Scott Graber

Lectures by McCardell, Rowland, Wise a gift to Beaufort


It is Saturday. It’s 34 degrees, but I’ve got a working fireplace. This hearth, fueled by logs recently harvested from our tornado-ravaged yard, warms me and our tastefully furnished living room.

This morning I’ve also got a cup of Eight O’clock coffee that is slowly lifting me into consciousness — a consciousness centered on John McCardell, Larry Rowland, Steven Wise and their lectures at USCB’s Center for the Performing Arts.

Thursday night John McCardell focused on 1831.

In 1831 someone invited a preacher named Baker to lead a revival at Beaufort’s Baptist Church and at St. Helena’s Episcopal Church. For reasons that remain obscure this event brought out every resident in Town.

In fact, several otherwise successful and asymptomatic lawyers would turn-in their law licenses and enter the seminary. Three attendees would later become bishops and one of them would build a huge church in Shanghai.

It is unfortunate that we have lost the words spoken by Baker — his photograph presents a particularly unattractive face. But his words were as consequential as any words spoken in Beaufort before or since.

In that very same year, according to McCardell, other consequential words were being written by John C. Calhoun. His “Letter from Fort Hill” made the argument that the Federal Government was a creation of the individual states. Implicit in that collective act was the right to withdraw if one was annoyed with the direction of the new country.

In that particular year the Southern states were in the business of raising cotton and tobacco. The Northern states were mostly into manufacturing. And into this economic divide came tariffs on imported, manufactured items like nails, hatchets, plows and textiles.

McCardell says the South didn’t like these tariffs because it bought most of its manufactured merchandise from Britain. And even if southerners were able to buy American-made plows, planters believed they were more expensive than they should have been if there were no tariffs.

The South wanted to end tariffs, the North wanted them to continue, and this led the South to say, “End the tariffs or we’re out of here …”

Although the tariff debate ended with a compromise, the argument between the North and South moved inexorably to slavery. As cotton farming moved West, and as the United States acquired new territory in the West, the argument over slavery moved on to Kansas and Missouri.

And something else — I think — was happening.

While these debates were under way, the English were cleaning the Scots out of Scotland. For centuries the Scots had resisted English colonization and beginning in 17th century the King began to relocate these unhappy, troublesome folk to Northern Ireland.

The Scots hated the King, the Church of England and didn’t like government however small or benign. They started leaving Ireland for the American colonies well before the Revolutionary War.

The Scots-Irish usually landed in Pennsylvania, but then took a left turn and went South to Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee. Some of them remained in the Blue Ridge Mountains living as far away from authority as possible. They were natural-born loners, loved their firearms and identified with the Presbyterian Church.

James Webb, in his book “Born Fighting,” describes these folks in detail. He tells us where they lived, what they ate and what kind of fiddle music they played on their porches. And throughout “Born Fighting” he writes about their impact on the American South.

Importantly, these new immigrants quickly bought into John Calhoun’s notion that any state could leave the Union when that particular state wanted out of the Union.

The Scots-Irish liked to fight, they were good with firearms, and their large induction into the Confederate Army was not unusual or inconsequential. They fought tenaciously — many motivated by the notion of “States Rights.”

This is not to say that issue of slavery was a minor or incidental point of disagreement. The abolition of slavery was an issue almost as soon as the ink was dry on the first, signature compromise in the Constitution. That compromise — to allow the importation of slaves for another 20 years — kicked the can down the road until 1831.

McCardell, Rowland and Wise have given Beaufort a gift — maybe not as impactful as Baker’s 1831 revival — but a look into our past when many locals had speaking parts on a national stage. Each knows how to make stunning, little-known connections between local men (and a few women) and events that transfigured our young nation.

Scott Graber is a lawyer, novelist, veteran columnist and longtime resident of Port Royal. He can be reached at cscottgraber@gmail.com.

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