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Between Slavery and Capitalism

Between Slavery and Capitalism: The Legacy of Emancipation in the American South

Martin Ruef
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 312
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  • Book Info
    Between Slavery and Capitalism
    Book Description:

    In the aftermath of the Civil War, uncertainty was a pervasive feature of life in the South, affecting the economic behavior and social status of former slaves, Freedmen Bureau agents, planters, merchants, and politicians, among others. Emancipation brought fundamental questions: How should emancipated slaves be reimbursed in wage contracts? What occupations and class positions would be open to blacks and whites? What forms of agricultural tenure could persist? And what paths to economic growth would be viable? To understand the escalating uncertainty of the postbellum era, Ruef draws on a wide range of qualitative and quantitative data, including several thousand interviews with former slaves, letters, labor contracts, memoirs, survey responses, Census records, and credit reports.

    At the center of the upheavals brought by emancipation in the American South was the economic and social transition from slavery to modern capitalism. InBetween Slavery and Capitalism, Martin Ruef examines how this institutional change affected individuals, organizations, and communities in the late nineteenth century, as blacks and whites alike learned to navigate the shoals between two different economic worlds. Analyzing trajectories among average Southerners, this is perhaps the most extensive sociological treatment of the transition from slavery since W.E.B. DuBois'sBlack Reconstruction in America.

    Through a resolutely comparative approach, Between Slavery and Capitalism identifies profound changes between the economic institutions of the Old and New South and sheds new light on how the legacy of emancipation continues to affect political discourse and race and class relations today.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-5264-2
    Subjects: Sociology, History, Economics

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. List of Tables
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Preface
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  6. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xv-xviii)
    Martin Ruef
  7. CHAPTER 1 Institutional Transformation and Uncertainty
    (pp. 1-20)

    For many observers, the transformation of the South after the U.S. Civil War was one of the most dramatic institutional changes they had witnessed. As Mark Twain and Charles Warner wrote inThe Gilded Age(1873), “The eight years in America from 1860 to 1868 uprooted institutions that were centuries old, changed the politics of a people, transformed the social life of half the country, and wrought so profoundly upon the entire national character that the influence cannot be measured short of two or three generations.”¹ Although the emancipation of former slaves and political upheavals of Radical Reconstruction are perhaps...

  8. CHAPTER 2 Constructing a Free Labor Market
    (pp. 21-49)

    On Independence Day of 1865, less than two months after Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox Court House, James Erwin Yeatman wrote a letter to the head of the newly founded Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands.¹ A fervent Unionist, Yeatman had served in the Western Sanitary Commission during the war, helping to secure medical services for Northern soldiers and wounded ex-slaves in St. Louis. In late 1863, he toured the Mississippi Valley to assess the education and health of Southern blacks who had recently been liberated in Union-occupied territory. Yeatman was impressed by the propensity of freedmen to...

  9. CHAPTER 3 Status Attainment among Emancipated Slaves
    (pp. 50-74)

    Writing his final memoir in 1880, the novelist, historian, abolitionist, and former slave William Wells Brown (1814–84) reminisced about a visit to the Norfolk market after the Civil War. Alongside the black men and women managing their market stalls, Brown found the costermongers, or street vendors, hawking green corn, butter beans, squash, snap beans, potatoes, and strawberries. These were the men and women of music, he wrote, since their sales pitch was often delivered in song: “Come sinner get down on your knees, I am g[oing] to glory. Eat [these] strawberries when you please, I am g[oing] to glory.”...

  10. CHAPTER 4 Class Structure in the Old and New South
    (pp. 75-102)

    Mark Twain begins his first novel,The Gilded Age(coauthored with Charles Warner), with a colorful rendition of rural life in the antebellum South. The fictional hamlet of Obedstown, Tennessee, offers a caricature of preindustrial and, in many respects, precapitalist society. When a mail carrier arrives bearing a single letter from the outside world, the town’s populace of men, consisting exclusively of yeoman farmers dressed in homespun jeans, bearing dilapidated straw hats, and chewing tobacco, gathers around. The farmers appear to be largely self-sufficient—their goods are locally produced and the light load of the youthful carrier suggests only limited...

  11. CHAPTER 5 The Demise of the Plantation
    (pp. 103-130)

    In the late 1860s, a firm of Boston brokers conducted an extensive survey of economic conditions affecting the production of cotton. Based on circulars received from correspondents in every state of the former Confederacy, the company of Loring and Atkinson sought to pinpoint the challenges and opportunities that planters faced in the post–Civil War South.² In their report, an adverse impact of emancipation itself on crop production was quickly dismissed, for “slavery was an economic mistake” and former slaveholders “would not have slavery again if [they] could.”³ Other problems, such as the crop failure of the 1867–68 growing...

  12. CHAPTER 6 Credit and Trade in the New South
    (pp. 131-155)

    John Snipes was born into farming. Shortly after he got married at the tender age of seventeen, his father helped him to settle into a tenant house in Chatham County, North Carolina. Snipes began to raise four or five acres of cotton in 1919. He and his wife also diversified by planting a little corn, raising a pig, and, occasionally, cutting down oak trees to make cross ties, the beams that supported railroad tracks. As was the case in many rural Southern households, there was very little money to go around. Lacking the cash to pay wages for agricultural labor,...

  13. CHAPTER 7 Paths to Development
    (pp. 156-180)

    In the years leading up to the American Civil War, Irwinsville and Hawkinsville, Georgia—two hamlets separated by fifty miles in the state’s Wiregrass region—shared a pastoral and preindustrial existence. The south Georgia piney woods around Irwinsville were populated primarily by subsistence farmers. From Hawkinsville, “one could walk through twenty miles of unbroken forest [to] … the site of present-day Eastman, without passing a house.”² During the postbellum period, the development of these rural settlements and their surrounding regions diverged noticeably. The population in Hawkinsville nearly doubled in the decade after 1870, rising from 813 to 1,542 residents, while...

  14. CHAPTER 8 Emancipation in Comparative Perspective
    (pp. 181-194)

    Even among Northern journalists and politicians, there was widespread panic at the idea that the American Civil War would end without the proper means to manage the uncertainty of the South’s transition from chattel slavery. By February 1864, when Union-occupied Memphis held a convention initiating the reorganization of Tennessee’s state government, the convention’s policy of “immediate and unconditional emancipation” drew some stunned responses. Earlier discussions of emancipation had touted the pecuniary benefits that might apply to states that agreed to slowly free their slaves. Abraham Lincoln’s special message to the Border States, in March 1862, emphasized the gradual nature of...

  15. Appendix A. Data Sources and Sampling
    (pp. 195-202)
  16. Appendix B. Idiosyncrasy
    (pp. 203-208)
  17. Notes
    (pp. 209-252)
  18. References
    (pp. 253-276)
  19. Index
    (pp. 277-286)