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Bellum omnium contra omnes

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America. 

So reads the preamble to the Constitution of the United States of America – lofty goals for a Republic that lasted from 1789 until 1861 when it was dragged into a ruinous war whose net result was the creation of a Nation State [as opposed to a nation of States] where the executive is progressing steadily towards absolutism. The immediate result of the war was to reduce the States of the South for the following twelve years [1865-1877] into vassal states ruled by fiat at the point of the bayonet of the occupying power. A situation best described by Thomas Hobbes in Leviathan;

In such condition, there is no place for industry; because the fruit thereof is uncertain: and consequently no culture of the earth; no navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by sea; no commodious building; no instruments of moving, and removing, such things as require much force; no knowledge of the face of the earth; no account of time; no arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.

Hyde’s book is a case study of what happens in the vacuum created when you remove a stabilizing elite that provides the authority for civil order. Going back to Hobbes; without civil society all men have equal right unto all things [and since]every man by natural necessity desires that which is good for him… it is manifest that during the time men live without a common power to keep them all in awe, they are in that condition which is called war; and such a war as is of every man against every man. The Leviathan was actually Hobbes’ commentary on the English Civil War but Hyde has demonstrated that the lessons applied to ours as well.

Pistols and politics: the dilemma of democracy in Louisiana’s Florida parishes, 1810-1899 Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, c 1996      Samuel C. Hyde, Jr. Violence Louisiana Florida Parishes History 19th century Hardcover. 1st. ed. and printing. xv, 288 p.: ill., maps; 24 cm. Includes bibliographical references (p. [263]-279) and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG

In the nineteenth-century South, there existed numerous local pockets where cultures and values different from those of the dominant planter class prevailed. One such area was the Florida parishes of southeastern Louisiana, where peculiar conditions combined to create an enclave of white yeomen. In the years after the Civil War, levels of violence among these men escalated to create a state of chronic anarchy, producing an enduring legacy of bitterness and suspicion. In Samuel C. Hyde’s careful and original study of a society that degenerated into utter chaos, he illuminates the factors that allowed these conditions to arise and triumph.

Early in the century, the Florida parishes were characterized by an exceptional level of social and political turmoil. Stability emerged as the cotton economy expanded into the piney-woods parishes during the 1820s and 1830s, bringing with it slaves and prosperity — but also bringing increasing dominance of the region by a powerful planter elite that shaped state government to suit its purposes.

By the early 1840s, Jacksonian political rhetoric inspired a newfound assertiveness among the common folk. With the construction of a railroad through the piney-woods region at the close of the antebellum period and the collapse of the planter class at the end of the Civil War, the plain folk were finally able to reject the planters’ authority. Traditional patterns of political and economic stability were permanently disrupted, and the residents — their Jeffersonian traditions now corrupted by the brutal war and Reconstruction periods — rejected all governance and resorted increasingly to violence as the primary solution to conflict. For the remainder of the nineteenth century, the Florida Parishes had some of the highest murder rates in the country.

In Pistols and Politics, Hyde gives serious scrutiny to a region heretofore largely neglected by historians, integrating the anomalies of one area of Louisiana into the history of the state and the wider South. He reassesses the prevailing myth of poverty in the piney woods, portrays the conscious methods of the ruling planter elite to manipulate the common people, and demonstrates the destructive possibilities inherent in the area’s political traditions as well as the complex mores, values, and dynamics of a society that produced some of the fiercest and most enduring feuds in American history.

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