Southern History Month 2019: Southern and Alabama Agriculture, 1860-1870

Editor’s Note: I’m not sure what prompted me to purchase, read and take notes from Eddie Wayne Shell’s Evolution of the Alabama Agroecosystem: Always Keeping Up, But Never Catching Up. Could it have been a spirit of sheer malevolent racial hatred and a desire to restore “racism” and “white supremacy” or whatever label that unintelligent, uneducated leftwing journos are tagging me with? I also spent lots of my expendable leisure time studying Victor Bulmer-Thomas’s 710 page book The Economic History of the Caribbean Since the Napoleonic Wars back in 2014.

Have you seen the size of this book? It is a gargantuan study of Southern agriculture written by a native of Butler County, AL who was a professor at Auburn University for 35 years. Shell was the head of the Department of Fisheries and Allied Aquacultures there for 21 years. Actually, I know exactly what attracted my attention to this book as well as Ha-Joon Chang’s work. It was my longtime allegiance to the German Historical School of Economics which I discovered via Pat Buchanan.

As a historicist, I think about morality and religion and politics in the same way that I do economics, which is that I study how moral, political, cultural and economic paradigms have evolved across history. It gives me a unique perspective which isn’t shared by most, uh, “racists.”

The following numbers which chart the course of the crash of Southern economy from 1860 to 1870 under free-market capitalism come from Eddie Wayne Shell’s Evolution of the Alabama Agroecosystem: Always Keeping Up, But Never Catching Up:

Deaths and Casualties

Confederacy – 260,000 dead, 137,000 wounded
Alabama – 40,000 dead, 35,000 wounded

Of the 126,587 White men who served the Confederacy in Alabama, around 40,000 were killed and 35,000 were disabled, which was over half the soldiers who fought in the war. In Alabama alone, the war left behind about 20,000 widows and 60,000 orphans. The downstream economic consequences were catastrophic.

Slaves

South – 3.9 million slaves worth $3.1 billion wiped out
Alabama – 470,000 slaves worth $200 million wiped out

The abolition of slavery is usually portrayed as a great morality tale, but as a practical matter it wiped out $3.1 billion dollars worth of capital in the South and $200 million dollars worth of capital in Alabama – by far the greater portion of capital in the South had been invested in slaves. Emancipation left the former slaves penniless and adrift in a world of free-market, laissez-faire capitalism. It left the planters broke and unable to pay wages to the former slaves. The non-slaveholding yeomanry was mostly wiped out by the war or left teetering on the brink of tenancy. Everyone was ruined by the war.

Transportation

In Alabama, virtually the entire railroad network was destroyed or seriously damaged in the course of the war, and the fighting was far heavier in the Upper South. Of the former Confederate states, Texas suffered the least war damage and benefited tremendously from postwar emigration.

Financial System

With only a few exceptions, the Confederate banking system was wiped out. The Confederate currency was worthless. The Confederate debt was repudiated which made billions of dollars of bonds and notes worthless.

Farm Size

South Atlantic States – 46.5% decline
South Central States – 91.2% decline
Alabama – Average farm size declined from 346.5 acres to 222 acres

After the War Between the States, slavery was abolished, but the plantation and export-based agricultural economy continued to exist, along with the millions of former slaves, bankrupted planters, and the ruined yeomanry. It would be an understatement to say that the consequences of abolition were not thought through. In the North, there was just this vague notion that free-market theorists had “proven” that the free-labor system and laissez-faire capitalism was “superior” to slave-labor

In the context of the near cashless economy with so few surviving banks, which was made many times worse by the disorganization of the plantations caused by abolition (how creditworthy was your bankrupt planter, penniless ex-slave, or maimed small farmer?), the interaction of supply and demand gradually led to the creation of the sharecropping and farm tenancy system based on the crop lien.

The large plantations with their efficient gang labor and access to credit from the antebellum cotton brokerages began to fragment into small undercapitalized farms worked by families with poor machinery. Far from being a triumph of the Jeffersonian ideal, the plantations fragmented into smaller and smaller plots worked by a larger and larger population, which were forced by the furnishing merchant to grow a single cash crop which could be sold on the free-market. The long term result of this was overproduction and the collapse in the price of cotton that reduced the farmer to a status identical to that a European serf where farm tenancy had prevailed for centuries.

Improved Farmland

South – 10% decline in improved farmland
Alabama – 20% decline in improved farmland, 6.4 million acres to 5.1 million acres

Obviously, the inevitable result of the conscription of virtually the entire White male population of military age, and then the great meatgrinder which wiped out so many farmers was that millions of acres of improved farmland was taken out of production. It is a testament to the hardship of the times – the countless women, orphans, young children left behind – that the decline in improved farmland was relatively smaller than the overall toll of the war.

Value of Land and Buildings

South – 50% decline
Alabama – $175.8 million to $54 million

By 1900, the average price per acre of Southern land still hadn’t recovered to the 1860 level. The 50% collapse in property value was another immediate downstream effect of abolition that further impoverished the planter. Both the planters and yeoman farmers had to sell their land to rebuild their acre. The triumphant Yankees took advantage of the firesale land prices in the postwar South to make great fortunes.

Value of Farm Implements and Machinery

South Atlantic States – $34 million to $20 milllion
South Central States – 61.3 million to 29.8 million

By 1900, the value of farm implements and machinery on Southern farms still hadn’t recovered to the 1860 level. A revolution in agricultural technology passed the whole region by because Southerners were too poor to invest in better farm equipment to increase productivity. It wasn’t until the Great Depression and the Agricultural Adjustment Act that this began to turn around.

Value Per Farm

South Atlantic States – $113 to $54
South Central States – $165 to $58
Alabama – $135 to $39

Under the “superior” free-market, free-labor, laissez-faire system imposed on Southern agriculture as the verdict of the war, the average value of a farm in Alabama dropped from $135 to $39 in ten years. This wasn’t due to the war damage either. Most of South Alabama wasn’t damaged by the war. There were large parts of the South, particularly in Texas, which weren’t damaged at all by the ear.

Cotton Production

South – 48% decline
Alabama – 57.1% decline

The decline in cotton production was the only tailwind that came out of this decade for the Southern farmer because it temporarily raised the world price and helped soften the blow of abolition.

Corn

South – 30.4% decline
Alabama – 48.8% decline

The decline in corn production in the South is a testimony to the extent to which the non-slaveholding yeoman farmer was ruined by 1.) the toll of the war, 2.) reintegration into the Union which meant ruinous competition with the Midwest, and 3.) the destruction of his market in the plantation belts.

Hay

South Atlantic – 21% decline
South Central – 20% decine
Alabama – 83% decline

We shouldn’t be surprised by the decline in Southern hay production because it was a relatively labor-intensive crop.

Wheat

South Atlantic – 15.8% decline
South Central – 22.3% decline
Alabama – 13% decline

In the long term, the South was never going to successfully compete with the Midwest in wheat production except as an independent nation-state behind a tariff wall like other European countries. As a captive market, Southerners would soon become dependent on Midwestern producers for their wheat, along with countless other agricultural commodities consumed by sharecroppers and tenants.

Sweet Potatoes

Alabama – 66% percent decline

Sweet potatoes were a Southern crop. It is interesting that there was such a marked decline in sweet potato production given how relatively easy they are to grow.

Draft Animals

Alabama – 32.7% decline

In the mid-19th century, draft animals were used as power on Southern farms in the age before the tractor.

Value of Livestock on Hand

South Atlantic – 33% decline
South Central – 33% decline
Alabama – 50.8% decline

The ravaging of the Southern countryside by both armies and the starvation caused on the homefront by taking virtually the entire White adult male population out of farming produced a predicate decline in the value of livestock after the war.

Cheese Production

South Atlantic – 48% decline
South Central – 83% decine
Alabama – 83% decline

Butter

South Atlantic – 15.8% decine
South Central – 22% decline
Alabama – 46.7% decline

Milk Cows

South – 19.4% decline
Alabama – 26% decline

The decline in dairy products is a reflection of the overall decline of Southern agriculture in the 1860s.

Hogs

South – 37% decline
Alabama – 59% decline

This is interesting given that pork was a cornerstone of the Southern diet.

Beef Cattle

South – 35% to 55% decline
Alabama – 43% decline

To the yeomanry, cattle were synonymous with money and this huge decline in the cattle in the Southern states by 1870s reflects the extent to which the yeomanry was ruined by the war.

This collapse of Southern agriculture only scratches the surface of what was unfolding at the outset of the Colonial South. There is a long list of other known problems out there which we are going to examine in the months ahead.

1.) Instead of a common Southern tariff, the triumph of the Union in the War Between the States had a number of important implications for trade policy. Among other things, it meant Northern manufactured goods would cost a lot more for Southern consumers in the future, that the defeated South would become a captive market for Northern industry (i.e., an American version of Ireland, India, or China after the Opium Wars), that there would be no tariff wall to foster Southern industrialization, that the Southern ports would lose commerce and tax revenue to the Northern counterparts.

2.) Because the South had been restored to the “Glorious Union,” it was now wide open to direct foreign investment. As we have already seen, it mattered a great deal to the Southern economy that a single Yankee like J.P. Morgan was able to establish a monopoly over our transportation system and strangle the iron and steel industry in Alabama and Tennessee after US Steel acquired TCI during the Panic of 1907.

Again, that’s the tip of the colonial iceberg: there are the Rockefellers and Standard Oil in Texas, Louisiana, and Oklahoma, the Northern timber companies and foreign land syndicates which clearcut the Appalachian Forest including the entire state of West Virginia, how Henry Flagler and Henry Plant turned Florida into a winter resort for rich Northerners, the Mellon Trust which established control over the bauxite mines in Arkansas and Tennessee, the Northern textile barons who moved to the South to exploit child labor around the turn of the century, and lets not forget coal mining in Appalachia.

3.) The whole rotten sharecropping and farm tenancy system that pulverized the South and later the West was caused by the National Banking Acts passed by the Republican Congress during the war and by the postwar deflationary monetary policy that enriched Eastern financial and banking interests and had the effect of keeping currency and credit scarce in the South. This is a huge can of worms.

4.) The great story of the Reconstruction era is how the carpetbagger worked with the scalawag and the negro to plunge Southern state governments deeply into debt to Eastern bondholders for fraudulent internal improvements.

5.) After the war, the Republican-controlled federal government used high tariffs to finance the national government while spending money for decades on pensions for Union war veterans. This systematically redistributed wealth from the South to the North.

Note: Hurr durr … sounds like socialism or communism to me. Have you ever even read Adam Smith, Ayn Rand or Ludwig von Mises? Pull yerself up by yer bootstraps!

About Hunter Wallace 8867 Articles
Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Occidental Dissent

8 Comments

  1. The steam tractor was a available during the second half of the 19th century but it would appear most Southern farmers were too impoverished to buy them. But starting in 1920 many Northern textile mills began shutting down and moving to the South, esp. North Carolina. So that helped parts of the Southern economy recover, albeit at the expense of Northern industrial towns that, ironically enough, manufactured the war materiel used to defeat the South.

    I should like to read your estimation of Andrew Johnson’s presidency, HW, as well as that of Grant’s. The West Virginia coal mining wars of 1912-1921 would also be a subject of great interest.

    • @spahnranch1969

      My grandfather didn’t get a tractor until 1942. Growing up, one if my dad’s jobs was to drag the road out to the main highway, from the house. He did it with a horse drawn grader.

  2. “It would be an understatement to say that the consequences of abolition were not thought through.”

    The people of Massachusetts didn’t care. They just wanted to rule all of America for themselves. They still want to. In their minds, the South had to be annihilated in order for them to achieve their ambitions.

    Yankees are completely unaware of the harm that they’ve inflicted, and in many ways, continue to inflict, on their ostensible “fellow Americans” outside of Yankeedom.

    As an aside.

    Historically, I can’t think of any other Nation on earth where a province/state, or a group of provinces/states, set themselves up as a nation within a nation. Or organised themselves for interminable political, economic and armed conflict with the rest of their nation and supposedly “fellow countrymen.,” the way Yankeedom did in America.

    No other example comes to mind. Even if one considers the unification wars in the various European nations, and in medieval China, Japan and Korea.

    • Theres no such thing as ‘yankees’. theres just white americans and nonwhites. people who purity spiral about yankees vs southerners are no different than people who think white poles don’t belong in germany. its anti white to divide white people.

    • @James Owen: America was never really a “nation”, in the sense that Poland, Germany, France, Japan and Korea are. It’s a country that was created from former English, French, Dutch and Spanish colonies. And none of those peoples were indigenous to this Continent. Interesting observation and commentary, though.

  3. On the subject of agriculture.

    Lamar County Texas produces nearly $200 million in crops and livestock.

    The main products are:

    Cattle
    Horses
    Hay
    Wheat
    Corn
    Sorghum
    Cotton
    soybeans
    Honey

    A great deal of the corn and sorghum go to local feed mills.

    Cotton in North Texas has been in decline since the end of 1950s. Most of the gins, compresses and textile mills have shut down. Cotton culture has shifted to West Texas and Oklahoma. Combines, balers, windrowers and mocos are more common than cotton strippers.

    A few years ago, they opened the first new gin built in fifty years, in Delta County, right south of the southern Lamar county line, and north of Commerce, Tx. It’s modern, mostly automated, and can handle the cotton rolls produced by modern strippers. It handles all the cotton grown for sixty miles around, which isn’t much.

    The few gins that are still open, and have adapted to processing cotton rolls, are outnumbered by grain elevators, feed mills, and flour mills.

    Most farm machinery dealers carry more equipment for grain and hay production, than they do cotton strippers.

    I’ve seen more discs and vertical tillage implements, than traditional mould board ploughs. I’ve never seen a cotton plough, except in a museum.

  4. A zillion white Christian southerners, ( and some whites from the rest of AmeriKa, ) are just waiting for the spark to light the fuse of Confederacy 2.0

    Pray the right group of fuse lighters hurrys the F up and gets the ball rolling before the next Obama gets in. Smart fuse lighters will become VERY rich too, by positioning themselves in front of certain financial waves, not that much different than a surfer in front of an approaching wave.

    Anyone out there wanna get rich … or just keep whistling Dixie ?

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