Friday, September 25, 2015

Antebellum crimes against nature

From Box Turtle Bulletin, the revelation that in 19th-century South Carolina, states' rights wasn't all they talked about:

Thomas Jefferson “Jeffrey” Withers
 “Your Elongated Protruberance”: 1826.In May of 1826, Thomas Jefferson Withers, a twenty-two year old law student known to his friends at South Carolina College as Jeffrey, wrote to his dear friend, James Hammond, 18, a letter which is both playful and quite frank about the physical nature of their relationship (see May 15). Hammond responded on June 3, but that letter appears to have been lost. Instead, what we do have is a follow-up letter from Withers which allude to that letter, which Withers praised for having “too much honesty of purpose” and in which Hammond, apparently, weighed the pros and cons of marriage. Withers’s reply to Hammond on September 24 went like this:
Your excellent Letter of 13 June arrived … a few weeks since … Here, where anything like a systematic course of thought, or of reading, is quite out of the question — such system as leaves no vacant, idle moments of painful vacuity, which invites a whole Kennel of treacherous passions to prey upon one’s vitals … the renovation of spirit which follows the appearance of a friend’s Letter — the diagram of his soul — is like a grateful shower from the cooling fountains of Heaven to reanimate drooping Nature. Whilst your letters are Transcripts of real–existing feeling, and are on that account peculiarly welcome — they at the same time betray too much honesty of purposenot to strike an harmonious chord in my mind. I have only to regret that, honesty of intention and even assiduity in excition [?] are far from being the uniform agents of our destiny here– However it must, at best, be only an a priori argument for us to settle the condemnation of the world, before we come in actual contact with it. This task is peculiarly appropriate to the acrimony of old age — and perhaps we had as well defer it, under the hope that we may reach a point, when ’twill be all that we can do–
l fancy, Jim, that your elongated protruberance –your fleshen pole — your [two Latin words; indecipherable] — has captured complete mastery over you — and I really believe, that you are charging over the pine barrens of your locality, braying, like an ass, at every she-male you can discover. I am afraid that you are thus prostituting the “image of God” and suggest that if you thus blasphemously essay to put on the form of a Jack — in this stead of that noble image — you will share the fate of Nebuchadnezzar of old. I should lament to hear of you feeding upon the dross of the pasture and alarming the country with your vociferations. The day of miracles may not be past, and the flaming excess of your lustful appetite may drag down the vengeance of supernal power. — And you’ll “be dam-d if you don’t marry “? — and felt a disposition to set down and gravely detail me the reasons of early marriage. But two favourable ones strike me now — the first is, thatTime may grasp love so furiously as totally [?] to disfigure his Phiz. The second is, that, like George McDuffie, he may have the hap-hazzard of a broken backbone befal him, which will relieve him from the performance of affectual family-duty — & throw over the brow of his wife, should he chance to get one, a most foreboding glooming — As to the first, you will find many a modest good girl subject to the same inconvenience — and as to the second, it will only superinduce such domestic whirlwinds, as will call into frequent exercise rhetorical displays of impassioned Eloquence, accompanied by appropriate and perfect specimens of those gestures which Nature and feeling suggest. To get children, it is true, fulfills a department of social & natural duty — but to let them starve, or subject them to the alarming hazard of it, violates another of a most important character. This is the dilemma to which I reduce you — choose you this day which you will do …[Underlines in the original.]
James Hammond, indiscriminate wielder of his “fleshen pole.”
Hammond would indeed choose to marry, and through his wife he became the owner of a 10,000 acre plantation and 220 slaves. In fact, that young man of “flaming excess” and “lustful appetites” would, according to his own diaries, exercize his libido on three teenage nieces, a slave who bore him several children, and his own teenage daughter. And yet he served as Congressman, Governor and Senator for South Carolina, and became one of the South’s most prominent moralists and defenders of slavery. “I firmly believe,” he said while Governor, “that American slavery is not only not a sin, but especially commanded by God through Moses, and approved by Christ through his apostles.” Hammond invented the phrase “Cotton is King” during a Senate floor debate, and he argued that every society needed a lower caste in order to provide the luxeries that marked high civilization. Hammond’s arguments in support of the “peculiar institution” were highly influential, leading ultimately to his state becoming the first in the South to secede at the start of the Civil War.
Withers also married, in 1831, and he reached a measure of prominence as a journalist and “nullifier,” a lawyer and as a judge of the South Carolina Court of Appeals. He represented his county in South Carolina’s secession Convention, and South Carolina as a Senator in the Provisional Confederate Congress. He was also a signatory to the Confederate Constitution, but resigned from his Senate seat and returned to South Carolina in 1861. His estate was destroyed in the war, and he died, “a professed infidel,” of dysentery in November, 1865.
South Carolina law carried the death penalty for sodomy until 1869, when the death penalty was abolished for all crimes except murder. A follow-up law in 1872 imposed a five year prison term and/or a fine of $500.
[Source: Martin Duberman. “‘Writhing Bedfellows’: 1826.” Journal of Homosexuality 6, no. 1 (1981): 85-101. Also available online here.]

No comments:

Post a Comment