At the end of the War Between the States, the North had bested the South, while in the battle between two competing codes of honor and manliness, the gentlemen had triumphed over the roughs. Having already ascended prior to the war, the Stoic-Christian honor code consolidated its status as the North’s cultural ideal. Those in the middle and upper classes believed, as Foote writes, that “The men who had truly saved the Union…were its gentlemen, men with domestic virtues, moral character, and proper manners.” They had pulled out the victory, despite the dangers the roughs had posed – men whose lack of discipline and indulgence in vice had, Stoic-Christian gentlemen believed, threatened the strength of the Union Army, and in turn, the future of the whole nation.
Things like drinking, and even playing cards were gray areas among those who aspired to be gentlemen. Some embraced such vices in moderation, while others thought it was honorable to abstain entirely.
But it’s important to point out that the above discussion represents a simplification of the issues surrounding honor in the North during this period. The gentlemen and the roughs represent extremes on a spectrum of manliness, and there were plenty of men whose codes of honor fell somewhere between them. All classes agreed on the necessity of physical courage to manhood. And outside the roughs, there was general agreement about the importance of good character – being honest, hardworking, resolute, and respectful to others. But beyond that was a gray area. Some men believed that things like strict purity, temperance, and proper manners were important parts of the code, while others enjoyed swearing, drinking, fighting, and oat-sowing in moderation, and didn’t feel such indulgences compromised their honor, or even their designation as gentlemen.
The reason I wanted to flesh out the subject of Northern honor in the 19th century is that the question as to where to draw the line on the spectrum of manliness is still very much with us today. In fact, I get a front row seat to it with the feedback we get on our posts. “How to dress with style? Real men don’t care about how they look!” “How to field dress a squirrel? Real men don’t kill innocent animals. Do more about style!” “Gambling? That’s immoral! Real men never gamble!” “Etiquette? Real men do whatever they want to do!” “A real man saves himself for marriage.” “A man should be able to have sex with whoever he wants to, as much as he wants.” “Swearing is manly!” “No it’s not!” “What does it mean to be a man? A real man doesn’t think about it. Do more practical stuff.” “Your philosophical posts are the most important. You should do more of them.”
The heart of the debate both for the 19th century man and for today’s, is whether manhood, and thus the honor code of men, should be based on primal, biological traits or in our capacity for higher virtues. The first type of manhood is made up of instinct, aggression, virility, violence, strength, and the need to earn status through physical prowess and martial courage — the essential traits that all men shared anciently, and transcend culture and time. Here manhood is defined as what is unique from womanhood. The second type roots manhood in the ability to overcome lower urges and master self – the cultivation of the higher traits of mind and character that separate man from beast, and man from boy. The type of manhood one ascribes to influences one’s view of what is good for men; as Foote puts it: “Within this complex discourse, some men feared that excessive civilization produced weak, decadent, and effeminate men, while others warned that those who had not developed civilized restraint and refinement were savage boys rather than fully developed men.”
No matter how messy, the possibility of combining the virile traits of essential manhood with the moral virtues has been explored since ancient Greece, and is a tradition we continue today, and will explore more in the last post in this series. But for now, next up is a look at Southern honor."
Why am I laying all this groundwork. Keep reading. The way will be clear when this draws to it's conclusion. These are strange days we are living in. Dominoes are going to begin falling with ever increasing regularity. Long steadfast institutions will crumble seemingly from within. Figure out now who and what you want to side yourself with. Get yourself in alignment. There is a storm a coming.