I have long wondered why the Fire Eaters have attracted such little attention from American White Nationalists. For those unfamilar with the term, the Fire Eaters were a small band of Southern secessionists – the ‘revolutionary vanguard’ of the Confederacy – who succeeded in fomenting a revolution against the United States in 1860/1861. They engineered the destruction of the Democratic Party, checkmated the ‘conservatives’ of their day, and set in motion a chain reaction of events that led to the formation of the CSA.
There are numerous interesting parallels. Like White Nationalists, the Fire Eaters spent decades in the political wilderness as a cornered minority. They were dismissed as “extremists,” “hotheads,” “ultras,” and “radicals” by their mainstream contemporaries. They chaffed under the rule of conservatives whom they believed sacrificed Southern rights and honor. The Fire Eaters subscribed to a version of the ‘worse is better’ theory and worked to ensure the election of Abraham Lincoln and the defeat of Stephen Douglas. They were convinced that the Union was unsalvageable and only a minority of White Southerners could be replied upon.
The Fire Eater strategy is of particular relevance to White Nationalism. It tackled an important question: how are the passive, fundamentally conservative masses to be awakened from their slumber? The Fire Eaters invested their hopes in separate state action by a handful of the most radical states. In the context of a national outrage, this would force the moderates into choosing between resistance or submission and allow the radicals to carry the day. The federal government would overplay its hand and the ensuing backlash would lead to a further wave of secession.
Their answer to this problem is worth considering in our times. Will anything short of troops in the streets and boots on the neck suffice to get the job done? In 2009, I seriously doubt even that would galvanize timid suburbanites, but much could change in decades to come. South Carolina wasn’t ready to leave the Union in 1833 over the “Tarriff of Abominations.” The principle of secession triumphed in the South long before it was acted upon. The idea that Whites have legitimate interests must be established before a White ethnostate is given a serious hearing.
By 1860, the perpetuation of the Union had become a question mark. It was no longer taken for granted by all parties. A radical milieu had been advocating secession for almost thirty years. Fringe ideas had penetrated the mainstream national conversation.
There is profit to be made in studying these precursors of ours.