Sunday, September 6, 2009

Bastiat and South Carolina

What is the connection between Bastiat, who I admire, and South Carolina, where I live?

Louisa S. McCord. She was one of the first American translators of Bastiat into English. She was also a South Carolinian.

Born in 1810 into a wealthy and politically powerful family in Charleston, Louisa received an extraordinary education for anyone of her time, male or female. At age ten, her father discovered her hiding behind a curtain during her two brothers' math lessons, where she had been taking notes and working out the problems herself. Impressed, her father resolved to educate her along with the boys. She eventually attended a girl's school in Philadelphia, and returned to South Carolina to pursue a life as a translator, writer, plantation manger, wife, and mother.

While living on Lang Syne, the family cotton plantation near Fort Motte, she translated Bastiat's Sophismes économiques into English. Her translation appeared in 1848 as Sophisms of the Protective Policy.

Her work included an introduction by her husband, who had encouraged her to undertake the translation, and a letter from Francis Lieber, Professor of Political Philosophy and Economy at South Carolina College in Columbia (now the University of South Carolina).

In 1849, the McCords built a house in Columbia. It still stands today at the same address, 1431 Pendleton Street, directly across the street from the campus of the old South Carolina College. During the Civil War, the College became an army hospital, and Louisa used her house as a kitchen to prepare meals for the patients.

Louisa was one of those curious ante-bellum Southern intellectuals who could argue for free trade and liberty on the one hand, and for the institution of slavery on the other. She was a fierce and unapologetic Southern patriot, even refusing to take the loyalty oath that the Federal government required at the end of the war.

She died in Charleston in 1879.

Louisa McCord's life is an example of the truth that remarkably good cultural memes travel remarkably strange and even paradoxical paths.

No comments: