I talk every now and then here about how constitutional ideas appear in public -- often in really abbreviated form, sometimes even as bumper stickers. A few words can often convey a whole lot about our intellectual world in a short compass. One of the sources I've been using of late to gauge public constitutional ideas are debate topics at college literary societies. My hypothesis is you can tell a lot about what's on the students' minds by their weekly debate topics and if you put all the ideas together over a span of years, you can help to map the minds of southerners.
So I'm surprised that I haven't done more with toasts at public occasions before now. G. Edward White made effective use of dueling toasts between Andrew Jackson and John C. Calhoun in The Marshall Court and Cultural Change. But it's only recently that I've realized how many toasts are out there in newspapers. Take, for instance, the toasts that were given at a Fourth of July celebration in Surry County Virginia in 1832 -- the first fourth following Nat Turner's rebellion. Those toasts included:
"The Surry Troop of Cavalry--Men prepared to march at a moment's warning--who can view them and fear an insurrection."
"The People, too wise to be led into Nullification and too honest to be bribed by appropriations for internal improvement."
"United we stand, divided we fall."
"Robert Y. Hayne: One of the brightest stars in the Southern Constellation."
"Principles and not men."
And how about these, given at Red Oak in Brunswick: "tools made to work in clay can never make an impression on old hickory."
"The North and the South. Their mutual interests legalize their union. But when one seeks to oppress the other, their Union is disgraceful and meretricious. 9 cheers." (This is a focus on utility as it relates to Union earlier than I'm used to seeing it.)
And how about this praise for someone who gave a revealing Democratic address at UNC in 1847: "John Y. Mason, our distinguished representative in Congress. The talented, firm, and patriotic statesman; his faithful adherence to his constituents will deserve their everlasting gratitude."
There's a lot to talk about here, once I start to compile a comprehensive list of the toasts.... I am in need of a photograph of the Brunswick Court House to illustrate this post. I have designs on getting that on my next trip to Richmond to use the State Library, which I hope will be soon. For now one of the Davidson College literary society buildings will have to suffice.