Friends of Order: The Southern Federalist Persuasion in the Age of Jeffersonian Democracy

Jonathan Anthony Hanna, Claremont Graduate University


Historical treatments of the intellectual traditions emanating from the “Old South”—broadly conceived—have, with few exceptions, characterized them as decrepit and/or otherwise overwhelmingly marred by the institution of slavery. On the one hand, such treatments are understandable. The South’s increasingly ossified reliance upon a distinctly racialized conception of slavery served to compress virtually all attempts at (white) southern independent thought—political, economic, social, and legal—within a framework that situated the “peculiar institution” and the civilization it engendered as legitimate, or, at most, problematic only to the extent that it created obstructions and contradictions to the meaning and implication of American liberty and republican government. Such contradictions were routinely overcome by increasing emphasis upon the essential otherness of Blacks as a collective, whether enslaved or free, as the nineteenth century advanced. On the other hand, because of slavery, the progressive tilt of the humanities and social sciences in the academy has produced a canon—truthfully, a steadfast way of perceiving the southern intellectual tradition—that has preemptively dismissed or largely discounted the profundity and multifaceted nature of southern political ruminations and articulations. This reception has brought critical discourses in southern U.S. and American intellectual history to something of a standstill. In particular, how southern Federalists negotiated their politics and place within a burgeoning national party system—before the South became “sectionalized” as a political, geographic, and psychological entity—has escaped the attention of most historians specializing in the Early American Republic. My dissertation, “Friends of Order: The Southern Federalist Persuasion in the Age of Jeffersonian Democracy,” examines the proliferation of southern Federalist ideology in the Early American Republic as a distinct regional phenomenon within the context of the developing First Party System in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. It primarily relies upon scrutiny of the individual private writings of select southern Federalists to chronicle the development and progression of a regional ideological temper across the Atlantic South states of South Carolina, Georgia, Virginia, North Carolina, and Maryland. The dissertation ultimately showcases the idiosyncratic political ideology of the southern Federalists and emphasizes the need to expand scholars’ understandings of the early Atlantic South. Through enriching our understanding of the southern Federalists, we can approximate a more nuanced and thorough assessment of some of the region’s most vigorous minds, and the ideological moment and movement they represented.