Woodward C. Vann - Watson Tom Agrarian Rebel

Author : Woodward C. Vann
Title : Watson Tom Agrarian Rebel
Year : 1973

Link download : Woodward_C_Vann_-_Watson_Tom_Agrarian_Rebel.zip

Preface to the 1973 Reissue THE reissue OF an unrevised biography thirty-five years after its original publication raises some questions about the effect that history has on historical writing as well as the effect that changing fashions of historical writing have on history written according to earlier fashions. Among the many historical events of the last three decades that have altered the perspective from which this book was writ ten, perhaps the most outstanding has been the movement for political and civil rights of the black people. All that was still in the unforeseeable future in 1938. At that time the Negro was still thoroughly disfranchised in the South, and no white South ern politician dared speak out for the political or civil rights of blacks. In writing about a Southern politician who had dared to speak up for their rights in the 1890^, I was dealing with what was at that time—and even more so at the time I was writing— a rare and remarkable phenomenon. Under the circumstances it was natural that I should have stressed the comparative bold ness of the effort and such success as it enjoyed rather than its limitations and shortcomings. From a much later perspective critics have called attention to the elements of paternalism and racism intermixed with Watson's approach to his black Populist allies. Those elements were present, to be sure, but they are more evident now than they were then, and they have an altered sig nificance. Fewer concessions, it seems to me, are due the changing fash ions of historiography that have occurred since this book was written. One of these was the "consensus" school, which held that historians have placed too muchemphasis on conflict in their interpretation of American domestic history. According to these critics, basic agreement, or consensus, was the distinctive charac teristic of American history, and historians who stressed themes of conflict wereprone to distort the past. Of course conflict is the very core and central theme of this biography of a Southern Populist, conflict in every department—political, racial, sec tional, and class conflict, violent and irrepressible conflict. I do not see how my account of it could have been otherwise and do not believe that the emphasis was misplaced. Distortion would have resulted rather from minimizing the theme of conflict. Another development in historiography that should be men tioned in this connection, is the revisionist interpretation of Populism that emerged in the mid-i95o's. The revisionists held that earlier historians had overlooked the seamy and sinister as pects of Populism. They attributed to the movement a basically irrational mentality expressed in paranoidal obsession, conspira torial delusions, and nostalgic fantasies. Populist leaders, accord ing to this view, were given to demagogic exploitation of racism, anti-Semitism, and zenophobia. I have set forth my criticism of the revisionist views elsewhere (in The Burden of Southern History) and will not repeat them here. It is my belief, however, that, as in the instance of the consensus interpretation, subse quent scholarship has done considerably more to sustain my views than to support the revisionists. None of this is intended to suggest that I would have written the same biography in 1973 that I wrote in 1938, nor that I com placently assume this to be the final word on the subject. It does make bold, however, to suggest to the reader who picks the book up for the first time in its present cover that the ravages of his torical relativism may not have rendered it wholly outdated. C. Vann Woodward New Haven, Connecticut ...

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