Hunter S. Thompson on how the south was settled

This is an excerpt from Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72, around the time when McGovern was gaining ground by going the opposite way of his counterparts after George Wallace won the primary in Florida.  While Muskie railed against the racist scum and the half-wits who had voted for him, McGovern said things like, “I feel the same way, but unlike Governor Wallace, I’ve proposed constructive solutions to these problems.”  The tactic here was to avoid alienating voters in upcoming primaries wouldn’t vote for a liberal candidate who considered them stupid for agreeing with Wallace, while counting on the fact that these same voters knew deep down inside that they might just end up in hell if they kept it up.  Hunter describes this aspect brilliantly as always, then goes into a deeper description of this southern voter:

The root of the Wallace magic was a cynical, showbiz instinct for knowing exactally which issues would whip a hall full of beer-drinking factory workers into a frenzy – and then doing exactally that, by howling down from the podium that he had an instant, overnight cure for all their worst aflictions:  Taxes?  Nigras?  Army worms killing the turnip crop?  Whatever it was, Wallace assured his supporters that the solution was actually real simple, and that the only reason they had any hassle with the government at all was because those greedy bloodsuckers in Washington didn’t want the problems solved, so they wouldn’t be put out of work.

The ugly truth is that Wallace had never even bothered to understand the problems – much less come up with any honest solutions – but “the Fighting Little Judge” has never lost much sleep from guilt feelilngs about his personal credibility gap.  Southern politicians are not made that way.  Successful con men are treated with considerable respect in the South.  A good slice of the settler population of that region were men who’d been given a choice between being shipped off to the New World in leg-irons and spending the rest of their lives in English prisons.  The Crown saw no point in feeding them year after year, and they were far too dangerous to be turned loose on the streets of London – so, rather than overload the public hanging schedule, the King’s Minister of Gaol decided to put this scum to work on the other side of the Atlantic, in The Colonies, where cheap labor was much in demand.

Most of these poor bastards wound up in what is now the Deep South becaue of the wretched climate.  No settler with good sense and a few dollars in his pocket would venture south of Richmond.  There was plent of opportunity around Boston, New York, and Philadelphia – and by Brittish standards the climate in places like South Carolina and Georgia was close to Hell on Earth:  swamps, alligators, mosquitos, tripical disease…all this plus a boiling sun all day long and no way to make money unless you had a land grant from the King…

So the South was sparsely settled at first, and the shortage of skilled labor was a serious problem to the scattered aristocracy of would-be cotton barons who’d been granted huge tracts of good land that would make them all rich if they could only get people to work it.

The slave-trade was one answer, but Africa in 1699 was not a fertile breeding ground for middle-management types…and the planters said it was damn near impossible for one white man to establish any kind of control over a boatload of black primatives.  The bastards couldn’t even speak English.  How could a man get the crop in, with brutes like that for help?

There would have to be managers, keepers, overseers:  white men who spoke the language, and had a sense of purpose in life.  But where would they come from?  There was no middle class in the South, only masters and slaves…and all that rich land lying fallow.  The King was quick to grasp the financial implications of the problem:  The crops must be planted and harvested, in order to sell them for gold – and if all those lazy bastards needed was a few thousand half-bright English-speaking lackeys in order to bring the crops in…hell, that was easy:  Clean out the jails, cut pack on the Crown’s grocery bill, jolt the liberals off balance by announcing a new “Progressive Amnesty” program for the hardened criminals…

Wonderful.  Dispatch royal messengers to spread the good word in every corner of the kingdom; and after that send out professional pollsters to record an amazing 66 percent jump in the King’s popularity…then wait a few weeks before announding the new 10 percent sales tax on ale.

That’s how the South got settled.  Not the whole story, perhaps, but it goes a long way toward explaining why George Wallace is the Governor of Alabama.  He has the same smile as his great-grandfather – a thrice-convicted pig thief from somewhere near Nottingham, who made a small reputation, they say, as a jailhouse lawyer, before he got shipped out.

Indeed.  With a bit of imagination you can almost hear the cranky little bastard haranguing his fellow prisoners in London’s infamous Hardcase jail, urging them on to revolt:

“Lissen here, you poor fools!  There’s not much time!  Even now – up there in the tower – they’re cookin up some kind of cruel new punishment for us!  How much longer will we stand for it?  And now they want to ship us across the ocean to work like slaves in a swamp with a bunch of goddamn Hottentots!

“We won’t go!  It’s asinine!  We’ll tear this place apart before we’ll let that thieving old faggot of a king send us off to work next to Africans!

“How much more of this misery can we stand, boys?  I know you’re fed right up to here with it.  I can see it in your eyes – pure misery!  And I’m tellin’ you, we don’t have to stand for it!  We can send the king a message and tell him how we feel!  I’ll write it up myself and all you boys can sign it…or better still, I’ll go talk to the king personally!  All you boys have to do is dig me a little tunnel under the wall over there behind the gallows and I’ll…”

Right.  The bottom line never changes:  “You folks be sure and come to see me in the White House, you hear?  There’ll be plenty of room for my friends, after I clean house…but first I need your vote, folks, and after that I’ll…”

George Wallace is one of the worst charlatans in politics, but there is no denying his talent for converting frustration into energy.

4 comments

  1. Does anyone read these? I’ll most likely continue to transcribe portions of books like this, but I’m curious as to whether anyone on deadissue has the time for it…perhaps breaking them down into smaller pieces would be better.

    Like a comic strip.

  2. karl says:

    I read this things, but I have a lot of free time.

  3. captain_menace says:

    Zikes!

    My relatives no my father’s side are from good ole Alabamy.

    This makes me think of the entire political/governmental process. You’ve got legions of bureaucratic commissioners, federal/state division directors that are running government programs not because they are qualified in any way to do so. They are appointed by a governor, or president who is simply repaying a favor. Nevermind that the Department of Health and Human Services would really benefit from some specialized healthcare expertise, or that the Federal Emergency Management Agency might be best run by a military person with combat or search and rescue operations experience.

    A polluted system that we continue to pay for.

    Makes sense when you consider that a large percentage of us come from criminal stock.

  4. It’s in this way that we have a lot in common with Australians!

    Cool – I’ll keep putting them up then. I get into routines where I’ll pull out 3 old favorites, pick them up and open to a random page, read for twenty minutes or so, a relaxation technique.

    With that piece from Player Piano (Vonnegut), for some reason I started thinking about it, and had to find the chapter and get it up here. Probably all the military talk.

    More to come…

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