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Title: "Have Men of Action Been More Beneficial to the World Than Men of Thought?" Debate Speech of Lee M. McAfee for the Dialectic Society, June 2, 1857: Electronic Edition.
Author: McAfee, Leroy Mangum, 1837-1873
Editor: Erika Lindemann
Funding from the State Library of North Carolina supported the electronic publication of this title.
Text transcribed by Erika Lindemann
Images scanned by Mara E. Dabrishus
Text encoded by Brian Dietz
First Edition, 2005
Size of electronic edition: ca. 50K
Publisher: The University Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Chapel Hill, North Carolina

No Copyright in US

The electronic edition is a part of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill digital library, Documenting the American South.
Languages used in the text: English
Revision history:
2005-05-04, Brian Dietz finished TEI/XML encoding.
Part of a series:
This transcribed document is part of a digital collection, titled True and Candid Compositions: The Lives and Writings of Antebellum Students in North Carolina
written by Lindemann, Erika
Title of collection: Dialectic Society Records (#40152), University Archives, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Title of document: "Have Men of Action Been More Beneficial to the World Than Men of Thought?" Debate Speech of Lee M. McAfee for the Dialectic Society, June 2, 1857
Author: Lee M. McAfee
Description: 22 pages, 24 page images
Note: Call number 40152 (University Archives, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill)
Topics covered:
Politics and Government/General
Reading and Writing/Reading
Examples of Student Writing/Debating Society Writings
Religion and Philosophy/Christianity and Christian Theology
Religion and Philosophy/Other Philosophies
War/Other Wars
Editorial practices
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Transcript of the Dialectic Society address. Originals are in the University Archives, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
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For more information about transcription and other editorial decisions, see Dr. Erika Lindemann's explanation under the section Editorial Practices.

Document Summary

McAfee's debate speech asserts that people are benefited not by philosophies or opinions but by actions stemming from them. A divine being works through men of action to spread civilization, culture, language, benevolent government, and religion to places of superstition, ignorance, and paganism.
"Have Men of Action Been More Beneficial to the World Than Men of Thought?" Debate Speech of Lee M. McAfee for the Dialectic Society, June 2, 18571
McAfee, Leroy Mangum, 1837-1873

Cover page

Cover verso page

Page 1

Mr President and Fellow Members.

When I survey the question, so wide is the field, and so nice are some of the distinctions to be drawn that I am compelled to say.
"That never in my breast before,
Did ignorance so Strugle with desire
Of Knowledge—as in this moment".2
But in entering apon this subject I would preface by saying it is far from my intentions to depreciate the value, and diminish the high estimation of men of learning, and exaggerate the importance of men of action. Nor do I intend to advance "theroies of my own, which cannot be supported by any course of reasoning however subtile". I hope however that I may not fall into the same error, as the gentleman who just proceeded me; who in his eagerness to pluck the mote from the first speaker's eye, has overlooked the beam in his own,3 and has virtually brought down apon his own head the censure intended for

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his opponent. And I confess I was greatly surprised at the gentleman; for it does seem to me, if he had listned attentivly to the gentlemam, who had the honor of opening this discussion, he could not have done his speach such injustice, and so grossly missrepresented his argument. He says that my colleague's first step is to "assail men of meditation as being skeptics, and science and literature as vehicles of their obnoxious tenets". Now this is a great mistake, for the first speaker emphatically disclaimed any such intention. He distinctly stated that thought when directed in the right channel, in searching out the hidden truths of nature, in discovering the laws that regulate the universe, had accomplished some of our greatest benefits. But he also said that when man without any counteracting influences, turns into his own dark soul with no other companion but his own

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gloomy thoughts, then was the time of danger, then they were liable to become skeptics. And this I beg leave to say is no new theory of his own, nor absurd dogma supported only by the ignorant; nor have new viens4 of knowledge to be explored to establish its truth.
For it has well been said that man without any safeguards may explore the regions of thought to ascertain point and if he goes no further, he in nine cases out of ten becomes skeptical. And in support of this we have examples not only of those who have been ruined in this way, but the testimony of those who have struggled with the same difficulties, and have been so fortunate as to master them. But my opponent has said the point in question is not, "from which we are to expect the most good or evil, but from which we actually experience it". which is I think stated correctly. And since the gentleman would have us argue the question from

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experience and history, I beg you not to let your patience be wearied, if I am forced to allude to a few facts only that are trite and somewhat threadbare. Although they are common and seemingly uninteresting, yet I love to have examples in support of the principles I hold, that are hoary with age, and about the correctness5 of which there is no debate. I come not to theorize and speculate about the matter, for this is not our province, ours is to deal with men of action, not speculative and theoretical. We do not strain your judgement, nor appeal to your credulity to accede to the justice of our claims, and the correctness of our conclusion. We refer you to the actual facts and concerns of life. It is not a mere fancy or6 image of a heated immagination with which we have to deal, but the stern realities of life. We do not call on you to believe the effects of which are possible, not probable that may have resulted from the expressions of opinions,

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but we ask you to give the due weights to facts which are strown apon every page of history, where men not only expressed their opinions, but acted them out from which alone the benefit is derived. I grant sirs that the man of thought may have some share in the matter—that he proclaims principles which are beneficial, but I ask you, is not he the benefactor, who secures the recognition of those principles—who puts them into execution? Of what avail was the announcement of the freedom of the seas to France, Spain, or Holland, when England was mistress there?
"Brittania needs no frowning bulwarks towering on the steep;
Her march is on the mountain wave—her home is on the deep".7
What cared she for8 the statesmen of Spain, the egotists of France, or the cries of Holland in behalf of human rights and the sacredness of neutral flags? Had they lungs of leather, and throats of brass and cried aloud against Brittish oppession, and avarice until doomsday, they could

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have availed nothing. No, there was need of an active people, not only to proclaim, but the energy of a Tromp 9, a Rugter10 to carry into execution by their mighty arms that great principle of international law. So strong is the love of power and so agreeable the gratification of ambition that neither "words nor turfs of grass" have any effect on the heartless oppressor. Entreaties and lamentations cannot reach the tyrants heart for it is cased in steel. It takes the might of the strong man to extort from him the recognition and respect due to the rights of man, and the law of nations. But the opposition seem to lay great stress apon the warrior as being a great scurge to humanity The warrior is one of the most important characters of a nation—he is the right arm of the government. And it must be recollected that chastisements are the greatest blessings, for it is said, "whomesoever the Lord loveth he chasteneth".11 Take Alexander who is always brought forward to illustrate the evils and

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miseries attending ambition, and the horrors and bloodshed that stain the laurels of the warrior. But when we examine the results of his career, we and all who are acquainted with the facts of the case are compelled to acknowledge with reverence and awe the workings of a divine Being.12 What then did the career of this scurge of humanity, as the opposition would have, accomplish? It staid that flood of ignorance and barbarous superstition, which like a mighty avalanche threatned to sink beneath its turbid tide, all the learning and civilization of which the world could boast. It not only overthrew an Oriental dynasty but established European rulers in its stead. It broke the monotony of the Eastern world by the impression of Western energy and superior civilization, even as England's present mission is to break up the mental and moral stagnation of China by pouring apon and through them the impulsive current of Anglo-Saxon commerce and

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conquest. But was this all? No. It shed a flood of light over the whole Eastern continent, causing the steeps and vallies to smile with life, joy and happiness, and the barren sands and bleak hills to bloom and blossom as the rose. It committed to the Saracens the priceless treasures of Grecian civilization to be preserved from the Vandalism of the North and the corrosion of the Middle Ages. It bequeathed to Alexandria a legacy, that was in after times to make glad in after times the benighted hearts of millions, and to beget in man a gratitude which time could never efface. And how can we estimate the benefit of this single man, this pest of the race, to christianity however paradoxical it may appear?
For how could have christianity diffused itself so widely, and taken such deep root, had not Alexander engrafted the Greek language into the Eastern world. His career had the beneficial influence of civilizing13 their barbarism, and preparing them for the reception of the glorious

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principles of our religion. But for him, nations whose language and barbarism had been unsurmountable barriers would never have heard of Christ and felt the benign influence of his holy religion, and this fact, the advocates of our religion, have been proud to acknowledge as it shows very conclusively, that aught of apparent evil much good may be done. But let us refer to an important crisis in the history of the world, let us visit the ever-memorable field of Tours where was fought one of those few battles of which according to Mr Hallem 14 a contrary event would have essentially varied the drama of the world in all its subsequent scenes, which variation if we can form any opinion from the circumstances would have been any thing, but beneficial. Here we see arrayed against each other the good and bad qualities of the race. Rome's destroyers from the South have met those of the North. On one side depends for success all the good elements of society, the legislation, the arts and

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government of which Rome boasted and which we are proud to inherit. In fact all that is beneficial to the world is at stake and now contends with superstition, ignorance and paganism. The Mussulman elated with success and burning with revenge, against the christian hurls his herculean15 force, to which there had never been a barrier, apon the giant of the West. But happily for humanity, for civilization, christianity and all that is good, noble and praiseworthy, that mighty incubus was hurled back with defiance by the powerful arm of Charles Martel, a man of whom christianity should be proud and for whom all lovers of the progress of the arts, sciences, and learning should feel the deepest16 gratitude. But what should we say of those prime movers of that memorable revolution— the reformation, the novelty and boldness of whose deeds in defiance of the spiritual thunder and sent dismay to the heart of the Pope [Pope Leo X or, less likely, Pope Adrian VI] and shook Europe from centre to circumference.

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The beneficial influence of this event is incalculable, and it must be admitted that men of action brought about this, for all the philosophy, logic, eloquence and every thing else of the kind could not have reasoned the Pope [Pope Leo X or, less likely, Pope Adrian VI] out of his power, nothing but force could ever have made him yield. And thus if we follow the progress of man through all its changes we will find in almost every instance where there is a crisis in the affairs of men, that action has been the means of deliverance and safety. The truth of this assertion can not be denied, for our own minds sustain it, when we read history in invariably suggesting action as the last resort, and the most effectual. What did Demosthenes think was the last resort of Greece in his celebrated Phillipics? He knew what alone could save them, but he failed by his eloquence, pathos, and vehemence to arouse the Greeks from their inactivity and Greece fell a prey to despotism. Mark the

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onward course of England to glory prosperity and power. See the barons assembling at Runnymede and wresting from their king the Magna Charta the very foundation of English liberty and prosperity. Behold her rising from the sea in all her magesty and power, and her long lost glory restored by the hand of Cromwell. And the revolution of 1688, to which every Englishman looks with pride and admiration, was the direct result of the English rising in mass in support of the Christian religion, and hurling from the throne a heartless tyrant, and thus practically establishing that immortal principle the sovereignty of the people and tearing from their hearts those senseless idols the divine right of kings and passive obedience. Yes these the proudest monuments of the English people were the fruits of men of action which at once established forever the glory and happiness of the nation. Take for example the Germans a people whose charasteristic is meditation and thought,

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and what is their condition? The freedom of the professor's chair and the comparative freedom of the press have been the only exceptions to a condition of affairs tending to dwarf the nation to a state of passiveness and childhood in respect to nearly every thing social. Political feeling denied all outlet through the forms of a free constitution has created outlets elsewhere. Action being prohibited speculation has come into its place. Thus has it been in a great part in Germany. The Germans are prolific as authors because doomed to barreness in so much besides. It has not been good for the national mind—for its well balanced health, that so much power should be thrust away from the practical and made to converge on the speculative. And this is the inevitable result to which thought will tend unless we17 have the action to reduce it to practise and thus confine its wanderings and recieve its benefits. If its products in other things had been of greater extent, its products in the form of books

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would have been of better quality. Its abstractions would have been mellowed by experience, its idealism would have been less divorced from the actual., Iit would as the consequence, have exibited a more robust, a more equally developed intelligence and feeling, and would have learned to look with a meanly contempt on a multitude of conciets which it now lauds as a prooff of genius—as passports to a wonderful immortality. But let us leave for a while the discussion of historical examples and examine our own feelings and thoughts on the subject. To what side of this question do they seem to incline? When we refer to our own thoughts there is a response heard which says in unmistakable accents, "life is real, life is earnest".18 We cast our eyes around in our immediate sphere and all things say.
"Trust no future—how'er pleasant!
Let the dead Past bury its dead!
Act—act in the living Present!
Heart within—and God o'erhead!"
"Be not like dumb driven cattle!
Be a hero in the strife!"19

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This is the teachings of surrounding things. Action is the source of our benefits. From this fountain gush the countless blessings that sweeten the bitters of life and soothe the cares of a truly laborious existence. There is a saying that it is one thing to think about a thing, and another to do it. Ah! what a vien of true, sound practical wisdom does this open! It is the testimony of aged experience which says the benefit is derived from acting out the thing. We read beautiful theories on government, and essays on morals, but does the world recieve any benefit, if we have not the men to put these things into execution. "Some things look beautiful on paper, but work wretchedly". The thought may be concieved and the idea known and still no benefit result. But say you men of thought, have been more beneficial than men of action? Look at the Chinese who had been acquainted with the compass and the art of printing long before Western energy had sought out these energies of progress, and what have they

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done? They have even been acquainted with gunpowder from time immemorial, according to Voltaire, and the art of printing they invented in the time of Julius Caesar. But after all what are they? What has the East ever been to the West but a repository of the sciences and the arts? It is true the East has been the cradle of religion and the sciences, but it has been only the cradle—a mere box in which they have been kept for a more active race. And although now their learning and science exist only in name yet from these very nations, we derived the first elements of philosophy, astronomy, and the sciences. And here I ask to what do historians attribute the decline of ancient nations, but luxury, and how does this bring about the result? Its direct tendancy is to enervate and effeminate the people begetting in them a desire for repose and ease, and thus the whole system becomes relaxed, and fallen humanity is left to flounder in deep waters of vice and sinful lust. But the Eastern races are caracterized

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by a desire of ease, and having no high state to degenerate from have ever groveled in the dust of ignorance ignominy and vice. As for the civil rights of the people and the bulwark of a constitution, they have none but their lives, their fortunes and their property are20 all dependent apon the will of a capricious tyrant. Such is the condition of this21 unfortunate people sunk into the deep depths of superstition, ignorance, misery and woe. But say you they have not civil and riligious liberty like we have, and you must not expect so much from them. I would ask why have they not had it. They had the same enlightenment that we had. We recieved all from them and ours is only an improvement made apon the original stock and why have they not done likewise? It is simply on account of that easy inactive luxurious ease disposition. They want the energy, the activity of the Western races. They have not the ever active blood that courses the Anglo-Saxon viens,
"Whose progress is upward wherever he goes,
Whose motto hard labor whatever he does."
Yes, "give civil and religious liberty and you give everything. knowledge, and science, heroism

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and honor, virtue and power. Deny them and you deny everything: in vain are the gifts of nature: there is not harvest in the fertility of the soil: there is no cheerfulness in the radiance of the sky: there is no thought in the understanding of man and there is in his heart no hope: the human animal sinks and withers; abused, disinherited, stripped of the attributes of his kind, and no longer formed after the image of his God".
There are stars which cluster around the brow of liberty, whose splendor ages can not bedim. And who I ask have been the forerunners of this heavenly messenger—the apostles of liberty? And here my colleague, who said that the apostles of liberty had been always men of action, has been grossly misrepresented. The gentleman who just addressed you instead of quoting the language of my colleague as he spoke it reverses the words, and says that men of action have always been apostles of liberty, conveying the22 idea that all men of action have been apostles of liberty, and cites in triumph the spoilers of Poland. Now if the gentleman has committed this error unconsciously he is excusable,

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but if he has been guilty of the fallacy knowingly it argues very little for his stock of argument to resort to such an aid as well as his fairness in the discussion, to say nothing of his desire to find out the truth which is the true aim of all discussions. The whole of his speach therefore based upon the pervention of the only legitimate construction23 that can be put apon my colleague's remark goes for naught, and still his assertion that the "apostles of liberty have always been men of action". stands out in bold relief unharmed by the gentleman's fallacies and unrefuted by his argument. But the opposition will say that men of thought first set the ball in motion. I admit that men of thought have a part in exciting revolutions, but they can go no farther. Like Voltaire and others before the French revolution, thy care not how the people are to be rescued from the vortex of base and angry passions, but heedlessly urge them headlong to the brink of the presipise by false theories and principles which instead of proving a benefit proves a direful curse.

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Search the writings of the French authors and point out, if you can, a practical theory of government in them. With their despicable dogmas they gulled the people and by a vain hope, and a mere phantom of liberty and peace they illured them to destruction. But the gentleman says, "whatever may be the opinion entertained of24 this revolution, the motives of the enlightned minds that first put this ball in motion were purely patriotic, and their cause the cause of liberty". Quite a nice palliation for such horrible consequences. "Their motives patriotic". We do not discuss the "motives" of men but as he proposed in the outset, the good or evil arrising from men of action and men of thought. And I emphatically deny25 that the motives of these "enlightned minds" were purely patriotic. For any person who knows any thing about the case knows that the flame of pure patriotism burned fainter and feebler in the breast of Voltaire, one of the prime movers, than any other flame, for his only object was to establish an aristocracy of talent at the expence of the people. And the gentleman in order

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to free his side from this "assassin of nations" says that if "he (my colleague) contends that Voltaire embarked in politics in this period his is the province to defend him, because then he became a man of action" attempting by another of his quirks to create the impression that my colleague said that Voltaire embarked in politics in the French revolution and thus place him in an awkard position before this Hall when all who listned know that my colleague contended for no such thing. Because Voltaire was dead with old age before the26 time of the revolution. But the gentleman must be hard run for argument, when my colleague in the bitterest irony applies the ephithet philosophers to the instigators27 of the French revolution, to take it up and ask, "would he have philosophy blotted out because a few of its devotees have deserted its pristine faith"? And here again his impetuosity carries him too far, and he asks, "would he leave28 the untutored mind to the fearful ravages incident upon reading atheistical works"? When at the same time the authors of those atheistical works are these French philosophers, as he calls them, who he says have been handed down as the champions of liberty and whose crimes for attempting to overthrow the worship

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of their God, he tries to palliate by saying "thy never conspired against the liberties of their country"—whose infedelity he says sprang from some dark corner of their hearts, and not from the limpid fountain of philosophy. Quite a plausible palliation this, for their infidelity and conspiracy against God. But there is a field for argument in this subject which has been but slightly alluded to and that is christianity. Who I ask can calculate the beneficial influence of christianity ? upon the moral social and political condition of mankind, so fvast and extended are its influences that like grasping infinity the human mind shrinks from the attempt. Infinity alone can comprehend alone the depth & breadth of its influences. And in this great arena where so much good is done we most "show our faith by our works."29 Action is the beginning and the end, the Alpha and Omega Practice what you preach and then your labors will not be in vain. Ah when we see the missionary watering the parched and thirsty deserts with due from on high and sowing the seeds of eternal life, which are to mature and ripen in eternity istself how30 the tear of joy steals down the cheek of the christian, and the bosom of the patriot heaves with delight! Ah! this is a benefit which will outweigh the world! These are the never fading laurels that encircle the brow of the man of action, benefits which will survive the "wreck of matter and the crush of worlds".31
Transcribed by Jno A. Sloan for Lee M. McAfee .


1. Dialectic Society Addresses, UA. The speech, which was once bound and subsequently unbound, consists of a cover sheet and twenty-two numbered pages of text. The cover sheet contains the following information: "Debater's Speech/Delivered/By/ Lee. M McAfee ./of/ Cleaveland Co. N.C./June 2d 1857." A second hand has written "McAfee " at the top of the cover sheet. On the verso of the cover sheet McAfee has written "Have men of action been more beneficial/to the world than men of thought?" Below this query appear two columns. The left column is headed "Aff." and lists "Thos H Brown " and "Lee. M McAfee ." as speakers taking the affirmative side of the question; the right column is headed "Neg." and lists "H. C. Jones " and "Wm M Coleman " as taking the negative side of the question. The Dialectic Society Addresses, UA, also house McAfee's inaugural address and a senior oration dated October 24, 1857.

2. Dante Alighieri, "Purgatory," The Divine Comedy, XX.124 (c. 1300).

3. An allusion to Matthew 7:3 : "And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?"

4. n has been written on top of w.

5. "the correctness" has been written on top of which.

6. or has been written on top of of.

7. Thomas Campbell, "Ye Mariners of England" (1801): "Britannia needs no bulwarks,/No towers along the steep;/Her march is o'er the mountain-waves,/Her home is on the deep."

8. for has been written on top of from.

9. Maarten Harpertszoon Tromp (1597-1653) , Dutch admiral whose refusal to lower his flag in deference to English Admiral Robert Blake began the first of the Dutch wars (1652-54).

10. Possibly Michiel Adriaanszoon de Ruyter (1607-76) , Dutch admiral who fought under Maarten Tromp in the first of the Dutch wars (1652-54), captured English holdings on the Gold and Guinea coasts in the second Dutch War (1664-67), and saved Dutch ports from attack by the English and French in the third Dutch War (1672-78).

11. Hebrews 12:6 : "For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth."

12. B has been written on top of b.

13. ing has been written on top of ation.

14. Probably Henry Hallam, View of the State of Europe during the Middle Ages , 2 vols. (London: J. Murray, 1818).

15. e has been written on top of u between h and r.

16. deepest has been written on top of great.

17. we has been written on top of he.

18. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, "A Psalm of Life" (1838).

19. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, "A Psalm of Life" (1838).

20. are has been written on top of is.

21. this has been written on top of these.

22. the has been written on top of that.

23. construction has been written on top of constitution.

24. of has been written on top of on.

25. deny has been written on top of say.

26. the has been written on top of this.

27. ors has been written on top of ion.

28. leave has been written on top of have.

29. James 2:18 : "Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works."

30. how has been written on top of How.

31. Joseph Addison, Cato, V.i (1713).