Cari Sobczynski HST 319 April 20, 1998 Final Essay Southern Continuity Just the words Southern way of life’ conjures up a timeless image of gentlemen planters and Southern belles. A time of aristocratic rule that centers itself on plantations and the institution of slavery. The antebellum era echos themes of white supremacy, democracy, unity, tradition, nobility, and honor. While some of these themes seem to be immortalized by such classic works as Gone with the Wind and Roots they still seem to represent the Southern way of life. Although slavery as long since ended and their economy is no longer based up cotton plantations to provide their cash crop, the Southern attitude and distinctiveness still exists. The people who live there define and identify themselves with the region.
They are Southerners. Over many years the South has faced many challenges and trials which have jeopardized their identity time and time again. These challenges simply helped them modify their and perfect their distinctiveness while maintaining their certain way of life. Hence, the basic theme that is seen throughout Southern history is that of continuity. The South remaining Southern.
W.J. Cash said it best by stating that “The South, one might say, is a tree with many age rings, with its limbs and trunk bent and twisted by all the winds of the years, but with the tap root in the Old South.” The antebellum South was a time of southern sectionalism. The South was centered around the institution of slavery. The planters made up the aristocracy which made up the Government, which in turn constantly stood for the protection of slavery. When the confederacy was formed, it was a nationalistic movement for their rights. A movement to protect their way of life, mainly to maintain the institution of slavery. They fought long and hard for what they felt to be the lifeline of their society.
However, when their lifeline was taken away from them, they South maintained its distinctiveness. “In defeat, the South not only retained its sense of identity, but added to it the mythos of the Lost Cause, a sense of ancestral pieties and loyalties bequeathed through suffering, and a unity that comes through common depruation and shared hatred and adversity.” Defeat in the war strengthened Southern nationalism. They had paid a high price in order to try to save their way of life and were not going to give up simply with surrender. The defeat of the South in the Civil War only managed to keep them unified under reconfirmed feelings of secession and resistance. Along with defeat came the trials of a northern reconstruction.
The South faced military occupation and life under new governments. The largest test to the South was Lincoln’s “Emancipation Proclamation.” The South had already been plunged into poverty by consequences of the war and the loss of their labor sent them further into economic distress. The antebellum economy had been based on plantations, cotton, and slaves. “With emancipation, the land was now greatly reduced in value, since there were no slaves to work it or cash to pay freedmen, while the demand for several Southern cash crops also receded considerably without any effective southern agriculture opposition.” This meant the landowners had to consider new measures to take with agriculture in order to maintain their property. Many landowners became landlords to former slaves in a sharecropping system of farming. Under this method the black work force could still be controlled and maintained through laws such as Lien Laws. Landowners also got their land farmed for them while keeping most of the profits and supervising the work.
While the agriculture was very distressed for a long period after the war not much had changed in the way that they were running it. Wealthy white landowners still had vast control of their land and the black workers that farmed on it. Reconstruction and emancipation also boasted many political challenges for the South. Military occupancy and northern pressures to agree to a new political system made it difficult for southerners to keep up their democratic identity. The South also had to deal with the new consequence of the black vote, a vote that wealthy southern aristocracy would not ever receive if elections were run fairly. However, due to a non cooperative planter class and a little patience the reconstruction movement began to fail. Appropriately called, the Redeemers began to win back political power and control of their states. They sought to protect landowners and proposed new taxes hoping to aid in rebuilding the South. White supremacy was very evident within the new governments as well.
Gerrymandering was done by officials in order to limit the strength of the black vote. Along with gerrymandering poll taxes and literacy tests were created to help in the white cause. By the end of reconstruction in about 1877 all of the states had been redeemed back into their democratic ways. They had maintained their identity. The main continuing trait of politics being that the white Southern Democrats had regained and were holding political power while keeping all of the blacks and poor whites out. Politics remained to be an ever-changing issue in the South.
By the 1880s the South had regained complete home rule and preserved white supremacy. However, the 1890s brought an end to the one-party South by introducing a third party into the political arena. This was a radical group that became known as the Populist party. “The Populist crusade generated an awareness of state-government responsibility and offered a host of demands that would bring government both state and federal into a more responsible relation to human needs.” Farmers and black republicans incorporated themselves with this populist movement which actively sought economic reforms. They had many agrarian causes on their agenda and fought against railroads, merchants, trusts, and tried to establish cooperatives. The Populist movement tested southern loyalty to the democratic party, but they managed to stay united.
The radical peaked and then failed during 1894. The movement failed due to many threatening interest groups and the inability to over come the barrier within race relations. During the 1890s race was a major source of problems both politically and socially. The period starting from the 1890s and continuing up until 1915 marked the lowest period of racism since the time of slavery. Blacks needed to realize their place in society and abide by their role and expected etiquette. “Black southerners lived in a world of uncertainty, bound to careful behavior that still did not guarantee safety, Planters seldom hesitated to strike black workers long after the end of slavery, and blacks had little recourse, resistance was suicidal.” Violence was at its peak against blacks.
They experienced elaborate segregation and acts of lynching were very common. Groups such as the Ku Klux Klan were developed to help keep the black’s freedom at a minimum. Extreme measures were taken in order to keep blacks out of politics. Laws, voting fraud, and social intimidation were used in order to keep blacks away from the polls. It was even made legal in 1898 with the court case Williams vs.
Mississippi stating that it was legal to subject voters to poll taxes and literacy tests. By 1910, there was a full disenfranchisement of black political power. There remained only a rare few holding office and very little were voting. This solidified the south once again by maintaining an upper white class domination and returning back to the one-party south. The 1890s also brought problems with agriculture and the economy.
With falling cotton prices and the Panic of 1893 the South slid further into economic failure. Their economy troubled the entire nation and the South was looked down upon as the “nation’s economic stepchild, a colonial tributary to the northeast.” There were farmer revolts and rebellions against trusts, merchants, city folk, government, manufacturers, and railroads in attempts to increase their business. Alliances were even formed at this time in order to aid out lying farmers with social and self help. Farming soon began to decrease along with the more active introduction of modernization and industrialization. As the South begins to modernize, it is taking steps toward Americanization, but still manages to focus on the welfare of the south as a section region.
The turn of the century brought the South back to its roots politically. There once again was a solid south with only one political party with any political power the democratic party. The main election was the white primary which did not include any backs or republicans. There was a definite pattern of elite rule within the solid south. The solid south had relied on putting race before class and centered its power at the county seat.
This further promoted segregation. Voting was also limited to a very small electorate. The solid south government looked away and accepted fraud. There was often stealing of elections that took place along with malapportionment of representations. Due to the vast amount of migration and urbanization the cities were not receiving the proper amount of representation and the rural areas had more. One …