Robert Barnwell Rhett’s optimistic vision of an an independent Southern confederation which would spread south through the Caribbean and the secessionist regions of Mexico did not come to fruition. In fact, Rhett became a bitter critic of the Confederate government which he more than anyone else had worked so tirelessly for three decades to create. In the aftermath of South Carolina’s secession from the Union though, the South’s leading Fire-eater was extremely cheerful and believed his dream was all but inevitable. Author and historian William C Davis describes Rhett’s outlook for the fledgling Confederacy, a vision which was very much in line with the aspirations of the Knights of the Golden Circle and other Southern expansionists who dreamed of a vast classical civilisation of confederated republics in the New World based upon agriculture and free trade and led by Southerners:
[Forming] that new nation [sic] would only be the beginning, not the ending of their challenges, for they would have to prevent free states from seceding to join them; of that he was certain. Theirs must be exclusively a slaveholding confederacy; however, like ancient Greece and Rome, whose glories of intellect he attributed to slavery. They must also avoid the pitfalls of universal white suffrage with the whole population controlling the government. The only safe form of government in a country where population grew faster than capital, and where the majority owned no property, was an oligarchy such as South Carolina’s, for otherwise those who had not would soon use their votes to take from those who had. Further to that end, they must reform taxation in their new nation [sic] and engage in free trade with other nations, with tariffs for revenue only, no internal improvements, and no monopolies allowed or encouraged by government. Every man must have the same chance to rise or fall strictly on his own merits. And finally, even if a new confederation should be formed, South Carolina must maintain full control over the forts in Charleston harbor and never again allow any other power, even a new Southern government, to control them. Already he voiced the hint of distrust of any sort of nationalism or strong central authority in their future alliances.
Impelled by these ideas, the South could form a new constitution and a new confederacy that would last the ages and make them powerful as well as great. The nations of the world would bow to them and their produce. And that was not all. “We will expand, as our growth and civilization shall demand – over Mexico – over the isles of the sea – over the far-off Southern tropics – until we shall establish a great Confederation of Republics – the greatest, freest and most useful the world has ever seen.” It was the same expansionist promise he had made ten years before at Walterborough. The South would be the new Rome, extending its brand of localism, conservatism, and slavery across half a hemisphere.
Source: Davis, William C. Rhett: The Turbulent Life and Times of a Fire-Eater Columbia, South Carolina: University of South Carolina Press, 2001. Page 401.