W. Scott Poole. Never Surrender: Confederate Memory and Conservatism in the South Carolina Upcountry. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2004. 280 pages. ISBN: 0820325074 (cloth); 0820325082 (paperback). Reviewed for the Journal of Southern Religion by Michael Pasquier.
The subject of the Confederate Lost Cause has generated debate for the past two decades. Was it a religion, as Charles Reagan Wilson argued, or was it a tradition, as Gaines Foster rebutted? W. Scott Poole, an assistant professor of history at the College of Charleston, synthesizes the two positions in his book Never Surrender: Confederate Memory and Conservatism in the South Carolina Upcountry. He adds to Wilson's consideration of race and class, while reinstating religious and popular participation into Foster's interpretation. The commingling of these factors in the South Carolina upcountry produced, according to Poole, an "ethos of southern conservatism" and an "aesthetic of the Lost Cause" (1). Elite Confederate veterans preserved their memory of an organic, patriarchal social order through the symbols and rituals of a Confederate religion. The militant defense of southern conservatism lasted throughout Reconstruction, but faltered after the political campaigns of 1876. For the remainder of the nineteenth-century, Democrats manipulated the aesthetic of the Lost Cause for political gain, thus replacing the conservative memory of the Old South with a popular, racialized, progressive movement toward a New South. Benjamin Tillman stood at the center of this social shift away from resistance and toward reconciliation. By the twentieth century, the Lost Cause was not lost, but it did lose its conservative ethos.
In the first half of the book, Poole describes the creation and maintenance of southern conservatism after Appomattox. The demise of the institution of slavery left elite veterans without their primary source of social order, an order based on hierarchy, paternalism, honor, and property. The aesthetic of the Lost Cause, with its links to romanticism and evangelicalism, replaced slavery as the driving force behind the memory of the Old South. "Southern conservatives used the Lost Cause movement to define and encode the boundaries of racial identity, to reaffirm antebellum attitudes regarding gender, and to express a revivified Confederate nationalism" (121). White Christian churches contributed to the Lost Cause movement by "creat[ing] what can only be called a 'Confederate religion'" (125). The preservation of southern conservatism, however, required more than allegiance to Confederate ghosts. It required violent resistance, epitomized by the actions of the Ku Klux Klan and rifle clubs.
|"Poole has uncovered a niche in the vast region of the American South that offers exception and depth to previous studies of the Lost Cause."|
Ironically, this defense of an imagined southern identity precipitated a disruption in the romantic return to antebellum society. The use of violence and intimidation, while definitely inhibiting Federal encroachment, produced cracks in the conservative foundation of an edenic South. In a final effort to curb the infiltration of modernism, southern conservatives supported the popular agrarian movement against northern bourgeois infiltration. Their effort collapsed, however, with the popularity of Benjamin Tillman. He mixed bourgeois ideals with agrarian and white supremacist rhetoric, and, as a result, transformed the nature of honor and politics in the South Carolina upcountry. "Like the former slave, the Confederate veteran found himself on the margin of society, patronized as representative of a world that no longer existed" (195).Poole has uncovered a niche in the vast region of the American South that offers exception and depth to previous studies of the Lost Cause. Perhaps most significantly, he has demonstrated a way for scholars to mediate between the two dominant interpretations proposed by Wilson and Foster. It is no longer reasonable to remove the Lost Cause from issues of race, class, gender, and religion. It is also necessary to balance the characterization of the Protestant South as a system of institutions subscribing to both progressivism and conservatism. The idea of an "aesthetic of the Lost Cause," however, remains somewhat elusive. Poole's employment of the phrase, despite his best efforts, relies so much on previous models that there still can be no complete resolution to the religion and/or tradition of the Lost Cause.
Michael Pasquier, Florida State University
© 1998-2004 by The Journal of Southern Religion. All rights reserved. ISSN 1094-5234