The Father of South Nationalism, Robert Barnwell Rhett of South Carolina, consistently applied the paternalistic values of the neo-classical plantation civilization (often in that day referred to as the “Golden Circle”) in his role as a planter and father. As Dr. William C. Davis of Virginia Tech, author of Rhett: The Turbulent Life and Times of a Fire-Eater, notes, as Rhett aquired more slaves for his plantations “he took all the more seriously his responsibility to care for them physically and spiritually.” This included protecting his dependents from abuse and speaking up for others. ”
On at least one occasion he personally stopped an enraged master from brutally flogging a slave,” Davis points out. Rhett also bought bacon and other luxuries for his slaves whenever he had the extra money to do so. And on his plantations, “he insisted that his overseer carefully record all clothing, blankets, fabric, and even needles and thread given to the slaves there to ensure that they received what they needed.” The picture that emerges from Davis’ authoritative biography of the US Senator, secessionist and later Confederate congressman is of a benevolent and caring master who was diligent in his role as a father figure to those in his charge.
Rhett, a practicing traditionalist Episcopalian, was also serious about spiritual instruction for his slaves. In his approach he shared much in common with Leonidas Polk, a leading Episcopal bishop and later Confederate general. As Dr. Glenn Robins of Georgia Southwestern State University writes in his book The Bishop of the Old South: The Ministry and Civil War Legacy of Leonidas Polk, the first Episcopal bishop of Louisiana and owner of more than 200 slaves was “aggressive in his defense of slavery when abolitionists assailed the South as an immoral society and denounced the region’s replates as puppets of a slaveocracy. In this regard, the bishop joined other Southern evangelicals who viewed abolitionists as demagogues and political extremists who ignored the basic doctrines of Christianity, disregarded the biblical justification of slavery, and promoted dissension in churches and denominations by calling into question the Christian faithfulness of slaveholders.” Polk wrote that “the world is trying hard to persuade us that a slaveholding people cannot be a people of high moral and intellectual culture.” He fought this view by “evangelizing slaves” and with “fearless preaching amidst a rowdy mob on the river docks of Shreveport,” as Dr. Cheryl H. White noted in “Bishop Leonidas Polk: Saint of the Confederacy?” for the Winter 2014-2015 edition of Renewal, a publication of the Secker Society.
Like Polk, Rhett was enthusiastic about Christianizing and providing moral and spiritual leadership for his slaves. Davis notes that in 1845 he and his brother “attended a meeting of the Episcopal diocese of South Carolina from which came the declaration that it should be the fixed policy and responsibility of the South to give proper spiritual instruction for its slaves.” He assisted a leading Methodist minister who focused on preaching to slaves and “built a large church on one of his plantations for the slaves from all the neighborhood to attend.” Rhett and his family frequently attended this church themselves. The Southern nationalist leader was never a cash-rich man and often close to impoverishment despite his land wealth. His nephew later noted that his generous gifts to churches and charities contributed to this condition.
What emerges from research in this area is a picture of a ruling class of Southern planters and religious leaders who were serious about paternalism and their spiritual responsibility to their family, a concept on the plantation which extended to slaves as well as blood relations. Southern inequality and paternalism shaped by the neo-classical values of the Golden Circle provided a wholesome and Christian environment for vast numbers of Whites and slaves alike.
We can today look back upon this social model for inspiration in reforming the sprawling crime-ridden ghettos of the South. The egalitarian order imposed upon us by US radicals has destroyed the Black family, greatly harmed the White family, reduced the influence of the church and in general contributed to social discord, violence, poverty and immorality.