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Walter Hines Page: the Southerner As American


ISSUE:  Autumn 1977

AS the election of 1976 showed, the South has finally trod the road to reunion. Jimmy Carter’s election gained added significance by coming one hundred years after the end of Reconstruction. It has taken a century since the nation was supposedly restored from the Civil War for the South to be brought fully back into the American mainstream. Obviously, sectional reconciliation has been a long and difficult job, and the work has had to be done with few prophets or heroic leaders and in the face of enormous frustrations. For many Southerners the biggest frustration of all has been the conviction that alienation between their section and the rest of the country has been wrong and unnecessary. One of the first Southerners after Reconstruction to argue that sectional hostility was needless and one of the most important advocates of national reunion during his life-time was the North Carolina-born editor, publisher, and reformer, Walter Hines Page. Ironically, he has been better remembered as the United States ambassador to Great Britain during World War I than as the proponent of the views that helped shape his life and most influenced his times.

Page was an early exponent of the viewpoint that was encapsulated in the title of a collection of essays published in 1960—The Southerner as American. The authors of those essays believed, stated the editor, Charles G. Sellers, Jr., “that the traditional emphasis on the South’s differentness and on the conflict between Southernism and Americanism is wrong historically.” In support of that thesis and its corollary that mistaken notions of separateness warped Southern thinking, Sellers quoted several pungent observations made by Page around the turn of the century. Further, Sellers maintained, Page’s own life and career symbolized the way that Southerners during the last century found themselves torn between the unpalatable alternatives of clinging to nostalgic myths about themselves and bowing to the realities of an urban, industrial North.”Page’s personal dilemma,” Sellers concluded, “was the dilemma of the modern South.”

That phrase, “the Southerner as American,” and the evocation of Page as a figure caught in the classic dilemma of the post-Reconstruction South suggest both his historical significance and the great theme that he illuminated. Born in 1855, Page came of age at the end of Reconstruction, and he spent all but the last five years of his adult life in the front lines of the struggle to restore the South to full participation in national life. Starting as a newspaperman in the South and continuing as an editor of national magazines in New York and Boston until 1913, he wrote and reflected constantly on the meanings of the twin identities of Southerner and American. At the same time, he was advocating and, as a philanthropist, social reformer, and amateur politician, promoting reconciliation between those identities. His ambassadorship to Britain, which occupied the last five years of his life, until his death in 1918, came as a political reward for aiding the presidential candidacy of his friend Woodrow Wilson, whom Arthur S. Link has called, “the American as Southerner.” An uncanny combination of circumstances and personal traits made Page, moreover, one of the most richly revealing figures of his time, especially regarding the manifold ramifications of the problem of reunion between North and South. Walter Hines Page shed a light that reached a long way down the road that finally ended with Jimmy Carter in 1976.

II

The time, place, and family into which Page was born engaged him from the beginning with being at once a Southerner and an American. For the rest of his life he could remember how, as a child of eight, he had watched coffins bearing the remains of Confederate soldiers being returned to the village in North Carolina where his family lived. At the end of the war, the conflict itself briefly intruded when a Union army occupied the Page home and encamped on the grounds. Not long afterward, as a boy of 13 at a nearby military school, he first encountered the thralldom in which the Lost Cause had come to grip so much of the white South. Those youthful experiences with the Civil War and its romantic legends raised problems of divided loyalties, because of where Walter Page was born and who he was.

His birth and upbringing in rolling Piedmont country a few miles west of Raleigh made him a North Carolinian, or “Tarheel.” In the ante-bellum South, North Carolina had occupied an uncomfortable spot. There, as elsewhere in the Upper South, plantation agriculture and large-scale slaveholding had not flourished on anywhere near the scale of the Deep South. Tarheels had also suffered from poverty and backwardness since colonial days, and they had long smarted under the contempt of aristocratic Virginians and South Carolinians. The differences between the two parts of the South and between North Carolina and its neighbors had become most readily apparent in 1861, when the states of the Upper South had seceded only after the firing on Fort Sumter and President Lincoln’s call for armed suppression of the Confederacy. North Carolina had left the Union last of all, after Virginia’s secession had ruled out any other course. Being a Tarheel tended to inject at least a few reservations into Page’s Southern identity.

Deeper reservations sprang from his family background. Since Walter’s grandfather’s time, the Pages had been staunch Whigs, originally admirers of Henry Clay and his nationalism and, like most members of their party in North Carolina, opponents of sectional extremism and secession. Walter Page later insisted that his father had been a “Union man.” That did not mean that the elder Page had sided with the North during the Civil War or joined the Republicans during Reconstruction. But his father had been a less than ardent Confederate and had not fought under the Stars and Bars. Coming from such a family, Page could hardly have avoided predispositions toward questioning the Lost Cause and rejecting distinctive Southernism and Northern-defined Americanism as mutually exclusive categories.

Another, more intimate aspect of his family background added further dimensions to his embodiment of dual loyalties. Beginning in his childhood, Page found himself caught in a celebrated but seldom analyzed American family conflict. On one side, a warm, sympathetic, cultivated mother, who had almost exclusive charge of the early upbringing of Walter, the oldest child, fostered his somewhat romantic inclinations toward intellectual and literary callings. On the other side, a hard-bitten businessman father, who played a larger role in his son’s life after 1865, insisted upon practical work and active involvement in the world. It was significant in itself that such a family conflict, which has usually been thought peculiar to later periods and to more sophisticated urban precincts, could arise in a rude Southern community during the Civil War era. The conflict created divisions within Page between intellect and action, with certain inescapable sex role connotations, that lasted throughout his life and shaped his attitudes and actions.

Those divisions and Page’s responses to them naturally affected his performance in his twin roles as Southerner and American. The young man met his opposing parental influences by trying to satisfy them both, thereby fashioning a personal model for sectional reconciliation. When he began to address the problem after 1876, Page tended to depict the South as an extension of his own romantic, literary side and the North as an extension of his practical, commercial side. But he did not draw simple analogues. The North also represented culture for Page, and the South’s shortcomings in that department troubled him profoundly. Likewise, his father’s practical, worldly outlook ran counter not only to the sentimentality of the Lost Cause but also to its heroism and military glory, which exerted a powerful attraction over Page, Beneath those complications in his outlook toward the South and the national scene lay a further twist in his internal divisions. Unlike others who have found themselves torn between intellect and action, Page was pulled, not in two directions, but three. The first direction was toward intellectual and literary aspirations, The second was a desire to exert social, cultural, and political influence. The third was a drive to make money. That three-way division partially reflected another facet of Page’s family background—their strong Methodist faith. His parents’ wishes and his own initial inclination toward the Methodist ministry provided him with a fruitful way to satisfy literary and public leanings, with an exemption from the business influence, But when Page forsook his ministerial vocation in college, the family conflict exploded in his face, while his subsequent skepticism about religious orthodoxy supplied alnother reservation to his Southern identity, Seeking an alternative career to the ministry that might satisfy all three of his inclinations ultimately led Page into journalism and the other public activities that made him such an important spokesman and promoter of national reunion.

The origins of his involvement in public affairs gave his viewpoint toward the South a special slant. Page’s own youthful interests had run almost entirely toward literature and religion, and he turned to journalism after a flirtation with an academic career. In 1876, Page joined the illustrious first group of Fellows of the newly opened Johns Hopkins University, but he abandoned higher education after two years, both because he could not stomach the narrowly positivistic approach prevalent at the Johns Hopkins and because teaching did not satisfy his worldly longings. Yet those early inclinations left their mark, Page’s original concern in advocating reform in the South was cultural. His first known published writing, a series of letters to a Raleigh newspaper in 1877, urged the adaptation of Northern and German scientific methods to Southern colleges and universities. Likewise, his preferred avenue for improvement in the South was, from the beginning, through education. Page taught at the University of North Carolina and at a high school in Louisville, Kentucky, in 1878 and 1879, and in 1881, in one of his earliest magazine articles, he asserted that above everything else the South needed “popular and practical education.”

The cultural origins and educational thrust of Page’s reform ideas marked him off from other contemporary spokesmen for Southern uplift and sectional reconciliation. He differed particularly from his sometime acquaintance, the renowned “New South” advocate Henry Grady, in not embracing industrial capitalism and Northern investment with anything like the same uncritical ardor. Thanks in part to his father’s influence, Page called for greater commercial and industrial development, but he hedged his espousal of those means to improvement in several ways. In his first important newspaper writing, a series of reports from different parts of the South for leading Northern papers in 1881, he argued that the sole path to genuine progress lay through “the way of agricultural improvement.” In those reports Page also dismissed “large railroad projects and mammoth manufacturing establishments” as improper for the South. At the outset of his journalistic career, Page was formulating his basic viewpoint toward improvement in his native section.

The young North Carolinian expanded his role as a Southern reform spokesman in 1883 when, after a stint on the staff of the New York World, he started his own weekly newspaper in Raleigh, The State Chronicle. In the State Chronicle, Page revealed more of the differences between himself and other New South advocates. He disclosed a trinity of reform approaches in which education ranked first, agricultural improvement came next, and industrial development came last. Similarly, although the paper ran special industrial editions and bragged about “ADVERTISING NORTH CAROLINA AT HOME AND ABROAD,” Page still rejected large-scale manufacturing and denied the necessity for outside investment. Along the same line, he refused to expound on the cheapness and docility of Southern labor, In fact, Page’s thinking about Southern labor ran in the opposite direction. His major crusade as editor of the State Chronicle and as founder of a civic improvement organization was the establishment of an agricultural and mechanical college that would provide training in the latest technology for farming and manufacturing. Finally and most important, Page developed his distinctive viewpoint toward the competing claims of Southern and American loyalties.

Whereas other New South advocates mixed their wooing of Northern capital with profusions of nostalgia for the Old South and the Lost Cause, the State Chronicle editor tried to forget the past and set his face toward the future. Actually, Page had to suppress a seething resentment toward the worshipers of departed glories who dominated the post-Reconstruction South. He later spewed forth his resentment in a blast of sarcasm in which he dubbed the old guard as “mummies” who stifled new ideas and made North Carolina “the laughingstock among the States.” But Page did not issue that blast until after he had stepped down from the State Chronicle and gone to New York. As long as he remained in Raleigh, he preached and practiced a gospel of cheerful, patient uplift to be achieved mainly through individual and small group efforts by native Southern whites. He likewise went out of his way to avoid controversy, especially in those three most sensitive areas, religion, race, and Southern identity.

Despite the amiable facade, Page began to enunciate the positions toward the major issues of sectional reconciliation that would continue to characterize his thinking. Inasmuch as religion was a personal and local problem for him, he succeeded largely in steering clear of it. Only after he left North Carolina did he divulge his scorn for preachers and their followers as retrograde social and political influences in the South. Race was another area into which Page did not care to stray too far, but that was as much out of conviction as from prudence. Even before he started the State Chronicle, Page had displayed a sympathetic attitude toward black people and argued that hard work, patience, and avoidance of agitation would improve their lot almost as much as that of whites. As editor of the State Chronicle, he capitalized the word “Negro,” then an unusual practice in the South and most parts of the country, and he deplored excessive attention to racial issues, which he strove to avoid. Page’s racial attitudes were of a piece with his larger outlook on the South.

He had begun to develop his Southern outlook as soon as he had resolved to enter journalism, drawing together his personal inclinations, family background, and North Carolina origins. Two points formed the basis of his outlook. One was a condemnation of ante-bellum plantations, slavery, and aristocratic pretensions for having perverted an earlier democratic society that had been at once more authentically Southern and more like the rest of the United States. In his 1881 newspaper reports, Page had condemned “the narcotic influences of slavery” and the “aristocratic shackles” that still bound so many whites. When he had first decided upon a journalistic career, Page had immediately read a biography of Thomas Jefferson, and in the State Chronicle he recommended an immersion in Jefferson’s writings as the best means of maintaining correct political and social bearings. Page’s expression of those views in the 1880’s was significant because during the first half of the 20th century they came to dominate white Southern liberal and moderate thinking. He had formulated both what C. Vann Woodward has termed the “hill-country point of view,” which found its most influential expression in W. J. Cash’s The Mind of the South, and the belief in a pre-slavery democratic, Jeffersonian South that was purveyed in the works of such historians as William E. Dodd.

The other basic point in Page’s Southern outlook was a corollary of the first. Since the South had its own democratic past to draw upon, it did not need to change its basic character in order to reenter the national mainstream. This was the point on which Page encountered the most misunderstanding and aroused the greatest hostility. Especially after he loosed his blast at the “mummies” and subsequent criticisms of Southern backwardness, fellow Southerners charged him with disloyalty and seeking to ape Yankee ways. Page insisted repeatedly that the South must be highly selective in transplanting alien customs and institutions. For example, in 1881, in his first national magazine article, he had cautioned against “pressing blindly forward” and called for “the proper fusion of the old and the new.” With those arguments and with his invocation of Jefferson as a talisman of legitimacy, Page was erecting the defenses that succeeding generations of Southern liberals would use against allegations of disloyalty.

Page seldom needed such defenses while he edited the State Chronicle. His few brushes with controversy occurred when he refused to refer to political candidates by their Confederate military ranks and lamented their preoccupation with outworn issues. Those were not serious slips. Yet in February 1885, less than two years after starting his paper, Page resigned the editorship, departed for New York, and later fired back barrages of criticism. Although pent-up frustration played a part in his withdrawal, he was knowingly defying his own counsel of patient, local uplift. At first he maintained in a series of critical letters to the State Chronicle that he planned to return, but he privately admitted that he was casting his lot with New York journalism. Another reason for his departure lay in the State Chronicle’s small earnings, although the paper continued to publish and pay for itself for another seven years.

Page’s strongest motive for departing sprang from the third side of his ambitions—his literary and intellectual aspirations. Public influence in his home state and modest business success did not compensate for low cultural standards. Page hankered for not just the money but the glamor and excitement of the metropolitan arena. In that way, too, he was acting out another aspect of his roles of Southerner and American. By leaving the South at the age of 30 and spending the rest of his life in the United States in Northern cities, Page made himself part of another chapter in sectional reconciliation—the story of the Southern expatriate.

III

Leaving the South did not end Page’s engagement with his native section, but it did alter the context in which he approached his twin identities. In 1887, after spending two years at newspaper jobs in New York, he joined the Forum,a non-fiction magazine, and four years later he became its editor. Page’s assumption of command of the Forum in 1891 opened a highly successful and influential 22-year career as a magazine editor. He boosted the Forum’s circulation by anticipating the trend toward lower-priced quality periodicals, and he pioneered in investigative reporting and discussion of public affairs. Then, after losing a fight for control of the Forum, he moved to Boston to work for Houghton, Mifflin & Company, the publishing house that owned the Atlantic Monthly. In 1896, Page assumed direction of the Atlantic, and in 1898 he became the first Southerner and only the second non-New Englander, after William Dean Howells, to occupy the magazine’s exalted editorial chair.

Page brought new departures to the Atlantic, especially when he used the magazine as his own editorial platform to promote American imperialism in 1898 and 1899. He also encouraged fledgling Southern writers, and through the Houghton, Mifflin connection he got into book publishing, which became his second most important career. Yet it is ironic that the Atlantic editorship was the most noteworthy post that Page held in the United States. Boston and the Atlantic really represented a detour in Page’s magazine career. Although Page was an innovator with the Atlantic, he showed less resourcefulness and imagination there than he had earlier or did again later, and he had less public impact during those years than he did before or after. Fittingly, he resigned the Atlantic editorship after only a year.

In 1899, Page returned to New York for a brief fling at a venture with the irrepressible S. S. McClure before teaming up with Frank N. Doubleday to found the publishing house, Doubleday, Page & Company. The firm not only blossomed swiftly into a major book publisher, which afforded Page another outlet for Southern authors, but it also gave him the opportunity in 1900 to start his own magazine, World’s Work. The magazine was a non-fiction monthly illustrated entirely with photographs—another journalistic departure. It stressed public affairs, and each issue opened with Page’s own extended editorial commentary. Both successful commercially and influential socially and politically, World’s Work established a national platform for Page and developed the main features of 20th-century newsmagazines.

Success in the North as a magazine editor and book publisher provided the former Tarheel with a new base from which to attempt to influence Southern affairs. Almost at once after leaving Raleigh, Page resumed his earlier function of interpreting North and South to each other, and gradually, as he gained eminence and expanded his activities, he began to act as a kind of intersectional ambassador. Page perceived his new mission through a more sharply defined version of his previously formulated viewpoint. In 1885, in his first magazine article after going to New York, Page asserted that no separate “Southern problem” existed. Rather, the South’s troubles were variations of general American conditions, worsened and complicated by economic and cultural backwardness, racial tensions, and misguided notions left over from the Lost Cause.

That was a remarkable viewpoint for anyone, especially a Southerner, to advance so soon after Reconstruction. That perspective, unlike Page’s other views of the South, would not gain currency for another 70 or 80 years, until the appearance of such works as The Southerner as American. Even today, despite the 1976 election, to maintain that the South is basically like the rest of the country remains controversial. Yet though that proposition meets resistance from some of the South’s leading interpreters, most notably C. Vann Woodward, opponents of the viewpoint have had to concede it a measure of validity. Page’s insistence upon the essential unity of Southern and American experience staked his strongest claim to the rank of prophet.

From 1885 to 1913, he hammered away at his messages of basic similarity between North and South and hopefulness about solving his native section’s problems. Besides in his own magazine articles and editorials, two books, and scores of speeches, Page propagated his views by offering means for others who shared them to speak out. During the 1890’s, he found an ideological brother across the color line in Booker T. Washington. Page ran so many stories by and about Washington and others like him that World’s Work published more material about black people than any other national magazine. Page also encouraged Washington to write his autobiography, Up from Slavery, which became one of the Doubleday, Page firm’s first best sellers. The former North Carolinian retained a sometimes credulous optimism about Southern white willingness to treat blacks humanely if left alone, but he largely avoided the paternalism of such other leading white moderates of the time as Robert C. Ogden and Edgar Gardner Murphy. Like Washington, Page sincerely believed that hard work and material progress would achieve a just society for blacks and whites alike.

Insistence upon the underlying similarity of the South to the rest of the United States cut both ways. Nearly all of Page’s stands on national issues stemmed from his Southern views. Such a ready transference of Southern-based attitudes to the national scene introduced strengths and weaknesses into his thinking. On the positive side, Page’s rural origins and early advocacy of agricultural improvement led him to perceive and try to bridge the widening gap between city and country in the United States. Although Page moderated his hostility toward big business after 1900, he never reconciled himself to urban and industrial dominance. In 1908, he declared that America was “and always will be mainly an agricultural country.” Page’s fondest cause on the national scene was the effort to redress the balance between rural and urban America. His first official post came in connection with that effort, when President Theodore Roosevelt appointed him in 1908 to the Commission on Country Life.

Page also suffered from the way that he applied his Southern views to the nation as a whole. For example, his rejection of the Populists and of William Jennings Bryan and his Democratic followers sprang from distaste for agrarian rabble-rousers in his native section. As a result, Page never adequately appreciated the reform impulse that arose from those quarters, and his magazine often supported measures aimed at curbing the powers of big business and political machines with reticence and skepticism. Conversely, Page’s unexamined Democratic fealty stood in the way of his sympathizing as much as he should have with the leader to whom he came closest in views and temperament—Theodore Roosevelt. Page’s congruence with Roosevelt, which extended to their foreign policy views as well, contained a certain irony, since the editor had been a Jeffersonian while the President was an outspoken neo-Hamiltonian. Page labored under a confusion of political identity that later led him to try to invest William Howard Taft and Woodrow Wilson with traits that they did not possess.

In addition to writing and talking about Southern uplift and national reunion, the former Tarheel sought to promote those ends through philanthropy and politics. Starting in 1901, Page plunged into the efforts of a coalition of Southen white reformers and Northern philanthropists to upgrade and expand all levels of education in the South, The coalition operated through two select organizations whose membership largely overlapped, the Southern Education Board, which was founded by Ogden and Murphy and primarily aided local initiatives, and the General Education Board, which dispensed huge contributions by John D. Rockefeller. As a leading Southern expatriate, Page played an important part as a link between the two elements in the coalition. The Southern and General Boards in turn formed the core of an interlocking directorate of other agencies concerned with aiding black and rural education. Moreover, thanks to Page’s personal intervention, these groups became involved in public health work in the South, particularly the spectacular Rockefeller-funded drive to eradicate hookworm. All of these philanthropic efforts enabled Page to give practical meaning to his intersectional ambassadorship.

Politics remained an inescapable concern for him, despite his reluctance to become directly involved. Page continued to believe that Southern and American politics needed to be disenthralled from outworn issues and that old allegiances ought to be dissolved. During Roosevelt’s second term, the World’s Work editor made his first foray into President-making by publicizing Taft’s candidacy and by managing overtures from Taft to the South during and after the 1908 election. Those moves went awry in the general disintegration of the Taft Administration, but Page soon found a more attractive alternative. At the beginning of 1911, he became one of the handful of original backers of Woodrow Wilson’s Presidential candidacy. Page had known and admired Wilson, a fellow Southern expatriate, since 1882, and he aided his old acquaintance’s drive for the White House through organization, fund-raising, and especially publicity. In return, Page nearly received a place in Wilson’s Cabinet as Secretary of Agriculture or Secretary of the Interior. Either post would have made a fitting capstone to his pursuit of being a Southerner and an American.

As matters turned out, the chances of politics supplied an unexpected last chapter in Page’s life. In 1913 Wilson appointed him ambassador to the Court of St. James. The ambassadorship to Great Britain meant a break for Page, who had previously taken just two widely separated summer trips abroad and had never seen the inside of an American embassy. Page nevertheless warmed to his new tasks, and during his first year in London, before the outbreak of World War I, he promoted Anglo-American concert as his latest cause. With the coming of World War I in August 1914, his work became more critical, in the face of the British blockade and German submarine warfare. Page began sympathizing with the Allies soon after the outbreak of the war, and after the sinking of the Lusitania in May 1915 he tirelessly urged intervention on the Allied side. The entry of the United States into the war in 1917 seemed to vindicate his stand. Finally, a sudden breakdown in his health at the middle of 1918 and his death shortly after the Armistice appeared to cast Page as an heroic martyr to the Allied victory.

The wartime ambassadorship brought great posthumous fame. Following the publication in 1922 of the best-selling Life and Letters of Walter Mines Page, his services came to be commemorated with memorials on both sides of the Atlantic. That reputation cracked in the later disillusionment with the world war and with the disclosure of how little influence he had actually had with Wilson. Page was neither a hero nor a villain of American intervention. He was simply the Southerner as American on the international scene. There, as at home, his ready extrapolation of Southern-based views entailed strengths and weaknesses, Anglo-American concert became for him an analogue to sectional reconciliation, and during his first, peacetime year in London, he was able to pursue that end with his usual stress on speaking, publicity, and informal organization. During the war, his manifest sympathy for Britain helped reduce friction, and at certain junctures, such as the disclosure of the Zimmermann Telegram, his presence may have made a difference in the course of events. But Page suffered even more from the weaknesses of his approach. Envisioning the United States and Britain as equivalent to the North and South heightened his diplomatic nai’vete and led him to misconceive many of his dealings with the British. Similarly, Page’s confused political bearings helped create a gulf of misunderstanding between himself and Wilson.

His failings as ambassador did not detract much from his historical significance. Page’s main contributions lay in his domestic career, and those contributions derived added importance from their variety. Partly because of the circumstances of where and when he lived but more because of his incredible versatility, Page involved himself and rendered observations in important ways in at least twelve fields— Southern affairs, race relations, politics, diplomacy, philanthropy, education, public health, argiculture, business, literature, book publishing, and journalism. Such versatility, combined with buoyant optimism and persistent faith in technology, made him resemble no Southerner or American so much as Thomas Jefferson. Unlike Jefferson, however, Page did not derive his versatility solely from superabundant gifts and curiosity. Page was a man of too many parts. His versatility was the upshot of the three-way internal conflict that he never successfully resolved. Yet that conflict also led him into the fields where his best talents lay—journalism, publishing, philanthropy, and certain kinds of amateur politics and peace-time diplomacy. Page’s inner divisions brought him personal success and, through his versatility, greater historical significance.

In one other, final way the pull of his three sets of aspirations enhanced Page’s place in his time and after. His unrequited literary yearnings complemented his versatility to make him one of the most illuminating figures in the United States during the last century and a half. Throughout his life, Page remained a literary man who ached to do significant writing. He took time away from his many involvements in the 1900’s to write a novel, and during the world war he made repeated attempts to record the momentous events that he was witnessing. Page’s literary aspirations influenced his political and social views in some surprising areas, particularly war and rural uplift. Those aspirations likewise impelled him to leave the sort of intimate, self-revelatory record that rarely enlightens a career in the thick of affairs. Van Wyck Brooks once observed that it is easier to do a first-rate biography of a second- or third-rate writer than of a first-rate businessman, soldier, or, politician. Writers by calling, Brooks explained, examine themselves and leave records, whereas men of action do not. Thanks to his internal conflict, Page offers an exception that proves Brooks’s rule.

An individual character in history has sometimes been compared to a tracer bullet fired in the night. Walter Hines Page always liked images like that, and this one suits him. It is hard to imagine a better aimed or more brightly illuminating tracer than he was through the years from Reconstruction to World War I. Because his trajectory sped straight down the road traveled by the Southerner as American, his life showed much about where the nation has come from to reach where it stands today.

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