Rejecting This New South
There is a very politically incorrect Warner Brothers cartoon with Bugs Bunny and Yosemite Sam as a very politically incorrect ante-bellum Southern colonel. In the story line, to escape hard times up Nawth, Bugs heads South. Eventually, after what is apparently a very long journey, he leaves a desert-like North and crosses the Mason-Dixon line to find himself in a paradise of green grass, beautiful flowers and trees, blue rivers and the typical image of a gracious ante-bellum Southern plantation home. However, before the Noo Yawk rabbit can enjoy this paradise, Cunnel (Yosemite) Sam runs him back across the line shouting (and shooting) all the while. Indeed, the Cunnel is so engrossed in driving out this unwelcome Yankee, that he crosses the line and runs a few steps onto the bare, sterile Northern soil. When he recognizes what he has done he gives a cry of alarm and returns across the line declaring that he must burn his boots because they have touched “Yahnkah soil.” This cartoon—now banned as racist—is still available on the internet where much of our current social censorship is evaded by intelligent and discerning people.
Yet, there is danger in this view of the South—or more precisely, the old South even when it is humorous. There are those who actually believe that had the South prevailed in the War of Secession, this mythical 19th Century way of life would have prevailed and we could once again go back to the South of “moonlight,” “magnolias” and, of course, slavery! But this is nonsense! Nothing is so sure as change. The South could no more have remained an “agrarian utopia” than the stars could have been stopped in their courses. More to the point, the South never was an agrarian utopia, still less was it fixed forever in its ways! Indeed, the ante-bellum South, as with every other part of the world, was evolving. The upper South was moving away from agriculture and towards a manufacturing economy. Industry was growing and there was even—gasp!--immigration, albeit not to the extent found elsewhere in the country.
Unfortunately, the South was unable to spread its culture and way of life out into the new states and territories because of the institution of slavery. Furthermore, slavery was still essential at the time for the cash crops which financially supported the Section and paid for the North’s structure of crony capitalism known as the American System. Indeed, slavery not only added to the growing tensions and bad feelings between the Sections, but kept the South isolated from the rest of the nation. As time went on, an economic milieu consisting of slavery and tariffs, anti-black sentiment in the North and an irreconcilable difference in the vision of the future of the nation by both Sections created an atmosphere of suspicion, contempt and hatred that did not bode well for the future of the Union which Virginian George Washington wished to be loved and valued above all else by his fellow countrymen.
Yet, the idea that everything of the North was rejected by the South is nonsense as books of the time by Southerners sojourning especially to New England make clear. Many Northern institutions were considered worthwhile by Southerners contrary to post-war disclaimers. Most Southern people did not reject the industry of their Northern kin, just the worst aspects of the “Yankee”—cupidity, self-righteousness and a moral double standard. Indeed, many in the South strongly believed in the need to educate poor whites through some form of public education. This concept was gaining favor among upper class Southerners because they recognized that a large population of ignorant people does not produce anything good--especially government.
As well, many Southerners disliked and rejected the sort of “parochialism” that often erected roadblocks to desired progress in their own Section. For instance, while a citizen of Vermont could take a train from Montpelier straight through to Washington City because the railroad tracks were the same gauge across the intervening states, often in the South, passengers had to change trains when they came to a State line because the track gauge differed from state to state! This sort of sectional provincialism was seen by many Southerners as a barrier to natural progress and it certainly inhibited efforts by the States of the South to resist invasion when they attempted to form a “Confederate” government.
We also know that slavery was falling out of favor even among those who depended upon it. And while there were those who idealized “the peculiar institution,” far more people in the South realized that things simply could not continue as they had to that point in history. However, the main problem with ending slavery was how to do so in such a way as to protect the social, political and economic way of life of the Southern people, black and white! Thomas Jefferson, no defender of slavery, put his finger on the problem when he asked the question to which Americans—North and South—had no answer: “What shall we do with the Negro?” Far from slavery being a sort of genocide, Africans throve in the South with their numbers reaching in the millions. In the Cotton States, the ratio of blacks to whites was much higher than anywhere else even in the upper South. The idea of emancipation under the circumstances of economic need and social fear made the question a great deal more important than a simple matter of morality. Even more problematic was the fear by Southern whites of a slave uprising such as had happened in Haiti and several times in the United States as well. Many was the Southern man and woman who could not—and did not wish to—forget Nat Turner’s revolt and the bloodshed surrounding it. When Northern radical abolitionists began to call for such insurrections, the relationship between the Sections was only made worse. But still, there were many—including Colonel John Mosby, a great hero of the War of Secession—who saw slavery as a succubus, draining the energy, will and spirit of the Southern people. Mosby, a Henry Clay Whig before the War, the son of a slave owner and a slave owner himself, saw the institution as crippling the people of the South. He wrote of the sons of planters losing everything in frivolous and debauched living while the sons of overseers saved their money in order to advance. All of this he blamed upon an institution to which many were addicted either economically, by habit or through fear of the consequences that would obtain if it were ended willy-nilly.
But despite everything, the simple fact is that there was going to be a “New”—or more correctly a “post-slavery” South at some point in time. It could not be forestalled forever and, more to the point, neither was it desirable that it should be, a fact that was recognized by most Southerners. The major problem was how it should be brought about! And it was this conundrum that forms the foundation of the problem we have today. Do we reject a “New South” or do we reject this “New South?” In other words, would we reject a South that had evolved naturally over the years according to the will of its people and in line with their politics, culture and morality rather than being imposed by the sword? I don’t believe that we would. Is it not that which we reject a “New South” forced upon the people of the South by their conquerors? It may seem that this is “splitting hairs,” but it is not. Many objective, decent and rational people when they hear Southerners reject the “New South” envision a desire on their part to return to a time when steamboats plied the Mississippi carrying bales of cotton and young bloods in Virginia rode out to hounds. Of course, the foundation of this story-book scenario is the unspoken but understood subservient position of the black man in that South and the belief that most Southerners don’t want to return just to “moonlight and magnolias,” but to an institutionalized hierarchy based upon race. But this belief is as irrational as the belief that the South would have remained as it was had the war not happened or had she prevailed militarily in that War! There is no such thing as historical permanency. Even stars grow old and die.
So what is it about this “New South” that can and should be rejected? To begin with, the religion, morality and ethics of the “Old South” were discarded and replaced by a humanist, collectivist, tyrannous understanding of the primacy of government and those who rule through it! This is the essential creed of this “New South” imposed upon it after the War by the “Old North” which had already adopted that creed. Of course, the culture that came with this particular “gift” at first seemed not so very different from the culture of the South before the War. The section was still religious—earning the name “the Bible Belt”—and patriotic—more American flags were flown in the South than in any other part of the nation—but that meant only that the slow deterioration of moral, political, ethical and social institutions was less noticeable and progressed more gradually in the South. Yet, like a boat that is slowly sinking, eventually even the uppermost parts become engulfed and the South has not escaped the filth and decay of an American culture that has lost all resemblance to Western Civilization in general and the culture of our Founders in particular. This is, sadly, the natural progression resulting from the victory of the North in the War of Secession.
It may be, had this eventuality been known by more than a small number of Southern visionaries at the time, another choice would have been made in 1865 rather than that which was made. But I do not say that such a choice would have been good. I believe that had the South prevailed in the beginning—as Gen. Jackson advised when he counseled fighting under the black flag—or if a guerrilla war had been fought after the fall of Richmond, today there would be no South, old or new and her people would have met the fate of the American Indian. Fortunately, that did not occur and bad as is the present “New South,” it can at least be made to form the foundation of a “Newer South,” a South that returns to the best of its roots to rebuild that which has been destroyed in a war that has lasted one hundred and fifty years—and continues to this very day.
11/18/2022 08:48:17 am
Splendid article. Although quite generalized, the generalizations are noted, and historically very accurate..
12/15/2022 04:13:35 am
I followed you from your article in Abbeville Institute, and found this particular article spot on. I have written after much research about the Spalding family of Georgia and arrived at the same conclusion. Well done. It is so true history is written by the victor of wars.
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Valerie Protopapas of New York is a prolific and unreconstructed defender of Southern history and the world authority on the great Confederate partisan John Singleton Mosby. She blogs at www.athousandpointsoftruth.com