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In April 1940, retired Army colonel William Seaborn Effingham returns to his hometown of Fredericksville, Georgia, after an absence of many years. Newspaper reporter Albert Marbury is pleased to become acquainted with his "cousin Willie," whom he has not seen since he was a small boy, and tells him that the polite society of Fredericksville retains its aversion to politics or causes of any kind. On Confederate Memorial Day, Al and his pal Dewey are loafing around the newspaper office when editor Earl Hoats arrives and complains that a rival paper is getting more advertisers because it supports the policies of the mayor and his cronies, including their plan to rename Confederate Monument Square after Pud Toolen, a deceased politician of dubious ethics. Hoats, a transplanted Northerner, insists on printing editorials in support of the mayor, despite the protests of Al, Dewey and society editor Ella Sue Dozier. One afternoon, Effingham comes to the office and offers to write a military commentary column, and Hoats reluctantly agrees. Effingham's column is a success and he is welcomed back into the town's old society circles, although some of his former chums, who are now prosperous businessmen, look down upon him for "lowering" himself by writing for the public. Later, Effingham learns about the plan to rename the town square and writes against it, thereby infuriating Hoats. Effingham persists, however, and suggests to the mayor that the square be beautified rather than renamed. The mayor and his cronies consider Effingham a crackpot, but decide to use his idea to cover up their own graft-laden scheme to tear down the courthouse and build a new one. Effingham is outraged when the mayor reveals his plan and vows to save the historic building, although an indifferent Al declares that the old structure should go. Effingham asks a friend, retired Army engineer Major Anthony T. Hickock, to inspect the courthouse, and he confirms that it should be restored. Determined to slip the plan past the town citizens, as he has already signed a construction contract with his brother-in-law, Bill Silk, the mayor holds a town meeting, which he believes no one will attend. Effingham has written about the meeting, however, and the packed hall is filled with people opposed to the mayor's plan. Undaunted, the mayor misleads the people into thinking that the federal government will only give them a grant if the courthouse is completely rebuilt rather than restored, and that it will cost the taxpayers too much money to preserve the building. Effingham investigates and learns that the mayor lied, but Al tells him that it is useless to fight the politicians. When the mayor declines to hold another public meeting on the issue, Effingham goes to three of the most influential men in town to ask for their help. The men, who Effingham had believed were his friends, tell him that he is unrealistic and that they cannot get involved in such matters. Disillusioned, Effingham gives up his fight and his health begins to fail. Al, who has joined the National Guard to impress Ella Sue, is about to leave on active duty, and when he goes to say goodbye to Effingham, he is astonished by his cousin's decline. Finally realizing that the idealistic old man has been right all along, Al organizes the other soldiers and demands that the mayor and town council restore the old courthouse and leave Monument Square as it is. The mayor promises to follow their wishes, and Al is rewarded with a kiss from Ella Sue. Effingham's will to live is restored by Al's actions, and while his friends apologize for letting him down, the proud old soldier salutes Al as he marches off with his men.