15 March 2009

Cyrus McCormick a "Yankee"?

I was recently doing some research and reading through part of Charles Wilson's Baptized in Blood - The Religion of the Lost Cause, 1865-1920, when I came across a very curious passage regarding benefactors of Washington College in Lexington after the WBTS. Somehow, I had missed this when reading Wilson's book years ago:

". . . the Yankee inventor Cyrus McCormick had contributed $20,000 by his death in 1884. . ." (pages 152-153)

Say again? "Yankee" inventor?(!) McCormick was born in 1809 at “Walnut Grove,” a large family farm located just south of my home on the Rockbridge/Augusta County line here in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley. So he was born a Southerner. Yes, he moved to Chicago in 1847 to market his patented reaper but McCormick never turned his back on the South. He was a loyal Democrat and believed Abraham Lincoln’s election portended doom. He would eventually purchase the Chicago Times which became an outlet for McCormick's pro-Southern politics. He ran for Congress in 1864 on a platform to stop the war and had also tried to get the North to make concessions in 1860 and 1861 in hopes of preventing war. How does one describe this man as a "Yankee"?

Ironically, McCormick's reaper actually contributed to the Confederacy's defeat by allowing the North to export grain and feed its huge army. Dr. Wilson is an accomplished scholar which makes his labeling McCormick a Yankee all the more curious. How does one who specializes in the study of the WBTS and Southern culture not know that McCormick was, by all standards, a Southerner and committed Confederate sympathizer?


Arthur B. Breedlove said...

This is a fairly common tactic that is used to co opt anything Southern and categorize as Yankee or ,"American." I think at one time New England tried to claim Washington and Jefferson as their own.

In the case of Cyrus McCormick, his invention proved to be superior to that of Obed Hussey(a Yankee).

Personally, I can remember two separate occasions when a Yankee tried to claim a Southerner as their own. One tried to say that Michael Jordan was a Chicagoan, even though he grew up down the street from me and we went to the same high school in North Carolina.(different vintage) Another spoke of Mark Twain as though he were from Connecticut. He was none to pleased when I pointed out Twain was from Florida, Missouri.

Dr. Clyde Wilson, has written about this phenomena. Anything that is perceived as bad is labeled "Southern", whereas anything good is labeled either "Yankee", or "American." So, Andrew Jackson was "American", while Nathan Bedford Forrest ,was "Southern." Even though they were only separated by one generation.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

A valid point Arthur, although when it comes to Wilson's error, I don't know whether or not it was intentionally misleading, or just ignorance and sloppy editing.

Arthur B. Breedlove said...

Mr. Williams

You are of course correct. I should have made the point of saying that I cannot judge the Wilson work, or his intentions(which I cannot know) on that basis. The rest I can attest to. My apologies.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

No apology necessary, what you say is valid.