Role models of greatness.

Here you will discover the back stories of kings, titans of industry, stellar athletes, giants of the entertainment field, scientists, politicians, artists and heroes – all of them gay or bisexual men. If their lives can serve as role models to young men who have been bullied or taught to think less of themselves for their sexual orientation, all the better. The sexual orientation of those featured here did not stand in the way of their achievements.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

James Henry Hammond

On the 150th anniversary of the U.S. Civil War, I am reminded of James Henry Hammond (1807-1864), author of the famous “King Cotton” speech made on March 4, 1859:

“You dare not make war on cotton – no power on earth dares make war upon it. Cotton is King.”

Hammond, an aristocratic Southern gentleman politician, served as a U.S. Congressman, as Governor of South Carolina and was elected to the U.S. Senate, where he served until the outbreak of the Civil War, upon South Carolina’s secessation from the Union. A Democrat, Hammond practiced law early in his career in Columbia, South Carolina. He was also a slave-holding planter who was a staunch defender of slavery and states’ rights. 

"I firmly believe," said Governor Hammond, "that American slavery is not only not a sin, but especially commanded by God through Moses, and approved by Christ through his apostles.” Additionally, he wrote that, “I repudiate, as ridiculously absurd, that much lauded but nowhere accredited dogma of Mr. Jefferson that ‘all men are born equal’.”

Hammond was also a voracious sexual rogue, and his political career suffered because of it. Hammond engaged in a passionate affair with Thomas Jefferson Withers, and two damning letters between the two provide explicit details of their sexual proclivities. Published by researcher Martin Duberman in 1981, the letters are remarkable for being rare documentary evidence of same-sex relationships in the antebellum United States. Writing to Hammond on May 15, 1826, Withers provides this example: “I feel some inclination to learn whether you yet sleep in your shirt-tail and whether you yet have the extravagant delight of poking and punching a writhing bedfellow with your long fleshen pole – the exquisite touches of which I have often had the honor of feeling.” The letter was signed, “With great respect I am the old stud, Jeff.”

Well, there you have it.

But his sexual appetites did not end there. In his diaries he described, without embarrassment or apology, his dalliances with four teenage nieces, all the daughters of Wade Hampton II. Blaming the seductiveness of the “extremely affectionate” young women, Hammond saw his political career  crushed for a decade to come, and the girls with their tarnished social reputations never married.

Nevertheless, the Hammond School in Columbia, SC, is named after him. Originally called the James H. Hammond Academy, the school was founded in 1966 as a segregation preparatory day school. Hammond's name was chosen because his grandson contributed significant money to the school's founding, and Confederate big-wigs were favored as names for white-flight private schools started as part of the backlash to racial desegregation of public schools.

Completed in 1859, Hammond’s Beech Island SC home, Redcliffe Plantation (above), is open daily for public tours. Three generations of his descendants and numerous enslaved families lived and worked at the site, which symbolizes the ambition, wealth and power of James Henry Hammond as a successful planter and politician who spent his life defending the southern plantation system and his status within it. Hammond died at Redcliffe Plantation on November 13, 1864, just two days before his 57th birthday. He thus managed to die before the Union army arrived in the area a few weeks later. General Lee surrendered the following April.

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