The Fire-Eaters: If Tucker Could See Us Now

History, as it goes, is a funny concept. You’re led to believe early on that it is undeniable fact, always recounted with the best intentions. But this rarely holds true, doesn’t it? How do you think you will be remembered in history? Will others speak of you fondly, or will they tarnish your name and demonize your character until even your own bloodline rallies against you? Perhaps you won’t be remembered at all.

More commonly than not, history is written by victors, for victors. So what about the men and ideas that history leaves out? We scrounge old texts and obscure websites looking to gain insight as to why certain conflicts of the past began. We know the version we’re forced to learn, the rendition that’s commonly accepted, but the information doesn’t line up. In your American history class, were you taught anything of the men who spoke for secession long before the Civil War began? Did your instructor speak of the concerns of the fire-eaters regarding a potential empire with seemingly unlimited power. I can tell you from experience, both in high school and college, we were not taught this. What would the reason for that be? Is it because these men had legitimate concerns of a federal government whose power is checked less by the day and whose reach is always increasing? Interesting.

Unless seeking it out, you may never hear talk of the passion of William Lowndes Yancey, the bravery of Edmund Ruffin, or the brilliance of Robert Barnwell Rhett. And if the names are spoken, they will only be introduced as more fuel for the common agreed upon narrative burned into the minds of the youth. Another gentleman who will rarely be spoken of with high regard, but who was instrumental in the early discussions of secession is Nathaniel Beverley Tucker. For those unfamiliar, Tucker was among many of the early Southerners who expressed great reservation over the federal government and their slow, but ever-present, deconstruction of liberties.

Nathaniel Beverley Tucker, son of St. George Tucker and half-brother to John Randolph, achieved a great deal during his lifespan. Despite the constant, and self-applied, pressure of measuring up to his kin, his influence knew little bounds and his determination proved itself unyielding, especially in the later years of his life. A devout admirer of half-brother John Randolph, Tucker became an incredibly vocal advocate for states’ rights with each trespass on sovereignty and he meant to instill that same mindset into his pupils.

Feeling as though life had become stagnant in Virginia, Tucker packed up and moved west to St. Louis, Missouri. Here, unfortunately after a tragedy, Tucker was appointed to the bar and began practicing law in addition to the farming he had recently taken on. Success came quickly for Nathaniel and he had soon been appointed to the Northern Circuit Court of Missouri. Upon dining with success, Tucker moved his family to a six thousand acre plot on Dardenne Creek and sought to create a community of productive Southern farmers with slaves who worked the fields and well-educated men who could compose themselves as gentlemen. Tucker reached marginal success in this, as well as, he had more than a few Southern families who settled on Dardenne Creek and worked the land as he had hoped.

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The Eternal Yankee

This would be imposed upon soon, however, as James Tallmadge of New York devised a plan to phase slavery out of Missouri. Not surprising in the slightest, this angered Tucker and he began to speak out about the dangerous path that would follow the forfeiture of even a single state right. He warned that if Missouri were to allow these intrusions into the governing of their state, a group of people, who had no ties to the Southern states or the land that they held, could achieve a majority in Congress and begin to reshape the government of every state without feeling the effects of the decisions made. Ultimately, Missouri settled on a compromise in 1820 with the agreement being that slavery would not be outlawed, but it could also not expand above a certain northern point. This agreement also compromised Tucker’s affection toward the state of Missouri, but he remained there regardless and observed the deconstruction of liberties through the South. The protective tariff of 1828, commonly referred to as the Tariff of Abominations, was just another example of a congress who had asked for far too much power for Nathaniel’s liking.

In response to the Tariff of Abominations, South Carolina passed a nullification of the Tariff and refused to collect from its citizens. The governor, John Calhoun, captured Tucker’s attention with this move and Tucker became a very outspoken admirer of Calhoun. Standing with South Carolina and their decision on nullification, Nathaniel argued, should be paramount if Southerners hope to retain their rural way of life. Though Congress and South Carolina had reached an acceptable compromise, Tucker carried this same mentality throughout his life. There was a war being waged on the Southern people and their culture and he meant to bring it to the light.

Following his return to Virginia, Tucker took up a position as a professor of law at William and Mary. Here, Nathaniel sought to instill a sense of loyalty in the minds of his pupils and lectured that their obedience should be to their beautiful state and not to the imposing Federal government or any form of a unionized country. Tucker argued that the values and views of those in Congress and the decisions that they made were not always compatible with the Southern way of life, or even considerate of it, and the individuals in a state had the right to oppose them as they saw fit. Tucker took great pride in any accomplishments his students would achieve in the future and insisted that any student to exit his classroom, did so permanently altered and a true Southerner. His reach extended beyond his classroom, however, as South Carolina Congressman James H. Hammond became a close friend and devoted pupil of Tucker, despite never having seen Tucker’s classroom. A staunch admirer, Hammond requested at one point that Tucker send him anything he had ever written. One of the works that Tucker provided Hammond was a novel he had penned under the name Edward William Sydney titled The Partisan Leader.

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The novel had been written as a commentary, or warning even, of a country consolidated under one Federal government. Those that held power kept it by force and the Constitution had been rendered meaningless. The Partisan Leader saw the lower Southern states rising up for secession against the tyrannical rule, with the other states close to follow. The novel depicted the Northern Union crippled due to the loss in revenue from the North and the South prospering from free trade policies. The Partisan Leader, albeit fictional, held the true sentiments of Nathaniel Beverley Tucker and contained many of the ideas his pupils, Hammond included, yearned to hear.

Fortunately for James Hammond, he and Tucker would have the chance to meet in 1850 at a regional convention for the Southern states held in Nashville. Hammond would finally get to witness the passion and fire that Tucker would deliver, day in and day out, in his classroom. Appealing to the outrage felt by most Southerners at the time, Tucker certainly delivered his sentiments with ferocity. Nathaniel Beverley Tucker insisted that if the Southern states wished to remain sovereign, they needed to secede soon. Tucker proclaimed that only a single state would need to carry the torch and the rest would follow the light. Perhaps before his time, as many Southern delegates could not see the necessity of abandoning the Union, mention of secession didn’t make it further than Tucker’s speech.

The speech at the Nashville Convention would be one of the last major vocal achievements of Nathaniel Beverley Tucker. The trip had initially taken much of his strength and even after regaining that strength, he could do little more than write for the Southern Quarterly Review. As much as he desired it, Tucker would never see secession and he passed away on August 26, 1851. Perhaps fortunately for him, though, Nathaniel would never witness the bloody battles to follow, or the fundamental shift of his homeland and the rapidly decaying state of our nation today. If given one glance at the state of his home today, would he be able to come to terms with it?

Not only have Tucker’s greatest concerns been fully implemented, they’ve been taken to higher levels. Many areas of his home state of Virginia no longer recognize their very humble roots and the residents of these areas actively seek to tear apart the culture that made it an amazing place to live. Would Tucker sit back and watch as his people are replaced and subsequently silenced when they speak up for their rights? Would he be forced into submission by the progressive narrative? Would he welcome, with open arms, a culture that sought to replace his own? Or would he stand shoulder to shoulder with us, ready and willing to defend the South?

Personally I’m more inclined to believe the latter.



  1. I have been re-educating myself regarding the Fire-Eaters , secession, the Confederacy, and the tyrant Abe Lincoln. To say that our current dilemma is related to the over-reaching,overbearing Federal State ,formalized during Lincoln’s reign , is certainly an understatement. Well, you can’t say we weren’t warned.

  2. The Tuckers were first class. That book, The Partisan Leader, is a good find.

    One tiny correction: Calhoun was Vice President of the United States during the Nullification Crisis. He was never Governor of South Carolina. He resigned as Andrew Jackson’s VP over the Tariff. Jackson later said he wished he had hanged Calhoun from a lamp post.

    On a sort of broader note… I spent years of my life buried in the 19th century. Fascinating stuff. The Abbeville Institute does a great job at all of that. While Southern Nationalism is a fascinating thing, I think Jesse Dunstan is right to focus on current cultural hot takes. Just talking strategy here. Bulbasaur was probably the best example of high energy hot takes on (((what’s really eating away))) at us Southerners in the Current Year. More of that, please.

    1. Thanks for pointing that out, brother. I must have confused my information somewhere through the course of composing this.

      Also, I agree, it’s good to write about what’s currently plaguing our southern way of life, but I did want to go through the fire-eaters for those who may have forgotten or for those who had never read into them.

      1. The articles here that have enlightened me most have been about the history and culture of those opposed to the Federal ,centralized government. This isn’t simply about Southern history. It reinforces a needed world-view, even a cosmology, that is resistant to totalitarianism. It may very well ward off that civic nationalism that pretends toward freedom.

    2. Most of on here know the current climate pretty well to the point of it grinding on our nerves . I guess that’s why we like to reflect on history. Gives us hope and realizing where we went wrong or went right . Plus it’s interesting.

    1. Glad you enjoyed it!
      Another contributor has agreed to help me make this an ongoing series so there will absolutely be more in the near future.
      I would love to read an article written on either of those two.