Historians, economists, psychologists, novelists, dramatists, and moviemakers alike have perpetuated myths and legends about the planter aristocracy of the antebellum South. Presenting this remarkable set of diaries which span the critical period between 1841 and 1864, Carol Bleser allows one prominent planter and slaveholder to speak as himself and for himself.
James Henry Hammond, resembling a character in a Faulkner novel, was a poor boy who married into wealth and then fought to make his South Carolina plantations and slaveholdings among the largest in the South. An articulate intellectual active in politics as a congressman, U.S. senator, and South Carolina governor, he became a leading spokesman for the Cotton Kingdom in the last years before the Civil War. He dominated his family, sexually violated his young nieces (causing a scandal that nearly wrecked his career), and fathered children by his slaves. All the while, he kept his "secret and sacred" diaries, almost all of which survived and have existed only in archives until now.
Bleser masterfully edits the diaries, preserving their historical validity so that Hammond's unvarnished voice speaks out clearly on everything from his personal travails to the turbulent politics and key personalities of his age. Moreover, her introduction illuminates Hammond's background and paves the way for the general reader so that the diaries read like a novel, sweeping through the drama and ultimate disaster of the Old South. A vivid portrait emerges of a man whose wealth and intellect combined to make him an important Southern leader, but whose deep character flaws kept him from the true greatness to which he aspired.show more