The Paladin of the Drys
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After a twenty-month absence during which he began in earnest writing his book, Cash introduced himself to Mercury readers in this following auto-biographical note appearing at the end of the October, 1931 issue, containing his fourth article for Mencken, "The Paladin of the Drys", another political diatribe, this time aimed at North Carolina Senator Cameron Morrison's strange, but all-too-familiar, brand of politics involving the building of schools and highways and other works of public good to mask an underlying abiding desire for personal power and preservation of the grand dragonian, rude vested status quo, with all it vagaries, crotchets, worms and worts held intact.
Note in this sketch Cash's very matter-of-fact--in fact, drily delivered--admission to imbibing too much corn liquor during his college days; this note appeared still over two years prior to the repeal of the Eighteenth Amendment and the Volstead Act, which had established Prohibition, and alcohol consumption had become embraced by many as an emblem of individual liberalism while steadfastness to Prohibition had become the hallmark of Traditional restrictive values, especially Southern values, especially unsavory Southern values such as racism, violence, and obscurantism.
Cash's own somewhat conservative--though not Fundamentalist or evangelical--Baptist upbringing by a tee-totaler mother, (whom he loved and admired greatly), and by his father, a sometimes foot-stomping (as opposed to Bible-thumping) Baptist, but gentle, faithful spirit (who in fact liked his own daily "toddy" and piles of Salem cigarettes and yet lived to be 92), had intermixed with Wilbur's flare for independent thought and the times then extant, to produce something of an apparent passion for alcohol. Contemporaries of Cash, however, testify that he really did not drink so much at a sitting but shared a tendency with the rest of his immediate family of showing readily the effects of alcohol after only slight consumption, probably leading--combined with Cash's controversial politics--to more than a little pernicious persiflage among his more distant and conservative observers regarding his drinking habits; in turn, later, innocently enough, leading Cash's first biographer, Joseph Morrison, to rely perhaps too heavily on this incidental admission in the Mercury--and probably equally innocent corroboration by others--to suggest an inordinate amount of alcohol consumption by Cash throughout the Thirties, to the time of his death in 1941. This then has been picked up, and occasionally embellished upon with idle speculation, by almost every subsequent writer on Cash as gospel and so it goes...
Note, in the same vain, Cash's admission to "breakdowns", which were diagnosed as hyperthyroid troubles, needing treatment by injections of vitamin B-1. These admissions may have also later fueled exaggerated versions of these "breakdowns" by the spiteful sort of North Carolinian and Southerner whose pride was severely blanched by Cash's taking to task in often sardonic, to the point of rue, their "Brobdignagian" claims--among other things held precious by many Southerners, then and now.
To appreciate more fully the context of these "admissions", one must look at the whole of Cash's writing style and content and realize that he loved to put one over on his readers occasionally--just as his mentor, Mencken, enjoyed--playing on the avowed stereotypes known to be maintained by many. He had to reach them somehow. For all his seeming brashness in print, Cash, personally, was quiet and unassuming, a hard but respectful debater of points. He could, it is said, pound his fist hard on the table during barroom dialectic society meetings, especially when influenced by just a little "busthead" or beer. He was, however, no tough guy and would have never held his own, physically--and he knew it--with some of the tough-fisted union busters, religious fanatics, and racists he regularly mocked, should one, servile to his lordly masters--the powerful politicians Cash regularly took to task--under the influence or not of "busthead", decide one sad, dark night--maybe in hot, humid July--to exact the price in blood for Cash's progressive exposes of North Carolina's underbelly in national print. He therefore used the writer's art of irony and persona--almost lethally sometimes to his liberal credentials, so effective and artful and convincing to some was the use, especially of derelict phraseology, today no longer susceptible of even ironic utterance without raised eyebrows, but then accepted parlance by the bulk of the white community--to make his strongest points without, he no doubt hoped, too many of the less-educated partisans ever fully realizing what points were being made sans considerable explanation by the more-educated brethren--who, he believed, rightly or wrongly, would get it and be too embarrassed by the mirror of their less savory attitudes to do the damage which indeed, in those times, could still very easily have led to bloodletting. That is precisely why many of his most pointed sentences, rhythmic and flowing as a folium of words as they usually are, often require two or three readings to fully grasp the meaning from the many dots and dashes employed to obscure from the myopic the notion exhibited eventually to the better eye.
It should therefore not be surprising that Cash jealously preserved his private side, and, to that end, sought to hone his skills as an always-aspiring novelist to contrast with his more serious analytical, intellectual views which he knew to be scarcely tolerated in 1930's North Carolina, without the tipped lash being brought to bear to cure the purveyor. (In these very times when this article was written, he sat in his Aunt Bertha's post office in Boiling Springs, writing on the book and on his offerings for the Mercury and other publications while young boys from the tiny North Carolina backwater stood mocking him from outside the back windows of the small brick building--this from a later courageous and candid admission of a regretful adult newspaperman who wrote a column on Cash for the Shelby Star during the 1980's and indicated that his youthful naivete at being one of these mockish knaves was fueled by whisperings about Cash among the adults, suspicious and even resentful of his bespectacled erudition.) In short, he had no trouble with some innocuous seeming mythology of Cash being concocted at will by Mencken and the Knopfs, with his own abetting, of course, to camouflage himself and thereby enable him to stay in his native state--as at least something of a "hell-of-a-fellow", if not a completely trustworthy one--observing and writing for the duration of his needs and desires necessary to complete his book, staying ahead the while of the "Neanderthaler's" worst potential personal aims toward him, at least by a step or two.
Cash also was wise enough to realize that people would say and think as they pleased, regardless of what he said or someone else said about him, and probably resisted more than a little giving any information to Mencken for publication. The autobiographical sketch seems to have derived from letters between Cash and Mencken and Cash and the Knopfs, rather than any cohesive rendering by Cash especially meant for inclusion in the Mercury. Thus, it is not surprising that these statements come amid his preposterous claims of having descended from large landowners--"all of them"--most of whom, he further claimed, were slaveholders "in the days of the cotton oligarchy". Remember that Cash regularly put down such Tartarin, rodomontading talk of high heritage in his writing as hallmarks and legend of the coarsest "white trash", "lint-head" ignorance and he knew at the time that these same sorts of claims of his own were entirely, blatantly foundless. Not surprisingly, Cash's later outline to the Guggenheim Foundation for his incipient but death-preempted novel placed it as a story of a wealthy landowning cotton family--the Bates family--and its rising son, Andrew Bates, (that's pronounced And-drew, for those unfamiliar with the Southern accent), who would rise to wealth and fame in his native piedmont North Carolina, having been born, not coincidentally, in the year of his Creator's birth, 1900; nevertheless, And-drew Bates (as in fishing with (sp?) eh?) could not have been more deliberately dissimilar in background from his would-be creator.
Couple all of this with Cash's additional auto-biographical rhetoric regarding his "spending whole days in the tops of maple trees", "running with Pan", "and sometimes leaping down to flee incomprehensible terror before the rustling of the leaves and the rippling of the brook beneath", and perhaps the picture develops. (Pan, it should be recalled from Greek mythology, is a god of the wind and nature and was devoted to dancing and music, was in fact King Midas' favorite flute player, though he played badly; Pan was the son of Mercury (that's Mercury, as in Mercury, the messenger god) and Penelope, and first appeared to his mother as goat-like. (Mother Cash was named Nannie, after all.) Mercury, amused by Pan's appearance, took him to the top of Olympus where all the gods ridiculed him. But afterward, Pan was widely praised. His name also gives us the word panic, as a story goes that he would swoop down and suddenly frighten with unfounded fears lonely road travelers for mischievous amusement.) Well, there you have it.
Remember not to believe everything too literally which you read in biographies, even autobiographies, (and even by the most honorable biographers and autobiographers), lest you wind up as the starry-eyed Midas, (sort of like Meineke, maybe?), who, blinded by partiality, and insistent on maintaining obeisance of his loyal retinue, judged Pan the greatest flute player; and then was punished by jealous Apollo by being thenceforth endowed with the ears of an ass.
But then, this is all simply your site publisher's opinion, not to be taken too literally.
THE PALADIN OF THE DRYS
BY W. J. CASH
THERE is not, so far as I know, any authentic record that God has ever, save perhaps in one case, favored the race of mortals with the spectacle of created perfection. Nevertheless, it does happen that, from time to time, He deigns to fashion an individual who so unites in himself the qualities of a class or a genus or a time or a place as to fall short of the ideal by no more than a hair or, at most, two. Such an one is the Hon. Cameron Morrison, the new and noisy senior United States Senator from North Carolina, who, since his advent to the national stage less than a year ago, has got himself into the saddle as the arch-paladin of the dry South in its crusade to retire the Hon. John J. Raskob to the Union League Club, and so to save the Democratic party from the Demon Rum in 1932. But for a few more or less minor faults, this great man might very well pass for the Platonic idea-form of the South of his generation.
Let no one, however, imagine this to mean that he is to be thought of as such another galoot as the late Thomas J. Heflin of Alabama, or the equally late Cole L. Blease of South Carolina. Like them, to be sure, he is immensely gaudy, and often enough his antics bear a striking resemblance to theirs; but, basically, he is separated from them by all the width of the chasm which lies between the natural and the artificial, the real and the sham. In the last analysis, they were mere showmen, sharp fellows full of the cynical wisdom of the market place, cunningly contriving to play upon the South by seizing out this or that one of its prejudices, raising it to the hundredth power, and bodying it forth in their own persons. Our hero, on the other hand, has no more showmanship in him than that innocent minimum which naturally inheres in any true protagonist of an essentially histrionic land. His deeds are the deeds, not of a calculating clown but of an incredibly naive small boy. They rise, that is, straight out of his instincts and convictions, which are so exactly those of the South in his time that he has got on simply by being himself, and almost wholly without any resort to opportunism.
Of such a marvel, it seems a shame to
have to report that he has any faults at all. One yearns, indeed,
to paint him outright as the Word made flesh. But the facts, alas,
are the facts. There is the matter of his physique, for instance.
Not that he isn't pretty grand--what with his high Scotch
ruddiness, his whitening mane, his fine expanse of belly, the
"Up, Guards, and at 'em! " carriage of his head, the
slightly horsy strut, the tremendous pomp--but only that he isn't
quite grand enough for what one expects in the ideal Southerner.
For one thing, he is too short by an inch or two, and no amount
of pulling himself up can remedy that defect. For another, his
features lack, by a degree or so, the monumental cragginess
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of the best specimens from below the Potomac.
A graver flaw than these, however, is the absence in him of any taste for corn-juice brewed under the moon. Such a fault in any Southern publicist is always a matter for wonder, but in one in so many ways representative, in one complicated, too, by Scotch ancestry, and, above all, in one who is a howling dry in the van of all the howling drys, it is nothing short of grotesque. In a lesser man, in fact, it must have been fatal; he simply could not have been called typical of the South. It would have argued with overwhelming force for the absence in him of that hearty hedonism which, in the psyche of the true Southerner, always occupies an exactly equal space with Great Moral Principles. But the Hon. Cam rises triumphant over even this test, as anyone may see by observing the sensuous, bellows-like puffing of his cheeks and the mellow enjoyment which lies upon his lineaments as he champs away at the cud of tobacco, which, in the true Southern fashion of his day, is always in his jaw. To see that is once for all to abandon the suspicion of any unseemly asceticism in him, and to feel instinctively that, though he is not perfection, he is still magnificently representative of his time and place.
The great man was born in the village of Rockingham in 1869, on the eve of Reconstruction--a fact of considerable importance in explaining him. It means, for one thing, that the character of warrior, of a champion of Causes and a slayer of dragons, which has primarily distinguished him, must have been stamped upon him almost in infancy. For Rockingham was capital to the county of Richmond, one of the great cotton counties of the State, and hence one of the stormcenters in the heroic campaign of the Ku Klux Klan to get Cuffy, the black brother, down from the clouds and back to clodhopping. It means, too, of course, that, as a child, he must constantly have had dinned in his ears the tenets of Southern orthodoxy in general, here sharply realized because they were in more than ordinary peril. And finally, it means that he was practically fated to be a lawyer and a politician, since, in that region, unless one were pious enough or canny enough, or both, to be a parson, the career of a lawyer-politician was the only one which held out anything to a really ambitious boy.
Naturally, as a representative Southerner, he is an aristocrat, and was one by right from the beginning, at least on the distaff side. His mother was a Cameron (proud name!), and his maternal grandfather had been a slave-owner. But his father, the son of poor Scotch immigrants, was only a carpenter, and one who found it difficult to make a living. Thus, since there were no public schools in the county, our hero's education was necessarily meagre. Two years of pious instruction in an "old field" academy in the neighborhood, during which period he lived with farmers and worked for his board, a year out as a grocery boy, then four more years at a school in Rockingham, and he must go to work--first as a clerk in the county courthouse, then as a country school teacher--and try to dig out Blackstone by lamplight.
Nor were poverty and lack of
schooling his only obstacles. When he was twelve, his father--angered,
according to one story which is perhaps too good to be true, by a
Democratic flirtation with State-wide Prohibition--turned
Republican. It was as
PALADIN OF THE DRYS 141
though he had publicly espoused the Anti-Christ or had sat down to dinner with a Moor--a dreadful blot on the family 'scutcheon which might very well have blighted the career of another youth and made him into a mere Republican jobholder, that pariah known in Carolina then as a revenoo-doodler. At first, indeed, we find even the young Cam following dutifully in the footsteps of his father, aiding him in campaigns, and even serving under him in the postoffice when, in due course, he passed to that natural reward of all good Republicans in the South. But before he was twenty he went as a delegate to a Republican convention in Raleigh, and, returning, announced to his father that he was through with the Republican party forever.
His enemies, of course, charge that to opportunism. He simply saw, they say, that the Republican party was not the safe way to the power he desired. But that is to misread him--to make him far too cunning and far too perspicacious, for it was not at all clear at the moment that the Republican party was not a good bet. What really moved him immediately was the smell of nigger-wool which hung over the convention floor in Raleigh. What moved him ultimately was the whole mass of his instincts and convictions.
His destiny emerged more swiftly from this time on.. Scraping up a little money, he went off to Greensboro to study law for a few months in the office of a certain Judge Dick, and presently had hung out his shingle in his native town, where his great burring voice quickly won him notice. There came a night when, having offered his sword to the Democratic party, he stood forth, in the flaring of torches, to make his maiden speech before a Democratic audience, half-hostile and altogether suspicious--but not for long.
"Man," he boomed into the expectant silence, quoting from Demosthenes, "is born not unto his parents alone, but unto God and his country as well!" There you had it--a confession of faith, fervid, solemn, unmistakably genuine. God--the militant Yahweh of the Old Testament, got up as a Confederate, minutely ordering all things. Country--the South as against all Bluebellies, and incidentally the Republic as against everything else. God and country mystically made one in and with the Democratic party. It was the simple, romantic faith of his countrymen in his generation, and one in which he was destined never to waver.
The speech established him, and got him into the thick of the fight to head off Populism, which was just then beginning to spring up in the State. He roared tirelessly from the hustings in half a dozen counties. Once he was nearly mobbed by 300 Negroes, and more than once resorted to his fists to back up his arguments. But to no avail. Cleveland's brusque enmity for Free Silver had stirred the embattled farmers of Carolina, long rowelled by the Bourbon reaction of the Confederate brigadiers in power at Raleigh and by the eternally falling price of cotton, into red revolt. Populism grew appallingly, and in 1896 fused with the Republican party and capitalized the Negro vote to elect a Republican Governor and a Republican Legislature. That meant, of course, that Cuffy was once more getting into office. Magistrates' commissions were issued to him by the dozen. He sat on juries. In Richmond county he held forty offices, including all the important ones. And in Wilmington, where he packed the City Council and the police force, there was a riot.
Then came the election of 1898. If
God and country were not to perish, it was
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clear that the black brother must be kept away from the polls. Of the right to keep him away, there was no question. True, there were the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments. But Cam and his compatriots were States' Rights men: there is a right above law, above the tyranny of the Federal government. Precisely how to do it was another matter. Open violence would give Henry Cabot Lodge the cue to propose his Force Bill again, and maybe bring down the Army.
In this crisis, the Hon. Cam, who by this time had got to be Democratic chairman in his county, hastened to confer with the Hon. Furnifold McLendel Simmons, then Democratic chairman for the State. Both great men have since laid credit to exclusive glory for the scheme which emerged, but, in any case, it is certain that it was Morrison who put it into effect. Returning to Rockingham, he brought 300 red shirts, selected 300 men to wear them, and, placing himself at the head of this troop, rode through the countryside, with the result that Cuffy promptly abandoned his cabin and took to the woods. The State caught fire, Red Shirts flared everywhere, and, though there was almost no violence, on election day there was hardly a coon in sight. The Republican regime was over.
Cam was a made man now, of course--one of the State's four or five great captains, a figure for mythology. But his reward, oddly enough, was to be slow. Minor honors were plentiful enough--a term in the State Senate, a term as mayor of Rockingham, an avalanche of invitations to whoop the boys up at barbecues. But anything in a really big way seemed to elude his grasp. In 1900 he sought the Congressional nomination in his district, only to be nosed out by Robert N. Page, brother to Walter Hines Page, gentleman in-waiting to His Majesty, George V. Thereafter, for twenty years, he must go on relatively empty-handed and unadorned.
The reason for this is not, perhaps, too far to seek. Simmons, his associate in the Red Shirt scheme, had got himself into the United States Senate, and, from that vantage point had built himself a political machine which made his word law in Democratic circles in North Carolina, and gave him absolute disposal of all offices and honors. Naturally, he saw to it that the more luscious plums went mainly to those who were advancing in years, since to allow young men, and particularly such fancy ones as our hero, to advance too rapidly might easily result in one of them eventually growing so great as to threaten his own control.
But there is no record that the Hon.Cam
ever sulked or weakened in his allegiance. If God had made
Simmons captain-general of the Democratic party, then Simmons was
to be served faithfully and lovingly and patiently. And, honors
or no honors, there was joy in the world. There were Causes to be
served, dragons to be slain, a thousand rostrums waiting for the
Word. First, he must stump the State for the grandfather clause
to the constitution, so that the Nigger Menace might be disposed
of for good. Then the Democratic party espoused local option, and
later, in 1907, the saloon had to be kicked out of Tarheeldom. In
I9I2, Governor W. W. Kitchin raised the standard of revolt
against Simmons and was put down only after much letting of blood.
Afterward came the Crusade for Democracy, the Terrible Hun,
Liberty Bonds, Four Minute speeches, and Ideals. And interminably
there was the Republican party and the Nigger Menace, which
though it was dead, yet somehow lived. In time, Cam acquired the
reputation of having made more
PALADIN OF THE DRYS 143
speeches than any man in the State, and of being the greatest campaigner in Carolina Democracy.
Meantime, having married, and finding the pickings lean at Rockingham, he removed to the rising town of Charlotte, where he lived very quietly, his title to aristocracy somewhat in abeyance. Not, of course, that he ever suffered under social inabilities as Blease and Heflin. He was always acceptable, always eligible to be invited in for dinner. Still, in the strictest sense, he was hardly yet the peer of the town's reigning family, which based its nobility on the staggering and authentic fact that its great-great-grandpa was the "first man to cross the Yadkin on wheels." For one thing, there was that unfortunate business of his father having been a carpenter. Worse, his zeal for service in the field had caused him somewhat to neglect his private affairs. His law-practice yielded no fortune. And the vulgar even whispered that he couldn't pay his grocery bills.
Well, but his time was at hand at last. In 1920 he was summoned by Simmons to carry the banner of the machine in the battle for the gubernatorial nomination. Ordinarily, his victory would have been assured. But not in this case. Opposing him were two exceptionally powerful insurgents, the Hon.O. Max Gardner, the present Governor, and that same Robert N. Page who had defeated him (Morrison) for Congress. What was needed if Cam was to win was something transcending personality, something more immediate than his now somewhat remote deeds of the '90's--in fine, a new Cause.
He had it. For two or three decades there had been growing up in North Carolina a sort of uncritical optimism, which took social form in a demand for good roads and in a touching faith in education, and which found perfect expression in the Hon. Cam's naturally sanguine temperament. It was argued with truth that the trails of the region were unfit for motor traffic. But it was argued even more that concrete pikes would advertise the State, get it into up-and-coming company, and relieve it of that reputation whereunder it was somehow comical to hail from North Carolina. As for education, that, of course, was the remedy for all ills, but particularly for the wounds left by Yankee sneers. It was all a part of serving God, of loyalty to country, something to joust for ardently. And so he came forward now with a Programme of Progress (famous phrase in Carolina!), proposing wholesale expenditures for schools and highways. On the whole, it was a genuinely bold move, for defeatism, that bane of the South since Reconstruction, was not dead. But he beat it down, and, in the end, was elected.
He came into office at the nadir of an economic depression, but, undeterred by that, he rammed measures appropriating $13,000,000 for higher educational and charitable institutions, and $IO,OOO,OOO for a loan fund to aid in building schoolhouses, and authorizing a $50,000,000 road-bond issue, through his first Legislature--thereby giving his enemies an opportunity for attack which they were not slow to take. But he fought back, and, so far from yielding ground, extracted $15,000,000 more for roads and nearly $20,000,000 more for institutions from the next Legislature in 1923.
Then the attack on him really warmed
up. The revenue commissioner--an elected person, and hence not to
be disciplined--charged that he had bankrupted the State and
cited figures. He roared back that the figures had been
manipulated to discredit him, and cited some of his own. Charge
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followed charge; the newspapers egged it on, waggishly or piously or indignantly, according to their several bents; stinkpots, dead cats and goddams came into play; and the brave Tar Heels were so edified and stimulated as they had not been since the days of Zebulon Baird Vance.
But, of course, he had not really bankrupted the State, as the Tar Heels understood very well, though he had perhaps gone ahead a little too rapidly for sound finance. On the other hand, when he left office there were nearly 5,000 miles of improved roads, 200 new schoolhouses, nearly 200 new buildings at the various institutions, 5,000 more teachers, 4,ooo more college students, 38,ooo more high school students--all this and more to range beside the old standard boasts of "First at Bethel, farthest at Gettysburg, and last at Appomattox," "highest mountain peak east of the Rockies," and "largest towel mill in the world," and so to set Tar Heel breasts to swelling and Tar Heel eyes to moistening with pride.
His military exploits also could stir Carolina blood. Somehow, he seemed always to be ordering out troops, to be rolling the formula, "now, therefore, I, Cameron Morrison, commander-in-chief, etc.," under his tongue. First, the A.F.L., with characteristic brightness, chose the depression year of I92I as a likely time to organize the cotton-mill peons of the State and to call a strike. The peons got hungry and soon there were riots, or perhaps only what the mill-barons described as such. Then, in 1922, the great railroad strike came on, and there were disorders at Rocky Mount, Spencer, and other yards. All this plainly required a great flourish of bayonets.
But his really grand feat in arms was the putting down of lynching. When he came to office, North Carolina was already growing self-conscious under the world's scorn for this ancient Southern amusement, but, being conservative, it was naturally loath to give it up without compensation. That compensation the Hon. Cam, with certain acuity of instinct, promptly supplied. He would not, he announced, wait, as his predecessors had done, until a lynching frolic was actually in progress before taking action, or pretending to take it, but would send troops to any point where there seemed to be any possibility of such a frolic. That meant, in practice, that the Tar Heels were to be treated pretty constantly to the spectacle of marching warriors, a thing so pleasing to their martial souls that they acquiesced in the loss of the old privilege of frying Cuffy almost without a sigh.
There were other notable things about his reign. There was the time, for instance, when he discovered that the money he had got for the schools was being used to undermine God with the accursed doctrine of Darwin, and, in parade-ground voice, ordered his textbook commission to clean house: the Bible, he believed, was the best textbook of biology.
It was while he was Governor, too,
that he finally emerged to aristocracy. His rise to office,
obviously, had done much to clear the Cameron blazon of the
shadow of the old carpenter-Republican, his sire. He had got into
the sacred circles of the Sons of the American Revolution and the
Scottish Society of America. More, certain titled Camerons of
Scotland had visited him, and publicly acknowledged him as a
cousin. But it was his marriage--his first wife had died in 1919--to
Mrs. Sarah Ecker Watts, of Durham, relict of one of the founders
of the American Tobacco Company, which finally and irrefutably
set the seal of aristocracy upon him. The lady was mistress of a
fortune variously estimated at from nine to thirty million
dollars. There could be no more talk about grocery bills. And,
PALADIN OF THE DRYS I45
unmistakably, Cam had come to be quite the equal of even those lordly folk who first got over the Yadkin on wheels.
But if I style him an aristocrat, I must pause here to say that he is also a democrat--a great Jeffersonian. And if that seems a paradox, then it is a paradox of the very essence of the paradoxical South. I do not go so far as to say that he has actually read Mr.Jefferson, but the great name is often on his lips, and the great doctrine shines through all his words and deeds.
His heart yearns hotly over the lot of the farmer, the simple "toil-worn cotter" of his poet-idol, Robert Burns, and even over that of the common man in general, down to and including that sad-eyed automaton, the cotton-mill peon. Something, he thinks, ought to be done about it. But not, of course, by mulcting the rich--who, as he explained to the Scottish Society in 1923 (while he himself was still sadly troubled by grocery bills, be it noted), are, after all, "only simple 'toil-worn cotters' who have been successful" under democracy--nor even by interpreting the right of labor to organize--a right for which he openly declared in 1920--as involving any limitation on the right of the capitalist to decline to deal with unions and to hire and fire as he pleases. For these things would be to limit the liberty of the individual, and the liberty of the individual--Cam is very insistent about it--is the cornerstone of Jeffersonian democracy, and hence must be preserved in the absolute everywhere and under all circumstances.
He left the Governor's mansion at the beginning of 1925 with the hearts of his people exceedingly tender toward him--indeed, with the stigmata of the United States Senate already upon him. But here again he was to have to wait. For, ordinarily, North Carolina elects her Senators for life, and punishes with oblivion impatient souls who cannot wait for a decent funeral to open the way. So it was not until the Hon. Lee Slater Overman, that great Red-hunter and junior Senator from the State from1902 on, passed to his reward in December, 1930, that Cam was finally elevated to the toga--by appointment at the hands of Governor Gardner, the same man he had defeated in 1920, and one who, but for political exigencies, would rather have taken poison than appoint him.
Already, as a member of the Democratic National Committee, to which he had been named in 1928, he had been shrieking for Raskob's scalp, though without attracting much attention. But now, girding on his sword, he was in Washington before the ink had dried on his commission. And, with the oath of office yet hot on his lips, he took the floor to hurl terror and ecstasy along the spines of his timorous colleagues from below the Potomac. Raskob must go. The party must be purged of the taint of Rum and Rome. Above all, there must be no compromise with Satan in 1932. Speaking with the voice of the South, he pledged himself there should be none.
Beyond a doubt, it was the
voice of the South. Mighty huzzas began to arise from down there,
and Bishop Mouzon formally conferred the Methodist blessing; with
the natural result that the Hon. Cam shortly found himself being
echoed by the Hon. Cordell Hull, the Hon. Joseph T. Robinson and
other brethren eager to share his laurels. But it is to him that
leadership belongs. He it was who trumpeted loudest at the
meeting of the National Committee last Spring. And almost
certainly he will head the charges of Southern Righteousness in
the coming Congress and at Armageddon in 1932. All of which, it
THE AMERICAN MERCURY 146
me, is eminently fitting and proper. It is to be thought of, indeed, as the natural culmination of a career--the destined crown upon all that he has been before.
But perhaps there will be those who will doubt it, those who will insinuate that there can be no natural relation between a record as an uncompromising champion of States' Rights, Jeffersonian democracy, and the liberty of the individual, as an ardent foe of the Federal tyranny, and this ultimate role of paladin to the drys. But if any such there be, let them be at peace. It is true, in a man of another country, it would be difficult, maybe impossible, to reconcile such a record and such a role. But not in a man of that country. In him the combination is inevitable; it is one of the great and decisive proofs of his right to sit as the epitome of the South in his time.
He believes in Prohibition innocently and without hypocrisy, as something commanded by God through His holy men, identified with the South, and enacted into law in his State and in Congress by the Democratic party. He knows, on the testimony of his own conscience and on that of his Presbyterian pastors, that when the various Sodoms of Yankeedom bawl for personal liberty, what they actually mean is personal license, a thing which, as direct evidence establishes, proceeds from Satan and so can have no relation to, say, the inalienable and God-ordained right of a cotton-mill baron to sweat his slaves for starvation wages. And as for States' Rights--why, that is the exclusive property of the South, its own peculiar instrument of self-defense. Didn't the North repudiate it for good so long ago as 1860? More, hasn't it always been an instrument of High Moral Purpose? For the Bluebellies to claim it at all is ridiculous sophistry, but for them to claim it in the service of their lascivious gullets is an infamous outrage.
Moreover, for all his Jeffersonianism, he is still finally an aristocrat, still believes ultimately in the right and duty, under God, of the wisest and the best to determine governmental policy. And, of course, it is the South--that sort of proto-Dorian element in the nation, that final repository of Anglo-Saxon Ideals and the Faith of the Fathers--which represents the wisest and the best among us. Finally, there is his faith in Progress, and, of course, Prohibition is Progress.
Yet, and for all that, there is no sound ground for the alarums and curses which the good man's activities have set off in some quarters. He will carry his banner to the furthest possible limit, he will certainly draw blood, and he will certainly unhorse Raskobism if he can. But it is pretty obvious that he probably can't. The chances are that Raskob will be able to put over the essentials of his programme in convention and to get a decently wet man nominated. But does that mean that the Hon.Cam is going to lead the South into revolt, or even only into sulky aloofness? Nonsense! When the hour comes, when the platform is drawn, and though it contains thirty cartloads of devils, when the candidate is named, and though it be Raskob himself, Cam will lay down dissent and grasp the party standard, and no living Democrat will carry it more loyally or more ardently. About this there can be no doubt, for he has already been put to the acid test--in 1928, when he not only refused to follow Senator Simmons, his old commander and the man who had made him Governor, into revolt, but also boomed passionately for the election of Whiskey Al.
Here I must caution once more against
PALADIN OF THE DRYS 147
the theory of any hypocrisy in him. It is not that he was, is, or will be tomorrow in favor of any compromise with the Liquor Gang. Rather, it is a matter of his final truthfulness to the South of his day. It all goes back to that confession of faith he made on a night long ago. If Satan has got a foothold in Democratic councils, that is dreadful. But to abandon the party, this mystical entity and divine instrument--why, that would be to blot God from the cosmos, to throw country to the dogs, to end forever any hope of Moral Progress, maybe to raise Cuffy to power in the South again. No! No! In such a crisis, one must stand his ground and seek to purify the temple from within--buoyed up and strengthened by the glad knowledge that a Democratic victory means, because of the seniority rule, a Congress dominated by Southerners and hence one safe for Prohibition.
In the long run, indeed, his thunderings and chargings may turn out to be the best thing that could have happened to the Democrats, or even (mad thought!) to the wets. He can hardly make the breach between the South and the East any worse than it is, and he may very well go a long way toward closing it up. He may serve, that is, as a channel of discharge for the irritations left in the South by the Smith campaign--for the achievement of that catharsis so necessary before any rapprochement is possible.
This is plainly so in the case of his own generation. That generation, for the most part, did not vote for Hoover in 1928. At the worst, it only stayed away from the polls. Its faith, however wounded and shaken, is still one with the Hon. Cam's own, and it is willing, even eager, to be placated. A little blood, a few shrieks from Raskob as a dart goes home, and a little softening down of the names by which things are called, and, with the Pope out of the foreground, it will be ready to turn out in 1932 with its old happy whoops, wets or no wets.
The Hoovercrats and their captains,
the holy men, are, of course, another story. Most of them do not
remember when Cuffy was in flower, and so have never really
shared the faith of the Hon. Cam and his time. Moreover, they are
a naturally bilious and implacable lot, full of hate and a
passion for blood by the barrel. Nevertheless, even here Cam's
constant thwacking of Raskob must serve somewhat for vicarious
discharge, for the lowering of pressure, not perhaps to the point
of reclaiming them to the Democratic fold, but surely to the
rendering of them measurably less simian when the election rolls
around. And that, from any standpoint, is something. Nay, it is a
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