Produced by Suzanne Shell and PG Distributed Proofreaders
THE NEW SOUTH
A CHRONICLE OF SOCIAL AND INDUSTRIAL EVOLUTION
BY HOLLAND THOMPSON
I. THE BACKGROUND
II. THE CONFEDERATE SOLDIER TAKES CHARGE
III. THE REVOLT OF THE COMMON MAN
IV. THE FARMER AND THE LAND
V. INDUSTRIAL DEVELOPMENT
VI. LABOR CONDITIONS
VII. THE PROBLEM OF BLACK AND WHITE
VIII. EDUCATIONAL PROGRESS
IX. THE SOUTH OF TODAY
THE REPUDIATION OF STATE DEBTS
THE NEW SOUTH
The South of today is not the South of 1860 or even of 1865. There is a New South, though not perhaps in the sense usually understood, for no expression has been more often misused in superficial discussion. Men have written as if the phrase indicated a new land and a new civilization, utterly unlike anything that had existed before and involving a sharp break with the history and the traditions of the past. Nothing could be more untrue. Peoples do not in one generation or in two rid themselves entirely of characteristics which have been developing for centuries.
There is a New South, but it is a logical development from the Old South. The civilization of the South today has not been imposed from without but has been an evolution from within, though influenced by the policy of the National Government. The Civil War changed the whole organization of Southern society, it is true, but it did not modify its essential attributes, to quote the ablest of the carpetbaggers, Albion W. Tourgee. Reconstruction strengthened existing prejudices and created new bitterness, but the attempt failed to make of South Carolina another Massachusetts. The people resisted stubbornly, desperately, and in the end successfully, every attempt to impose upon them alien institutions.
The story of Reconstruction has been told elsewhere. A combination of two ideas–high-minded altruism and a vindictive desire to humiliate a proud people for partisan advantage–wrought mischief which has not been repaired in nearly half a century. It is to be doubted, however, whether Reconstruction actually changed in any essential point the beliefs of the South. Left to itself, the South would not, after the War, have given the vote to the negro. When left to itself still later, it took the ballot away. The South would not normally have accepted the negro as a social equal. The attempt to force the barrier between the races by legislation with the aid of bayonets failed. Without the taste of power during the Reconstruction period, the black South would not have demanded so much and the determination of the white South to dominate would not perhaps have been expressed so bitterly; but in any case the white South would have dominated.
[Footnote 1: See _The Sequel of Appomattox_, by Walter Lynwood Fleming (in _The Chronicles of America_).]
Economic and industrial development was hindered by Reconstruction. Men of vision had seen before the War that the South must become more nearly self-sufficient; and the results of the conflict had emphasized this idea. The South believed, and believes yet, that it was defeated by the blockade and not by military force. According to this theory, the North won because the South could not manufacture goods for its needs, because it did not possess ships to bring in goods from abroad, and because it could not build a navy to defend its ports. Today it is clear that the South never had a chance to win, so long as the will to conquer was firm in the North. As soon as the War was over, the demand for greater industrial development made itself felt and gained in strength when Reconstruction came; but during that period the people had to devote all their energies to living day by day, hoping for strength to endure. When property was being confiscated under the forms of law, only to be squandered by irresponsible legislators, there was little incentive to remake the industrial system, and the ventures of the Reconstruction government into industrial affairs were not encouraging. Farm property in the South–and little was left except farm property after the War–depreciated in value enormously in the decade following 1860. Grimly, sullenly, the white man of the South fought again to secure domination, this time, however, of his own section only and not of the nation. When this had been achieved, a large portion of the population was overcome by that deadly apathy so often remarked by travelers who ventured to visit the land as they would have visited Africa. The white South wished only to be let alone.
During this apathetic period there was some talk of the natural resources of the South; but there was little attempt on the part of Southerners to utilize these resources. There was talk of interesting foreign capital, but little effective work was done to secure such capital. Many men feared the new problems which such development might bring in its train, while others, more numerous, were merely indifferent or lukewarm. Many of those who vaguely wished for a change did not know how to set about realizing their desires. The few men who really worked to stimulate a quicker economic life about 1880 had a thankless and apparently a hopeless task.
Yet one must be careful not to write of the South as if it were a single country, inhabited by a homogeneous people. Historians and publicists have spoken, and continue to speak, of “Southern opinion” and of the “Southern attitude” as if these could be definitely weighed and measured. No one who really knows the whole South could be guilty of such a mistake. The first difficulty is to determine the limits of the South. The census classification of States is open to objection. Delaware, Maryland, and West Virginia are included in the South, and so is Kentucky. Missouri is excluded, but a place is made for the new State of Oklahoma. As to Delaware and Maryland, there may be a difference of opinion, though it is difficult to justify the inclusion of the former. West Virginia is certainly not Southern, socially, politically, or economically. Kentucky is doubtful, and it is difficult to see why Missouri should be excluded from any list which includes Kentucky. Oklahoma is difficult to classify. But, at any rate the South is a large country, with a great variety of soil, climate, and population. As the crow flies, the distance from Richmond to Memphis, in an adjoining State, is greater than from Richmond to Bangor, Maine. From Richmond to Galveston is farther than from Richmond to Omaha or Duluth. Atlanta is usually considered to be far down in the South, and yet the distance from Atlanta to Boston or Minneapolis is less than to El Paso. Again, New Orleans is nearer to Cincinnati than to Raleigh.
There were, moreover, many racial strains in the South. The Scotch-Irish of the Piedmont in the Carolinas had, and have yet, little in common with the French of Louisiana. The lowlander of South Carolina and the hill men of Arkansas differed in more than economic condition. Even in the same State, different sections were not in entire accord. In Virginia and the Carolinas, for example, economic conditions and traditions–and traditions are yet a power in the South–differed greatly in different sections.
As the years passed, apathy began to disappear in some parts of the South. Wiser men recognized that the old had gone never to return. Men began to face the inevitable. Instead of brooding upon their grievances, they adjusted themselves, more or less successfully, to the new economic and social order, and by acting in harmony with it found that progress was not so impossible as they had supposed. White planters found that the net returns from their farms on which they themselves had labored were greater than when a larger force of negroes had been employed; shrewd men began to put their scanty savings together to take advantage of convenient water power. Securing the bare necessities of life was no longer a difficult problem for every one. Men began to find pleasure in activity rather than in mere passivity or obstruction.
Somehow, somewhere, sometime, a new hopefulness was born and this new spirit–evidence of new life–became embodied in “the New South.” The expression is said to have been used first by General Adam Badeau when stationed in South Carolina, but the New South of which he spoke was not the New South as it is understood today. Many others have used the term loosely to signify any change in economic or social conditions which they had discovered. The first man to use the expression in a way which sent it vibrating through the whole nation was Henry W. Grady, the gifted editor of the _Atlanta Constitution_. In a speech made in 1886 by invitation of the New England Society of New York City, he took for his theme “the New South” and delivered an oration which, judged by its effects, had some of the marks of greatness. “The South,” he said, “has nothing for which to apologize. She believes that the late struggle between the States was war and not rebellion, revolution and not conspiracy.” He went on, however, to express the feeling that the outcome had been for the best, and painted a picture of the new spirit of the South, a trifle enthusiastic perhaps, but still recognizable.
Today a New South may be said to be everywhere apparent. The Old South still exists in nooks and corners of many States, it is true: there are communities, counties, groups of counties, which cling to the old ideas. In the hearts of thousands of men and women the Old South is enshrined, and there is no room for the new; but the South as a whole is a New South, marked by a spirit of hopefulness, a belief in the future, and a desire to take a fuller part in the life of the nation. To trace the development of the new spirit and to discuss its manifestations is the purpose of this book.
THE CONFEDERATE SOLDIER TAKES CHARGE
As the year 1877 was beginning, the carpetbag governments in nine of the Southern States had been already overthrown. In two other States were two sets of officers, one of which represented the great mass of the whites while the other was based upon negro suffrage and was supported by Federal bayonets. Both sides seemed determined, and trouble was expected. The Republican contestants in Florida had already yielded to a decision of the Supreme Court of the State, but in South Carolina and Louisiana the Republican claimants held on until the orders to withdraw the troops were given in April, 1877. The withdrawal of the troops marked the definite end of Reconstruction. The Democratic claimants then took undisputed possession of the executive and legislative departments of these States. The native whites were again in entire charge of all the States which had seceded. They now had the task of rebuilding the commonwealths shattered by war and by the aftermath of war. A new era for the South had dawned, and here properly begins the history of the New South.
The first and most important problem, as the white South saw it, was the maintenance of white supremacy which had been gained with so much difficulty. In only three States–South Carolina, Mississippi, and Louisiana–were there negro majorities. Obviously, if the whites could be induced or coerced to stand together, they could continue to control the governments in eight of the seceding States. The negro population, however, was not distributed uniformly over any of these States, so that, no matter how great the white preponderance in the State as a whole, there were counties or other civil divisions where negroes were in the majority. This meant that the issue of white supremacy was present in every State, for the negro majorities in such counties could elect the local officers and control the local governments.
To attain a political consolidation of the white population all other issues must be subordinated. Differences of opinion and judgment must be held in abeyance. No question upon which white men might seriously disagree must be placed in the party platform, if any way to avoid such insertion could be found. If by any chance the majority adopted a course obnoxious to the minority, the decision must be accepted loyally if not cheerfully, and the full white vote must be cast. Objection to a candidate or measure must not be expressed at the ballot box. Personal ambition must be restrained, and weakness and even unfitness in a candidate must be overlooked for the sake of white solidarity.
The task of creating a permanently solid South was not easy. The Southerner had always been an individualist, freely exercising his right to vote independently, engaging in sharp political contests before 1861, and even during the War. The Confederate Congress wrangled impotently while Grant was thundering at the gates of Richmond. So strong was the memory of past differences, that old party designations were avoided. The political organization to which allegiance was demanded was generally called the Conservative party, and the Republican party was universally called the Radical party. The term Conservative was adopted partly as a contrast, partly because the peace party had been so called during the War, and especially because the name Democrat was obnoxious to so many old Whigs. It was not until 1906 that the term Conservative was officially dropped from the title of the dominant party in Alabama.
It is not surprising that men continued to turn for leadership to those who had led in battle and, to a less extent, to those who had taken part in the civil government of the Confederacy. But for the humiliations of Reconstruction, some of these men might have been discredited, but the bitter experiences of those years had restored them to popular favor. As the Federal soldier marched out of the public buildings everywhere, the Confederate soldier marched in. These men had led in the contest against the scalawags and the carpetbaggers and many had suffered thereby. Now they came into their own. In some States the organization of voters was almost military.
During the first years after the downfall of the Reconstruction governments the task of consolidating the white South was measurably achieved. As some one flippantly put the case, there came to be in many sections “two kinds of people–Democrats and negroes.” It was the general feeling on the part of the whites that to fail to vote was shameful, to scratch a ticket was a crime, and to attempt to organize the negroes was treason to one’s race. The “Confederate brigadier” sounded the rallying cry at every election, and a military record came to be almost a requisite for political preferment. Men’s eyes were turned to the past, and on every stump were recounted again and again the horrors of Reconstruction and the valiant deeds of the Confederate soldiers. What a candidate had done in the past in another field seemed more important even than his actual qualifications for the office to which he aspired. A study of the _Congressional Record_ or of lists of state officers proves the truth of this statement. In 1882, fourteen of the twenty-two United States Senators from the seceding States had military records and three had been civil officers of the Confederacy. Several States had solid delegations of ex-Confederate soldiers in both houses. When one reads the proceedings of Congress, he finds the names of Vance and Ransom, Hampton and Butler, Gordon and Wheeler, Harris and Bate, Cockrell and Vest, Walthall and Colquitt, Morgan and Gibson, and dozens of other Confederate officers.
The process of unifying the white South was not universally successful, however. Here and there were Republican islands in a Democratic or Conservative sea. The largest and most important exception was the Appalachian South, divided among eight different States. It is a large region, to this day thinly populated and lacking in means of communication with the outside world. Though it has some bustling cities, thriving towns, and prosperous communities, the Appalachian South today is predominantly rural. In the 216 counties in this region or its foothills, there were in 1910 only 43 towns with more than 2500 inhabitants.
This Appalachian region had been settled by emigrants from the lowlands. Some of them were of the thriftless sort who were forced from the better lands in the East by the inexorable working of economic law. By far the greater part, however, were of the same stock as the restless pioneers who poured over the mountains to flood the Mississippi Valley. Students of the mountain people maintain that so small an accident as the breaking of a linchpin fixed one family forever in a mountain cove, while relatives went on to become the builders of new States in the interior. Cut off from the world in these mountains, there have been preserved to this day many of the idioms, folksongs, superstitions, manners, customs, and habits of mind of Stuart England, as they were brought over by the early colonists. The steep farms afforded a scanty living, and though the cattle found luscious pasturage during the summer, they were half starved during the winter. If by chance the mountaineers had a surplus of any product, there was no one to whom they might sell it. They lived almost without the convenience of coinage as a means of exchange. Naturally in such a society there was no place for slaves, and to this day negroes are not welcome in many mountain counties. But though these mountain people have missed contact with the outside world and have been deprived of the stimulus of new ideas, they seldom give evidence of anything that can fairly be classed as degeneracy. Ignorance, illiteracy, and suspended or arrested development the traveler of today will find among them, and actions which will shock his present-day standards; but these same actions would hardly have shocked his own father’s great-grandfather. These isolated mountaineers have been aptly called “our contemporary ancestors.”
The same people, it is true, had poured out of their cabins to meet Ferguson at King’s Mountain; they had followed Jackson to New Orleans and to Florida and they had felt the influence of the wave of nationalism which swept the country after the War of 1812. But back to their mountains they had gone, and the great current of national progress swept by them. The movement toward sectionalism, which developed after the Missouri Compromise, had left them cold. So the mountaineers held to the Union. They did not volunteer freely for the Confederacy, and they resisted conscription. How many were enlisted in the Union armies it is difficult to discover, certainly over 100,000. It is not surprising, therefore, that these people became Republicans and have so continued in their allegiance.
Another element in the population having great influence in the South–in North Carolina, at least–was the Society of Friends. It was strong in both the central and the eastern sections. Many, but by no means all, of the Quakers opposed the Civil War and, after peace came, opposed the men who had been prominent in the War, that is, the dominant party. In spite of the social stigma attaching to Republicanism, many of the Quakers have persisted in their membership in that party to the present day. In all the seceding States there was a Union element in 1861, and, while most of the men composing it finally went into the War with zeal, there were individuals who resisted stoutly During the War they were abused without stint, but this criticism had only the effect of making them more stubborn. They naturally became Republicans after the War and furnished some of the votes which made Reconstruction possible. With these may be classed the few Northern men who remained in the South after the downfall of the Reconstruction governments.
There was another class of people in the South, some of whom had been rabid secessionists and whose Republicanism had no other foundation than a desire for the loaves and fishes. The salaries attached to some of the Federal offices seemed enormous at that time and, before the prohibition wave swept the South, there were in the revenue service thousands of minor appointments for the faithful. These deputy marshals, “storekeepers and gaugers,” and petty postmasters attempted to keep up a local organization. The collectors of internal revenue, United States marshals, other officers of the Federal courts, and the postmasters in the larger towns controlled these men and therefore the state organizations. These Federal officials broke the unanimity of the white South, and they were supported by thousands of negroes. Some individuals among them were shrewd politicians, but the contest was unequal from the beginning. On one side was intelligence, backed by loyal followers fiercely determined to rule. On the other was a leadership on the whole less intelligent, certainly more selfish, with followers who were ignorant and susceptible to cajolery or intimidation.
Before the downfall of the Reconstruction governments, and in the first few years afterward, there was much intimidation of negroes who wished to vote. Threats of loss of employment, eviction from house or plantation, or refusal of credit were frequent. In many sections such measures were enough, and Democrats were ordinarily chosen at the polls. Where the negroes were in a larger majority, stronger measures were adopted. Around election time armed bands of whites would sometimes patrol the roads wearing some special badge or garment. Men would gallop past the houses of negroes at night, firing guns or pistols into the air and occasionally into the roofs of the houses. Negroes talking politics were occasionally visited and warned–sometimes with physical violence–to keep silent. On election day determined men with rifles or shotguns, ostensibly intending to go hunting after they had voted, gathered around the polls. An occasional random shot might kick up the dust near an approaching negro. Men actually or apparently the worse for liquor might stagger around, seeking an excuse for a fight. It is not surprising that among the negroes the impression that it was unwise to attempt to vote gained ground.
Less crude but no less effective methods were employed later. As candidates or party organizations furnished the ballots, the “tissue ballot” came into use. Half a dozen of these might easily be dropped into the box at one time. If the surplus ballots were withdrawn by a blindfolded official, the difference in length or in the texture or quality of the ballot made possible the withdrawal of an undue proportion of Republican votes. Usually separate boxes were supplied for different sets of officers, and it was often provided that a ballot in the wrong box was void. An occasional intentional shifting of boxes thus caused many illiterate negroes to throw away their votes. This scheme reached its climax in the “eight box law” of South Carolina which made illiterate voting ineffective without aid. Immediately after any literate Republican, white or black, left the polling place the boxes were shifted, and the illiterates whose tickets he had carefully arranged deposited their ballots in the wrong boxes. White boys of eighteen, if well grown, sometimes voted, while a young negro unable to produce any evidence of his age had difficulty in proving the attainment of his majority. In some precincts illiterate Republicans were appointed officers of elections, and then the vote was juggled shamelessly. A study of election returns of some counties of the black belt shows occasional Democratic majorities greater than the total white population. The same tricks which were so long practiced in New York and Philadelphia were successful in the South.
Conditions such as these were not prevalent over the entire South. In a large proportion of the voting precincts elections were as fair as anywhere in the United States; but it may be safely said that in few counties where the negroes approached or exceeded fifty per cent of the total population were elections conducted with anything more than a semblance of fairness. Yet in some sections the odds were too great, or else the whites lacked the resolution to carry out such extensive informal disfranchisement. For years North and South Carolina each sent at least one negro member to the House of Representatives and, but for flagrant gerrymandering, might have sent more. Indeed negro prosecuting attorneys were not unknown, and many of the black counties had negro officers. Some States, such as North Carolina, gave up local self-government almost entirely. The Legislature appointed the justices of the peace in every county, and these elected both the commissioners who controlled the finances of the county and also the board of education which appointed the school committeemen. Judges were elected by the State as a whole and held courts in all the counties in turn. To this day, a Superior Court judge sits only six months in one district and then moves on to another. Other States gave up local government to a greater or less extent, while still others sought to lessen the negro vote by strict registration laws and by the imposition of poll taxes.
In many sections the negro ceased to make any attempt to vote, and the Republican organization became a skeleton, if indeed it continued at all. There was always the possibility of a revival, however, and after 1876 the North often threatened Federal control of elections. The possibility of negro rule was therefore only suspended and not destroyed; it might at any time be restored by force. The possibility of the negro’s holding the balance of power seemed dangerous and ultimately led to attempts to disfranchise him by law, which will be considered in another chapter.
The relation of the races was not the only question which confronted the whites when they regained control of the state governments. The problem of finance was equally fundamental. The increase in the total debt of the seceding States had been enormous. The difference between the debts of these States (excluding Texas) in 1860 and in the year in which they became most involved was nearly $135,000,000. In proportion to the total wealth of these States, this debt was extremely high.
[Footnote 1: See W.A. Scott, _The Repudiation of State Debts_, p. 276. Texas had practically no debt when it passed under Reconstruction government, but added $4,500,000 in the period. The total increase in the debt of all these Southern States was then nearly $140,000,000.]
Not all of this increase was due to carpetbag government. While, of course, the debts incurred for military purposes had been repudiated in accordance with the Fourteenth Amendment, several of the States had issued bonds for other purposes during the War or immediately afterwards before the advent of the Reconstruction governments. There were other millions of unpaid interest on all varieties of debts incurred before or after 1860. The Reconstruction debts had been incurred for various purposes, but bonds issued ostensibly to aid in building railroads, canals, or levees made up the greater part of the total. These bonds, however, had been sold at a large discount, and only a small part of the money realized was applied to actual construction.
Some of the States had escaped almost entirely any considerable increase of debt; others were burdened far beyond their ability to pay, especially as property valuations had declined nearly one-half.
The wholesale repudiation of their debts injured the credit of all the Southern States, and they have been loudly denounced for their action. Their spokesmen have justified their procedure in regard to the bonds issued by the carpetbag legislatures on the ground that they were voted by venal governments imposed by military force; that many of the bonds were fraudulent on their face; and that those who purchased them at a great discount were simply gambling upon the chance that the governments issuing them would endure; that the greater part of these bonds were stolen by the officers; and that little or no benefit came to the State. Not all of the bonds which were repudiated or scaled down, however, belonged to this class. Many were undoubtedly valid obligations on the part of the States. The repudiation of these bonds was excused on the ground that they were generally issued to aid railroads which had been practically seized by the Confederate or the United States governments and had been worn out for their benefit; that interest could not be paid during the war; and that war and the Reconstruction Acts had so reduced property values that payment of the full amount was impossible. The last reason is true of some States, though not of all. The prompt payment of interest on the reduced indebtedness has done much to restore the credit of the South, and the bonds of some States now sell above par.
Extravagance had helped to overthrow the carpetbag regime. The new governments were necessarily forced to be economical. Expenditures of all kinds were lessened. Government was reduced to its lowest terms, and the salaries of state officers were fixed at ridiculously small figures. Inadequate school taxes were levied; the asylums for the insane, though kept alive, could not take care of all who should have been admitted; appropriations for higher education, if made at all, were small; there was little or no social legislation. The politicians taught the people that low taxes were the greatest possible good and, when prosperity began to return and a heavier burden of taxation might easily have been borne, the belief that the efficiency of a government was measured by its parsimony had become a fixed idea. There was little scandal anywhere. No governments in American history have been conducted with more economy and more fidelity than the governments of the Southern States during the first years after the Reconstruction period. A few treasurers defaulted, but in most cases their difficulties rose from financial incompetence rather than from dishonesty, for a good soldier did not necessarily make a good treasurer. Few fortunes were founded on state contracts. The public buildings erected were honestly built and were often completed within the limits of the original appropriations. So small an amount was allowed that there would have been little to steal, even had the inclination been present.
The decline in the prices of agricultural products after 1875 made living harder. The Greenback agitation found some followers, and in a few scattered rural districts Greenbackers or Greenback Democrats were nominated. In a few districts the white men ventured to run two tickets, and in a few cases the Greenback candidate won. This activity was a precursor of the agrarian revolt which later divided the South. There were also some Republican tickets with qualifying words intended to catch votes, but they had little success. Some strong men were sent to Congress, a very large proportion of whom had seen service in the Confederate army. Their presence aroused many sneers at “rebel brigadiers” and an immense amount of “bloody shirt” oratory. They accomplished little for their section or for the nation, as they were always on the defensive and could hardly have been expected to have any consuming love for the Union, in which they had been kept by force. They were frequently taunted in debate in the hope that indiscreet answers would furnish campaign material for use in the North. Sometimes they failed to control their tempers and their tongues and played into the hands of their opponents. They advocated no great reforms and showed little political vision. They clung to the time-honored doctrines of the Democratic party–tariff for revenue only, opposition to sumptuary laws, economy in expenditures, and abolition of the internal revenue taxes–and they made ponderous speeches upon the Constitution, “viewing with alarm” the encroachments of the Federal Government upon the sphere of action marked out for the States.
[Footnote 1: See _The Agrarian Crusade_, by Solon J. Buck (in _The Chronicles of America_).]
Partly because of constitutional objections, partly because of fear of Federal supervision of the administration of the measure, a majority of the Southern representatives opposed the Blair Bill, which might have hastened the progress of their section. This measure, now almost forgotten, was much discussed between 1882 and 1890 when it was finally shelved. It provided for national aid to education out of the surplus revenues of the Federal Government, the distribution to be made in proportion to illiteracy. Though the South would have received a large share of this money, which it sorely needed for education, the experience of the South with Federal supervision had not been pleasant, and many feared that the measure might result in another Freedmen’s Bureau. Not all Southerners, however, were opposed to the project. Dr. J.L.M. Curry, agent of the Peabody Fund, did valiant service for the bill, and some members of Congress were strong advocates of the measure. Today we see a measure for national aid to education fathered by Southerners and almost unanimously supported by their colleagues.
[Footnote 1: See _The Sequel of Appomattox_, by Walter Lynwood Fleming (in _The Chronicles of America_).]
Though rotation in office was the rule in the representation in the House, the policy of reelecting Senators was generally followed, and some of them served long periods. Looking upon themselves as ambassadors of their States to an unfriendly court, they were always dignified and often austere. As time went on, their honesty, old-fashioned courtesy, and amiable social qualities gained for many the respect and affectionate esteem of their Northern colleagues. Many strong friendships sprang up, and through these personal relationships occasional bits of patronage and items of legislation were granted. Often, it is said, politicians who were accustomed to assail one another in public sought each other’s society and were the best of friends in private. These Southern men were almost invariably a frugal lot who lived from necessity within their salaries and used no questionable means of increasing their incomes.
The election of Cleveland in 1884 gave to the South its first real participation in national affairs for a quarter of a century. Thomas F. Bayard of Delaware, L.Q.C. Lamar of Mississippi, and A.H. Garland of Arkansas were chosen for the Cabinet, from which the scholarly Lamar was transferred to the Supreme Court. John G. Carlisle of Kentucky was Speaker, and Roger Q. Mills of Texas became Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee of the House to succeed William R. Morrison. A fair share, if not more, of the more important diplomatic, consular, and administrative appointments went to Southerners. The South began to feel that it was again a part of the Union. However, though Cleveland had shown his friendliness to their section, the Southern politicians, usually intensely partisan, could not appreciate the President’s attitude toward the civil service and other questions, and his bluntness offended many of them. They followed him on the tariff but opposed him on most other questions, for his theory of Democracy and theirs diverged, and his kindly attitude was later repaid with ingratitude.
During the period in which the “rebel brigadiers” had controlled their States a new generation had arisen which began to make itself felt between 1885 and 1890. The Grange had tried to teach the farmers to think of themselves as a class, and the skilled workmen in a few occupations, in the border States particularly, had been organized. The Greenback craze had created a distrust of the capitalists of the East. The fear of negro domination was no longer so overmastering, and the natural ambition of the younger men began to show itself in factional contests. Younger men were coveting the places held by the old war-horses and were beginning to talk of cliques and rings. The Farmers’ Alliance was spreading like wildfire, and its members were expounding doctrines which seemed rank treason to the elderly gentlemen whose influence had once been so potent. It is now clear that their fall from power was inevitable, though they refused to believe it possible.
THE REVOLT OF THE COMMON MAN
Practically all the farmers in the South, like those of the West, were chronically in debt, and after 1870 the general tendency of the prices of agricultural products was downward. In spite of largely increased acreage–partly, to be sure, because of it–the total returns from the larger crops were hardly so great as had been received from a much smaller cultivated area. The Southern farmer began to feel helpless and hopeless. Though usually suspicious of every movement coming from the North, he turned readily to the organization of the Patrons of Husbandry, better known as the Grange. In fact, the hopeless apathy of the Southern farmer observed by Oliver Hudson Kelley, an agent of the Bureau of Agriculture, is said to have determined him to found the order. In spite of the turmoil of Reconstruction, the organization appeared in South Carolina and Mississippi in 1871. Tennessee. Missouri, and Kentucky had already been invaded. During 1872 and 1873, the order spread rapidly in all the States which may be called Southern. The highest number reached was in the latter part of 1875 when more than 6400 local granges were reported in the States which had seceded; and in Kentucky, Maryland, Delaware, West Virginia, and Missouri there were nearly 4000 more. The total membership in the seceding States was more than 210,000 and including the border States, over 355,000. Since negroes were not admitted, the proportion of the total white agricultural population in the Grange was perhaps as high in the South as in any other part of the Union. In the years that followed, the order underwent the same disintegration in the South as elsewhere.
As a class the Southern Grangers did not take an active part in politics. The overshadowing question of the position of their States in the Union and the desire to preserve white supremacy prevented any great independent movement. In a few instances, men ran for Congress as Independents or as Greenbackers, and in some cases they were elected; but the Southern farmers were not yet ready to break away from the organization which had delivered them from negro rule. There was not at that time in the South the same opposition to railroads that prevailed in the West. The need of railroads was felt so keenly that the practice of baiting them had not become popular. Some railroad legislation was passed, largely through Granger influence, but it was not yet radical. Nevertheless the Granger movement was by no means without permanent influence. It helped to develop class consciousness; it demonstrated that the Western and the Southern farmer had some interests in common; and it also implanted in people’s minds the idea that legislation of an economic character was desirable. Heretofore the Southern farmer, so far as he had thought at all about the relation of the State to industry, had been a believer in _laissez faire_. Now he began to consider whether legislation might not be the remedy for poverty. Out of this serious attention to the needs of the farmer other organizations were to arise and to build upon the foundations laid by the Grange.
About 1875 there appeared in Texas and other States local organizations of farmers, known as Farmers’ Alliances, and in 1879 a Grand State Alliance was formed in Texas. The purposes were similar to those set forth by the Grange. In Arkansas appeared the Agricultural Wheel and the Brothers of Freedom, which were soon consolidated. The Farmers’ Union of Louisiana and the Alliance of Texas were also united under the name of the National Farmers’ Alliance and Cooeperative Union of America. This was soon united with the Arkansas Wheel, which had crossed state lines.
A session of the National Alliance was held at St. Louis in 1889 with delegates present from every Southern State, except West Virginia, and from some of the Middle Western States. The National Assembly of the Knights of Labor was also held in St. Louis at this time, and a joint declaration of beliefs was put forth. This platform called for the issue of more paper money, abolition of national banks, free coinage of silver, legislation to prevent trusts and corners, tariff reform, government ownership of railroads, and restriction of public lands to actual settlers.
The next year, the annual convention of the Alliance was held at Ocala, Florida, and the Ocala platform was published. This meeting recommended the so-called sub-treasury plan by which the Federal Government was to construct warehouses for agricultural products. In these the farmer might deposit his non-perishable agricultural products, and receive 80 per cent of their market value in greenbacks. Surely the Southern farmer had shaken off much of his traditional conservatism in approving such a demand as this! The explanation is not far to seek.
The high price of cotton in the years immediately following the War was the economic salvation of the South. Whatever may have been the difficulties in its production, the returns repaid the outlay and more. The quantity was less than the world demanded. Not until 1870-71 did the production approach that of the crops before the War. Then, with the increase in production and general financial stringency came a sharp decrease in price. Between 1880 and 1890 the price was not much above the cost of production, and after 1890 the price fell still lower. When middling cotton brought less than seven cents a pound in New York, the small producer got little more than five cents for his bale or two. The price of wheat and corn was correspondingly low, if the farmer had a surplus to sell at harvest time. If he bought Western corn or flour in the spring on credit, the price he paid included shrinkage, storage, freight, and the exorbitant profit of the merchant. The low price received by the Western producer had been much increased before the cereals reached the Southern consumer. The Southern farmer was consequently becoming desperate and was threatening revolt against the established order.
While Southern delegates joined the Western Alliance in the organization of the People’s party in 1891 and 1892, the majority of the members in the South chose an easier way of attaining their object: they entered the Democratic primaries and conventions and captured them. In State after State, men in sympathy with the farmers were chosen to office, often over old leaders who had been supposed to have life tenure of their positions. In some cases these leaders retained their offices, if not their influence, by subscribing to the demands of the Alliance. Perhaps some could do this without reservation; others, Senators particularly, justified themselves on the theory that a legislature had the right to speak for the State and instruct those chosen to represent it.
The feeling of the farmer that he was being oppressed threatened to develop into an obsession. His hatred of “money-power,” “trusts,” “corners,” and the “hirelings of Wall Street” found expression in his opposition to the local lawyers and merchants, and, in fact, to the residents of the towns in general. The idea began to grow up that any one living in a town was necessarily an enemy to the farmer. The prevalent agricultural point of view came to be that only the farmer was a wealth producer, and that all others were parasites who sat in the shade while he worked in the sun and who lived upon the products of his labor. This bitterness the farmer extended to the old political leaders whom he had regarded with veneration in the past. These old Confederate soldiers, he believed, had allowed him to be robbed.
The state Democratic Convention of Georgia in 1890 pledged all candidates for office to support the demands of the Farmers’ Alliance, including the sub-treasury “or some better system.” Senator John B. Gordon, however, refused to pledge himself and was reelected nevertheless. The leader of the Alliance was nominated and elected governor. In Alabama, Reuben F. Kolb, the Commissioner of Agriculture, almost obtained the Democratic nomination for governor. Two years later, he again entered the primary and, declaring that he had been cheated out of the nomination, ran independently as the candidate of the Jeffersonian Democracy. On the face of the returns, the regular candidate was elected, but Kolb pointed out the fact that the Democratic majorities came from the black counties, while the white counties had given a majority for him. Again in 1894 Kolb entered the race for governor and again declared that he had been counted out, as he had not only the Jeffersonian Democracy behind him but also the endorsement of the Republicans and the Populists.
Undoubtedly the controlling influence in Democratic councils in some of the Southern States had been exercised by a very small element in the population. A few men, almost a “Family Compact” either held the important offices themselves, or decided who should hold them, and fixed the party policy so far as it had a policy other than the maintenance of white supremacy. The governments were generally honest, economical, and cheap. The leaders, partly because they themselves believed in limiting the function of government and partly because they believed that the voters would oppose any extension, had prevented any constructive legislation. Events showed that they had misunderstood their people. When the revolt came, the farmer legislators showed themselves willing to vote money liberally for education and for other purposes which were once considered outside the sphere of government.
South Carolina furnished the most striking example of this revolt. In that State the families which had governed before the War continued the direction of affairs. By a rather unusual compromise, the large western population of the State had been balanced against the greater wealth of the east. Consequently there was overrepresentation of the east after the negro had been deprived of the ballot. It was charged–and with some show of truth–that a small group of men clustering around Charleston exercised an entirely disproportionate share of influence in party management. The farmers, with a growing class consciousness, began to resent this injustice and found a leader ready and anxious to direct them.
In March, 1890, the delegates of the Farmers’ Association decided to secure the nomination for governor for Benjamin R. Tillman, who had devoted much of his time for four years to arousing the farmers. The contest for the nomination was begun in May and, after a bitter struggle, Tillman won easily in the convention in September. The “straight outs,” dazed and humiliated, ran an independent candidate. Tillman and his followers accepted the challenge and the conflict took form as a struggle between mass and class. The farmers’ leader, though not himself illiterate, obscure, or poor, raged up and down the State frankly and brutally preaching class war. He held up Charleston as a sink of iniquity, and he promised legislation to cleanse it. Perhaps a majority of the whites really believed his charges and put faith in his doctrines. If not, the fetish of party regularity drew the votes necessary to make up the deficiency. Tillman had been regularly nominated in a Democratic convention, and South Carolinians had been trained to vote the party ticket. He was elected by a large majority.
At the end of Tillman’s first term two years later, he was again a candidate, and the convention which nominated him approved the Ocala platform. Since the party machinery was in control of the Tillmanites, the opposition adopted the name “Cleveland Democracy” and sought to undo the revolution. The result was never doubtful. Tillman was reelected by an overwhelming majority, and on the expiration of his term was sent to the United States Senate, which he shocked by his passionate utterances as he had so often shocked his own State. The attitude of the educated and cultivated part of the population of South Carolina toward Tillman affords a parallel to that of Tory England toward Lloyd George twenty years later. The parallel may be extended further. Tillman, in time, modified some of his extreme opinions, won over many of his opponents, and gained the respect of his colleagues just as Lloyd George has done; and South Carolina grew to have pride in her sturdy fighter whose life ended just as his fourth term in the Senate was almost done.
The election of Tillman as Governor and then as Senator was a real revolution, for South Carolina had been long represented in the United States Senate by Wade Hampton and Matthew C. Butler, both distinguished soldiers and representatives of the old regime. Hampton, under whose leadership the carpetbag government had been overthrown, had been a popular idol. Both he and Butler had won the respect of their colleagues in the Senate and had reflected credit upon their State. But such services now availed nothing. Both they and others like them were swept out, to be replaced by the partisans of the new order.
Nothing was omitted by the reformers to humiliate what had been the ruling portion of the population. The liquor traffic was made a state monopoly by the dispensary system modeled on the Gothenburg plan: no liquor was sold to be drunk on the premises, and the amount allowed a purchaser was limited. It was hoped the revenue thus received would permit a considerable reduction in the tax rate. These hopes, however, were not realized, and scandals concerning the purchasing agency kept the State in a turmoil for years. Other legislation was more successful. An agricultural and mechanical college for men was founded at the old home of John C. Calhoun at Clemson. A normal and industrial college for girls has also proved very successful. The appropriations to the state university were reduced on the ground that it was an aristocratic institution, but on the other hand funds for public schools were increased.
Not all the members of the Alliance remained in the Democratic party. Populist electors were nominated in every Southern State in 1892, except in Louisiana, where a combined Republican and Populist ticket was named. In no State did the new party secure a majority, but in Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas, the Populist vote was large. In North Carolina, always inclined to independence, the combined Republican and Populist vote was larger than that cast for Democratic electors. It was obvious that Democratic supremacy was imperiled, if the new party continued its amazing growth.
The politicians, Republican and Democratic, set out to win the insurgents. Some shrewd political manipulators, scenting future profit for themselves, had joined the new movement and were willing to trade. During 1893, 1894, and 1895 the Republicans were generally successful. In many States there was more or less cooperation in state and county tickets, in spite of the disfavor with which the Republican party had been regarded in the South. In North Carolina J.C. Pritchard, a regular Republican, was elected to the United States Senate, to fill the unexpired term of Senator Vance, but the Populist state chairman, Marion Butler, cool, calculating, and shrewd, took the full term to succeed Senator Ransom. The Democratic party had maintained control for twenty years, and it was held responsible for all the ills from which the farmer suffered. Then, too, some of the leaders of the new party felt that they would have greater opportunities for preferment by cooeperating with a party in which the number of white voters was small.
The doctrine of free silver had been making converts among the Democrats, however, and early in 1896 it was clear that a majority of the Southern delegates to the national convention would favor a silver plank. The action of the convention in nominating Bryan and Sewall is told in another volume. Bryan was also endorsed by the Populist convention, but that convention refused to endorse Sewall and nominated Thomas E. Watson for Vice-President. A majority of the Populist convention favored a strict party fight, but the managers were shrewd, and the occasion manifestly offered great opportunities for trading. In twenty-six States the electoral tickets were divided between Democrats and Populists. Among these States were Arkansas, Louisiana, Missouri, and North Carolina. But cooeperation with Republicans on local legislative and state tickets often occurred. In North Carolina, a fusion legislature was elected, and a Republican was chosen governor by the aid of Populist votes, though one faction of the Populists nominated a separate ticket. The judicial and congressional nominations were divided. The apparent inconsistency of voting for Bryan for President and at the same time supporting Republicans who might be expected to oppose him in Congress was accepted without flinching. According to the bargain made two years before, when a Republican was sent to the United States Senate for an unexpired term by the aid of the Populist votes, Senator Pritchard was reelected.
[Footnote 1: _The Agrarian Crusade,_ by Solon J. Buck (in _The Chronicles of America_).]
The experience of North Carolina with fusion government was a reminder of the Reconstruction days. The Republicans had dilated upon “local self-government” and the Populists had swallowed the bait. The Legislature changed the form of county government, by which the board of county commissioners had been named by the justices of the peace, and made the board elective. This turned over to the blacks counties in which several of the largest towns in the State were situated. Negro politicians were chosen to office, and lawlessness and violence followed. In Wilmington there was an uprising of the whites, who took possession of the city government by force. The Legislature was again Democratic in 1898 and began to prepare an amendment which should disfranchise a large proportion of the 125,000 negro voters of the State. There was cooeperation between the Republican and Populist organizations again in 1900, but too many Populists had returned to their former allegiance. The restrictive amendment, of which more will be aid presently, was carried by an overwhelming majority at the special election in the summer, and at the regular election in November the Democratic ticket was chosen by an overwhelming majority.
The fusion of 1896 and the rising prices of agricultural products killed the Populist party in the South, but the influence of the movement remains to this day. It has had some effect in lessening political intolerance, for those of the Populists who returned to the Democratic party came back without apology, while others have since classed themselves as Republicans. The Populist attitude toward public education was on the whole friendly, and more money has since been demanded and expended for public schools.
Perhaps the greatest effect of the Populist movement was the overthrow of the old political organizations. In some States a few men had ruled almost by common consent. They had exerted a great influence upon legislation–not by use of the vulgar arts of the lobbyists, but by the plea of party advantage or by the prophecy of party loss. They had given their States clean government and cheap government, but nothing more. A morbid fear of taxation, or rather of the effects of taxation upon the people, was their greatest sin. The agrarian movement took them unawares. They were unable to realize that between the South of 1890 and another, older South, there was a great gap. They could not interpret the half-coherent speech of the small farmer, who had come to feel that he had been wronged and struck out blindly at those whom he had previously trusted. New and unknown men appeared in Washington to take the place of men whose character, ability, and length of service had made them national figures. The governorship of the States went to men whose chief qualifications seemed to be prominence in the affairs of the Alliance or else bitter tongues.
Though the Populists, for the most part, returned to the Democratic party, and the suffrage amendments, which will be mentioned presently, made the possibility of Republican success extremely remote, the “old guard” has never regained its former position. In all the Southern States party control has been for years in the hands of the common man. The men he chooses to office are those who understand his psychology and can speak his language. Real primary elections were common in the South years before they were introduced elsewhere, and the man who is the choice of the majority in the Democratic primary wins.
Some of the men chosen to high office in the State and nation are men of ability and high character, who recall the best traditions of Southern statesmanship; others are parochial and mediocre; and some are blatant demagogues who bring discredit upon their State and their section and who cannot be restrained from “talking for Buncombe.”
The election of a Democratic President in 1884 had stirred the smoldering distrust of the South on the part of the North. The well-known fact that the negro vote in the South did not have the influence its numbers warranted aroused the North to demand a Federal elections law, which was voiced by bills introduced by Senator Hoar of Massachusetts and by Henry Cabot Lodge, then a member of the House of Representatives. Lodge’s bill, which was passed by the House in 1890, permitted Federal officials to supervise and control congressional elections. This so-called “Force Bill” was bitterly opposed by the Southerners and was finally defeated in the Senate by the aid of the votes of the silver Senators from the West, but the escape was so narrow that it set Southerners to finding another way of suppressing the negro vote than by force or fraud. Later the division of the white vote by the Populist party also endangered white supremacy in the South.
In this same year (1890) Mississippi framed a new constitution, which required as a prerequisite for voting a residence of two years in the State and one year in the district or town. A poll tax of two dollars–to be increased to three at the discretion of the county commissioners–was levied on all able-bodied men between twenty-one and sixty. This tax, and all other taxes due for the two previous years, must be paid before the 1st of February of the election year. All these provisions, though applying equally to all the population, greatly lessened the negro vote. Negroes are notoriously migratory, and a large proportion never remain two years in the same place. The poll tax could not be collected by legal process, and to pay the tax for two years, four dollars or more, eight months in advance of an election, seemed to the average negro to be rank extravagance. Moreover, few politicians are reckless enough to arrange for the payment of poll taxes in exchange for the promised delivery of votes eight months away, when half the would-be voters might be in another county, or even in another State. To clinch the matter, the constitution further provided that after 1892, in addition to the qualifications mentioned above, a person desiring to vote must be able to read any section of the constitution, “or he shall be able to understand the same when read to him, or give a reasonable interpretation thereof.” Even when fairly administered, this section operated to disfranchise more negroes than whites, for fewer can read and fewer can understand a legal instrument. But it is obvious that the opportunities for discrimination are great: a simple section can be read to an illiterate white, while a more difficult section, filled with technicalities, may be read to a negro applicant; and the phrase “a reasonable interpretation” may mean one thing in the case of a negro and quite another where a white man is concerned. It is perhaps not surprising that only 5123 Republican votes were reported in 1896, and hardly more, in 1912, were cast for Taft and Roosevelt together.
South Carolina followed the lead of Mississippi a little more frankly in 1895, by adopting suffrage amendments which provided for two years’ residence in the State, one year in the county, and the payment of a poll tax six months before the election. Up to 1898 any person who could read any section of the constitution, or could understand and explain it when read by the registration officer, could have his name placed upon a permanent roll and could vote thereafter, provided he satisfied the other requirements already mentioned. After January 1, 1898, every one presenting himself for registration had to be able to read and write any section of the constitution, or else must have paid taxes the preceding year on property assessed at three hundred dollars or over. The list of disqualifying crimes is long, including those of which negroes are most commonly found guilty, such as larceny, false pretence, bigamy, adultery, wife-beating, and receiving stolen goods. To insure the complexion of the permanent roll, the registration was conducted in each county by a board of “three discreet persons” appointed by the Governor, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate.
It would seem that either of these constitutions would serve to reduce the negro vote sufficiently, while allowing practically all white men to vote. Large discretion, however, is lodged in the officers of election, and Democratic control in these matters is safe only so long as the white men stick together. Louisiana went a step further in 1898 and introduced the famous “grandfather clause” into her constitution. Other requirements were similar to those already mentioned. Two years’ residence in the State, one year in the parish, and six months in the precinct were preliminary conditions; in addition the applicant must be able to read and write in English or his mother tongue, or he must be the owner of property assessed for three hundred dollars or more.
This general requirement of literacy or ownership of property was waived, however, in case of foreigners naturalized before January 1, 1898, who had lived in the State five years, and in the case of men who had voted in any State before 1867, or of sons or grandsons of such persons. These could be placed upon a permanent roll to be made up before September 1, 1898, and should have the right to vote upon complying with the residence and poll tax requirements. Practically all white persons of native stock either voted in some State in 1867 or were descended from some one who had so voted. Few negroes in any State, and none in the South, were voters in that year. It is obvious that suffrage was open to white but barred to negro illiterates. Apparently the only whites debarred under this clause were the illiterate and indigent sons of foreign-born fathers.
North Carolina adopted a new suffrage article in 1900 which is much simpler than those just described. It requires two years’ residence in the State, one in the county, and the payment of poll tax before the 1st of May in the election year. A uniform educational qualification is laid down, but the “permanent roll” is also included. No “male person who was on January 1, 1867, or at any other time prior thereto, entitled to vote under the laws of any State in the United States, wherein he then resided, and no lineal descendant of any such person shall be denied the right to register and vote at any election in the State by reason of his failure to possess the educational qualifications herein prescribed: _Provided_ he shall have registered in accordance with the terms of this section prior to December 1, 1908.” In other words, any white illiterate thirteen years old or over when the amendment was adopted would not be deprived of his vote because of the lack of educational qualifications. No other State had given so long a time as this.
The “grandfather clause” here was shrewdly drawn. Free negroes voted in North Carolina until 1835, and under the terms of the clause any negro who could prove descent from a negro voter could not be debarred because of illiteracy. Negroes voted in a few States in 1867, and they or their descendants were exempt from the educational test. Of course the number of these was negligible, and the clause accomplished precisely what it was intended to do–that is, it disfranchised a large proportion of the negroes and yet allowed the whites to vote. The extension of the time of registration until 1908, eight years after the amendment was adopted and six after it went into effect, made the disfranchisement of any considerable number of whites impossible.
Alabama followed in 1901, combining the South Carolina and the Louisiana plans and including the usual residence and poll tax requirements, as well as the permanent roll. This was to be made up before December 20, 1902, and included soldiers of the United States, or of the State of Alabama in any war, soldiers of the Confederate States, their lawful descendants, and “men of good character who understood the duties and obligations of citizenship under a republican form of government.” After the permanent roll has been made up, the applicant for registration must be able to read and write and must have worked the greater part of the twelve months next preceding, or he or his wife must own forty acres of land or real estate or personal property assessed at not less than three hundred dollars. A long list of disqualifying crimes was added, including wife-beating and conviction for vagrancy. As if this were not enough, after 1903 an applicant for registration might be required to state where he had lived during the preceding five years, the name or names by which known, and the names of his employers. Refusal to answer was made a bar to registration, and wilful misstatement was regarded as perjury.
Oklahoma adopted its disfranchising amendment in 1910, without valid reason so far as any one outside the State could see, as the proportion of negroes was very small. An attempt was made permanently to disfranchise the illiterate negro by the “grandfather clause,” while allowing illiterate white voters to vote forever. Other States allowed a limited time in which to register on a permanent roll, after which all illiterates were to be disfranchised. Oklahoma sought to keep suffrage permanently open to illiterate whites, while closing it to illiterate negroes. This amendment was declared unconstitutional by the United States Supreme Court in June, 1915, on the ground that a State cannot reestablish conditions existing before the ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment, even though the disfranchising amendment contained no “express words of exclusion” but “inherently brings that result into existence.” What the Court will do with other similar constitutional amendments when they are brought before it is not so certain. All differ somewhat, and it is possible that the Court may let the whole or a part of some of them stand. If not, it is probable that straight educational and property qualifications will be substituted. In fact, if the Court disapproves the permanent roll but allows the remainder to stand, educational and property qualifications will prevail in several States.
[Footnote 1: Guinn _vs._ United States, 238 U.S., 347.]
All these plans for disfranchisement have accomplished the desired results up to the present time. The negro vote has been greatly reduced and elections are decided by the votes of white men. In some States, negroes who could easily pass the tests no longer take the trouble to go to the polls. The number of white voters also grows smaller. Some fail to pay the poll tax, and others stay away from the polls because, as a rule, the result has been decided in the primary elections. Since a Democratic nomination is practically equivalent to election, many voters who have taken part in the primaries neglect to vote on election day. Only in North Carolina is there evidence of the growth of a strong Republican opposition. In 1908, Taft received over 114,000 votes, and the Republican candidate for governor 107,000. In 1916 Hughes received 120,000 votes as against 168,000 for Wilson.
What was done with the negro when he was thus rendered politically helpless? Was there an attempt to take from him other things than the ballot? The answer must be in the affirmative. Men advocated segregation in common carriers, in public places, and even in places of residences. An attempt to confine appropriations for negro schools to the amount of taxes directly paid by the negroes has been made; men have sought office on a platform of practical serfdom for the negro. But although some few have achieved temporary successes–at least they have been elected–their programs have not been carried out. The “Jim Crow” car is common and the negro schools do not get appropriations equal to those of the whites, but little else has been done. In fact, evidences of a reaction in favor of the negro soon became apparent. The late Governor Charles B. Aycock of North Carolina at the beginning of this century won his triumphs on a platform of justice for the negro.
The question of the liquor traffic began to engage the attention of the Southern people very soon after the end of Reconstruction. The great problem was the sale of liquor in the unpoliced country districts, and especially to negroes. By special legislative acts forbidding the sale of liquor within a given number of miles of a church or a school a large part of the South was made dry. Local option acts continued the restrictive work until the sale of liquor outside of the larger incorporated towns became rare. In some States, acts applying to the whole State forbade the sale outside of towns. By concentrating their efforts upon the towns, the anti-saloon forces made a large number of them dry also, but there was so much illicit sale that employers often found that Monday was a wasted day.
State wide prohibition began in 1907 with Oklahoma and Georgia, and State after State followed until, in 1914, ten States were wholly dry, and in large areas of the other Southern States the sale of intoxicants was forbidden through local option. Southern members of Congress urged the submission of the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution, forbidding manufacture or sale of intoxicants in the nation. Every Southern State promptly ratified the Amendment when it was submitted by Congress.
Unfortunately many negroes when deprived of alcohol began to use drugs, such as cocaine, and the effect morally and physically was worse than that of liquor. The “coke fiend” became a familiar sight in the police courts of Southern cities, and the underground traffic in the drug is still a serious problem. The new Federal law has helped to control the evil, but both cocaine and alcohol are still sold to negroes, sometimes by pedlars of their own race, sometimes by unscrupulous white men. The consumption of both is less, however, than before the restrictive legislation. The South has traveled far from its old opposition to sumptuary laws. Like State Rights, this principle is only invoked when convenient. Starting largely as a movement to keep whiskey from the negro and, to a somewhat less extent, from the white laborer, prohibition has become popular. On the whole it has worked well in the South though “moonshining” is undoubtedly increasing. The enormous price eagerly paid for whiskey in the “bone-dry” States has led to a revival of the illicit distillery, which had been almost stamped out.
THE FARMER AND THE LAND
The end of Reconstruction found the tenant system and the “crop lien” firmly fastened upon the South. The plantation system had broken down since the owner no longer had slaves to work his land, capital to pay wages, or credit on which to borrow the necessary funds. Many of the great plantations had already been broken up and sold, while others, divided into tracts of convenient size, had been rented to white or negro tenants. What had been one plantation became a dozen farms, a score, or even more. Men who owned smaller tracts found it difficult to hire or to keep labor, and many retained only the land which they or their sons could work and rented the remainder of their farms. This system is still characteristic of Southern agriculture.
Few of the landless whites and practically none of the negroes had sufficient money reserve to maintain themselves for a year and hence no capital to apply to the land on which they were tenants. Yet the land was there ready to produce, the labor was there, more or less willing to work if it could but live while the crop was growing. The country merchant had already assumed the office of banker to the tenant farmer, and this position he still holds in spite of all efforts to dislodge him. His customers include not only tenants but some landowners, white or black. They buy from him, during the months before the crop is gathered, the food, clothing, and other supplies necessary for existence, and as many simple luxuries as he will permit. When the crops are gathered, he buys them, or at least the share of them belonging to the tenant, subtracts the store accounts, and turns over the surplus, if any, to the farmers.
Unlike other bankers, the merchant charges no interest upon the capital he advances, but he is paid nevertheless. For every pound of bacon, meal, and flour, for every gallon of molasses, for every yard of cloth, for every plug of tobacco or tin of snuff which the customer consumes during the spring and summer, an advanced price is charged to him on the merchant’s books. With thousands of these merchants selling to hundreds of thousands of farmers over a wide area, it is of course impossible to state the average difference between credit and cash prices. Investigations made in different sections show a wide variation depending upon custom, competition, the reliability and industry of the customer, the amount of advances, and the length of credit. Since a large part of the advances are made during the six, or even four months before the crops are gathered, the difference between cash and credit prices amounts often to an interest charge of forty to one hundred per cent or even more a year. These advanced credit prices, and consequently the high interest rates, may be paid not only upon food, clothing, and other personal goods, but also, occasionally, upon tools, farming implements, fertilizers, and work animals.
The merchant is supposed to be protected against loss by the institution of the crop lien and the chattel mortgage. By one or the other of these the farmer is enabled to mortgage his growing, or even his unplanted crops, his farming implements, his cattle, and horses, if he owns them. If he is a landowner, the land may be included in a mortgage as additional security. The crop is conveyed to the mortgagee as in an ordinary land mortgage, and the tenant cannot hold back his crop for a better price, or seek a better market for any part of it, until all his obligations have been settled. Disposing of mortgaged property is a serious offense and no one not desirous of abetting fraud will buy property which he has reason to suspect has been mortgaged. As a result of this system in some sections, years ago, nine-tenths of the farmers were in debt. Undoubtedly the prices credited for the crops have been less than might have been obtained in a market absolutely free. If the crops a farmer raises bring less than the advances, the balance is carried over to the next year and no other merchant will give credit to a man whose accounts with his former creditor are not clear. In the past the signing of one of these legal instruments has often reduced the farmer to a state of peonage.
Naturally the merchant who has begun to extend credit, sometimes before the seed is in the ground, has a voice in deciding what crops shall be planted. The favorite crops in the past have been tobacco and cotton, particularly the latter. Both contain comparatively large value in small bulk; both can be stored conveniently, with little danger of deterioration; neither is liable to a total failure; a ready market for both is always available; and neither tempts the thief until it is ripe. Only winter wheat, sown in the fall and reaped in early summer, is grown in the South, and the crop is somewhat uncertain. A tenant who has secured advances on a crop of wheat during the fall and winter may easily move to an adjoining county or State in the spring and plant cotton there. Half a crop of corn may easily be stolen, eaten by animals, or consumed by the tenant while still green. A further reason for not encouraging the production of corn and wheat is the profit the merchant makes by the sale of imported flour, meal, and bacon. Cotton is therefore almost the only product of sections admirably suited to the growing of corn or to the raising of hogs. The country merchant has helped to keep the South poor.
Yet in spite of the apparently exorbitant percentage of profit, few country merchants become rich. In a year of drouth, or of flood, many of their debtors may not be able to pay their accounts, even though their intentions are of the best. Others may prove shiftless and neglect their fields. Still others may be deliberately dishonest and, after getting as large advances as possible, abandon their crops leaving both the landowner and the merchant in the lurch. These creditors must then either attempt to harvest the crop by hired labor, with the hope of reducing their loss, or else charge the whole to profit and loss. The illness or death of the debtor may also prevent the proper cultivation of the crop he has planted. For these different reasons every country merchant is likely to accumulate many bad debts which may finally throw him into bankruptcy. Those who succeed are exceptionally shrewd or very fortunate.
The relation of the tenant to his landlord varies in different parts of the South. Many different plans of landholding have been tried since 1865, and traces of all of them may be found throughout the length and breadth of the South. One was a modified serfdom, in which the tenant worked for the landlord four or five days in every week for a small wage. In addition he had a house, firewood, and several acres of land which he might cultivate on his own account. According to another plan, the landlord promised to pay a fixed sum of money to the laborer when the crop was gathered. Both plans had their origin primarily in the landlord’s poverty, but were reenforced by the tenant’s unreliability. These plans, as well as combinations of these with some others to be mentioned, have now practically died out. There remain the following alternatives: land may be rented for a fixed sum of money per acre, to be paid when the crops are sold, or for a fixed quantity of produce, so many bushels of corn or so many pounds of cotton being paid for every acre; or, more commonly, land may be rented on some form of share tenancy by which the risk as well as the profit is shared by both tenant and landowner.
Share tenancy assumes various forms. In some sections a rough understanding grew up that, in the division of a crop, one-third was to be allotted to the land, one-third to live stock, seed, and tools, and one-third to labor. If the tenant brought nothing but his bare hands, he received only the share supposed to be due to labor; if he owned working animals and implements, he received in addition the share supposed to be due to them. This arrangement, modified in individual cases, still persists, especially where the tenants are white. As various forms of industrial enterprise have continued to draw labor from the farms, the share assigned to labor by this form of tenancy has increased until, in perhaps the greater part of the South and certainly in the cotton-growing sections, it is usually one-half.
The ordinary arrangement of share tenancy under which the negro in the cotton belt now works provides that the landowner shall furnish a cabin in which the family may live and an acre or two for a garden. In addition, working stock, implements, and seed are supplied by the owner of the land. Both tenant and owner share the cost of fertilizers if any are used, and divide equally the expenses of preparing the crop for market and the proceeds of the sale. This arrangement means, of course, that the capitalist takes the laborer into a real partnership. Both embark in a venture the deferred results of which are dependent chiefly upon the industry and good faith of the laborer. By a seeming paradox it is only the laborer’s unreliability which gives him such an opportunity, for if he were more dependable, the landowner would prefer in most cases to pay wages and take the whole of the crop. Because the average negro laborer cannot be depended upon to be faithful, he is given a greater opportunity, contrary to all ordinary moral maxims.
When the share tenant lives on the land he may be a part of two different systems. There are some large plantations over which the owners or managers exercise close supervision. The horses or, more generally, the mules are housed in large common stables or sheds and are properly looked after. Some attempt is made to see that tools and implements are kept in order. If the tenant falls behind in his work and allows his crop to be overrun with grass or is unable to pick the cotton as it opens, the owner hires help, if possible, and charges the cost against the tenant. In other words, the owner attempts to apply to agriculture some of the principles of industrial organization. The success of such attempts varies. The negro tenant generally resents close supervision; but on the other hand he enjoys the community life of a large plantation. In the end, in the majority of cases the personal equation determines whether the negro stays or moves.
At the other extreme is the landowner who turns over his land to the negro and hopes for some return. If the tenant is industrious and ambitious, the landowner gets something and is relieved of the trouble of supervision. Often, however, he finds at the end of the year that the mules have deteriorated from being worked through the day and driven or ridden over the country at night; the tools and implements are broken or damaged; and the fences have been used for firewood, though an abundant supply could have been obtained by a few hours’ labor. Very often the landlord’s share of the small crop will not really compensate him for the depreciated value of his property, for land rented without supervision is likely to decrease in fertility and to bring in meager returns.
A more successful arrangement between the two extremes is often seen in sections where the population is largely white and land is held in smaller tracts. Here a white farmer who owns more land than he or his sons can cultivate marks off a tract for a tenant, white or black, who may be said to work with his landlord. Both he and others of his family may work an occasional day for the landlord, receiving pay either in kind or in cash. Relations between such families often become close, and the tenant may remain on the property for years. In some sections there are numerous examples of what might be called permanent tenants. Sometimes such a tenant ultimately purchases the land upon which he has worked or other land in the neighborhood.
The plantation owner may be a merchant-landlord also and may furnish supplies to his tenants. He keeps only staple articles, but he may give an order on a neighboring store for those not in stock or may even furnish small sums of money on occasion. The tenants are not allowed to buy as much as they choose either in the plantation store or in the local store at the crossroads. At the beginning of the year the landlord or the merchant generally allows a credit ranging from fifty to two hundred dollars but rarely higher and attempts to make the tenant distribute the purchases over the whole period during which the crop is growing. If permitted, many, perhaps a large majority of the tenants, might use up their credit months before the crop was gathered. In such cases the merchant or landlord, or both, must make further advances to save what they have already invested or else must see the tenant abandon is crops and move.
These relations between landlord and tenant show much diversity, but certain conditions prevail everywhere. Few tenants can sustain themselves until the crop is gathered, and a very large percentage of them must eat and wear their crops before they are gathered–a circumstance which will create no surprise unless the reader makes the common error of thinking of them as capitalists. Though the landlord in effect takes his tenants into partnership, they are really only laborers, and few laborers anywhere are six or eight months ahead of destitution. How many city laborers, even those with skilled trades, could exist without credit if their wages were paid only once a year? How many of them would have prudence or foresight enough to conserve their wages when finally paid and make them last until the next annual payment? The fault for which the tenant is to be blamed is that he does not take advantage of two courses of action open to him: first, to raise a considerable part of the food he consumes; and second, to struggle persistently to become independent of the merchant. Thousands of tenants have achieved their economic freedom, and all could if they would only make an intelligent and continued effort to do so.
Nowhere else in the United States has the negro the same opportunity to become self-sustaining, but his improvidence keeps him poor. Too often he allows what little garden he has to be choked with weeds through his shiftlessness. One of the shrewdest observers and fairest critics of the negro, Alfred Holt Stone, says of the Mississippi negro: “In a plantation experience of more than twelve years, during which I have been a close observer of the economic life of the plantation negro, I have not known one to anticipate the future by investing the earnings of one year in supplies for the next….The idea seems to be that the money from a crop already gathered is theirs, to be spent as fancy suggests, while the crop to be made must take care of itself, or be taken care of by the ‘white-folks.'” This statement is not so true of the negroes of the Upper South, many of whom are more intelligent, and have developed foresight and self-reliance.
[Footnote 1: Stone. _Studies in the American Race Problem_, p. 188]
The theory that there is an organized conspiracy over the whole South to keep the negro in a state of peonage is frequently advanced by ignorant or disingenuous apologists for the negro, but this belief cannot be defended. The merchants usually prefer to sell for cash, and more and more of them are reluctant to sell on credit. In some cotton towns no merchant will sell on credit, and the landlord is obliged to furnish supplies to those who cannot pay. The landowners generally would much prefer a group of prosperous permanent tenants who could be depended upon to give some thought to the crop of the future as well as to that of the present. In the South as a whole the negro finds little difficulty in buying land, if he can make a moderate first payment. It is true that some are cheated by the merchant or the landlord. Prices charged for supplies are too high, and the prices credited for crops are too low, but the debtors are hardly swindled to a greater extent than the ignorant and illiterate elsewhere.
The condition of the white tenant is sometimes little better than that of the negro. He usually farms a larger tract, 83.8 acres on the average (in 1910), as against 39.6 acres for the negro, and he is on the whole more prosperous; but there are many who live from hand to mouth, move frequently, habitually get into debt to the merchant or the landlord, and have little or no surplus at settling time. In the South in 1910 there were 866,000 white tenant farmers who cultivated 20.5 per cent of all the land, and since that time white tenancy has been increasing. The increase of land ownership is greater among the negroes than among the whites, who are in many cases illiterates. This illiteracy is one cause of their poverty, but not the only cause: a part of it is moral, involving a lack of steadfast purpose, and a part is physical. The researches conducted by the United States Government, the state boards of health, and the Rockefeller Foundation show clearly that much of the indolence charged to the less prosperous Southern rural whites is due to the effect of the hookworm, a tiny intestinal parasite common in most tropical and subtropical regions and probably brought from Africa or the West Indies by the negro. The Rockefeller Foundation is now spending nearly $300,000 a year in financing, wholly or in part, attempts to eradicate the disease in eight Southern States and in fifteen foreign countries.
The parasite enters the body from polluted soil, usually through the feet, as a large part of the rural population goes barefoot in the summer; it makes its way to the intestinal canal, where it fixes itself, grows, and lays eggs which are voided and hatch in the soil. Since most country districts are without sanitary closets, reinfection may occur again and again, until an individual harbors a host of these tiny bloodsuckers, which interfere with his digestion and sap his vitality. It is now believed that the morbid appetites of the “clay eaters” are due to this infection. The fact that the negro who introduced the curse is less susceptible to the infection and is less affected by it than the white man is one of life’s ironies.
There is a brighter side to this picture, however. Of all the cultivated land in the South 65 per cent is worked by owners (white 60.6 per cent; colored 4.4 per cent) and this land is on the whole much better tilled than that let to tenants. It is true that some of the landowners are chronically in debt, burdened with mortgages and with advances for supplies. Some of them probably produce less to the acre than tenants working under close supervision, but the percentage of farms mortgaged is less in the South than in any other part of the country except the Mountain Division, and unofficial testimony indicates that few farms are lost through foreclosure.
For years the agricultural colleges and the experiment stations offered good advice to the Southern farmer, but they reached only a small proportion. Their bulletins had a small circulation and were so full of technical expressions as to be almost unintelligible to the average farmer. Recently the writers have attempted to make themselves more easily understood, and the usefulness of their publications has consequently increased. The bulletins of the Department of Agriculture are read in increasing numbers, and several agricultural papers have a wide circulation. The “farmer’s institutes” where experts in various lines speak on their specialties are well attended, and the experimental farms to which few visitors came at first are now popular.
Two other agencies are doing much for agricultural betterment. One is the county demonstrator, and the other boys’ and girls’ clubs. Both are due to the foresight and wisdom of the late Dr. Seaman A. Knapp, of the United States Department of Agriculture. As early as 1903 Dr. Knapp had been showing by practical demonstration how the farmers of Texas might circumvent the boll weevil, which was threatening to make an end of cotton-growing in that State. He was able to increase the yield of cotton on a pest-ridden farm. The idea of the boys’ corn club was not new when Dr. Knapp took it up in 1908 and made it a national institution. The girls’ canning club was soon added to the list, and then came the pig club for boys and the poultry club for girls.
The General Education Board, which, with its large resources, had been seeking the best way to aid education in the South, was forced to the conclusion that any educational development must be preceded by economic improvement. The farm production of the South was less than that of other sections, and until this production could be increased, taxation, no matter how heavy, could not provide sufficient money for really efficient schools. After a study of the whole field of agricultural education, the ideas of Dr. Knapp were adopted as the basis of the work and, by arrangement with the Department of Agriculture, Dr. Knapp himself was placed in charge. The appropriations to the Department of Agriculture had been made for the extermination or circumvention of the boll weevil and could not be used for purely educational work in States where the weevil had not appeared. A division of territory was now made: the Department financed demonstration work in those States affected by the pest and the General Education Board bore the expense in the other States. Entire supervision of the work was in the hands of the Department of Agriculture, which made all appointments and disbursed all funds. The Board furnished funds but assumed no authority. The history issued by the General Education Board says: “Dr. Knapp endeavored to teach his hearers not only how to raise cotton and corn, but how to conduct farming as a business–how to ascertain the cost of a crop, how to find out whether they were making or losing money. As rapidly as possible the scope was broadened for the purpose of making the farmer more and more independent. He was stimulated to raise stock, to produce feed and forage for his stock, and to interest himself in truck gardening, hog-raising, etc.”
The method used was to appoint county, district and state demonstration agents who would induce different farmers to cultivate a limited area according to specific directions. As these agents were appointed by the Department of Agriculture, the farmer was flattered by being singled out by the Government. In most cases the results of the experiments were far superior to those which the farmer had obtained merely by following tradition, and he usually applied the successful methods to his whole farm. Some of his neighbors, who visited the demonstration plot to scoff at the idea that any one in Washington could teach a farmer how to grow cotton or corn, were wise enough to recognize the improvement and to follow the directions. Every successful demonstration farm was thus a center of influence, and the work was continued after Dr. Knapp’s death under the charge of his son, Bradford Knapp.
The idea of the boys’ corn club was vitalized in 1908 by Dr. Knapp, who planned to establish a corn club in every neighborhood, with county and state organizations. Each boy was to cultivate a measured acre of land in corn, according to directions and keep a strict account of the cost. The work of his father, or of a hired man, in ploughing the land must be charged against the plot at the market rate. Manure, or fertilizer, and seed were likewise to be charged, but the main work of cultivation was to be done by the boy himself. The crop was to be measured by two disinterested witnesses who should certify to the result. Local pride was depended upon to furnish prizes for the county organization, but the most successful boys in every State were to be taken on a trip to Washington, there to shake hands with the Secretary of Agriculture and the President. This appeal to the imagination of youth was a master touch.
Thousands of boys were interested and achieved results which were truly startling. In every State the average yield from the boys’ acres was larger than the state average, in some cases almost five times as great. One South Carolina boy produced on his acre in 1910 over 228 bushels, and in 1913 an Alabama boy reached high-water mark with nearly 233 bushels. Hundreds of boys produced over 100 bushels to the acre, and the average of the boys in South Carolina was nearly 69 bushels, compared with an average of less than 20 for the adult farmers. The pig clubs which followed have likewise been successful and have stimulated an interest in good stock and proper methods of caring for it. Many country banks have financed these operations by buying hogs by the carload and selling to the club members on easy terms.
Girls’ canning clubs were organized by Dr. Knapp in 1910. Girls were encouraged to plant a tenth of an acre in tomatoes. Trained demonstrators then traveled from place to place and showed them how to use portable canning outfits. The girls met, first at one house and then at another, to preserve their tomatoes, and soon they began to preserve many other vegetables and fruits. Two girls in Tennessee are said to have preserved 126 different varieties of food. Some of these clubs have gained more than a local reputation for their products and have been able to sell their whole output to hotels or to institutions. Though the monetary gain has been worth something, the addition to the limited dietary of the homes has been worth more, and the social influence of these clubs has been considerable. The small farmer in the South is not a social being, and anything which makes for cooperation is valuable. The poultry clubs which were an extension of the canning club idea have been successful. The club idea, indeed, has been extended beyond the limits of the South. Congress, recognizing its value, has taken over and extended the work and has supported it liberally. Today market-garden clubs for the manufacturing cities, potato clubs, mother-and-daughter clubs, and perhaps others have grown out of the vision of Dr. Knapp.
Though these activities have had a great effect in improving the South, that section has not yet been transformed into an Eden. In spite of farm demonstrations, experiment stations, and boys’ and girls’ clubs, the stubborn inertia of a rural population fixed on the soil has only been shocked, not routed. Much land is barely scratched instead of being ploughed deep; millions of acres bear no cover crops but lose their fertility through the leaching of valuable constituents during the winter. Fertilizer is bought at exorbitant prices, while the richness of the barnyard goes to waste, and legumes are neglected; land is allowed to wash into gullies which soon become ravines. Farms which would produce excellent corn and hay are supplied with these products from the Middle West; millions of pounds of Western pork are consumed in regions where hogs can be easily and cheaply raised; butter from Illinois or Wisconsin is brought to sections admirably adapted to dairying; and apples from Oregon and honey from Ohio are sold in the towns. In several typical counties an average of $4,000,000 was sent abroad for products which could easily have been raised at home. In Texas some of the bankers have been refusing credit to supply merchants who do not encourage the production of food crops as well as cotton.
[Footnote 1: An illuminating series of studies of rural life is being issued by the Bureau of Extension of the University of North Carolina.]
Throughout the South there are thousands of homes into which no newspaper comes, certainly no agricultural paper, and in which there are few books, except perhaps school books. The cooking is sometimes done with a few simple utensils over the open fire. Water must be brought from a spring at the foot of the hill, at an expenditure of strength and endurance. The cramped house has no conveniences to lighten labor or to awaken pride. The overworked wife and mother has no social life, except perhaps attendance at the services at the country church to which the family rides in a springless wagon. Such families see their neighbors prosper without attempting to discover the secret for themselves. Blank fatalism possesses them. They do not realize that they could prosper. New methods of cultivation, they think, are not for them since they have no capital to purchase machinery.
On the other hand, one sees more Ford cars than teams at many country churches, and many larger automobiles as well. Some Southern States are spending millions for better roads, and the farmer or his son or daughter can easily run into town in the afternoon carrying a little produce which more than pays for any purchases. Tractors are seen at work here and there, and agricultural machinery is under the sheds. Many houses have private water systems and a few farmers have harnessed the brooks for electric lights. The gas engine which pumps the water runs the corn sheller or the wood saw. The rural telephone spreads like a web over the countryside. Into these houses the carrier brings the daily or semi-weekly paper from the neighboring town, agricultural journals, and some magazines of national circulation; a piano stands in the parlor; and perhaps a college pennant or two hang somewhere, for many farm boys and girls go to college. In spite of the short terms of the public schools, many manage to get some sort of preparation for college, and in the South more college students come from farm homes than from town or city. This encouraging picture is true, no less than the other, and the number of such progressive farm homes is fortunately growing larger.
A greater range of products is being cultivated throughout the South, though more cotton and tobacco are being produced than ever before. The output of corn, wheat, hay, and pork has increased in recent years, though the section is not yet self-sufficient. The growing of early vegetables and fruits for Northern markets is a flourishing industry in some sections where land supposedly almost worthless has been found to be admirably adapted for this purpose. An increasing acreage in various legumes not only furnishes forage but enriches the soil. Silos are to be seen here and there, and there are some excellent herds of dairy cattle, though the scarcity of reliable labor makes this form of farming hazardous. The cattle tick is being conquered, and more beef is being produced. Thoroughbred hogs and poultry are common.
With the great rise in the price of the farmer’s products since 1910, the man who farms with knowledge and method is growing prosperous. Farmers are taking advantage of the Federal Farm Loan Act and are paying off many mortgages. The necessity of asking for credit is diminishing, and men have contracted to buy land and have paid for it from the first crop. While the things the farmer must buy have risen in price, his products have risen even higher in value; and in those sections of the South suited to mixed farming there need be comparatively little outgo.
One is tempted to hope that the lane has turned for the Southern farmer. Partly owing to his ignorance and inertia, partly to circumstances difficult to overcome, his lot after 1870 was not easy, and from 1870 to 1910 is a full generation. An individual who grew to manhood on a Southern farm during that period may be excused for a gloomy outlook upon the world. He finds it difficult to believe that prosperity has arrived, or that it will last. The number who have been convinced of the brighter outlook, however, is increasing.
Though the Old South was in the main agricultural, it was not entirely destitute of industrial skill. The recent industrial development is really a revival, not a revolution, in some parts of the South. In 1810, according to Tench Coxe’s semi-official _Statement of Arts and Manufactures_, the value of the textile products of North Carolina was greater than that of Massachusetts. Every farmhouse had spinning-wheels and one loom or several on which the women of the family spun yarn and wove cloth for the family wardrobe. On the large plantations negro women produced much of the cloth for both slaves and family. Except on special occasions, a very large proportion of the clothing worn by the average Southern community was of household or local manufacture. Hats were made of fur, wool, or plaited straw. Hides were tanned on the plantations or more commonly at a local tannery and were made into shoes by local cobblers, white or black.
Local cabinet-makers made furniture, all of it strong, and some of it good in line and finish. Many of the pieces sold by dealers in antiques in the great cities as coming from Europe by way of the South were made by cabinet-makers in Southern villages in the first half of the nineteenth century. Farm wagons as well as carriages with some pretensions to elegance were made in local shops. In fact, up to 1810 or 1820 it seemed that the logical development of one or two of the South Atlantic States would be into frugal manufacturing commonwealths. Few of the thousands of small shops developed into real manufacturing establishments, however, though many continued to exist. The belief in the profits apparently to be made from the cultivation of cotton and tobacco changed the ideals of the people. To own a plantation on which he might lead a patriarchal existence became the ambition of the successful man. Even the lawyer, the doctor, or the merchant was likely to own a plantation to which he expected to retire, if indeed he did not already live on it while he engaged in his other occupation. As the century went on, the section began to depend more and more upon other parts of the country or upon Europe to supply its wants, and general interest in Southern industries began to wane.
Textile establishments had appeared early in the century. The first cotton mill in North Carolina was built in 1810 and one in Georgia about the same time. Much of the machinery for the former was built by local workmen. Other mills were built in the succeeding years until in 1860 there were about 160 in the Southern States, with 300,000 spindles, and a yearly product worth more than $8,000,000. The establishments were small, less than one-third the average size of the mills in New England, and few attempted to supply more than the local demand for coarse yarn which the country women knit into socks or wove into cloth. The surplus was peddled from wagons in adjoining counties or even in a neighboring State. Little attempt was made to seek a wider outlet, and many of these mills could supply the small local demand by running only a few months in the year.
During the Civil War, however, these mills were worked to their full capacity. At the cessation of hostilities many mills were literally worn out; others were destroyed by the invading armies; and fewer were in operation in 1870 than before the War. During the next decade, hope of industrial success began to return to the South. The mills in operation were making some money; the high price of cotton had brought money into the section; and a few men had saved enough to revive the industry. Old mills were enlarged, and new mills were built. The number in operation in 1880 was about the same as in 1860, but the number of spindles was nearly twice as great.
The Cotton Exposition at Atlanta in 1881 and the New Orleans Exposition in 1884 gave an impetus to the construction of mills. There were prophecies of future success in the industry, though some self-appointed guardians of the South proved, to their own satisfaction at least, that neither the section nor the people were adapted to the manufacture of cotton and that all their efforts should be devoted to the production of raw material for the mills of New England. Difficulties were magnified and advantages were minimized by those whose interests were opposed to Southern industrial development, but the movement had now gained momentum and was not to be stopped. Timidly and hesitantly, capital for building mills was scraped together in dozens of Southern communities, and the number of spindles was doubled between 1880 and 1885 and continued to increase.
In developing this Southern industry there were many difficulties to be overcome, and mistakes were sometimes made. Seduced by apparent cheapness, many of the new mills bought machinery which the New England mills had discarded for better patterns, or because of a change of product. Operatives had to be drawn from the farms and needed to be trained not only to work in the mills but also to habits of regularity and punctuality. The New England overseers who were imported for this purpose sometimes failed in dealing with these new recruits to industrialism because of inability to make due allowance for their limitations. Accustomed to the truck system in agriculture, the managers often paid wages in scrip always good for supplies at the company store but redeemable in cash only at infrequent intervals. The operatives therefore sometimes found that they had exchanged one sort of economic dependence for another. Another difficulty was that a place for Southern yarn and Southern cloth had to be gained in the market, and this was difficult of accomplishment for the product was often not up to the Northern standard.
Managing ability, however, was found not to be so rare in the South as had been supposed. Some of the managers, drawn perhaps from the village store, the small town bank, or the farm, succeeded so well in the broader field that others were encouraged to seek similar industrial success. As the construction of new mills went on, the temper of the South Atlantic States began to change. The people began to believe in Southern industrial development and to be eager to invest their savings in something other than a land mortgage. An instalment plan by which the savings of the people, small individually but large in the aggregate, were united, furnished capital for mills in scores of towns and villages. In 1890 there were nearly a million and three-quarters spindles in the South compared with less than six hundred thousand ten years before.
It seemed as though nearly every mill was profitable, and the occasional failures did not seriously check the movement, which developed about 1900 almost into a craze in some parts of the South. In these sections every town talked of building one mill or more. The machine shops of the North, which had been cold or at least indifferent to Southern development, woke up, as Southern mills began to double or triple their equipment out of their profits. Agents were sent to the South to encourage the building of new mills, and to give advice and aid in planning them. The new mill-owners were good customers. They had learned wisdom by the mistakes of the pioneers, and they demanded the best machinery with all the latest devices. Long credit was now freely offered by Northern manufacturers of machinery, and some of them even subscribed for stock–to be paid, of course, in machinery.
The Northern textile manufacturers also woke up. They found that in coarse yarns the Southern mills were successfully competing with their products. Some pessimistic representatives of the industry in the North prophesied that the Southern mills would soon control the market. Some New England mills built branch mills in the South; some turned to the finer yarns; and some sought to throw obstacles in the way of their competitors. It has been freely charged by many Southerners that New England manufacturers bore the expense of labor organizers in an unsuccessful attempt to unionize the Southern mill operatives. It has also been charged that the propaganda for legislation restricting the hours of labor and the age of operatives in Southern mills was financed to some extent by New England manufacturers, and that the writers of the many lurid accounts purporting to describe conditions in Southern mills received pay from the same source.
The system of paying for stock on the instalment plan permitted the construction of many mills for which capital could not have been raised otherwise and had also certain distinct social consequences. According to this plan, the subscriptions to the stock were made payable in weekly instalments of 50 cents or $1.00 a share, thus requiring approximately two or four years to complete payment. Those having money in hand might pay in full, less six per cent discount for the average time. Since almost or quite a year was usually necessary to build the mill and the necessary tenements for the hands, the instalments more than paid this item of expense. The weekly receipts and the payments in full were kept in a local bank, which also expected future business and was therefore likely to be liberal when credit was demanded. Often the officers and directors of the bank were also personally interested in the new enterprise. The machinery manufacturers gave long credit and often took stock in the mill. Commission houses which sold yarns and cloth also took stock with the expectation of controlling the marketing of the product.
Many mills built on this plan were so profitable that they were able to pay for a considerable part of the machinery from the profits long before the last instalment was paid, and some even paid a dividend or two in addition. Such mills started operations with many things in their favor. The ownership was widely distributed, since it was not at all uncommon for a hundred thousand dollar mill to have a hundred or more stockholders, some of whom held only one or two shares. Further, since the amount of money paid in the immediate neighborhood for wages, fuel, and raw material was large, every one was disposed to aid the enterprise in every way possible. Town limits were often changed almost by common consent in order to throw a mill outside so that it would not be subject to town taxes. Where the state constitutions permitted, taxes on the mill were even remitted for a term of years. Where this could not be done, assessors were lenient and usually assessed mill property at much less than its real value.
Not only did some Northern corporations build branch mills in the South, but a considerable amount of Northern capital was invested in mills under the management of Southern men. It is of course impossible to discover the residence of every stockholder, but enough is known to support the assertion that the proportion of Northern capital is comparatively small. The greater part of the investment in Southern mills has come from the savings of Southern people or has been earned by the mills themselves. Lately several successful mills have been bought by large department stores and mail-order houses, in order to supply them with goods either for the counter directly or else for the manufacture of sheets, pillowcases, underwear, and the like. Marshall Field and Company of Chicago, for example, own several mills in North Carolina.
The mills of the South have continued to increase until they are now much more numerous than in the North. They are smaller in size, however, for in 1915 the number of spindles in the cotton-growing States was 12,711,000 compared with 19,396,000 in all other States. The consumption of cotton was nevertheless much greater in the South and amounted to 3,414,000 bales, compared with 2,770,000 bales in the other States. This difference is explained by the fact that Southern mills generally spin coarser yarn and may therefore easily consume twice or even three times as much cotton as mills of the same number of spindles engaged in spinning finer yarn. Some Southern mills, however, spin very fine yarn from either Egyptian or sea-island cotton, but time is required to educate a considerable body of operatives competent to do the more delicate tasks, while less skillful workers are able to produce the coarser numbers.
Southern mills have paid high dividends in the past and have also greatly enlarged their plants from their earnings. They had, years ago, several advantages, some of which persist to the present day. The cost of the raw material was less where a local supply of cotton could be obtained, since freight charges were saved by purchase in the neighborhood; land and buildings for plant and tenements cost less than in the North; fuel was cheaper; water power was often utilized, though sometimes this saving was offset by the cost of transportation; taxes were lower; the rate of wages was lower; there was little or no restriction of the conditions of employment; and there were comparatively few labor troubles.
With the great growth of the industry, however, some of these early advantages have disappeared. Many mills can no longer depend upon the local supply of cotton, and the freight charge from the Lower South is as high as the rate by water to New England or even higher; the transportation of the finished product to Northern markets is an additional expense; wages have risen with the growth of the industry and are approaching closely, if they have not reached, the rate per unit of product paid in other sections. The cost of fuel has increased, although in some localities the development of hydro-electric power has reduced this item. All the States have imposed restrictions upon the employment of women and children in the mills, particularly at night. On the other hand, taxes remain lower, the cost of building is less, and strikes and other forms of industrial friction are still uncommon. When well managed, the Southern mills are still extremely profitable, but margin for error in management has become less.
The Southern mills are chiefly to be found in four States, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama, and in the hill country of these States, though a few large mills are situated in the lowlands. North Carolina, with over three hundred mills, has more than any other State, North or South, and consumes more cotton than any other Southern State–over a million bales.
South Carolina, however, has more spindles, the average size of its mills is larger, and it spins more fine yarn. North Carolina is second only to Massachusetts in the value of its cotton products, South Carolina comes third, Georgia fourth, and Alabama eighth. Virginia and Tennessee are lower on the list. In quantity of cotton consumed, the cotton growing States passed all others in 1905; and in 1916 the consumption was twenty-five per cent greater, in spite of the fact that New England had been increasing her spindles. Some Southern mills are built in cities, but usually they are in the smaller towns and in little villages which have grown up around the mills and owe their existence to them. There is some localization of industry: a very large number of mills, for instance, may be found in a radius of one hundred miles from Charlotte, North Carolina, and one North Carolina county has more than fifty mills, though the total number of spindles in that county is not much greater than in some single New England establishment.
In the allied knitting industry the production of the South is increasing in importance. North Carolina led the South in 1914, with Tennessee, Georgia, Virginia, following in the order named. Though most of the establishments are small, some are important and are establishing a wide reputation for their product. Generally they are situated in the towns where cotton mills have already been located.
The textile industry, though it is the most important, is not the only great industrial enterprise in the New South. Two others, both in a way the by-products of cotton, deserve attention. Only a few years ago cotton seed was considered a nuisance. A small quantity was fed to stock; a somewhat larger quantity was composted with stable manure and used for fertilizer; but the greater part was left to rot or was even dumped into the streams which ran the gins. Since the discovery of the value of cottonseed products, the industry has grown rapidly. The oil is now used in cooking, is mixed with olive oil, is sold pure for salad oil, and is an important constituent of oleomargarine, lard substitutes, and soap, to name only a few of the uses to which it is put. The cake, or meal from which the oil has been pressed, is rich in nitrogen and is therefore valuable as fertilizer; it is also a standard food for cattle, and tentative experiments with it have even been made as a food for human beings. The hulls have also considerable value as cattle food, and from them are obtained annually nearly a million bales of “linters,” that is, short fibers of cotton which escaped the gin. Since the seed is bulky and the cost of transportation is correspondingly high, there are many small cottonseed oil mills rather than a few large ones. Texas is the leader in this industry, with Georgia next, though oil mills are to be found in all the cotton States, and the value of the seed adds considerably to the income of every cotton grower. In 1914 the value of cottonseed products was $212,000,000.