The Partisan Leader, published under the pseudonym Edward William Sidney, came out of Tucker's concern that Jackson's vice president, Martin Van Buren, would succeed him as president. The novel, set during a Van Buren presidency, was intended as a cautionary tale and distributed with the intention of affecting the election's outcome. Duff Green, a newspaper editor and states' rights advocate whom Tucker had met in Missouri, published 2,000 copies of the book, selling them from Boston to New Orleans. However, a quarter of the books ended up in cities where no national candidate opposed Van Buren, who won the election easily.
The novel centers around the Trevor family. Hugh Trevor is a moderate Unionist with two sons who are army officers, Owen and Douglas. Hugh's brother Bernard is an ardent secessionist. His daughter Delia has long been close to her first cousin Douglas who, as a military man, remains aloof from politics. When a rejected Unionist suitor insults Delia's father and therefore Delia, Douglas steps in to defend her honor. A romance blooms, and Douglas seeks permission to marry his cousin. Delia's father refuses to allow her to marry anyone in the U.S. Army. If Virginia secedes, he points out, Douglas might be torn between duty to state, duty to father, and duty to the Union. Why complicate that decision any further through marriage? Douglas eventually resigns his commission even as his brother, Owen, is promoted to colonel.
In the meantime, Van Buren seeks to sway the outcome of elections to the General Assembly through subterfuge and military intimidation. The president sends troops to several counties, including the one where Bernard Trevor lives, in an effort to close the polls. With assistance from Douglas and a company of armed slaves and anti-administration voters, he fights them off and wins election to the assembly. Van Buren then orders the arrest of Bernard and Douglas on charges of treason. When troops arrive at the Trevor plantation to make the arrest, they find that he has prepared for their arrival by arming his enslaved workers. The next morning, Bernard, his household, and Douglas all flee to North Carolina.
There, Mr. B—, a secessionist leader, lays before Douglas a plan by which Virginia will be brought to her place in the Southern confederacy. He argues that all that is needed is a leader with sound military judgment to command a corps of partisans. This corps will maneuver in such a way that the General Assembly will be able to elude the federal troops around Richmond just long enough for members to vote the state out of the Union. Douglas accepts the mission on the condition he be allowed to marry Delia. Mr. B— performs the marriage.
The remnants of his command retreat to Lynchburg and Owen's deputy prepares to surrender. Before that can occur, however, Owen escapes from his captors, returns to Lynchburg, has Douglas abducted and carried to Washington, and dies trying to lead his command out of the surrounded city. Douglas, in Union hands, arrives in Washington, where he is to be tried and sentenced to death by a special court presided over by Delia's former suitor. Although there is a conspiracy to help the young man escape, the novel ends with Hugh Trevor and Delia pleading for Douglas's life before President Van Buren.
Outside of Richmond, some reviewers were horrified by the author's eager support for secession; others dismissed the work as badly written. Even those who were close to Tucker had reservations about the work. His niece, Elizabeth Tucker Bryan, worried because the characterization of Van Buren might "excite a prejudice against the cause that [her uncle proposed] to serve [with the work]." St. George Coalter, his nephew, believed that the work was "a very bold conception" as a political work and regarded it as powerful, prophetic, and fearful.
Modern commentators have found the work more intriguing, largely because it seems to have predicted secession a quarter century before it occurred. Writing in 1927, Vernon L. Parrington held that Tucker wrote to remind Virginians of the dangers of democracy, but he was on weaker ground when he held that the work was "an obvious attempt to dramatize the political philosophy of [John C.] Calhoun," whom Tucker considered an over ambitious and dangerous man. Two and a half decades later, Jay Hubbell was similarly intrigued by Tucker's efforts at prophecy, although he was quick to point out that "The Partisan Leader was in many respects wide of the mark" as a prediction of the Civil War, and he had little comment beyond an attempt to identify characters in the novel with historical personages.
Cite This Entry
- APA Citation:
Hare, J. L. The Partisan Leader(1836). (2019, August 28). In Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved from http://www.EncyclopediaVirginia.org/Leader_The_Partisan_1836.
- MLA Citation:
Hare, John L. "The Partisan Leader(1836)." Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, 28 Aug. 2019. Web. READ_DATE.
First published: July 24, 2019 | Last modified: August 28, 2019
Contributed by John L. Hare, professor of American Studies and English at Montgomery College.