Browsing "Agrarians versus Progress"

The Northwest Sacrifices a Valuable Ally

The excessive emphasis on African slavery obscures the many economic and cultural causes of the War Between the States, though it was clear that two Americas that had developed by the 1850s: one industrial and seeking government protection – and the other agricultural and opposed to protectionist tariffs and government subsidy.  The war between the two Americas had more to do with economics and culture than with the residue of a British colonial labor system that the American South would deal with — as the New England States had done earlier — and without war.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

The Northwest Sacrifices a Valuable Ally

“Lincoln and his contemporaries interpreted the victory of the North as primarily a triumph of nationalism over States’ rights. That the Union was now in fact “one and indivisible” . . . was generally acknowledged . . . [but] Whether a long civil war was necessary to secure the triumph of nationalism over States’ rights and of abolitionism over slavery may well be doubted. Probably, with more skillful handling of a few crises, both ends might ultimately have been achieved without resort to war.

A factor not fully understood at the time, and possibly overemphasized today, was the commanding importance that the new industrial interests won during the course of the struggle. War profits compounded the capital of the industrialists and placed them in a position to dominate the economic life, not only of the Northeast where they were chiefly concentrated, but also of the nation at large.

With the Southern planters removed from the national scene, the government at Washington tended more and more to reflect the wishes of the industrial leaders. The protective tariff, impossible as long as Southern influence predominated in national affairs, became the corner-stone of the new business edifice, for by means of it the vast and growing American market was largely restricted to American industry.

Transcontinental railroads, designed to complete the national transportation system, were likewise accorded the generous assistance of the government, while a national banking act and a national currency facilitated still further the spread of nation-wise business.

The Northwest, where industry was definitely subordinate to agriculture, profited less from the war than the Northeast . . . [though by] assisting in the defeat of the South, however, the Northwest had unknowingly sacrificed a valuable ally. Before the war the two agricultural sections had repeatedly stood together, first against the commercial, and later against the industrial, Northeast. Now, with the weight of the South in the Union immensely lessened, the Northwest was left to wage its battles virtually alone. For more than a generation after the war, with eastern men and eastern policies in the ascendancy, American industry steadily consolidated the gains it had made.”

(The Federal Union, A History of the United States to 1865, John D. Hicks, Riverside Press, 1937, pp. 686-688)

Southern Historians Sapping and Mining the Northern Myth

Historian and author Frank L. Owsley dedicated his professional life to righting the revisionist history of postwar Northern textbooks and relating an honest appraisal of why the War was fought between North and South. He viewed the conflict of 1861 as a struggle between Southern agrarian culture versus Northern industrialism intent upon political and economic control of the entire country.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Southerners Sapping and Mining the Northern Myth

“In describing the writings of one New Southerner, Frank Owsley wrote Allen Tate on February 29, 1932: “He is the typical “New Southerner,” the defeated [and] conquered . . . American. Dodd [William E. Dodd, Frank’s major professor at Chicago] remarked to me that it did not hurt him so much to be whipped! Or to see the South whipped! What broke his heart was to see the South conquered . . . he says it is the most completely defeated and conquered people of all history.”

Frank continued: “I believe that the spiritual and intellectual conquest of the South, which Dodd laments, is superficial. The leadership is in the hands of [these New Southerners] . . . and the history textbooks have been written by Yankees.

The purpose of my life will be to undermine by “careful” and “detached,” “well-documented,” “objective” writing the entire Northern myth from 1820-1876. My books will not interest the general reader. Only the historians will read them, but it is the historians who teach history classes and write textbooks and they will gradually, and without their own knowledge be forced into our position. There are numerous Southerners sapping and mining the Northern position by objective, detached books and Dodd is certainly one of the leaders.

By being critical first of the South itself, the Northern historian is disarmed, and then Dodd hits where it will do the most good . . . [Dodd told Davidson] that the younger Southern writers were making the Northern writers look unimportant.”

Frank’s essay in I’ll Take My Stand, “The Irrepressible Conflict,” concerned “the eternal struggle between the agrarian South and the commercial and industrial North to control the government, either in its own interest, or negatively, to prevent the other section from controlling it in its interests.”

At the time the Union was formed, the two sections were evenly balanced both in population and in number of States. The conflict worsened as the balance of power began to change. Slavery was an element of the agrarian society, but not an essential one. Even after the war, when there was no slavery, the South was an agrarian section. The irrepressible conflict was not a conflict between slavery and freedom, nor was it merely a protest against industrialism. It was equally a protest against the North’s brazen and contemptuous treatment of the South “as a colony and as a conquered province.”

(Frank Lawrence Owsley, Historian of the Old South, Harriet C. Owsley, Vanderbilt University Press, 1990, pp. 78-81)

Common-Sense Agrarian

Tom Watson of Georgia was old enough in 1863 to see Yankee prisoners on trains, and his father and two uncles served in defense of the American Confederacy. He remembered his grandfather’s plantation as belonging to another world, “a complete social and industrial organization, almost wholly sufficient unto itself,” and the old agrarian traditions of his childhood held sway for all his days.  He attacked those wanting to increase military appropriations for being “Afraid of your own proletariat. You are afraid of the dissatisfied workman, thrown of work by these soulless, these heartless, these insatiable trusts and combinations of capital . . .”

Watson was elected senator from Georgia in September 1920, and fought tirelessly against Woodrow Wilson’s League of Nations.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Common-Sense Agrarian

“The first subject on which the new Senator delivered himself at any length was the proposed treaty with Columbia, intended to conciliate that country for the Panama affair by the payment of $25,000,000. Republican senators, rallying to the defense of [Theodore] Roosevelt, had opposed the treaty as proposed by the Wilson administration.

Now that Roosevelt was dead . . . even [Henry Cabot] Lodge had reversed himself to support the treaty . . . [and] let the cat out of the bag by his statement: “We must not only enlarge our trade, but we must enlarge our source of supply of oil wherever it is possible to do so, and we cannot do it if we take the position that it is a sin for Americans to make money and that those who are engages in foreign investment and foreign commerce are to be punished instead of sustained.”

“Mr. President, are we the agents of Standard Oil Company – that and nothing more?” asked Watson. “When did that infant, protected in all its roots and branches, need our assistance in securing access to foreign oil fields?” He intimated that all the fine talk about Pan-American brotherhood turned his stomach. “Let us confess what we are doing – that we are here to buy property for the Standard Oil Company.”

If the country was in such need of oil, why did we cut ourselves off from the richest oil fields in the world – those of Soviet Russia.? “Because we did not like their form of government.” Did the senators like the form of government in Columbia any better? “What is it, by the way? “Despotism tempered by assassination.”

[Senators] who professed to be horrified at Red atrocities met with his ridicule. “Where is the consistency,” he asked, “of staying in a state of war, or at least non-intercourse, with a great nation which has always been our friend and at the same time handing out food to them as objects of charity? First we destroy their commerce and then try to replace it by gifts, by doles of food.” We had no more right to dictate Russia’s form of government than we had to dictate Germany’s.

He quoted a speech of [Daniel] Webster’s advocating recognition of Greece. “Let us not affect too much saintliness,” he admonished. “Are our skirts entirely clear of wrong in Hawaii, the Philippines, and in Santo Domingo?”

In a different connection, but in the same trend, he said: “We are hereditary revolutionists. We are so from instinct, history and tradition. We are so by sentiment.” Whence, then, all this outcry against revolutionists.”

[On questions of foreign policy Watson opposed] anything that remotely smacked of the [Woodrow Wilson’s] League of Nations, which, he said, was as much like the Holy Alliance of the nineteenth century “as two black cats are like one another.”

His most conspicuous fight was waged against the ratification of the Four-Power Treaty upon insular affairs in the Pacific. He denounced it as in reality an alliance with the dominant imperialist powers, designed to promote imperialism, and to draw the United States into the web of foreign rivalries, if not into the League itself.”

(Tom Watson, Agrarian Rebel, C. Vann Woodward, Oxford University Press, 1979, pp. 477-479

Will the South Survive?

Southern States seem to be outbidding each other on how many tax dollars can be given away to big business or Hollywood and calling the extortion “economic incentives” —  thinking that somehow it is the duty and obligation of government to create employment for all. The current onslaught against the South has brought the social equality-greeting “you guys,” dinner is now called “lunch,” and supper is referred to as “dinner.” The book below can be ordered from www.dogwoodmudhole.com.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

 Will the South Survive?

“The Tullahoma local newspaper reported that the town was trying to pass liquor by the drink laws to woo “up-scale” restaurants to locate themselves at the interstate interchanges. Such new South boosterism has made heavy inroads into local culture.

New South boosterism began in the nineteenth century with Henry Grady, editor of the Atlanta Constitution newspaper. Boosters and their legislation promised that all the South needed was to give up everything that makes us the south and become just like the North, and we would all be happy and wealthy (nobody mentions boring).

A Chamber of Commerce might conclude that we need to entice more national chains to establish prosperity, but chains and industry move elsewhere, leaving behind unemployment, a victim mentality, and no lasting prosperity. I call this kind of approach, “homo economicus” anthropology. It reduces everything – and every man – to a question of money.

One hundred and twenty years later, the promised still haven’t been fulfilled. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry, or puke, but I am pretty sure that passing liquor-by-the-drink laws will not bring economic nirvana to Tullahoma. When you make a bargain to sell your soul, first make sure that the devil can pay.

Will boosterism finally gobble up the South? On the surface, the homogenization of culture that come with the local economy relying on big business and chain stores means we are steadily being de-Southernized. The whole effect is to homogenize and standardize the landscape. That seems to be proceeding fast, while the people themselves seem unchanged. What’s happening to the roots of Southern culture is anybody’s guess. On the outside the country here is peaceful, pleasant, friendly, independent and helpful, but at the same time there’s that welfare mentality, some very fat people, and loads of government economic intervention.

The courthouses at the heart of each county tell this story of the South eloquently. Giles County 1910 courthouse retains the integrity of the South’s past. In Lawrenceburg sits a hideous 1960s “Modern” courthouse. In Waynesboro looms a 1970s tenement-style concrete slab. In Winchester squats a blocky 1936 “American fascist” look that would gladden the heart of any fascist or Soviet architect.

Gone are the stately courthouses, the statues of soldiers holding muskets and facing north, symbols of the community’s continuity and long life, and with them fast disappears our local history.

Nevertheless, many of these counties have attracted back-to-the-land, simple-life people, and their roots are permanent so they will recreate permanent prosperity. The land is rich, the people true, the leadership clueless. I could move elsewhere, but Tennessee is my home. Our family could do a lot worse than finding itself at home here.

Perhaps the fate of the Magic Road says it all. The State is turning Highway Sixty-four into a four-lane, bypassing exquisite little villages like McBurg and big towns alike. I know it’s faster, but God help me, I do love the old road better.”

(At Home in Dogwood Mudhole, Vol. 1, Franklin Sanders, Four Rivers, Inc. pp. 37-39)

The Wise But Unschooled Uncle Remus

The antebellum plantation culture informally educated the African workers in European trades and agriculture, customs and traditions; the postwar Southern economy needed people informally schooled in the useful arts of agriculture and mechanics, and little if any use for workers with advanced university degrees and speaking Latin or Greek. Thus Booker T. Washington’s method was far more acceptable and productive than DuBois’ method of political agitation.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

The Wise But Unschooled Uncle Remus

“Southern historians, trapped by the belief that education is a cure-all, have exaggerated the accomplishments of formal schooling. They like to prove that Sir William Berkeley was inaccurate when he said that there were no free schools in seventeenth-century Virginia. They are dazzled that today we have “a triumphant “progressive” education which progresses even faster than the North.” They gloss over the defects of our much-praised educational system.

The historians would be wise to admit the defects of Southern education as measured by the proclaimed goals of American public schools; indeed they might be skeptical of these goals. They might admit that Berkeley was not a complete fool when he inveighed against schools and presses.

In New England the Prussian-type school was loaded with antislavery sentiments and with notions of social reform repulsive to a region of Christians not dominated by hopes of earthly perfection. The leveling tendencies of the new schools ran counter to the Old South’s conception of hierarchy. Their content was more suited for those who need guidance in town life than for a people whose chief task was to subdue a wilderness and to establish farms.

Someone should tell that the South’s resistance to formal schooling did not grow out of laziness or stupidity. Their resistance was vital part of the region’s attempt to survive as a social and cultural entity. The South unconsciously fought against the idea that the school be allowed to iron out provincial differences in order to make the Southern States into undifferentiated units of the republic.

Southerners have preserved their folkways and ancestral superstitions. Thereby they have avoided the fate of the people of Hawaii, a people who have deliberately escaped their ancestral heritage in order to become Americanized through the public schools. Such a people lack creative originality.

Our chroniclers of the past should quit being ashamed of the cloud of illiteracy which once hung over their province. They should wake up to the fact that Uncle Remus was among the wisest Southerners. They have stressed to such a degree the benefits of the schools that they have neglected the triumphs of informal training outside the school.

This informal education was good because it was useful. Our colonial and frontier ancestors put the art of subduing the wilderness first; they learned to use the ax and the rifle extremely well. With some justice they regarded formal education as an adornment of the upper classes.

The dark spot on Southern civilization of denying formal education to the slaves can be wiped out by an understanding of what was accomplished in the so-called school of the plantation in which the barbarian captive of Africa was Anglicized. This was a type of training more effective than anything the South had experienced since.

The slave was so well inoculated with Anglo-American culture that almost all elements of his African background disappeared. The Negro imbibed the rich heritage of European folklore and became so skilled in English handicrafts and in the intricate practices of plantation agriculture that he was perhaps better educated in the industrial arts than those Negroes who had lived since the time of Booker T. Washington.

(Tolerating the South’s Past, Francis Butler Simkins, Address in Columbia, South Carolina, November 12, 1954, The Pursuit of Southern History, George Tindal, editor, LSU Press, 1964, pp. 319-320)

Farmer Smith Meets Industrial Progress

At the end of the nineteenth century the American landscape was undergoing great change as mechanization transformed the independence and self-reliance of the ordinary farmer. The tractor and combine enabled him to plow, seed and harvest more fields than before, but it came at great cost.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Farmer Smith Meets Industrial Progress

“John Smith was a frugal farmer, and raised enough feed – corn, oats, and silage – to supply his work stock and brood mares. He never bought feed and he rarely bought a horse or mule.

John Smith first bought a car, a Ford, to take the place of his saddle horse and buggy. Next he bought a tractor, and then a trailer for use as a truck. He bought a tractor because the International Harvester Company proved to him that horses have to be fed whether they work or not. The agent showed him striking pictures of horses “eating their heads off” on rainy days when there was nothing to do, and he saw pictures of [tractors] in farm magazines.

The farmer was taught to begrudge the feed for his idle horses and mules. Moreover, the tractor and its gang of plows could turn the 130 acres in half or a third or a fourth of the time that the mules could do it. The Country Gentlemen [magazine] published beautiful pictures of tractors at work and wrote simple articles that John Smith, or his boy, could understand.

John Smith finally drove out the tractor, and the demonstrator taught him how to use it. John Smith was now using as much horsepower as before, perhaps more, but he was getting it on quite different terms.

He was buying horsepower in Detroit and Chicago and mortgaging the future to pay for it. The tractor came covered with a thin coat of paint and several coats of protection. It was protected by a series of patents that made it impossible for more than a few competitors to supply him. It was protected by a tariff that made it impossible for England or Germany or Canada to get into his field.

Moreover, the tractor was never known to have a colt tractor, even a “mule.” On top of this the tractor carried a series of profits extending from the steel mills right on up to the gates of John Smith’s farm, and John Smith had to pay for the paint, protection, and profits.

Now, in contrast to the tractor, the mule colt stood in the meadow lot and gazed at the strange contraption in awe and astonishment. The colt represented horsepower just as the tractor did, but the colt cost practically nothing to begin with. Nobody had a patent on him and he carried no tariff. He represented nobody’s capital except John Smith’s and no wages or interest were tied up in his shiny skin.

He would start paying for himself at the age of three, increase in value for six or seven years, and would continue to give good service for twelve or fifteen years and service only a little less valuable after fifteen. He was so perfectly constructed that he would never have to have a spare part, not even a spark plug. He was a self-starter and self-quitter when quitting time came.

Both the tractor and the mule had to have fuel to go on. The mule’s fuel was corn, hay, cane, straw, or what have you on the farm. John Smith raised all these things and never had to go off the farm to get fuel for this hay-burning horsepower. He raised mule fuel with his own labor, or nature gave it to him from the field and the meadow.

Unfortunately, John Smith could not raise feed for the tractor. It had to have gasoline and oil, as well as batteries and parts. All these had to be purchased in the town from the northern corporations. In short, John Smith now buys his horses in Detroit and Chicago; he buys the feed for them from John D. Rockefeller in New York.

In the meantime something else has happened. The mule that cost so little has grown up, but there is no work for him to do. When John Smith offers him for sale, he finds that nobody is willing to pay a fair price for him, perfect as he is. The neighbors too . . . are going to Chicago for mules that deteriorate rather than improve, and to New York for feed which will never be converted into fertilizer.

Though John Smith is still raising feed, he has little use for it. The brood mares have died, the mules have been sold; there is nothing left to eat the corn, cane and grass except a few cows. When John Smith tries to sell his surplus feed, he finds that there are no buyers . . . The neighbors are not using that kind of feed. They prefer the feed that comes out of pumps.

John Smith no longer raises feed. He is now planting the 130-acre farm in cotton or in wheat, thereby wearing out the soil that supports him.

Something fine has gone out of John Smith, something of the spirit of independence and self-sufficiency that was present when the mules were pulling the plow and the colt that had not yet felt the collar was frolicking in the meadow.

In reality, he has become a retainer, and might well don the uniform of his service. He raises wheat and cotton for a world market, unprotected by tariffs or patents, in order that he may buy mechanical mules, feed, shoes, and everything that he needs in a market that has every protection of a beneficent government.”

(Divided We Stand, The Crisis of a Frontierless Democracy, Walter Prescott Webb, Farrar & Rinehart, Inc., pp. 137-140)