The postwar South endured a swarm of curious Northerners: some journalists, many exploitive speculators, and often offensive bigots “who gave advice, condemned customs, asked obtrusive questions, and published tactless statements.” Despite New England’s large part in the African slave trade and perpetuation of slavery with its ravenous cotton mills, the North was determined that the South alone would be punished for the supposed sins of slavery.
Bernhard Thuersam, Circa1865
Bearing Their Afflictions with Philosophy and Christian Fortitude
“The defeated Southerners were expected to make the sacrifices necessary for reforms favoring the Negro. They were willing to recognize the defeat of the Confederate armies, the freeing of the slaves, and the restoration of the Union. A considerable number with the fear of summary punishment before them were willing to repudiate the Confederacy with unseemly haste. A few – the first scalawags – were prepared to adopt the beliefs of the conquerors.
For the great majority, however, the tragic outcome of the war increased their hatred of Northerners, made Southern doctrines more precious, and invested the war leaders with an aura of heroism. Only the minimum demands of the victor were to be accepted. As soon as it became clear that the North would not be as vindictive as some imagined every reform suggested from the outside was contested bitterly.
Those among the conquerors who imagined that military defeat had reduced the white Southerners to impotence were to be unpleasantly surprised. Although defeated, these people were not without material resources. Despite threats of confiscation, the land remained mostly in their hands and agricultural possibilities partially compensated for decline in land values. All tools were not destroyed and many cities were unscathed or only partially wrecked.
The whites faced their difficulties with superb courage. “While clouds were dark and threatening,” wrote a Northern newspaper reporter, “I do not believe there was ever in the world’s history a people who bear their afflictions with more philosophy and Christian fortitude than these unfortunate people.” Women cheerfully returned to the kitchen and men turned to manual labor. A philosophy of hard work and close economy was preached, and every expedient which might lead out of the impasse of poverty and social stagnation was advanced.
The war had accustomed men to hardships, and the women had learned to manage plantations, maintain slave discipline, and endure privations. Certainly there was no ground for the belief, fostered by the romantics, that Southerners were a lazy and improvident lot who were helpless unless ministered to by faithful blacks. Actually, they were ready to assume duties previously exercised by Negroes, at the same time resisting Northern assaults on their inherited privileges.
They were backed in their policies by an assertive country folk who were accustomed to dwell on lands of their own, and who had a profound contempt for Northerners . . . had proved their stamina while serving in the Confederate army . . . [and] were ready to terrorize Yankees and Negroes alike if members of either group attempted to upset the traditional social order.”
(The South Old and New, A History, 1820-1947, Francis Butler Simkins, Alfred A. Knopf, 1947, pp. 171-172)