The New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture: Agriculture & Industry is Volume 11 of a 24 part series sponsored by the Center for the Study of Southern Culture at the University of Mississippi and the Center for the Study of the American South at the University of North Carolina.
Chuck Thompson cites this series in Better Off Without ‘Em: A Northern Manifesto for Southern Secession. In my view, the chapter on the modern Southern economy was the weakest part of Thompson’s book, and his brief treatment of this important subject is what drew my attention to his sources.
Gregory Hood recently argued at Counter-Currents that secession is “the only way out” and “it’s more realistic than donating to Rand Paul, vainly hoping that someday he’ll cut foreign aid.” I consider it self evident that the existence of the Union with the Northeast and the West Coast is the major factor driving America’s racial and cultural decline.
There have been countless occasions which have demonstrated that the South would have charted a radically different course as an independent nation: the response to the Brown decision in 1954, the vote on the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the vote on the Immigration Act of 1965, the Bush amnesties, and the DREAM Act, and most recently, the election of Barack Obama as president in 2008 and 2012.
If secession is “the only way out,” it follows that someone has to secede. It is also becomes crucial to understand how the modern American economy works and the relative economic strengths and weaknesses of its component regions. It mattered a great deal in the 1860s that food production was concentrated in the Midwest and America’s shipping and industries were concentrated in the Northeast.
In many ways, the defeat of the Confederacy in 1865 is where this books begins. The destruction of slavery and the planter class that ruled the Old South is what set in motion the forces that ultimately led to the modern South. It is difficult to overestimate the impact of the Confederate defeat on the Southern psyche.
C. Vann Woodward opens The Origins of the New South, 1877-1913 with the following statement:
“Any honest genealogy of the ruling family of Southern Democrats would reveal a strain of mixed blood. The mixture sprang from a forced union with the house that had been the Democracy’s bitter rival for the throne. A Mississippian once whimsically acknowledged this Union. “A few years after the war,” he wrote, “all lovers of good government in the South concluded to celebrate a marriage. The high contracting parties were Whiggism and Democracy and the ceremony took place in 1875, though the betrothal may antedate that time … As is usual in such cases, the parties now have one and the same name, but the Whig Party is no more dead than is one of our fair damsels, because she has concluded to cast her lot with the man of her choice for weal or woe. …
Even the name Democrat fell into disuse in the seventies and eighties. The substitute, “Conservative,” though originating in the battle against “Radical” Republicans, proved too appropriate a name to abandon for many years. In some states it was adopted as the official name of the party, sometimes in combination, “Conservative and Democratic Party.” “Conservative” was not dropped from the official title of the Democratic Party of Alabama for forty years after the war.”
Before the War Between the States, the Democratic Party and the Whig Party were competing ideological tendencies in a homogeneous White electorate. After the war, Southern Whites had to put aside their partisan differences and unite as a racial bloc to fight off the Radical Republicans and maintain white supremacy. The fusion between the Democrats and Whigs in the 1870s was called the “Conservative Party” for several decades.
The major result of this forced marriage was that the old conservative Whigs ended up becoming a ruling class over the old Democrats – in our own times, the threat of the black vote has maintained the same fundamental alignment among Southern Whites, which we would recognize as roughly the difference between the “GOP establishment” and the “conservative base.”
The Democracy had been the party of white supremacy and limited government. Whiggery had been the party of central banking, internal improvements, and industrial development. By the 1880s, publicists like Henry W. Grady were popularizing the idea of a “New South” based on white supremacy and industrial development:
“During the 1880s, largely because of the ceaseless labors of publicists such as Henry W. Grady of the Atlanta Constitution and Richard H. Edmonds of the Baltimore Manufacturers’ Record, the New South idea became increasingly popular. To such molders of opinion, the proponents of the industrial ethos were broad-minded and progressive, while its opponents, their numbers ever diminishing, were narrow and reactionary. In his celebrated “New South” address before an appreciative audience in New York in 1886, Grady proclaimed that southerners, having been converted to the Yankee way, were rejecting the ideal of leisure, replacing politics with business as their chief endeavor, and sharing the region’s mounting prosperity generously with black people. Three years later, Edmonds wrote that the South’s vast resources were already ensuring the recovery of the position the region had held in 1860 as the richest section of the country.”
The circumstances of the Confederate defeat created the “New South” ideal, but postponed its realization for several decades. In the aftermath of the war, the Southern economy was in ruins, and “Reconstruction” never included a Marshall Plan. The accumulated wealth of generations of White Southerners evaporated with the demise of slavery and the Confederate dollar.
The scarcity of capital and credit in the South after the war led to sharecropping, tenancy, and the crop lien system. Southern agriculture retrograded and became increasingly inefficient. Millions of White yeoman farmers lost their land. High tariffs and Union Army pensions aggravated an already bad situation.
Aside from a few Northern-owned textile mills and the neocolonial exploitation of Appalachia’s mineral resources and Southern forests by Northern steel and lumber companies, there was little in the way of a “New South” until the 1920s. The South of popular stereotypes – rural, poor, agricultural, hopelessly backward – existed until the Great Depression.
In the 1930s and 1940s, the Great Depression ended the postbellum Republican stranglehold on the federal government, and FDR’s “big government” decisively intervened in the Southern economy and broke the cycle of poverty and economic stagnation:
“The Great Depression of the 1930s, along with World War II in the 1940s, ended the crippling economic system that had characterized southern farming since Reconstruction. The federal government, through New Deal enactments – especially the Agricultural Adjustment Act – accomplished crop reduction by paying landowning farmers to restrict their production. These federal payments provided the capital that had been so lacking for decades, and farmers began the slow, steady process of adopting many of the progressive, scientific measures proposed throughout the region’s history. World War II and its aftermath witnessed millions of poor farmers leaving the region for better economic opportunities elsewhere in the nation. The events of the 1930s and 1940s effective eliminated from southern agriculture the small, family farmer who for centuries had played an overwhelmingly important role in the region.
A true revolution became apparent in the region after 1945: farmers acquired larger tracts of land, new crops such as soybeans and peanuts grew where cotton once had grown, and scientific farming became accepted and necessary for survival in the new environment.”
Under the New Deal, the federal government started paying Southern farmers not to grow cotton, tobacco, and other commodities. This allowed them to accumulate the capital necessary to mechanize their operations, evict millions of sharecroppers, and reverse the postwar fragmentation of the plantations:
“When the Rural Electrification Administration (REA) was created in 1935, less than 4 percent of the farms in the southern states had electricity. Without it, many of the comforts of modern life were unavailable, and for that reason the South enthusiastically welcomed the REA. In 1936, when Congress gave the REA statute authority, southern congressmen were among the agency’s most ardent supporters. The Southern Policy Association, a group of southern congressmen eager to promote southern development, endorsed the REA bill and regarded electrification as an important step in that direction.
As the REA began operation, southern farmers quickly established electric cooperatives, and the percentage of farms with service slowly grew. By 1941 the national average had climbed to 30 percent, and, although the southern percentage was lower, the South moved steadily ahead. At the start of World War II, the REA started a massive construction program to finish the job, and by 1955 virtually 90 percent of the South’s farmers had electrical service.”
It was FDR who laid the foundation of the Sunbelt economy with the New Deal and World War II military spending. The Cold War accelerated the growth of the Sunbelt in all kinds of ways like the creation of the Interstate Highway System which made it even easier for Northern businesses to relocate to the South:
“Beginning with World War II, the federal government poured enormous sums into the South and West for the construction and maintenance of military installations and the production of modern weaponry. From Miami to Mobile to Monterrey, these defense bases and plants lured wartime migrants who came and stayed. Cold War and Vietnam expenditures, protected by powerful congressional leaders such as L. Mendel Rivers (S.C.), John Stennis (Miss.), Edward Hebert (La.), and John Tower (Tex.), guaranteed millions of Sunbelt jobs.”
From the 1930s to the 1970s, the South was gradually transformed by “big government” from a poor, predominantly rural region with an agricultural economy into a prosperous, heavily urbanized region with a modern industrial economy.
The “New South” envisioned by Henry W. Grady and others has arrived: the Jeffersonian agrarian ideal has been completely discredited, few Southerners work in agriculture or live in rural areas, and no region of the United States is less committed to leisure or more zealously committed to maintaining a “good business climate” and industrial development than the “right-to-work” South.
Some things haven’t changed:
“For many years, liberal social scientists and journalists had seen agrarian traditionalism and economic progress as each other’s archenemy, the former being the villain in the ongoing saga of southern backwardness and the latter case in the role of oft-thwarted would-be savior. In the widely accepted scenario, if southern traditionalism could be weakened sufficiently to allow economic modernization to gain a foothold, modernization’s benevolent and progressive influences then would overwhelm the vestiges of racism and reactionary politics and transform Dixie into an enlightened liberal society like the industrial Northeast.
Ironically, however, the South’s economic emergence not only failed to follow this widely accepted model, it also practically turned it on its head. The “favorable business climate” so vital to the Sunbelt South’s fabled economic success story was actually rooted in the historically conservative social and political atmosphere long condemned as the nemesis of southern progress. Cheap, intimidated labor, low taxes, and a cooperative rather than meddlesome government – all of these were both trademarks of the traditionalist, plantation South and keys to the Sunbelt South’s appeal to business and industrial investors.
The South’s economic emergence demonstrated that the “value gap” between agrarian and industrial-commercial societies had been greatly exaggerated.”
James C. Cobb notes that the same is true of Dixie’s trading partners in Europe and East Asia: Germany, Japan, and South Korea which have heavily invested in the Sunbelt economy and prefer to open new American plants in the South.
As an independent country, the modern South would have the 5th largest economy in the world (larger than France or the United Kingdom), or the 4th largest economy in the world (larger than Germany) if Texas was part of a Southern Republic. 114.5 million people now live in the South compared to 55.3 million in the Northeast, 66.9 million in the Midwest, and just 12.4 million in the Pacific Northwest.
The most fascinating part of this book though was the dozens of thematic entries which describe how and when key aspects of the modern Southern economy came into being. For someone who grew up in Sunbelt Alabama, it was a stark reminder of just how far removed my own world is from the Old South.
Here are some examples:
- Auburn University, previously known as “Agricultural and Mechanical College of Alabama,” is a land grant college that was created in 1872 under the provisions of the Morrill Act of 1862 which was signed into law by Abraham Lincoln.
- Every small town in Alabama now has a Wal-Mart, the world’s largest corporation which is based in the Ozarks in Arkansas, which began to open its stores here in the 1980s and 1990s.
- Southeast Alabama and Southwest Georgia are dominated by cattle pastures, pine tree plantations, pecan orchards, and peanut and soybean fields. This world would have been unrecognizable to my Confederate ancestors.
- The largest employer in Montgomery is Hyundai. There is a new KIA plant on I-85 in West Point, GA.
- Huntsville, Houston, and Cape Canaveral are the centers of NASA.
- Research Triangle Park in North Carolina is one of the largest research parks in the United States.
- Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport is the world’s busiest airport. Delta Air Lines is based in Atlanta.
- Coca-Cola was invented by John Pemberton in Columbus, GA in 1886.
- Brown’s Ferry Nuclear Plant near Decatur is a TVA nuclear plant the generates the second largest amount of electricity of any nuclear plant in the United States.
- Birmingham was founded in 1871.
Did you know that South Carolina is the real peach state? Did you know most of the rice in America is grown in Arkansas? Did you know most of the chicken you eat is raised in Georgia, Arkansas, and Alabama? Did you know the gasoline in your tank was likely refined in Texas or Louisiana? Did you know the coal which generated your electricity in Baltimore and DC was mined in West Virginia and Kentucky?
If we are serious about seceding from the United States, it is vital that we know these things and how secession would affect our daily lives. Untangling Dixie from the United States is easier said than done in light of all the complex webs of government spending and the disruptions that secession would inevitably have on the American economy.
It is also clear that the secession of different regions would pose different strategic challenges for the federal government: the South, for example, has 10x the population of the Pacific Northwest, and produces and refines over 50% of America’s crude oil and natural gas, whereas the Pacific Northwest is the nation’s largest producer of hydroelectric power.
Further probing in this area will enable us make a more effective case for secession.
Note: In the video below, Scarlett vows she will never be hungry and poor again, and later in Gone With The Wind embraces the “New South” creed as a shrewd Yankee businesswoman. It is a poignant illustration of how the materialism of the Old South tragically evolved into the materialism of the “New South.”