One of the most interesting Southern nationalists of the nineteenth century had to be William Porcher Miles, a man who demonstrated exceptional ability on many fronts. The descendant of French Huguenots, Miles grew up in the Lowcountry of South Carolina, a bastion of early Southern nationalism. University of Houston history professor Dr Eric H Walther writes in his book The Fire-Eaters on page 271:
During Miles’s youth, his native Colleton District was the storm center of the nullification crisis; like [fellow Fire-Eaters] Laurence Keitt, Louis Wigfall, and James De Bow, Miles grew up in a time of tension between state and federal authorities, in a place where [Robert] Barnwell Rhett warned that liberty was under attack by northerners.
Educated in the Palmetto State, Miles became a math professor at the College of Charleston after briefly studying law. As a young man Miles was politically inactive and not involved in the Bluffton movement of 1844. It was in the early 1850s, while in his late 20s and early 30s, that Miles began to become a strong voice for Southern nationalism. In 1855, when yellow fever hit Virginia and that State issued a call for help to the Lower South (where the disease was more common), Miles volunteered as a nurse in Norfolk. His service was heralded in Charleston and friends there forwarded him as a candidate for mayor. With almost no campaigning (giving only a single speech) Miles was elected Mayor of Charleston.
In the area of social reform, Miles created a house of corrections for juveniles, an almshouse, an orphanage and an asylum. He provided aid for transient poor and free black paupers and implemented a sewage system as a health measure. Having inherited a large public debt, he increased property taxes in an effort to retire the debt in 35 years. At the end of his two-year term he was widely judged to have been successful, leading him to consider further public office.
Shortly thereafter Miles was elected to the US Congress on a hard-line Southern nationalist platform. As Walther writes on page 277, ‘he would meet all threats of interference with slavery with a call for immediate secession.’ Much like Rhett, who said in 1844,’ The only hope of the South is in resistance,’ Miles also strongly dismissed calls for compromise with the North. He is quoted by Walther on page 274, ‘Every concession has but emboldened our adversaries to more unscrupulous aggression.’
Like other Southern nationalists, Miles understood that one of the great differences between the civilisations of the South and North was the understanding of liberty and how this related to the Northern-hailed concept of equality that grew out of the Enlightenment and the French Revolution. Miles warned against equality and democracy, what Rhett called ‘the despotism of numbers.’
Miles stated that chief among these false doctrines was the idea that liberty was a birthright of all. He maintained that liberty was an “Acquired Privilege,” not an inalienable right. Asserting that individuals and societies must prove themselves worthy of liberty, he maintained that not every person or society could do so. Those who believed otherwise subscribed to the “monstrous and dangerous fallacy of Thomas Jefferson,” which proclaimed that all men were created equal. “Men are born neither Free nor Equal,” Miles insisted. Like all fire-eaters, Miles categorically rejected any faith in natural equality….
Miles not only rejected the concept of equality for African slaves, but was also convinced that many Northerners had demonstrated themselves ‘unfit for republican government,’ as Walther puts it. In coming to this conclusion, Miles anticipated the position of Confederate President Jefferson Davis by a decade.
The South Carolinian’s impressive career continued as a delegate to his State’s secession convention, election to the Confederate Congress and, after the United States’ conquest of the independent South, president of South Carolina College and manager of a dozen plantations. Though unfortunately largely forgotten today, William Porcher Miles was one of the South’s most capable leaders, willing and able to serve his people on a wide variety of fronts, and a strong advocate for Southern nationalism. He is the kind of man our people and traditional Southern society are able to produce.