Monday, July 02, 2012

The Patriotic Past

Reid Mitchell, in his book Civil War Soldiers, once observed that "the Civil War soldier proved curiously filled with echoes of the American Revolution. The patriotic past and the Biblical past were the two great historical memories by which Americans measured their present."

There is probably no place in North Carolina (and few in the South) where Reid's words rang more true than in Charlotte.  For many years prior to the War, local citizens gathered each May 20 to celebrate the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence. While scholars today debate the Meck Dec's actually existence, in the 1850s and 1860s, local citizens congregated yearly to remember what their grandfathers (and probably a few fathers) had done to defy the British.

In reference to Mitchell's statement, I thought we might look at a few examples of Charlotte citizens' use of their "patriotic past."  There are probably many, many more than just these few.

At Morrow's Turn Out, in December 1860, Jas. Ardrey, speaking to the crowd while the committee met, appealed "to the sons of Mecklenburg to know if they had degenerated since the days of '76." (Western Democrat 18 December 1860)

At a meeting approving the candidates for the proposed convention in February 1861, part of the resolution read "That the spirit which animated the patriots of 1775, in Mecklenburg, survives to us as our birth right, and shall be exerted now with the same determination to maintain and defend our rights." (Western Democrat  26 February 1861)

In April 1861, the ladies of Charlotte presented a flag to the Hornet's Nest Riflemen, right before the company left for Fort Caswell. In their presentation speech, the ladies reminded the men that "You are honored as being among the first called by our Governor to maintain the honor of the State and defend those rights maintained by our forefathers on the 20th of May, 1775." (Western Democrat April 23, 1861)

In September 1864, Confederate President Jefferson Davis was in town, speaking for 15 to 20 minutes in the rain at the railroad depot.  Trying to rally the support of the people, Davis said "that he was happy to meet the old people of Mecklenburg, whose ancestors were known in history as the foremost and staunchest friends of freedom; that no matter who made the first written declaration of independence, it was certain that the people of this section were the first to defy British authorities and declare themselves free; that the present struggle for liberty from yankee tyranny proved that the spirit of the sires of '75 and '76 still actuated their descendants." (Western Democrat 27 September 1864)

So just a few quotations. I wonder how other Tar Heel towns felt? Maybe some more newspaper digging is in  the future. It would be equally interesting to compare Charlotte, with say, Philadelphia...

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