of South Carolina Press
Columbia, South Carolina 29208
23 22 21 20 19 18 17 16 15 14 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Merchant, Holt.
South Carolina fire-eater : the life of Laurence Massillon Keitt, 1824-1864 / Holt Merchant.
pages cm
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 978-1-61117-349-9 (hardbound : alk. paper) - ISBN 978-1-61117-350-5 (ebook)
1. Keitt, Laurence M. (Lawrence Massillon), 1824-1864. 2. Legislators-United States-Biography. 3. United States. Congress. House-Biography. 4. United States-Politics and government-1849-1861. 5. Secession-South Carolina. 6. United States-History-Civil War, 1861-1865-Biography. 7. Generals-Confederate States of America-Biography. 8. Orangeburg County (S.C.)-Biography. 1. Title.
E415.9.K27M47 2014
328.73 092-dc23
Frontispiece: Laurence M. Keitt, representative from South Carolina.
Courtesy of Library of Congress.
List of Illustrations

See that you rear a new Union
Trample upon your hosannas to the Union
He who dallies is a dastard
Shake the Federal temple from turret to foundation stone
Like mildew and blast, like pestilence and famine
Lance couched, helmet on, visor down
Take the fetters from your heart
Style, beauty, and high training
Fidelity to the Union is treason to the South
True liberty is won by the blood of the brave
Proudly the Southern Cross still floats to the breeze

Epilogue: I will not lose my land
Laurence M. Keitt
Arguments of the Chivalry
Charles Sumner
James Henry Hammond
Galusha A. Grow
Bird s-Eye View of Charleston, South Carolina
Suzanne Mandeville Sparks Keitt
The Seceding South Carolina Delegation
Anna Keitt
Defenses of Charleston Harbor
Colonel L. M. Keitt
Map showing Morris Island
A project that consumes forty years from start to finish accumulates a significant number of obligations along the way. I returned to my alma mater in 1970 before I had completed work on my Ph.D. at the University of Virginia. Allen Moger, one of my undergraduate professors, then chairman of the Department of History proposed that I write a biography of Laurence Keitt. He explained that Ollinger Crenshaw, another much-admired professor at Washington and Lee University, had begun work on the project but died before he could get very far into it. I had the good sense not to ask who Keitt was or why I should write about him, adopted his suggestion, and set out in pursuit of a man that consumed much of the next six years-summers at libraries at the University of Virginia, Duke University, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the University of South Carolina, and the Calhoun County Historical Commission in St. Matthews, South Carolina-including nights and weekends that I could steal from the more pressing business of writing lectures, meeting classes, grading papers, and sitting on committees.
During these six years of struggle, I accumulated debts to a long list of wonderful men and women. Paul Gaston, my mentor at the University of Virginia, kindled my enthusiasm for the history of the South and occasionally even soothed my anger. His careful reading of every version of the manuscript saved me from errors of both fact and interpretation. And Michael Holt read the final version and helped me to understand more fully the heart and mind of a surprisingly complex politician. His knowledge of the years immediately preceding the Civil War prevented me from falling into traps best known to historians of the antebellum South. And a small army of librarians, many of whose names I have over the intervening years forgotten, deserve better from me. I do nevertheless want to single out William Erwin of Duke University and Jeanne Ulmer of the Calhoun County Historical Commission, who helped to make a difficult task easier than I had any right to expect. Finally, I would like to thank Anna Claytor, who typed the final version; my wife, who typed every other version; and the John M. Glenn Fund of Washington and Lee that made three summers away from Lexington less painful than they otherwise would have been.
In 1976 I completed the work and put the manuscript on the shelf, where for thirty years I let it gather dust. But during the summer of 2007, I was sitting on a beach in North Carolina reading the second volume of William W. Freehling s monumental Road to Disunion and noticed that Freehling had discussed Keitt s contributions to the sectional crisis, wondered where he had looked for information, turned to his footnotes, and noticed he had referenced my research. My reaction to that discovery scattered a sizable flock of seagulls. Later that year, I came upon the excellent half-chapter on Keitt in Eric H. Walther s The Fire-Eaters . Together, the two historians almost had convinced me that Keitt deserved another look. Then, in the spring of 2008, Bill Freehling came to Washington and Lee to preside over a seminar on sectionalism. While he was here, he urged me to revise the manuscript for publication. I took his advice, obtained a sabbatical from the university, devoted my time away from teaching to research and writing, and in nine months converted my earlier efforts into what I hope will be a useful book.
During those nine months, I accumulated still more debts-to Vaughan Stanley, Richard Grefe, and Elizabeth Teaff, librarians at Washington and Lee who greatly eased the task of locating sources and checking facts; to Henry Fulmer and Graham Duncan of the South Caroliniana Library, who aided my search for information about the postwar struggles of Keitt s widow Susanna, a real-life prototype of the fictional Scarlett O Hara; and to Thomas Litzenburg, a literary craftsman who relentlessly held up the prose of Jane Austen and R. D. James, whose clarity and grace he was convinced every historian should do his best to emulate. Debts are owed also to Jennifer Ashworth, who has typed and advised and retyped; to Washington and Lee, which has provided financial support at crucial moments; and to Alexander Moore, acquisitions editor at the University of South Carolina Press. And most of all, I owe an enormous debt to Becky, to whom I have been married for almost fifty years. She has typed and edited and encouraged, and every bit as important, worked, run our home, and looked after our two sons-children when I began this project but middle-aged now-and protected me from the distractions of the world. She has brought light and joy into my life; I love her more than she can possibly know.
In September 1860, the New York Leader published a description of Congressman Laurence M. Keitt of South Carolina that would have agitated the enemies and surprised the friends who read it. It was not the physical description of the man that would have attracted their attention. He was, as the anonymous author wrote, tall, broad shouldered, deep-chested, and powerful. He had dark brown curly hair that was rapidly receding, a full beard, blue-gray eyes, a florid complexion, irregular features, a deep scar on the right side of his forehead, a small mouth, and a general air which reminds one of King Henry the Eighth. His voice was clear and ringing, his gestures graceful, his imagination fervid, and his appearance overall commanding.
It was the author s analysis of Keitt s many virtues and few faults that would have angered his enemies and amused his friends. They may have laughed at his satirical version of the American Revolution in which South Carolinians threw tea into Boston harbor and battled redcoats at Lexington and Bunker Hill while terror-stricken New Englanders looked on from a safe distance. They would surely have added to the number of faults the reporter had identified and severely reduced the number of his virtues.
In his private life, the unknown author attested, Keitt was generous to a fault, cordial, hospitable, full of dash and daring, brave as a lion and prodigal as a lord, and unfailingly loyal to his friends. That last trait had been responsible for involving him in transgressions of doubtful taste. He had been only a bystander when Preston Brooks caned Charles Sumner and later when Henry Edmundson struck John Hickman with a slight switch. He was unjustly accused of participating in the encounters, had stood by his friends, and so been reviled for acts he did not commit. If he had done anything else, he would have abandoned his friends and violated the code of honor that shaped his life. Nothing he did was truly open to censure.
In public, the writer continued, Keitt was a South Carolinian all over. He believed without reservation in the gospel according to John C. Calhoun, the alpha and omega of his faith, and had no equal in preaching that disasterous [ sic ] doctrine. In Congress, he quickly established himself as a masterful orator, though a bit too fond of metaphor and paradox. His speeches attacking the Know Nothings and defending the admission of Kansas to the Union won widespread applause, even from men who rejected his arguments. He was a true scholar who lectured learnedly and with great success on ancient civilizations, the superiority of

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