August 26, 2014

Death of Tucker: not the worst

Nathaniel Beverley Tucker lived a varied life before his death on August 26, 1851, just shy of his 67th birthday. Born in Chesterfield County, Virginia, and several men in his family rose to prominence in politics, education, and the law. He served during the War of 1812 before moving to the Missouri Territory and earning the rank of judge. He outlived two of his three wives by the time he began working at his alma mater, the College of William and Mary. By the 1830s and 1840s, he was already espousing a form of secession that allowed state sovereignty.

Tucker was also a published author who published three novels and contributed to periodicals, particularly several essays in the pages of the Southern Literary Messenger. One of his works, The Partisan Leader: A Tale of the Future, was set in the "future" of 1849 when it was published in 1836 and, according to some, correctly predicted the birth of the Confederacy. Certainly, Tucker had been advocating for secession for years: "Disunion is not the worst of possible evils," he once claimed, and suggested breaking up the states be an open discussion.

From the dialogue of a character in his novel George Balcombe (1836):

"...It is only by blunders that we learn wisdom. You are too young to have made many as yet. God forbid, that when you shall have made as many as I have, you should have profited as little by them. But it will not be so. You take the right plan to get the full benefit of all you make. I am not sure," continued he, " that we do not purchase all our good qualities by the exercise of their opposites. How else does experience of danger make men brave? If they were not scared at first, then they were brave at first. If they were scared, then the effect of fear upon the mind has been to engender courage. Virtue, indeed, may be formed by habit. But who has a habit of virtue 1 very few. The rest have to arrive at virtue by the roundabout road of crime and repentance; as if a man should follow the sun around the earth to reach a point but a few degrees east of that from which he started. But it is God's plan of accomplishing his greatest end, and must be the best plan."

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