The Political And Economic Evolution Of The South

The outcome of the Civil War in the South was nothing short of a

revolution. The ruling class, the law, and the government of the old

order had been subverted. To political chaos was added the havoc wrought

in agriculture, business, and transportation by military operations. And

as if to fill the cup to the brim, the task of reconstruction was

committed to political leaders from another section of the country,

to the life and traditions of the South.


A Ruling Class Disfranchised

As the sovereignty of the planters had

been the striking feature of the old regime, so their ruin was the

outstanding fact of the new. The situation was extraordinary. The

American Revolution was carried out by people experienced in the arts of

self-government, and at its close they were free to follow the general

course to which they had long been accustomed. The French Revolution

witnessed the overthrow of the clergy and the nobility; but middle

classes who took their places had been steadily rising in intelligence

and wealth.

The Southern Revolution was unlike either of these cataclysms. It was

not brought about by a social upheaval, but by an external crisis. It

did not enfranchise a class that sought and understood power, but

bondmen who had played no part in the struggle. Moreover it struck down

a class equipped to rule. The leading planters were almost to a man

excluded from state and federal offices, and the fourteenth amendment

was a bar to their return. All civil and military places under the

authority of the United States and of the states were closed to every

man who had taken an oath to support the Constitution as a member of

Congress, as a state legislator, or as a state or federal officer, and

afterward engaged in "insurrection or rebellion," or "given aid and

comfort to the enemies" of the United States. This sweeping provision,

supplemented by the reconstruction acts, laid under the ban most of the

talent, energy, and spirit of the South.

The Condition of the State Governments

The legislative, executive,

and judicial branches of the state governments thus passed into the

control of former slaves, led principally by Northern adventurers or

Southern novices, known as "Scalawags." The result was a carnival of

waste, folly, and corruption. The "reconstruction" assembly of South

Carolina bought clocks at $480 apiece and chandeliers at $650. To

purchase land for former bondmen the sum of $800,000 was appropriated;

and swamps bought at seventy-five cents an acre were sold to the state

at five times the cost. In the years between 1868 and 1873, the debt of

the state rose from about $5,800,000 to $24,000,000, and millions of the

increase could not be accounted for by the authorities responsible for


Economic Ruin--Urban and Rural

No matter where Southern men turned

in 1865 they found devastation--in the towns, in the country, and along

the highways. Atlanta, the city to which Sherman applied the torch, lay

in ashes; Nashville and Chattanooga had been partially wrecked; Richmond

and Augusta had suffered severely from fires. Charleston was described

by a visitor as "a city of ruins, of desolation, of vacant houses, of

rotten wharves, of deserted warehouses, of weed gardens, of miles of

grass-grown streets.... How few young men there are, how generally the

young women are dressed in black! The flower of their proud aristocracy

is buried on scores of battle fields."

Those who journeyed through the country about the same time reported

desolation equally widespread and equally pathetic. An English traveler

who made his way along the course of the Tennessee River in 1870 wrote:

"The trail of war is visible throughout the valley in burnt-up gin

houses, ruined bridges, mills, and factories ... and large tracts of

once cultivated land are stripped of every vestige of fencing. The

roads, long neglected, are in disorder and, having in many places become

impassable, new tracks have been made through the woods and fields

without much respect to boundaries." Many a great plantation had been

confiscated by the federal authorities while the owner was in

Confederate service. Many more lay in waste. In the wake of the armies

the homes of rich and poor alike, if spared the torch, had been

despoiled of the stock and seeds necessary to renew agriculture.

Railways Dilapidated

Transportation was still more demoralized. This

is revealed in the pages of congressional reports based upon first-hand

investigations. One eloquent passage illustrates all the rest. From

Pocahontas to Decatur, Alabama, a distance of 114 miles, we are told,

the railroad was "almost entirely destroyed, except the road bed and

iron rails, and they were in a very bad condition--every bridge and

trestle destroyed, cross-ties rotten, buildings burned, water tanks

gone, tracks grown up in weeds and bushes, not a saw mill near the line

and the labor system of the country gone. About forty miles of the track

were burned, the cross-ties entirely destroyed, and the rails bent and

twisted in such a manner as to require great labor to straighten and a

large portion of them requiring renewal."

Capital and Credit Destroyed

The fluid capital of the South, money

and credit, was in the same prostrate condition as the material capital.

The Confederate currency, inflated to the bursting point, had utterly

collapsed and was as worthless as waste paper. The bonds of the

Confederate government were equally valueless. Specie had nearly

disappeared from circulation. The fourteenth amendment to the federal

Constitution had made all "debts, obligations, and claims" incurred in

aid of the Confederate cause "illegal and void." Millions of dollars

owed to Northern creditors before the war were overdue and payment was

pressed upon the debtors. Where such debts were secured by mortgages on

land, executions against the property could be obtained in federal




In both politics and economics, the process of

reconstruction in the South was slow and arduous. The first battle in

the political contest for white supremacy was won outside the halls of

legislatures and the courts of law. It was waged, in the main, by secret

organizations, among which the Ku Klux Klan and the White Camelia were

the most prominent. The first of these societies appeared in Tennessee

in 1866 and held its first national convention the following year. It

was in origin a social club. According to its announcement, its objects

were "to protect the weak, the innocent, and the defenceless from the

indignities, wrongs, and outrages of the lawless, the violent, and the

brutal; and to succor the suffering, especially the widows and orphans

of the Confederate soldiers." The whole South was called "the Empire"

and was ruled by a "Grand Wizard." Each state was a realm and each

county a province. In the secret orders there were enrolled over half a

million men.

The methods of the Ku Klux and the White Camelia were similar. Solemn

parades of masked men on horses decked in long robes were held,

sometimes in the daytime and sometimes at the dead of night. Notices

were sent to obnoxious persons warning them to stop certain practices.

If warning failed, something more convincing was tried. Fright was the

emotion most commonly stirred. A horseman, at the witching hour of

midnight, would ride up to the house of some offender, lift his head

gear, take off a skull, and hand it to the trembling victim with the

request that he hold it for a few minutes. Frequently violence was

employed either officially or unofficially by members of the Klan. Tar

and feathers were freely applied; the whip was sometimes laid on

unmercifully, and occasionally a brutal murder was committed. Often the

members were fired upon from bushes or behind trees, and swift

retaliation followed. So alarming did the clashes become that in 1870

Congress forbade interference with electors or going in disguise for the

purpose of obstructing the exercise of the rights enjoyed under federal


In anticipation of such a step on the part of the federal government,

the Ku Klux was officially dissolved by the "Grand Wizard" in 1869.

Nevertheless, the local societies continued their organization and

methods. The spirit survived the national association. "On the whole,"

says a Southern writer, "it is not easy to see what other course was

open to the South.... Armed resistance was out of the question. And yet

there must be some control had of the situation.... If force was denied,

craft was inevitable."

The Struggle for the Ballot Box

The effects of intimidation were

soon seen at elections. The freedman, into whose inexperienced hand the

ballot had been thrust, was ordinarily loath to risk his head by the

exercise of his new rights. He had not attained them by a long and

laborious contest of his own and he saw no urgent reason why he should

battle for the privilege of using them. The mere show of force, the mere

existence of a threat, deterred thousands of ex-slaves from appearing at

the polls. Thus the whites steadily recovered their dominance. Nothing

could prevent it. Congress enacted force bills establishing federal

supervision of elections and the Northern politicians protested against

the return of former Confederates to practical, if not official, power;

but all such opposition was like resistance to the course of nature.

Amnesty for Southerners

The recovery of white supremacy in this way

was quickly felt in national councils. The Democratic party in the North

welcomed it as a sign of its return to power. The more moderate

Republicans, anxious to heal the breach in American unity, sought to

encourage rather than to repress it. So it came about that amnesty for

Confederates was widely advocated. Yet it must be said that the struggle

for the removal of disabilities was stubborn and bitter. Lincoln, with

characteristic generosity, in the midst of the war had issued a general

proclamation of amnesty to nearly all who had been in arms against the

Union, on condition that they take an oath of loyalty; but Johnson,

vindictive toward Southern leaders and determined to make "treason

infamous," had extended the list of exceptions. Congress, even more

relentless in its pursuit of Confederates, pushed through the fourteenth

amendment which worked the sweeping disabilities we have just described.

To appeals for comprehensive clemency, Congress was at first adamant. In

vain did men like Carl Schurz exhort their colleagues to crown their

victory in battle with a noble act of universal pardon and oblivion.

Congress would not yield. It would grant amnesty in individual cases;

for the principle of proscription it stood fast. When finally in 1872,

seven years after the surrender at Appomattox, it did pass the general

amnesty bill, it insisted on certain exceptions. Confederates who had

been members of Congress just before the war, or had served in other

high posts, civil or military, under the federal government, were still

excluded from important offices. Not until the summer of 1898, when the

war with Spain produced once more a union of hearts, did Congress relent

and abolish the last of the disabilities imposed on the Confederates.

The Force Bills Attacked and Nullified

The granting of amnesty

encouraged the Democrats to redouble their efforts all along the line.

In 1874 they captured the House of Representatives and declared war on

the "force bills." As a Republican Senate blocked immediate repeal, they

resorted to an ingenious parliamentary trick. To the appropriation bill

for the support of the army they attached a "rider," or condition, to

the effect that no troops should be used to sustain the Republican

government in Louisiana. The Senate rejected the proposal. A deadlock

ensued and Congress adjourned without making provision for the army.

Satisfied with the technical victory, the Democrats let the army bill

pass the next session, but kept up their fight on the force laws until

they wrung from President Hayes a measure forbidding the use of United

States troops in supervising elections. The following year they again

had recourse to a rider on the army bill and carried it through, putting

an end to the use of money for military control of elections. The

reconstruction program was clearly going to pieces, and the Supreme

Court helped along the process of dissolution by declaring parts of the

laws invalid. In 1878 the Democrats even won a majority in the Senate

and returned to power a large number of men once prominent in the

Confederate cause.

The passions of the war by this time were evidently cooling. A new

generation of men was coming on the scene. The supremacy of the whites

in the South, if not yet complete, was at least assured. Federal

marshals, their deputies, and supervisors of elections still possessed

authority over the polls, but their strength had been shorn by the

withdrawal of United States troops. The war on the remaining remnants of

the "force bills" lapsed into desultory skirmishing. When in 1894 the

last fragment was swept away, the country took little note of the fact.

The only task that lay before the Southern leaders was to write in the

constitutions of their respective states the provisions of law which

would clinch the gains so far secured and establish white supremacy

beyond the reach of outside intervention.

White Supremacy Sealed by New State Constitutions

The impetus to

this final step was given by the rise of the Populist movement in the

South, which sharply divided the whites and in many communities threw

the balance of power into the hands of the few colored voters who

survived the process of intimidation. Southern leaders now devised new

constitutions so constructed as to deprive negroes of the ballot by law.

Mississippi took the lead in 1890; South Carolina followed five years

later; Louisiana, in 1898; North Carolina, in 1900; Alabama and

Maryland, in 1901; and Virginia, in 1902.

The authors of these measures made no attempt to conceal their purposes.

"The intelligent white men of the South," said Governor Tillman, "intend

to govern here." The fifteenth amendment to the federal Constitution,

however, forbade them to deprive any citizen of the right to vote on

account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude. This made

necessary the devices of indirection. They were few, simple, and

effective. The first and most easily administered was the ingenious

provision requiring each prospective voter to read a section of the

state constitution or "understand and explain it" when read to him by

the election officers. As an alternative, the payment of taxes or the

ownership of a small amount of property was accepted as a qualification

for voting. Southern leaders, unwilling to disfranchise any of the poor

white men who had stood side by side with them "in the dark days of

reconstruction," also resorted to a famous provision known as "the

grandfather clause." This plan admitted to the suffrage any man who did

not have either property or educational qualifications, provided he had

voted on or before 1867 or was the son or grandson of any such person.

The devices worked effectively. Of the 147,000 negroes in Mississippi

above the age of twenty-one, only about 8600 registered under the

constitution of 1890. Louisiana had 127,000 colored voters enrolled in

1896; under the constitution drafted two years later the registration

fell to 5300. An analysis of the figures for South Carolina in 1900

indicates that only about one negro out of every hundred adult males of

that race took part in elections. Thus was closed this chapter of


The Supreme Court Refuses to Intervene

Numerous efforts were made to

prevail upon the Supreme Court of the United States to declare such laws

unconstitutional; but the Court, usually on technical grounds, avoided

coming to a direct decision on the merits of the matter. In one case

the Court remarked that it could not take charge of and operate the

election machinery of Alabama; it concluded that "relief from a great

political wrong, if done as alleged, by the people of a state and by the

state itself, must be given by them, or by the legislative and executive

departments of the government of the United States." Only one of the

several schemes employed, namely, the "grandfather clause," was held to

be a violation of the federal Constitution. This blow, effected in 1915

by the decision in the Oklahoma and Maryland cases, left, however, the

main structure of disfranchisement unimpaired.

Proposals to Reduce Southern Representation in Congress


provisions excluding thousands of male citizens from the ballot did not,

in express terms, deprive any one of the vote on account of race or

color. They did not, therefore, run counter to the letter of the

fifteenth amendment; but they did unquestionably make the states which

adopted them liable to the operations of the fourteenth amendment. The

latter very explicitly provides that whenever any state deprives adult

male citizens of the right to vote (except in certain minor cases) the

representation of the state in Congress shall be reduced in the

proportion which such number of disfranchised citizens bears to the

whole number of male citizens over twenty-one years of age.

Mindful of this provision, those who protested against disfranchisement

in the South turned to the Republican party for relief, asking for

action by the political branches of the federal government as the

Supreme Court had suggested. The Republicans responded in their platform

of 1908 by condemning all devices designed to deprive any one of the

ballot for reasons of color alone; they demanded the enforcement in

letter and spirit of the fourteenth as well as all other amendments.

Though victorious in the election, the Republicans refrained from

reopening the ancient contest; they made no attempt to reduce Southern

representation in the House. Southern leaders, while protesting against

the declarations of their opponents, were able to view them as idle

threats in no way endangering the security of the measures by which

political reconstruction had been undone.

The Solid South

Out of the thirty-year conflict against "carpet-bag

rule" there emerged what was long known as the "solid South"--a South

that, except occasionally in the border states, never gave an electoral

vote to a Republican candidate for President. Before the Civil War, the

Southern people had been divided on political questions. Take, for

example, the election of 1860. In all the fifteen slave states the

variety of opinion was marked. In nine of them--Delaware, Virginia,

Tennessee, Missouri, Maryland, Louisiana, Kentucky, Georgia, and

Arkansas--the combined vote against the representative of the extreme

Southern point of view, Breckinridge, constituted a safe majority. In

each of the six states which were carried by Breckinridge, there was a

large and powerful minority. In North Carolina Breckinridge's majority

over Bell and Douglas was only 849 votes. Equally astounding to those

who imagine the South united in defense of extreme views in 1860 was the

vote for Bell, the Unionist candidate, who stood firmly for the

Constitution and silence on slavery. In every Southern state Bell's vote

was large. In Virginia, Kentucky, Missouri, and Tennessee it was greater

than that received by Breckinridge; in Georgia, it was 42,000 against

51,000; in Louisiana, 20,000 against 22,000; in Mississippi, 25,000

against 40,000.

The effect of the Civil War upon these divisions was immediate and

decisive, save in the border states where thousands of men continued to

adhere to the cause of Union. In the Confederacy itself nearly all

dissent was silenced by war. Men who had been bitter opponents joined

hands in defense of their homes; when the armed conflict was over they

remained side by side working against "Republican misrule and negro

domination." By 1890, after Northern supremacy was definitely broken,

they boasted that there were at least twelve Southern states in which no

Republican candidate for President could win a single electoral vote.

Dissent in the Solid South

Though every one grew accustomed to speak

of the South as "solid," it did not escape close observers that in a

number of Southern states there appeared from time to time a fairly

large body of dissenters. In 1892 the Populists made heavy inroads upon

the Democratic ranks. On other occasions, the contests between factions

within the Democratic party over the nomination of candidates revealed

sharp differences of opinion. In some places, moreover, there grew up a

Republican minority of respectable size. For example, in Georgia, Mr.

Taft in 1908 polled 41,000 votes against 72,000 for Mr. Bryan; in North

Carolina, 114,000 against 136,000; in Tennessee, 118,000 against

135,000; in Kentucky, 235,000 against 244,000. In 1920, Senator Harding,

the Republican candidate, broke the record by carrying Tennessee as well

as Kentucky, Oklahoma, and Maryland.


The Break-up of the Great Estates

In the dissolution of chattel

slavery it was inevitable that the great estate should give way before

the small farm. The plantation was in fact founded on slavery. It was

continued and expanded by slavery. Before the war the prosperous

planter, either by inclination or necessity, invested his surplus in

more land to add to his original domain. As his slaves increased in

number, he was forced to increase his acreage or sell them, and he

usually preferred the former, especially in the Far South. Still another

element favored the large estate. Slave labor quickly exhausted the soil

and of its own force compelled the cutting of the forests and the

extension of the area under cultivation. Finally, the planter took a

natural pride in his great estate; it was a sign of his prowess and his

social prestige.

In 1865 the foundations of the planting system were gone. It was

difficult to get efficient labor to till the vast plantations. The

planters themselves were burdened with debts and handicapped by lack of

capital. Negroes commonly preferred tilling plots of their own, rented

or bought under mortgage, to the more irksome wage labor under white

supervision. The land hunger of the white farmer, once checked by the

planting system, reasserted itself. Before these forces the plantation

broke up. The small farm became the unit of cultivation in the South as

in the North. Between 1870 and 1900 the number of farms doubled in every

state south of the line of the Potomac and Ohio rivers, except in

Arkansas and Louisiana. From year to year the process of breaking up

continued, with all that it implied in the creation of land-owning


The Diversification of Crops

No less significant was the concurrent

diversification of crops. Under slavery, tobacco, rice, and sugar were

staples and "cotton was king." These were standard crops. The methods of

cultivation were simple and easily learned. They tested neither the

skill nor the ingenuity of the slaves. As the returns were quick, they

did not call for long-time investments of capital. After slavery was

abolished, they still remained the staples, but far-sighted

agriculturists saw the dangers of depending upon a few crops. The mild

climate all the way around the coast from Virginia to Texas and the

character of the alluvial soil invited the exercise of more imagination.

Peaches, oranges, peanuts, and other fruits and vegetables were found to

grow luxuriantly. Refrigeration for steamships and freight cars put the

markets of great cities at the doors of Southern fruit and vegetable

gardeners. The South, which in planting days had relied so heavily upon

the Northwest for its foodstuffs, began to battle for independence.

Between 1880 and the close of the century the value of its farm crops

increased from $660,000,000 to $1,270,000,000.

The Industrial and Commercial Revolution

On top of the radical

changes in agriculture came an industrial and commercial revolution. The

South had long been rich in natural resources, but the slave system had

been unfavorable to their development. Rivers that would have turned

millions of spindles tumbled unheeded to the seas. Coal and iron beds

lay unopened. Timber was largely sacrificed in clearing lands for

planting, or fell to earth in decay. Southern enterprise was consumed in

planting. Slavery kept out the white immigrants who might have supplied

the skilled labor for industry.

After 1865, achievement and fortune no longer lay on the land alone. As

soon as the paralysis of the war was over, the South caught the

industrial spirit that had conquered feudal Europe and the agricultural

North. In the development of mineral wealth, enormous strides were

taken. Iron ore of every quality was found, the chief beds being in

Virginia, West Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky, North Carolina, Georgia,

Alabama, Arkansas, and Texas. Five important coal basins were uncovered:

in Virginia, North Carolina, the Appalachian chain from Maryland to

Northern Alabama, Kentucky, Arkansas, and Texas. Oil pools were found

in Kentucky, Tennessee, and Texas. Within two decades, 1880 to 1900, the

output of mineral wealth multiplied tenfold: from ten millions a year to

one hundred millions. The iron industries of West Virginia and Alabama

began to rival those of Pennsylvania. Birmingham became the Pittsburgh

and Atlanta the Chicago of the South.

In other lines of industry, lumbering and cotton manufacturing took a

high rank. The development of Southern timber resources was in every

respect remarkable, particularly in Louisiana, Arkansas, and

Mississippi. At the end of the first decade of the twentieth century,

primacy in lumber had passed from the Great Lakes region to the South.

In 1913 eight Southern states produced nearly four times as much lumber

as the Lake states and twice as much as the vast forests of Washington

and Oregon.

The development of the cotton industry, in the meantime, was similarly

astounding. In 1865 cotton spinning was a negligible matter in the

Southern states. In 1880 they had one-fourth of the mills of the

country. At the end of the century they had one-half the mills, the two

Carolinas taking the lead by consuming more than one-third of their

entire cotton crop. Having both the raw materials and the power at hand,

they enjoyed many advantages over the New England rivals, and at the

opening of the new century were outstripping the latter in the

proportion of spindles annually put into operation. Moreover, the cotton

planters, finding a market at the neighboring mills, began to look

forward to a day when they would be somewhat emancipated from absolute

dependence upon the cotton exchanges of New York, New Orleans, and


Transportation kept pace with industry. In 1860, the South had about ten

thousand miles of railway. By 1880 the figure had doubled. During the

next twenty years over thirty thousand miles were added, most of the

increase being in Texas. About 1898 there opened a period of

consolidation in which scores of short lines were united, mainly under

the leadership of Northern capitalists, and new through service opened

to the North and West. Thus Southern industries were given easy outlets

to the markets of the nation and brought within the main currents of

national business enterprise.

The Social Effects of the Economic Changes

As long as the slave

system lasted and planting was the major interest, the South was bound

to be sectional in character. With slavery gone, crops diversified,

natural resources developed, and industries promoted, the social order

of the ante-bellum days inevitably dissolved; the South became more and

more assimilated to the system of the North. In this process several

lines of development are evident.

In the first place we see the steady rise of the small farmer. Even in

the old days there had been a large class of white yeomen who owned no

slaves and tilled the soil with their own hands, but they labored under

severe handicaps. They found the fertile lands of the coast and river

valleys nearly all monopolized by planters, and they were by the force

of circumstances driven into the uplands where the soil was thin and the

crops were light. Still they increased in numbers and zealously worked

their freeholds.

The war proved to be their opportunity. With the break-up of the

plantations, they managed to buy land more worthy of their plows. By

intelligent labor and intensive cultivation they were able to restore

much of the worn-out soil to its original fertility. In the meantime

they rose with their prosperity in the social and political scale. It

became common for the sons of white farmers to enter the professions,

while their daughters went away to college and prepared for teaching.

Thus a more democratic tone was given to the white society of the South.

Moreover the migration to the North and West, which had formerly carried

thousands of energetic sons and daughters to search for new homesteads,

was materially reduced. The energy of the agricultural population went

into rehabilitation.

The increase in the number of independent farmers was accompanied by the

rise of small towns and villages which gave diversity to the life of the

South. Before 1860 it was possible to travel through endless stretches

of cotton and tobacco. The social affairs of the planter's family

centered in the homestead even if they were occasionally interrupted by

trips to distant cities or abroad. Carpentry, bricklaying, and

blacksmithing were usually done by slaves skilled in simple handicrafts.

Supplies were bought wholesale. In this way there was little place in

plantation economy for villages and towns with their stores and


The abolition of slavery altered this. Small farms spread out where

plantations had once stood. The skilled freedmen turned to agriculture

rather than to handicrafts; white men of a business or mechanical bent

found an opportunity to serve the needs of their communities. So local

merchants and mechanics became an important element in the social

system. In the county seats, once dominated by the planters, business

and professional men assumed the leadership.

Another vital outcome of this revolution was the transference of a large

part of planting enterprise to business. Mr. Bruce, a Southern historian

of fine scholarship, has summed up this process in a single telling

paragraph: "The higher planting class that under the old system gave so

much distinction to rural life has, so far as it has survived at all,

been concentrated in the cities. The families that in the time of

slavery would have been found only in the country are now found, with a

few exceptions, in the towns. The transplantation has been practically

universal. The talent, the energy, the ambition that formerly sought

expression in the management of great estates and the control of hosts

of slaves, now seek a field of action in trade, in manufacturing

enterprises, or in the general enterprises of development. This was for

the ruling class of the South the natural outcome of the great economic

revolution that followed the war."

As in all other parts of the world, the mechanical revolution was

attended by the growth of a population of industrial workers dependent

not upon the soil but upon wages for their livelihood. When Jefferson

Davis was inaugurated President of the Southern Confederacy, there were

approximately only one hundred thousand persons employed in Southern

manufactures as against more than a million in Northern mills. Fifty

years later, Georgia and Alabama alone had more than one hundred and

fifty thousand wage-earners. Necessarily this meant also a material

increase in urban population, although the wide dispersion of cotton

spinning among small centers prevented the congestion that had

accompanied the rise of the textile industry in New England. In 1910,

New Orleans, Atlanta, Memphis, Nashville, and Houston stood in the same

relation to the New South that Cincinnati, Chicago, Cleveland, and

Detroit had stood to the New West fifty years before. The problems of

labor and capital and municipal administration, which the earlier

writers boasted would never perplex the planting South, had come in full


The Revolution in the Status of the Slaves

No part of Southern

society was so profoundly affected by the Civil War and economic

reconstruction as the former slaves. On the day of emancipation, they

stood free, but empty-handed, the owners of no tools or property, the

masters of no trade and wholly inexperienced in the arts of self-help

that characterized the whites in general. They had never been accustomed

to looking out for themselves. The plantation bell had called them to

labor and released them. Doles of food and clothing had been regularly

made in given quantities. They did not understand wages, ownership,

renting, contracts, mortgages, leases, bills, or accounts.

When they were emancipated, four courses were open to them. They could

flee from the plantation to the nearest town or city, or to the distant

North, to seek a livelihood. Thousands of them chose this way,

overcrowding cities where disease mowed them down. They could remain

where they, were in their cabins and work for daily wages instead of

food, clothing, and shelter. This second course the major portion of

them chose; but, as few masters had cash to dispense, the new relation

was much like the old, in fact. It was still one of barter. The planter

offered food, clothing, and shelter; the former slaves gave their labor

in return. That was the best that many of them could do.

A third course open to freedmen was that of renting from the former

master, paying him usually with a share of the produce of the land. This

way a large number of them chose. It offered them a chance to become

land owners in time and it afforded an easier life, the renter being, to

a certain extent at least, master of his own hours of labor. The final

and most difficult path was that to ownership of land. Many a master

helped his former slaves to acquire small holdings by offering easy

terms. The more enterprising and the more fortunate who started life as

renters or wage-earners made their way upward to ownership in so many

cases that by the end of the century, one-fourth of the colored laborers

on the land owned the soil they tilled.

In the meantime, the South, though relatively poor, made relatively

large expenditures for the education of the colored population. By the

opening of the twentieth century, facilities were provided for more than

one-half of the colored children of school age. While in many respects

this progress was disappointing, its significance, to be appreciated,

must be derived from a comparison with the total illiteracy which

prevailed under slavery.

In spite of all that happened, however, the status of the negroes in the

South continued to give a peculiar character to that section of the

country. They were almost entirely excluded from the exercise of the

suffrage, especially in the Far South. Special rooms were set aside for

them at the railway stations and special cars on the railway lines. In

the field of industry calling for technical skill, it appears, from the

census figures, that they lost ground between 1890 and 1900--a condition

which their friends ascribed to discriminations against them in law and

in labor organizations and their critics ascribed to their lack of

aptitude. Whatever may be the truth, the fact remained that at the

opening of the twentieth century neither the hopes of the emancipators

nor the fears of their opponents were realized. The marks of the

"peculiar institution" were still largely impressed upon Southern


The situation, however, was by no means unchanging. On the contrary

there was a decided drift in affairs. For one thing, the proportion of

negroes in the South had slowly declined. By 1900 they were in a

majority in only two states, South Carolina and Mississippi. In

Arkansas, Virginia, West Virginia, and North Carolina the proportion of

the white population was steadily growing. The colored migration

northward increased while the westward movement of white farmers which

characterized pioneer days declined. At the same time a part of the

foreign immigration into the United States was diverted southward. As

the years passed these tendencies gained momentum. The already huge

colored quarters in some Northern cities were widely expanded, as whole

counties in the South were stripped of their colored laborers. The race

question, in its political and economic aspects, became less and less

sectional, more and more national. The South was drawn into the main

stream of national life. The separatist forces which produced the

cataclysm of 1861 sank irresistibly into the background.