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I was interested in the following sentence which appeared in an article titled “FROM SOUTH CAROLINA.; PUBLIC FEELING IN CHARLESTON THE LEADING MEN IN THE SECESSION MOVEMENT MISGIVINGS ABOUT THE ISSUE." in The New York Times (Dec. 9, 1860).

The ensuing Convention will immediately pass the secession ordinance; but there is considerable doubt whether it will not be made to take effect at a much later day than was first contemplated.

Can someone clarify if the meaning of this sentence can wrongly influenced by the use of the word "not", as I think it is?

I would drop "not"; but I'm not sure on this correction because the presence of the fragment "doubt whether" that precede "not" confused me.

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I agree with you: I would drop “not” there, too. That’s my opinion and feel, but I don’t think it merits me making it an “answer”; hence this comment. –  tchrist Jun 10 '12 at 14:40
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Agreed. This is an overnegation, powered by the doubt and misgivings obvious in the context. It would be deleted today. However, this is American newspaper annalic writing of 150 years ago, and it's marked by all sorts of tics and oddities that we today would find pompous, irritating, and obsequious. To them, of course, it merely sounded properly formal. In addition, note that since whether is a yes/no situation, doubt as to a thing's happening is exactly equivalent to doubt as to its not happening. –  John Lawler Jun 10 '12 at 14:58
    
@tchrist Strange, the question is indeed interesting because, as far as I know, "doubt whether" is used only in affirmative statements. Hence, here we are discussing on standard English and his style, not on "opinion and feel". +1 anyway on your comment and thank you for your time. –  Elberich Schneider Jun 10 '12 at 14:59
    
We also must understand that this debate in South Carolina went on for weeks or months. The word "not" may have made sense in the 1860 newspaper if the ebb and flow of the debate hinged on the date that the ordnance would go into effect. Looking back 150 years we have lost the intricacies of the debate, and only know that they did vote to leave in December 1860. –  mhoran_psprep Jun 10 '12 at 15:26
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1 Answer

I think the sentence is understandable as it is, but I agree it is somewhat awkward.

I think it can be understood as: The ensuing Convention will immediately pass the secession ordinance; but [the Convention participants are still debating or deciding whether they will make the ordinance take effect now or at] a much later day than was first contemplated.

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