by Michael O'Brien
From the publisher:
A lively introduction to a New England observer of southern thought and custom
“Strictly, the Southerner had no mind; he had temperament. He was not a scholar; he had no intellectual training; he could not analyze an idea, and he could not even conceive of admitting to.” This judgment, rendered in The Education of Henry Adams, may be the most quoted of Adams’s writings on the South. However, it is far from the only one of his beliefs that helped to shape a national outlook on the region from the late antebellum period to the present.
Thinking about the South, says Michael O’Brien, was “part of being an Adams.” In this book O’Brien shows how Adams (grandson of President John Quincy Adams and great-grandson of President John Adams) looked at the region during various phases of his life. O’Brien explores the cultural and familial impulses behind those views and locates them in American intellectual history. He begins with the young Henry Adams, who served as his father’s secretary in the House of Representatives during the secession crises of 1860–1861 and in the American embassy in London during and after the Civil War, until 1868.
O’Brien then covers a number of topics relevant to Adams’s outlook on the South, including his residency in that deceptively “southern” city, Washington, D.C.; his journalism on the Reconstruction-era South; his biographical or historical works on the Virginians John Randolph, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison; and his two novels, especially Democracy. Finally, O’Brien ponders the vein of southern self-criticism—exemplified by Wilbur J. Cash’s Mind of the South—that embraces the notorious slur so often quoted from The Education of Henry Adams.
Michael O'Brien is Reader in American Intellectual History at the University of Cambridge and a fellow of Jesus College. He is founder of the Southern Intellectual History Circle and was the longtime series editor of the Publications of the Southern Texts Society. O'Brien is the author or editor of several books on southern intellectual history, including the Bancroft Prize-winner Conjectures of Order.