U. B. Phillips: Famed Historian Had Troup Roots

U. B. Phillips: Famed Historian Had Troup Roots

Famed U. S. Historian Had Troup Roots
by Glenda Major
LaGrange Daily News, 6/11/1988

The professor asked if any of us knew the name of an outstanding Southern historian who had his roots in Troup County. No one answered. He gave us a clue. The historical marker on the corner of the LaGrange College campus, at the intersection of Vernon Road and Park Avenue, commemorates this famous person. We offered a few guesses but none were right. I had only lived in LaGrange for twenty-five years at the time, and probably had not passed this corner more than 10,000 times.

Dr. Ulrich B. Phillips was born in this city on November 4, 1877. After spending his boyhood in LaGrange, he received a BA degree for the University of Georgia in 1897, and his master's degree two years later. Work on a doctorate from Columbia University was completed in 1902.

The next few years found Dr. Phillips teaching history and political science at the University of Wisconsin, Tulane University, and the University of Michigan. During those years he wrote extensively, and was recognized as one of the foremost authorities on the history of slavery in the early part of this century. He was especially interested in the plantation system of Old South. When time permitted, he traveled throughout the South collecting manuscripts bearing upon the early development of the section. He found many such documents in the attics of old homes.

He believed that historians should look at the plans and requirements of the plantation system as an industry, as well as trying to understand human nature. He wrote about such things as "the economic cost of slave holding in the cotton belt, the plantation as a civilizing factor, and the overproduction of cotton with a possible remedy."

In 1909 he wrote, "Since the replacement of domestic manufacturing by the factory has become established in history as the industrial revolution, the counter replacement of the plantation system by peasant farming or other decentralized types of rural industry seems to require description as an industrial counter-revolution." If you need to read that again, please do.

It has been said that Dr. Phillips saw the old South as far more than a place of moonlight and roses. He wrote about "not one South but a dozen, and not one slavery system, but two at least, one the commercial, with its coffles, slave jails and auction blocks, and the other with patriarchal relations involving a high sense of duty for the big house to the cabin." Further, he rejected the theory that the Civil War was an 'irrepressible conflict,' and laid the responsibility for it upon blunder and chance.

Prior to his untimely death on January 21, 1934 at the age of fifty-six, Dr. Phillips won many honors for his research and literary work. Perhaps his greatest honor is a statement made by biographer Everett E. Edwards; "The complaint is often made that historical writing is dull and lifeless. No such charge could be brought against the writings of Ulrich Phillips. He was a master of style."