Friday, May 09, 2008

Is N.C. still a 'vale of humility'?

A reader had this question about an old saying involving North Carolina. She wrote, "During this primary season's spotlight on North Carolina, I have recalled a phrase describing NC and can not find its author or the context within which it was said, or written. The phrase is: 'the vale of humility between two mountains of conceit.'" Where did that saying come from, she wondered.
It's a wonderful question for which I know of no definitive answer. I have seen it attributed to Zebulon Baird Vance, the Civil War era governor of North Carolina, referring to North Carolina's modest 19th century society nestled between the aristocrats of Virginia and South Carolina. It has also been attributed to Alexander Hamilton, or so I have read, but it may precede even those ancient orators.
It's worth remembering that North Carolina until fairly recently was regarded as a poor state, especially in comparison to wealthier plantation-culture states to our north and south. North Carolina was in such a somnolent state at one point that it was derided as "The Rip Van Winkle State" before it began making serious improvements that would boost its fortunes. The prosperity that came in the latter half of the 20th century came as a result of significant investments in higher education, the Research Triangle and a great many other areas.
As to whether the state is still a vale of humility, I dunno. We were often said to be mighty proud of not being proud, but in the modern era I think humility has taken a back seat.
I expect if Winston Churchill were around, he might say, as he did in another context, that North Carolina has much to be humble about.
What do you think?

18 comments:

Anonymous said...

Well, we could be arrogant and insufferable like Texans and New Yorkers. (Isn't it odd that 2 such different states share those common traits?)

North Carolina had no big port like Virginia (Norfolk) and South Carolina (Charleston) so it developed later. I'd say we've mostly passed both, particularly lower Carolina.

I would add that the availability of state-wide branch banking early in the 20th century was just as important to North Carolina's future prosperity as the money showered on my alma mater, UNC Chapel Hill.

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