Sansing to talk about Lamar

Published 11:55 am Friday, February 23, 2007

A famous Mississippi statesman is an appropriate historical character to remember at the 2007 Natchez Literary and Cinema Celebration, popular historian and professor Dr. David Sansing said.

A familiar speaker and participant at the celebration, Sansing, a professor emeritus of history at the University of Mississippi in Oxford, will present a program on L.Q.C. Lamar at 1:30 p.m. Saturday at the Natchez Convention Center, centering his remarks on the extraordinary command of the language exhibited by Lamar during his career.

The celebration is following a language theme: “Southern Accents: Language in the Deep South.” The programs today and Saturday begin at 9 a.m. with lectures related to the theme.

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Sansing’s lecture will follow one by U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran, whose talk will feature famous Southern voices heard in the Senate.

“Lamar is such an intriguing character,” Sansing said. “He is one of the most interesting characters I’ve met in American history.”

Indeed, Sansing ranks Lamar for his “spectacular use of the language” right alongside Abraham Lincoln as a memorable American.

Born in Georgia in 1825, Lamar moved to Oxford in 1849 to become chancellor of the University of Mississippi.

He returned to Georgia a few years later, practiced law and served in the Georgia House of Representatives.

In 1855, he returned to Oxford and was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, where he was serving on the eve of the Civil War.

“Lamar wrote to the chancellor of the university, his mentor, and said, ‘it looks like we’re heading for war, and someone needs to make that speech,’” he said, thinking perhaps a powerful message could keep the union from breaking apart.

Lamar went on to tell his mentor that he thought he could make the speech but said that he didn’t think he had “the ego, the stature,” Sansing said. “He didn’t make the speech. And the war drove him to the depths of despair.”

After the war, Lamar wondered whether a secessionist “could talk to this great nation and say we must come back together,” Sansing said.

Lamar’s chance came when Massachusetts Sen. Charles Sumner died in 1874.

Sansing said the response to Lamar’s elegy is noteworthy. Newspapers and other publications spoke of the speech as “a blazing meteor,” as one among “few speeches in American political history (to have) such overnight impact” and one that was sure to “ring through the country.”

Sansing is involved in the restoration of the Lamar home in Oxford, recently purchased by the Oxford Historical Foundation.

And he is working on a book about the famous orator that he hopes to have completed about the same time the house is ready for visitors in a couple of years.

After Lamar’s famous speech, he wrote to his wife that what gave him greatest pleasure was that “my son was there to hear it.”

Sansing will have a similar pleasure, he said. His son, Perry Sansing, president of the Mississippi Authority for Educational Television Board of Directors, will introduce the speech.

After the Civil War, Lamar remained quietly in Oxford until returning to Washington to the House of Representatives in 1873, where he served until 1877. He then served as a U.S. senator from 1877 to 1885.

He was appointed Secretary of the Interior in 1885 and then appointed to the U.S. Supreme court in 1888. He held that position until his death in 1893 and is the only Mississippian ever to serve on the Supreme Court, Sansing said.