Beverly Tucker: Heart over Head in the Old South. By Robert J Brugger.

This book is a mentalite’ about an impassioned secessionist named Beverly Tucker, a professor of law at the College of William and Mary, a Virginian who called on separation from the north in 1850.  Tucker was a lone voice in a sea of those willing and wanting compromise rather than secession in 1850.  According to the author, most historians who research or read of Tucker label him a southern eccentric.  Brugger claims that Tucker was a man who passed on the ideas of secession to his fellow southerners along with the belief in states rights during the antebellum period long before it was popular.  The author will also claim a very strong influence placed upon his former pupils who carried the banner of secession and states rights to the secession convention in Virginia in 1861.  These young men were called to carry this banner because of Tuckers’ direct impact upon them in the classroom.  Tucker would profess to them,  “ before any other colony had declared independence in 1776, old Virginias voice of defiance was always ringing in the tyrants ears; hers was the cry that summoned him to the strife; hers was the shout that invited his vengeance.”

Tucker belonged to a disunionist group and the author’s research shows how the underground party developed and how such a group saw secession coming, and how they tried to hasten its arrival.  Using editorials, newspaper articles, editorial pamphlets, lecterns of the class rooms, and trying to form a southern rights party these members along with Tucker would persuade others and shape the outcome of the secession movement.  He was also instrumental justifying the proslavery argument of the south.

Brugger allows the reader to conceptualize the changing patterns of southern thought and philosophies of the nineteenth century in this study of Tucker.  This microscopic story of one man in the right place and time, tells how a seed is planted and nourished into full bloom, the seed of secession and the growth of states rights, which lead to inevitable war.  Using this character, Brugger will show how the moral changes in the southern manner of daily political and social life changed from the Revolution to the Civil War.

This is an in-depth biography of Tucker and his family.  The author details many important facets in the subjects’ life, which shape Tuckers opinions about family relationships, politics, education, ethics, and most importantly southern philosophies.  Tucker, influenced by the Scottish realist philosophers, rather than by the skepticism of David Hume or mysticism of Immanuel Kant led him to adopt the ideas of “ natural realism”.  This Scottish realism taught non-dependence and Tucker used this to define his independence from family and those of a Federal government.  He would struggle to bring about a crisis in order to cleanse the Virginia he loved, which in his mind must be separate from the Union.  He became a tragic figure in history and never led the radical restoration as the messiah of the southern rights.  His desires for change were viewed as extreme by many southern men and many labeled him merely a mad man, especially those Democrat’s in office who compromised during 1850.

This book is an extremely detailed and well-written account.  It is exciting to read and holds within it a snapshot to those southern extremists who shaped the views cultivated into a regular practice in southern society before the Civil War and after.

Jeff Tucker