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Railroads, Reconstruction, and the Gospel of Prosperity

Railroads, Reconstruction, and the Gospel of Prosperity: Aid Under the Radical Republicans, 1865-1877

Copyright Date: 1984
Pages: 376
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  • Book Info
    Railroads, Reconstruction, and the Gospel of Prosperity
    Book Description:

    This book describes the southern Republicans' post- Civil War railroad aid program--the central element of the Gospel of Prosperity" designed to reestablish a vigorous economy in the devastated South. Conceding that race and Unionism were basic issues, Mark W. Summers explores a neglected facet of the postwar era: the attempt to build a new South and a biracial Republican majority through railroad aid.

    Originally published in 1984.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-5712-8
    Subjects: Transportation Studies

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xi)
    (pp. xii-xiii)
  5. Part One. The Gospel of prosperity

    • CHAPTER 1 “Our Poor Distressed Country”
      (pp. 3-31)

      The South that travelers saw at the close of the Rebellion was far different from the proud land that four years earlier had bade defiance to national authority. The war had left scars everywhere, even in towns miles from the front lines, and although the old leaders tried to rebuild Southern society, they lacked the material with which to achieve its economic reconstruction.

      The first thing that observers noted was the physical devastation of the South, and they saw the most severe damage in the states along the Atlantic coast and in the border regions, where the fighting had been...

    • CHAPTER 2 The Necessities of State Aid
      (pp. 32-46)

      No traveler in the postwar South could have missed the so-called railroad mania. If he did not hear of railroad advancement in conversations or see the ties being laid along his way, he might have visited any number of mass meetings called to stir local enthusiasm. Villages with no railroads had to have one, and those with one wanted two. As thriving trade centers, towns demanded new lines, less out of need than as a right. The enthusiasm was adaptable to any economic program or local condition. If a town had a large population, it could certainly support a railroad,...

    • CHAPTER 3 An Imaginative Reinterpretation of the Law
      (pp. 47-60)

      When the Hale county court met early in 1870, N. B. Forrest of the Selma, Marion & Memphis could not have helped feeling elated. Six months before, local citizens had voted his railroad a $60,000 grant for construction. The court’s issuance of the necessary bonds should have been a mere formality, but it did not turn out that way. With his endorsement essential to the bonds’ validation, Probate Judge W. T. Blackford withheld his signature. At a formal hearing, Forrest’s attorney produced many legal arguments. “Sir,” the jurist burst out, “I don’t care a damn about your nunc pro tuncs, your...

  6. Part Two. A Covenant of Public Works:: Legislating for the Railroads

    • CHAPTER 4 “Railroad Fevers” and the Party Line at the Capitols
      (pp. 63-84)

      State legislatures in the nineteenth century were a proving ground for mediocre men who, by obtaining prominence there, might be allowed to exercise their limited talents in more responsible positions. Reconstruction General Assemblies were no different. Without respect to race or party, they were usually conclaves of bickering, disorderly representatives who enjoyed levity at the public expense and, according to one Republican, often knew no more of their duties than “a hog does of theology.”¹ “The fact is, sir, this House has done nothing but play for the last month,” one representative cried; “we have done nothing for the interest...

    • CHAPTER 5 The Enemy Within: Parochialism Run Amok
      (pp. 85-97)

      Dreams of unlimited grandeur infected every town in the South. Pine Bluff had faith that it would direct the commerce of the whole trans-Mississippi South, even as Dallas claimed the same prospect for itself. Yet each community’s vision countered that of another. TheJackson Pilotcriticized Memphis for stealing commerce “which naturally belonged to Mississippi,” and theNew Orleans Republicanabused every rival. Arkansas, Louisiana, and Texas were “ours beyond question,” it proclaimed—a boast that a few businessmen in Little Rock and Galveston might have challenged. Indeed, Galvestonians showed such ill grace that they were accused of using yellow...

    • CHAPTER 6 Winning Friends and Influencing Legislation
      (pp. 98-118)

      Partisanship, local and state ambitions, vested interests, and circumstances of the moment—the complexity of decision-making on railroad matters confuses us; it should not surprise us. Whenever an enterprise needs the support of many men holding different views of the state’s welfare, the law that results reflects the dissonance. Yet this interpretation of the aid policies was not the popular one advanced during Reconstruction nor the one that later historians adopted. They saw another motive as paramount: “corruption.”¹

      Contemporaries embraced a broad definition of “corruption.” They let the term cover any influence, from verbal argument to the gift of a...

  7. Part Three. “The Glory is Departed from Israel”:: Using the Railroads

    • CHAPTER 7 “Let the Representatives … Have a Hand in It.”
      (pp. 121-132)

      TheNew York Heraldprided itself on the best possible coverage of any topic, from the disappearance of Dr. Livingstone in Africa to the latest murder in Five Points. Responding to spreading rumors of Southern venality, the editors sent a reporter to South Carolina. What he found made fascinating reading. His main source was that outrageous carpetbagger, Timothy Hurley, chairman of the House Railroad Committee and a good-natured rogue. With cynical exuberance, Hurley described the way in which every public servant had as firm a hand in the till as on the tiller. “My God,” he shouted, “it would turn...

    • CHAPTER 8 Testing the Gospel of Prosperity, 1870–1871
      (pp. 133-145)

      A visit to Alabama in 1870 might have wrenched Charles Sumner’s egalitarian spirit. Something had happened to the Republican party there since its formation as an organization dedicated to human rights and the Union. In one public appeal, Republicans summoned their friends to a mass meeting based on four ideals: “The Constitution as it is! Honesty, Economy, Prosperity!” Only once did the appeal refer to Reconstruction, and then only to remark that the old issues had been settled and done away with. Race was not mentioned once.¹ Nor was the circular an aberration. In every Southern state, the Republican press...

    • CHAPTER 9 “They Must Stand Aside …”: The Republican Mission in Peril
      (pp. 146-160)

      Railroads were not enough. Taken by themselves they could not fashion a new, industrial South, nor satisfy the wants of the Reconstruction coalition. These facts had been obvious from the start. Republican platforms overflowed with worthy causes demanding legislative action: federal aid for levee repair, equal and uniform taxation, economical state and national administration, debtor relief, a generous, general system of public education, freedom of expression, and civil and political equality.¹ Most party members accepted the whole platform, but had they been asked which portion was most important, they might had disagreed fiercely.

      Certainly, not all of them shared the...

  8. Part Four. Balm in Gilead?: Financing Railroads

    • CHAPTER 10 Friends in Need on Capitol Hill
      (pp. 163-174)

      Without federal support, the South could not prosper. Republicans had seen that from the start of Reconstruction. Because the section’s problems crossed state lines, their solutions called for broad interstate programs. Without federal funding, Republicans knew, the state railroad aid programs could not fully succeed. The Reconstruction coalition had not only hoped for congressional largess, but had promised to get it, once readmission was completed. Yet these campaign promises proved hollow. Divided by the same economic rivalries and dissensions that had tainted state programs, confronting a Congress dominated by men already disenchanted with subsidy policies, the South’s delegations waged an...

    • CHAPTER 11 Friends in Deed on Wall Street? The Enemy Without
      (pp. 175-184)

      Believing as they did in a New South that would remain master of its own destiny, Republicans were forced to confront a terrible dilemma. Outside financiers alone had the capital to work the South’s salvation, and they could not anticipate a quick return. How, then, could they be induced to invest without demanding control as well? How could those who rescued the section’s economy be kept from reducing the states to economic colonies?

      That an infusion of Northern capital would benefit the South, Republicans did not doubt. The outsiders had better standards, said theNew Orleans Republican. In the Northeast,...

    • CHAPTER 12 Railroad Ties and Bonds: Construction, Credit, and the “Consumptive Purse”
      (pp. 185-210)

      In the boom years before the Panic of 1873, the Gospel of Prosperity seemed to be transforming the Southern economy. Railroad construction increased sharply, and Southerners of all political persuasions had faith that present progress would continue in the future. Yet railroad promoters found these expectations dashed. For every railroad built, a dozen were planned and not begun. For every company that completed its main line and prospered, perhaps twenty stopped construction and went into receivership before they could reach their termini. Whoever profited from railroad aid, the companies themselves did not seem to do well by it. Years later,...

  9. Part Five. There is No Salvation:: The Fall of The Railroads

    • CHAPTER 13 The Alabama & Chattanooga Catastrophe
      (pp. 213-236)

      So complex and varied was the Southern experience with railroad construction that any general survey runs a risk of obscuring the aid policy as contemporaries saw it. Examples taken from across the South may make general themes clear without providing an understanding of how the Gospel of Prosperity worked in any one place. However, the profound political and economic impact of the subsidy policy may be clarified by studying the misadventures of one state and one railroad during the years when supportive legislation tangled their fates.

      For this purpose, Alabama’s support for the Alabama & Chattanooga Railroad provides an excellent case...

    • CHAPTER 14 “They Have Thus Prostituted …”: Republicanism Riven
      (pp. 237-249)

      The two-party system could have a ruinous effect on railroad aid—Alabama had shown that—but the reverse was just as true: railroad aid wrought real damage to the Southern party system in the long run. Possibly the Gospel of Prosperity kept some white voters from concentrating on the race issue. Republican newspapers certainly used the railroad issue as if they believed it appealed to otherwise conservative Southerners. Yet if the subsidy program did help keep whites from uniting against the Reconstruction governments, it also helped sow dissension in the Republican ranks as it was applied. Factionalism did not stem...

    • CHAPTER 15 “A War Now Begins between These Roads and the People,” 1873
      (pp. 250-267)

      By 1873, the South’s initial optimism about its commercial future had subsided. Taxpayers, promoters, farmers, merchants, Conservatives, Republicans—all agreed that something had gone wrong with the Gospel of Prosperity. Railroads had been built, but they had not brought the promised affluence. Cotton brought a good price, but the planters had not regained their antebellum influence. The government had taken an active role in the Southern economy, but in doing so had compromised its own integrity and wrought only indifferent results. Construction and commercial expansion had brought neither the social stability that Radicals had promised nor the political hegemony they...

    • CHAPTER 16 “Men are Giting Desperate …”: The Panic, Collapse, and Survival of the Gospel of Prosperity, 1873–1880
      (pp. 268-298)

      In 1873, lawmakers, had treated the railroad issue with a proper ambivalence. Never had construction proceeded more rapidly—in spots. Contractors laid more track than in any previous year: 1,137 miles in eight former Confederate states, five hundred in Texas alone. In three states the companies broke all records for construction. But in Alabama, Virginia, and the Carolinas, building slackened, while in Louisiana, Florida, and Mississippi, not one mile of track was set down.*

      Small wonder that by late summer Southern optimism about railroad development had given way to uncertainty and suspicion. The railroads did not seem to be prospering....

  10. CODA. “And Was Jerusalem Builded Here?”
    (pp. 299-302)

    As Republican witness before the congressional investigation committee, Samuel F. Rice grew restive. Instead of asking about Ku Klux Klan outrages, Democratic representatives had demanded the facts about scalawag economic policies. By showing the Radicals’ corruption they hoped to mitigate the night riders’ offenses. The government had been extravagant and unresponsive to popular need; that was why desperate natives had adopted lawless means. Conservative witnesses had made just such a case, but Rice would not defame the government he had helped create. Pressed by accusatory questions, he burst out that the state owed more to Republicans than it could ever...

  11. APPENDIX. Could the Democrats Have Done Better?
    (pp. 303-306)
    (pp. 307-307)
  13. NOTES
    (pp. 308-338)
    (pp. 339-352)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 353-361)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 362-362)