Thursday, July 16, 2015

Photo of the Day: ‘Secession House,’ Beaufort SC

When I was down in the lovely coastal town of Beaufort, SC, last fall, I fell in love with the antebellum homes on virtually every street of this Lowcountry community, including this Greek Revival mansion. A sign outside identified it as the Maxcy-Rhett House, and gave some details about its principal owners: Milton Maxcy, an educator, and Edmund Rhett, a lawyer, planter and politician.

All seemingly helpful, except for a few details of critical importance. The lifespan of Rhett, I noticed, extended into the middle of the Civil War, and the name seemed to speak of all manner of planter privilege. (Indeed, the name chosen by Margaret Mitchell for her rakish hero of Gone With the Wind, Rhett Butler, combines two of the most storied names in South Carolina history.)

It took just a few clicks on the Internet to discover the nickname left off the sign: “Secession House,” denoting the critical discussions held here in which Edmund Rhett—and, even more important, his brother Robert Barnwell Rhett, a U.S. Congressman and Senator—propounded ideas of states’ rights that found explosive and divisive expression in the secession movement and the Civil War.

The declaration of secession by South Carolina, the most die-hard secessionist state, was a dream come true for the Rhetts, particularly Robert, whose oratory for the cause over the last three decades had been so extreme that it became known as "Rhett-oric," I discovered in Adam Goodheart's "Disunion" post for The New York Times back in 2010.  After that, things did not go well for the state, and even less so for the Rhetts. Edmund died mid-war, and Robert may well wish he had, who lost two songs in the conflict and, because of facial cancer, became so disfigured that he eventually had to stop going out in public.

Under the circumstances, it's nice to see that American flag flying on the home rather than the other flag that's become notorious the last several weeks, isn't it?

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