Melissa Walker and James C. Cobb’s (ed.) The New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture: Agriculture & Industry
The New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture: Agriculture & Industry isVolume 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.
A few years ago, Gregory Hood 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 and sectional polarization is a 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 elections of Barack Obama and Donald Trump as president in 2008 and 2016. The South consistently votes for authoritarian social conservatism.
If secession is “the only way out,” then it follows that someone has to secede. It 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 while the South specialized in cash crop export agriculture.
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. We’re currently well into the third or fourth incarnation of the “New South.”
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 the competing ideological tendencies in a homogeneous White Southern electorate. After the war, Southern Whites were forced to put aside their partisan differences on economics and unite as a racial bloc to fight off the Radical Republicans and to 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 approximately the difference between the “GOP establishment” and the “conservative base,” or a conservative business-oriented elite caste lording it over a more populist middle class and working class base.
The Democracy had been the party of white supremacy, slavery and limited government. Whiggery had also been a party of white supremacy, but was 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 Southern version of the 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, which was exacerbated by the National Banking Act of 1863, led to sharecropping, farm tenancy and the crop lien system. Southern agriculture retrograded and became increasingly inefficient. Millions of White yeoman farmers lost their land. The planter class lost much of its land. The blacks never had any land. High tariffs and a sectional redistribution of wealth through 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 Henry W. Grady’s “New South” dream 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 post-bellum 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 that had lasted for generations:
“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 effectively 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 to not grow cotton, tobacco and other commodities. This intervention raised the price of these commodities and allowed Southern farmers to finally begin to accumulate the capital necessary to mechanize their operations, evict millions of sharecroppers from the land and reverse the post-bellum fragmentation of the plantation complex into small, inefficient plots worked by debt peons suffering from pellagra:
“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 economy in all kinds of ways like through the creation of the Interstate Highway System which made it even easier for Northern businesses to relocate to the South and partake in our “good bidness climate.”
“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 a hopelessly backward agricultural economy into a prosperous, heavily urbanized region with a modern industrial economy.
The “New South” envisioned by Henry W. Grady and others finally 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. In the depths of the poverty of Reconstruction, the emerging Southern elite converted to Yankeeism.
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. China is the ultimate example of this.
As an independent country, Dixie 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 reminder of just how far removed my own world is from the Old South. Unfortunately, I believe that far too little attention has been paid in Southern Nationalist circles to this vast period of 150 years that separates the defeat of the Confederacy from our own world.
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 currently 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, AL 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, our largest city in Alabama, 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 Southern Nationalists are serious about seceding from the United States, it is vital that we know these things and how secession would affect our daily lives. I don’t many Southern Nationalists have considered how 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. This is why Southern Nationalism is simply dismissed by our elites.
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.
In the video below, Scarlett O’Hara vows she will never be hungry and poor again and later in Gone With The Wind she embraces the “New South” creed as she evolves into 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” which in its manic quest for economic development above all else has given us modern day Atlanta and Houston which lack the grace and charm of Old Europe.
It has been a few years since I engaged this issue, but I went back and reread Melissa Walker and James C. Cobb’s The New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture: Agriculture & Industry in order to refresh my memory on the history of Southern industrialization.
This is an excellent and authoritative reference work which contains 50 thematic entries and profiles of the South’s leading industries, corporations and businessmen from the top scholars in their field. It is the best place to start researching the origins and evolution of the South’s economy. Right now, I want to focus on industrialization, but I will review the agriculture section in a separate article.
Here’s a brief sketch of the South’s industrialization which took place in roughly four stages:
In 1861, the 11 Confederate states had less industry than Pennsylvania alone. It is an understatement to say the Old South was a heavily rural world with an economy driven by plantation-based export agriculture. The South’s wealth was overwhelmingly concentrated in land and slaves. The dominance of agriculture in the Old South shaped the nature of commerce and industry in the region.
In Gone With The Wind, Scarlett O’Hara was exaggerating when she said she “had never seen a factory,” but there is a kernal of truth in this. Generally speaking, the planter class was hostile to industrialization out of the fear that it would undermine slavery by competing with their labor force and introducing bourgeois values. There were some notable exceptions like James D.B. De Bow, William Pratt, and William Gregg, but as a rule, the South followed Thomas Jefferson (who was influenced by European classical liberal economists) and preferred to free-trade their cotton for British and Northern manufactured goods while avoiding the messy politics of having industrial and commercial classes.
Insofar as industry existed in the Old South, it had some peculiar characteristics: it tended to rely on slave-labor, it was concentrated in extraction and processing of raw materials and it was often due to non-Southerners like Daniel Pratt. The only heavy industry that existed in the Old South was concentrated in the South’s most industrialized state, Virginia. The Tredegar Iron Works in Richmond (named after its counterpart in Wales) played a key role in sustaining the Confederate war effort. It is worth noting here that the railroad network which fed Tredegar and created the market for its products had been financed by the Virginia Board of Public Works.
Elsewhere, the railroads and small towns in the South were built around the plantation complex and tended to funnel its products to the coast. New Orleans, a major port, was the South’s largest city during the antebellum era. Because there are so many navigable rivers that connect to the coast in the Gulf and Atlantic Coastal Plains, the South had fewer needs for railroads than the North as planters could ship their tobacco and cotton to the coast for export without relying on rail transport.
Ultimately, the Old South’s failure to industrialize was a product of its conservatism. Slavery was profitable, familiar and was the gateway to social status. Industrialization was suspect in a Jeffersonian culture. There were few legal obstacles to industrialization and protective tariffs encouraged industrialization, but the entrepreneur chose to respond by investing ever more wealth in land and slaves.
The Founding Fathers of the Confederacy banned internal improvements and protective tariffs in the Confederate Constitution. They wanted to continue to perfect the evolving Southern plantation model of the antebellum era, but without Yankee interference.
Reality soon crashed down on the South when the Yankees refused to recognize Confederate independence. The outbreak of the War Between the States and especially the Northern naval blockade did the same thing to the Confederacy that had happened to New England during the War of 1812. It had the effect of imposing a massive protective tariff and ISI program (import subsistution industrialization) on the Confederacy that spurred hitherto dormant Southern industrialization.
Forced to be practical by the necessities of war effort against the Yankee invaders, the South industrialized faster between 1860-1864 that at any point before or since:
“Southern planters sponsored a thoroughgoing, non-democratic, state-controlled form of industrialization through confiscation and government investment in order to build a war machine. Under the auspices of the Confederate States of America, the South rapidly built iron yards, shipyards, textile mills, coal and iron mines, machine shops, clothing and food-processing plants, and munitions factories. The South lost the war but acquired significant industrial experience.”
It took the War Between the States to finally block the retarding influence of Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand and spur the Visible Hand of Confederate industrial policy, but it was too little, too late. The Confederate Leviathan was outmatched by the Union war machine which had a significant head start in industrialization and was even more stimulated by the Union war effort.
Nevertheless, the Confederate achievement during the war was impressive. The fledgling Confederate Navy’s use of submarines and ironclads in war put the CSA on the cutting edge of naval technology. Unfortunately, antebellum dependence on foreign shipping, which continued during the war when the CSA commissioned ironclads in Britain, was too great an obstacle to overcome.
The New South
The New South was built on the ruins of the Confederacy which shaped everything about it that followed.
The destruction of the Confederacy devastated the South’s infrastructure, killed 1 out of 4 Southern White men of military age and obliterated the vast majority of its wealth that had been invested in land and slaves. The free-labor and free-market capitalist system was imposed on the emancipated slaves with equally devastating consequences for Southern agriculture.
In the wake of this, Southerners set out to build a New South that would have an industrialized economy. Since there was so little capital left in the defeated South this meant three things: courting northern investment, racial moderation and sectional reconciliation. In order to court Northern investment, Southern boosters emphasized the region’s vast natural resources, cheap and abundant labor and low-taxes. This began to attract labor intensive extractive industries to the South.
Of these labor intensive extractive industries, five deserve special mention – coal mining in Appalachia, timber in Appalachia and the Pine Belt near the coasts, textiles in the Piedmont, iron and steel in Appalachia and oil in Texas. 4 out of 5 came to be dominated by Northern investors. Coal, timber, iron and steel and textiles were extractive industries that depended on “a good bidness climate” – low-wages, low-taxes, low-investment and low-regulation. As the largest industry in the region in the New South, textiles became the model for Southern industrialization moving forward.
By the 1930s, the beggar-thy-neighbor strategy – the New South’s economic development strategy – was being criticized by the Southern Agrarians and the writers of the Southern Renaissance. New South industrialization had failed to live up to expectations largely due to the fact that the South was effectively an industrial resource colony of the North and the labor intensive industries that the beggar-thy-neighbor strategy had attracted here were Northern-owned and controlled.
In the heyday of laissez-faire free-market economics, the South was still a rural region with few large cities and a stagnant, hopelessly backward agricultural economy, which was growing poorer as economic growth failed to keep up with population growth. Then came three outside shocks.
The first shock that brought down the New South was the arrival of the boll weevil which chewed its way through the Cotton Kingdom from 1892 to the 1930s. The second was the Great Depression and the New Deal. The third and most important was the Second World War.
FDR’s presidency from 1933 to 1945 was the watershed moment in Southern industrialization. No American president had a greater and more positive impact on the Southern economy than Roosevelt. FDR won every Southern state in landslide elections four times because his policies began to put an end to the crippling poverty that had haunted the South since Appomattox.
The Great Depression had the effect of discrediting conservatism and free-market economics in the United States for a generation. Under FDR, it opened the floodgates to a tidal wave of government intervention and investment in the South’s backward economy. Farmers were paid not to grow cotton and used the money to invest in the technology that finally mechanized Southern agriculture and ended sharecropping and tenancy. There were widespread infrastructure projects that built roads and bridges and brought electricity to rural areas. The military spending was the most important:
“The war’s greatest contribution consisted of a huge helping of federal money for a traditionally capital-starved region. More than $4 billion went into military facilities and perhaps as much as $5 billion into defense plants. The result was a 40 percent increase in the South’s industrial capacity. Per capita income tripled during the 1940s leaving Southerners with enough disposable income, at long last, to make them attractive potential customers for a number of market-owned industries that had previously found the South’s consuming capacity too puny to justify locating a production or distribution facility in the region. Automobile assembly and parts plants, for example, began to spring up in the Atlanta vicinity as executives realized the growing potential of the southeastern market.”
It was government spending during the New Deal and Second World War, which was sustained for decades by the Cold War, not free-market capitalism, that industrialized Dixie. I repeat … it was BIG GOVERNMENT, INDUSTRIAL POLICY and CENTRAL PLANNING that revived the Southern economy from the 1930s to the 1970s, not unlike what happened in East Asia.
“World War II ushered in a degree of industrialization long dreamed of by southern promoters. Between 1939 and 1972, the number of factories grew by more than 160 percent and the number of workers in them by more than 200 percent. Prosperity accompanied the expansion of industry, as per capita income in the South increased by 500 percent between 1955 and 1975 – a rate 300 percent higher than that of the nation as a whole.”
This explains the odd contradiction between free-market theorists who advocate a laissez-faire industrial policy while simultaneously cheerleading for gargantuan levels of military spending:
“Figures from the Cold War years are revealing. Southerners in the armed forces throughout the world fueled the southern economy with allotment checks deposited in local banks …
The impact of military expenditures on the southern economy during the Cold War was immense. A total of 39.5 percent of all Department of Defense dollars ($50,091,677,000 of a total budget of $127,135,626,000) was spent in the South in the fiscal year 1980.”
By itself, the New South’s “good bidness climate” economic development strategy had failed.
Between 1940 and 1960, the South shifted from an agricultural to industrialized economy and from a rural to a predominantly urban population in large part due to a big assist from the federal government under FDR and his successors. The explosion in industry and commerce set off a prolonged economic boom that developed other sectors of the Southern economy like banking and insurance which had been retarded for centuries by the South’s lack of a middle class and large cities.
This is the Sunbelt South that exists today which is a far cry from the New South of the 1930s. Strangely, it is always careful to pair the necessity of having a “good bidness climate” with “strong defense.” The federal government, which continues to invest taxpayer dollars in the Southern economy, makes up for the shortcomings in areas like education, infrastructure and health care which are critical to economic growth. The Southern state governments are also careful to shelve free-market economics and laissez-faire industrial policy when it comes to spending a billion dollars on a ThyssenKrupp steel plant or hundreds of millions of dollars on Hyundai and KIA automobile plants.
The Sunbelt South has attracted a large presence of foreign industry from Europe and East Asia now thanks to having an updated version of the New South’s “good bidness climate” strategy that uses massive subsidies and the infrastructure built during the Cold War to attract foreign investment and poach Northern businesses. The limits of this strategy, however, are being exposed thanks to free-trade as developing countries like Mexico and China have an even better “good bidness climate.”
The Post-Modern South
While I could speculate about the future of the South’s industrial economy in an age of artificial intelligence, automation and robotics, it would be beyond the scope of this review. This is truly exciting to think about. The South of 2119 will be unrecognizable from our world.
Note: I never got around to reviewing the section on the history of Southern agriculture. I plan to do so in May. I’m having too much fun writing to stop this series.