In the winter of 1781–82, Thomas Jefferson wrote, “Those who labour in the earth are the chosen people of God …, in whose breasts he has made his peculiar deposit for substantial and genuine virtue.”
In 1930, this Jeffersonian strategy was invoked for one last time by a group of twelve Southern Americans whose essays were compiled in a book entitled, “I’ll Take My Stand: The South and the Agrarian Tradition.” One of the book’s contributors, Donald Davidson, said their work described, “the cause of civilized society against the new barbarism of science and technology controlled and directed by the modern power state.” (Otherwise known as Yankees and other miscreants.)
Of the twelve Southerners who wrote these essays, four had been members of a group of student and teacher poets at Vanderbilt University; Donald Davidson, John Crowe Ransom, Allen Tate, and Robert Penn Warren. They subsequently became known as “The Fugitives” through the magazine by that name which they published from 1922 to 1925. They espoused the principle that, “a society operating by agrarian standards was in every way superior to the industrial culture that prevailed in the United States.”
As we look around us today; Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, New York, is there any doubt? There was a time, right here in Tennessee, when our young people just couldn’t wait until they were old enough to go “up Nawth.” And they did — in droves. To Ohio. To Indiana. To Michigan. As we look around us now, we see that many have come back home. To the land of their forefathers.
In the face of all this reverse migration, it must be the South’s present task to somehow preserve her historic identity against the threat from an “American Progressivism,” and to maintain her traditional Southern philosophy of life, in spite of being verbally maligned for wanting to cling to our guns and our Bibles. Yes, we do that. And for good reason!
We also like our pork barbecue, our catfish, our beans and cornbread, and our okra; and we like our church “socials.” We also say “yes maam,” and “no maam.” We pull to the curb when a funeral procession passes. And what’s wrong with all of that?
In the end, Jefferson, after having written the Declaration of Independence, among other things, became one of the most outstanding agriculturalists of his age. He developed hundreds of varieties of food crops, and invented the curved moldboard, which, even to this day, is a part of every turning plow used throughout the world. He based his preference for farming not on the economic realities of the day, but, as he said, “on the spiritual superiority of the endeavor.”
Someone posted on my Facebook page:
“WARNING! You are entering a Red Neck Area. You may encounter American Flags, Armed Citizens, The Lord’s Prayer, and Country Music.”
Were they talking about Tennessee? You betcha!
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“May the time never come when the self-sacrificing toil and the daring hardihood of the pioneers of Tennessee will be forgotten or underwhelmed by posterity.”
Annuals of Tennessee – Ramsey
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