Site editor's note: The five weekly "Moving Row" articles from the News of March and early April, 1928 are the most philosophical, and, in spots, humorous, of a total of about a dozen articles and book reviews which Cash, at age 27, provided to the News during his short second tenure from November, 1927 through April, 1928 as an assistant editor. (His first stint as assistant editor and sometime reporter was in 1926 and lasted an uneventful year before Cash resigned and spent the summer of 1927 bicycling and hiking around Europe. Cash had also worked for an unmemorable year in 1925 with the Chicago Post and, for "health reasons", his neurasthenic problems, turned down in the middle twenties offers with newspapers in Cleveland and New York.)
The articles pre-dated the writing for The American Mercury by a year and are believed to be the earliest published editorial writing by Cash (other than his editorials in the Wake Forest student newspaper in 1921-22). The subjects of the first four are still timely: Freedom of speech vis a vis agents of suppression; art and the Fundamentalist attempts to censor it; a tongue-firmly-in-cheek look at self-admitting male chauvinism and women's liberation; and who nurtures war, a poetic appeal to abandon war as an answer to proving manhood. The last known article in this period, a poetic remembrance of his time in France the previous summer, is past, present, and future--written with the aid of the timeless muse of the romantic.
Cash would write several more "Moving Row" columns for his two month stint as editor of the Cleveland Press in Shelby during the fall of 1928. In them, he continued to excoriate the Klan, intolerance, religious fundamentalism, anti-Darwinists, and the anti-Catholic sentiment against Al Smith's run for the Presidency. (These articles are also available through the Charlotte News links pages.)
After the Mercury writing from 1929-1935 ended, he would return to the News , still living at first with his parents in Shelby, as a weekly book reviewer and editorial columnist in 1935, then finally move to Charlotte and begin as full-time associate editor in October, 1937. In the latter capacity he would continue until his departure for Mexico in late May, 1941. During these years, starting in spring, 1938, he would come to know the woman who would become his wife, Mary Bagley Ross Northrup, also an occasional book reviewer for the News, writing sometimes under the nom de plume, "Tillie Eulenspiegel". During the period 1935-40, Cash would also write the bulk of the final draft of The Mind of the South, finishing it in late July, 1940, after several self-disappointing false starts during the years 1930 to 1935. Cash thought it was nearly done in late 1935 at 300 pages of manuscript and promised and promised the Knopfs just that in letters which become nearly comical in Cash's continuing excuses and humble apologies to the Knopfs' gentle scolding and encouragement. But the third and final section and rewriting and further rewriting of the two "completed" sections would stretch the manuscript and its third and final problematic section to 811 pages and nearly five more years. As he eventually confided to Al Knopf after it was complete, his heart had gone out of it in the early thirties and he had to force himself to labor on it--but labor on it he did, and so it lasts.
And, lest you perhaps become confused with
modernity, though each of these five "Moving Row"
articles could have been easily written in the last twenty years
or so, they are all of 1928 vintage and have nothing, so far as
we can tell, to do with Whitewater. But you never know...
The Charlotte News -- Sunday, March 4, 1928
The Moving Row
"We are no more than a moving row of fantastic shapes which come and go."
By W. J. Cash
I propose a lodge.
There is, in this land of the noble and the free, a phrase which in the last decade has led me to much lying awake at night, much grieving and heart-burning, much meditation in secret. To it are sworn, I have it on authoritative information from esoteric sources, some five million strong, all of gun-toting age, of the Leaping Lens, The Exalted Hyena, The illustrious Scions of Ballyhoo, and 7,832 other orders of merit. I refer, you surmise, to that cosmic word, Americanism.
Lushness is in the word, and chaste virginity. It suggests an ecstacy, a milk-white stallion of the gods thundering through the stars. A Galahad ringing a lance of flame on the gates of the Holy City. And right mightily I have rejoiced in its titilation of my cosmos, its tickling of the springs of my being.
But with that I was not content. I confess, with some trepidation, to an earthly streak of curiosity which has played the Old Man of the Sea to my Sinbad of faith. I craved knowledge, I hungered after the secrets of the inner temple, wept for the fateful mysteries of the ark and the covenant. I wanted to reduce it to words; to say this, this, then, is the beautiful thing. I yearned for a definition. Imagine, then, my consternation, my excess of bitterness and pain, when, though I diligently searched the sayings of the wise men of the 7,835 legions, consulted all the oracles of the earth, and pondered much little-known literature, I found that, with five million pledged to save it, there was none who knew its meaning.
Mistaken professors of occult science who claimed to know the truth, it pains me to chronicle, I found in plenty.
Arose the Legion of Americanos pledged, I heard, to the mighty word. But I beheld these veterans of The War to End War drive out from North Carolina and Kentucky an honest man who came preaching that war is an iniquity. And, it being communicated to me that the Legion was much given to prating of the Constitution, I took down my prized copy of that curious document--one of the three copies now in existence, I am told--and, with amazement, read the following hitherto, to the best of my knowledge, unpublished proviso, which in the instrument, is quaintly designated Amendment One: "Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech . . ." I pondered that. Clearly, the Legion had not been granted greater power than the Congress. And since there was no exception of pacifists and radicals and other such regrettable fellows, I sorrowfully turned away.
Then there were the Knights of the Bedsheet who prattled bravely about the splendid thing. But I heard that they wanted to make soup of Catholics and bacon of Jews and that they were much given to knouting women and tarring erring brothers in the name of One, who, on a day, wrote for eternity in the sands. And I sat at the edge of a great swamp and heard a croumpled sister-of-joy shrill her agony against the awful indifference of the night, against the snarling laughter of the beast as the lash fell. And, remembering the Man, I knew that these knights are writing for an age dead a thousand years, not for America who must go forward tomorrow.
So, it came to me after a while, that all these people, honestly enough, I suppose, were confusing their pet prejudices, their private hates and loves, with that resplendent vision of a dazzling steed racing across the stars. Over that I wept while the wicked made merry in the seat of the scorner.
I arise now to be the first man in the annals of the race to attempt to define the noble phrase. I approach my task with becoming reverence, humbled before its awful and portentous vastness. So, it is with regret that I set down in the beginning that the words are not mine but are, I believe, to be charged to the nefarious fellow, Voltaire. Here they are: "I do not agree with a word you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."
That, I submit, must be the ultimate definition of Americanism. Consider it. Hear it. "I not only accord to you, my friend, the right to be heard, but, because I demand that for myself, I go farther. I say to you that I shall put myself out, aye, even to that supreme inconvenience of a halter about my precious neck, to see that you shall be heard."
In it is written, I believe, the sum of the passion for social justice which produced this Francois Marie Arouet, this Jean Jacques Rousseau, this French Revolution, this country lawyer crying out at Richmond, this Constitution of this Jefferson, this America. That passion, I regret to record, begins to vanish from the earth. I cannot, for the life of me, imagine these words on the lips of, say, Theodore Roosevelt, The Little.
What valid objection? Best answered, I think, by considering the converse: "I do not agree with a word you say, and I shall fight to the death your right to say it." Analyze that and you find it based on two assumptions: First: "We are the strong and deny you, the weak, the right to be heard because we are strong." Second: "The people are fools. Let them hear a bewhiskered gent rant from a soap box and immediately they will convert their homes into bomb factories and plot wickedly against Dr. Coolidge." I make no comment.
Under this dispensation, the Legion is privileged to yammer till Doomsday for a battleship for every frog pond and a regiment for every acre--uniforms and parading to their hearts' content. In return, they are merely asked for a bit of tolerance, a mere willingness not to interfere with the rights of the other side. To expect the full carrying out of the letter of our doctrine would probably be too much.
The Kluckers are granted full right to believe and proclaim that the Pope is a cannibal with dark designs on Baptist babies. They are merely asked to remember that the Constitution, which they invoke, does not proscribe Catholics or Jews or Niggers and that the law is perfectly competent to deal with moral delinquencies which are of any social concern. The Sons and Daughters of This and That are free to bawl as loud as they please for the deportation of all Wops, the suppression of Hot Dogs, the hanging and drawing of Grover Cleveland Bergdoll, Bill Thompson in the schools, the flaying alive of the History faculty, War with Japan, the burning of Russia, the blood of the Kaiser, the shooting of Calles, Dayton, Tennessee, or whatever it is that hurts them.
Finally, upon the development of such a working doctrine must be predicated the eventual right of democracy to exist. If all publicity mediums are to become propaganda agents for specified views, if a hall can be hired for only certain causes, if a speaker is to find his engagements cancelled because of pressure from opposed groups, then democracy has become a poor deluded wench to be bent to the pleasure of self-seeking interests. Better far create an autocracy, establish an aristocracy inculcated with the spirit of noblesse oblige, and hope for the best.
And the acceptance of this doctrine means the elimination of exceptions. Every man must be heard, however insane his idea. That clearly is the intention of the first article of the almost forgotten Bill of Rights.
If it be argued that it is dangerous, I answer that it is not half so dangerous as the preachment of false ideas through underground channels. Oppression can turn a pig's tail into a standard for a crusade. And--if the dear people really do decide they want to take up bomb-tossing, I know of no valid objection under democracy. "The Government of the United States belongs to the people. They may change that government when they see fit. They may even, if they wish, destroy that government." If you are literate, you'll recognize that for a statement--paraphrased--of Abraham Lincoln's. Laugh that off!
Understand me, I have no idea that this conception of Americanism means the ushering in of the millennium. If the populace is not imbecile, it is quite often a great booby. Democracy inevitably means a succession of ludicrous, sometimes obscene, mistakes. Gentle Will's "greasy caps" had a faculty for calling Error Truth and Truth Error. They haven't changed much. But if there is any hope for dunderpates to ever know the Truth, it must lie in the possession of all the facts, in the hearing of all arguments.
So I propose a lodge. A brotherhood dedicated to Americanism.
Members in the Legion, The Kluckers, The Sons and Daughters, The Knights of Columbus, of The Zealous Zebras need not debar you. You will merely be asked to affirm your belief in the simple proposition, to wit: "I do not agree with a word you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." You will be required to read John Stuart Mill's "On Liberty".
The password will be: "I mind my own business."
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