Early Southern nationalist leader and South Carolina statesman Robert Barnwell Rhett struggled against Southern conservatives his entire political career.
Even after three decades of leading the cause for Southern independence, he and his fellow Fire-Eaters (as Southern nationalists were then known) were pushed aside once the Southern States seceded in 1860-61 and control of the new Southern Confederacy was given to moderates and conservatives who had opposed secession or only late come to accept it.
Rhett and other Southern nationalists had many differences with the Confederate Government and became bitter enemies of the Jefferson Davis Administration.
After the US conquest of the independent South, with Southern cities in ruins and hundreds of thousands of Southerners dead, Rhett (while dying of cancer) wrote in his unpublished memoir (recently edited by William C Davis and published by the University of South Carolina Press) about the US occupation of Dixie. He addressed the despotism which gripped the South. Rhett clearly believed the Southern people had conducted themselves heroically in their struggle against the Union’s invasion. He also believed their cause of ‘Free Government’ and ‘the deathless principles of liberty’ had been just. Despite everything, Rhett also managed to remain hopeful. He believed that after a period of US control that ‘the echoes of Revolution’ would reverberate throughout the land and he looked forward to a day when ‘the South is independent; or the South is free.’ The following passage is excerpted from page 99 of A Fire-Eater Remembers: The Confederate Memoir of Robert Barnwell Rhett:
Despotism is ever-active; and, when rising over a destroyed Republic, is full of the vices of vicious men. To affect to ignore these vices, or to love them, is the mean hypocrisy of a base servility.
It was against such an anticipated despotism consolidating the Government, as [the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the US Constitution] establish, and for a Free Government, which would avoid it, that the People of the Southern States assembled in Montgomery; and put forth to the world the Constitution of the Confederate States establishing a Government, for which, during four years, they fought, suffered and died. They failed; – but did they fail from want of devotion to political liberty? Their unsurpassed heroism in battle, and patient endurance, for four years, of a war carried on by their enemies with a barbarity and cruelty which even the Despots of Europe have disdained to imitate in their late warfare, ought to answer this question. Did they fail from a disparity in numbers? If so, they may remain forever colonial slaves to Northern masters; for it has ever been the condition of all struggles for free government, that the priceless and deathless principles of liberty, must be won against numbers. …
But, if we have failed from the weakness and incompetency of our own Government, – supported by a false confidence in the treacherous professions of our enemies, – our Cause is not dead.
Source: Robert Barnwell Rhett: Our Cause is not dead