Modernizing a Slave Economy

Modernizing a Slave Economy: The Economic Vision of the Confederate Nation

JOHN MAJEWSKI
Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 256
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5149/9780807882375_majewski
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  • Book Info
    Modernizing a Slave Economy
    Book Description:

    What would separate Union and Confederate countries look like if the South had won the Civil War? In fact, this was something that southern secessionists actively debated. Imagining themselves as nation builders, they understood the importance of a plan for the economic structure of the Confederacy.The traditional view assumes that Confederate slave-based agrarianism went hand in hand with a natural hostility toward industry and commerce. Turning conventional wisdom on its head, John Majewski's analysis finds that secessionists strongly believed in industrial development and state-led modernization. They blamed the South's lack of development on Union policies of discriminatory taxes on southern commerce and unfair subsidies for northern industry.Majewski argues that Confederates' opposition to a strong central government was politically tied to their struggle against northern legislative dominance. Once the Confederacy was formed, those who had advocated states' rights in the national legislature in order to defend against northern political dominance quickly came to support centralized power and a strong executive for war making and nation building.

    eISBN: 978-1-4696-0327-8
    Subjects: History, Economics

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  4. introduction IMAGINING A CONFEDERATE ECONOMY
    (pp. 1-21)

    As a son of a prominent Tidewater planter, Virginian John C. Rutherfoord had established himself in the 1850s as an up-and-coming politician. Rutherfoord was part of a cadre of young Virginia Democrats who enthusiastically supported southern secession. For him, southern independence was not an abstract question of political theory or constitutional interpretation but an enterprise of the imagination: what kind of nation would an independent South become? This question inspired Rutherfoord to begin planning a futuristic novel that he titled ‘‘A Century Hence.’’ His notes had no characters and no real plots—perhaps accounting for why he never wrote the...

  5. one SHIFTING CULTIVATION, SLAVERY, AND ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT
    (pp. 22-52)

    Landownership, like slavery, was one of the pillars of southern society. Land was not merely an economic asset; it was a sign of respectability and a marker of citizenship.¹ Yet, however much southerners valued land, they managed to cultivate only a small fraction of what they owned. Take, for example, South Carolina rice planter William E. Sparkman, who in 1844 purchased the Springwood and Cottage plantations for $16,000. Buying these plantations at an estate sale, Sparkman reckoned that he had made a good deal. But most of the land Sparkman purchased was uncultivated, and it would remain that way for...

  6. two AGRICULTURAL REFORM AND STATE ACTIVISM
    (pp. 53-80)

    President John Tyler was said to have had two portraits over his mantel: one of Daniel Webster, whom Tyler considered America’s greatest statesman; and one of Edmund Ruffin, whom Tyler considered America’s greatest agriculturalist.¹ Tyler’s pairing of Webster and Ruffin might well have produced wry smiles from knowledgeable political observers. Webster, hailing from New England, often represented the interests of merchants and manufacturers. Ruffin, a Virginian, earned his renown by demonstrating that marl, a mixture of clay and fossilized shells, could revive Virginia’s exhausted plantations. Webster was a committed nationalist who spoke eloquently on behalf of the Union; Ruffin supported...

  7. three EXPLAINING LIEBER’S PARADOX: RAILROADS, STATEBUILDING, AND SLAVERY
    (pp. 81-107)

    In 1861 Francis Lieber, a former resident of South Carolina and a strong Unionist, noted an important paradox that historians have yet to fully explain: ‘‘Almost all, perhaps actually all, the most prominent extremists on the State-Rights side . . . have been at the same time strongly inclined toward centralization and consolidation of power within their respective States.’’¹ Public investment in southern railroads convincingly demonstrated Lieber’s point. Southern governments collectively spent more than $128 million on railroads in the antebellum period. Most of the spending occurred in the 1850s, when railroad mileage in seven key southern states nearly quadrupled...

  8. four REDEFINING FREE TRADE TO MODERNIZE THE SOUTH
    (pp. 108-139)

    Southerners made free trade a central element of their political economy. From an economic viewpoint, southern support for free trade stemmed from the region’s status as an exporter of staple crops and an importer of manufactured goods. Southerners argued that high tariffs on European goods decreased the profits of European textile manufacturers, who would therefore buy fewer southern staples. ‘‘Those who live without buying must live without selling,’’ warned South Carolina political economist Thomas Cooper. ‘‘If we must not purchase the manufactures of Great Britain, the latter will not purchase our cotton, rice, or tobacco.’’¹ A similar strain of antitariff...

  9. five ECONOMIC NATIONALISM AND THE GROWTH OF THE CONFEDERATE STATE
    (pp. 140-162)

    Like the colonists during the Revolution, Confederates printed vast sums of money to help pay for their war of independence. Unleashing the printing presses created ruinous inflationary pressures, but the currency itself provided a venue for expressing national identity. Embodying the new nation’s sense of self, Confederate currency often depicted idealized visions of past heroes, contented slaves, and stately plantations. Confederate notes also featured representations of a modern slaveholding economy. The popular $100 note issued in Richmond in 1862 shows a largerthan-life locomotive that dwarfs the human figures standing beside it (Illustration 5, top). Modern, powerful, and dynamic, the locomotive...

  10. statistical appendix THE ORIGINS AND IMPACT OF SHIFTING CULTIVATION
    (pp. 163-180)
  11. NOTES
    (pp. 181-220)
  12. SECONDARY LITERATURE AND PRIMARY SOURCES
    (pp. 221-232)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 233-240)