Restricted Economic Historians: the South was a prosperous agricultural region

ForeverFree

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From A Declaration of the Immediate Causes which Induce and Justify the Secession of the State of Mississippi from the Federal Union:

In the momentous step, which our State has taken of dissolving its connection with the government of which we so long formed a part, it is but just that we should declare the prominent reasons which have induced our course.

Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery - the greatest material interest of the world. Its labor supplies the product, which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of commerce of the earth. These products are peculiar to the climate verging on the tropical regions, and by an imperious law of nature, none but the black race can bear exposure to the tropical sun. These products have become necessities of the world, and a blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization.

From a March 4, 1858, speech by James H. Hammond, a US senator from South Carolina, concerning the admission of Kansas to the Union and other matters

But the strength of a nation depends in a great measure upon its wealth, and the wealth of a nation, like that of a man, is to be estimated by its surplus production. ...All the enterprises of peace and war depend upon the surplus production of a people.

It appears, by going to the reports of the Secretary of the Treasury, which are authentic, that last year the United States exported in round numbers $279,000,000 worth of domestic produce, excluding gold and foreign merchandise re-exported. Of this amount $158,000,000 worth is the clear produce of the South; article s that are not and cannot be made at the North. There are then $80,000,000 worth of exports of products of the forest, provisions, and breadstuffs. If we assume that the South made but one-third of these, and I think that is a low calculation, our exports were $185,000,000, leaving to the North less than $95,000,000.

In addition to this, we sent to the North $30,000,000 worth of cotton, which is not counted in the exports. We sent to her $7 or $8,000,000 worth of tobacco, which is not counted in the exports. We sent naval stores, lumber, rice, and many other minor articles.

...No, you dare not make war on cotton. No power on earth dares to make war upon it. Cotton is king.

===============

We have had a half dozen threads recently whose topic was the condition slavery in the US at the time of the Civil War. The claim has been made that slavery was dying.

I want to share some excerpts from Roger Ransom's book The Confederate states of America: What Might Have Been. I hope that this amount of excerpting is not excessive. Note that, this might seem like a lot of paragraphs from the book; but I have broken the book's paragraphs into smaller paragraphs for the sake of readability. Please forgive the typos.

The point that Ransom makes is that when the Civil War began, slavery was thriving, or rather, that the slavery-based Southern economy was seen as thriving.

All of the following is from pages 19-45 of the Ransom book.

- Alan
 
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ForeverFree

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From the book by Roger Ransom, The Confederate states of America: What Might Have Been.

…the enormous boom in cotton production had breathed new life into the slave system of the South. Far from dying out, slavery flourished in the years after 1790 as a never before. …In 1805 there were just over 1 million slaves whose collective value was worth about $300 million; 55 years later there were 4 million slaves worth close to $3 billion, an amount equal to roughly half the total value of all the farms in the slave south. On the eve of the Civil War nearly 4 out of 10 people in the 11th states that were to form the Confederacy were slaves, and they accounted for more than half the agricultural labor in those states.​

To see the extent to which this exploitation of labor produced enormous levels of wealth for slaveholders, one need only look at map 1.2 which shows the distribution of wealth per free adult reported for households in the 1860s census of population. All the counties in the United States reporting an average per capita wealth of $2000 dollars or more were in the slave areas of the South. The map clearly shows why Southerners in 1860 where willing to risk so much to protect the value of their slave assets.

… by the end of the 1830s cotton accounted for almost two-thirds of all exports from the United States. The income from these cotton exports provided a huge stimulus to the economies of states along the Atlantic seaboard, a stimulus that soon spilled over into the old Northwest.

Economic historians in the late 20th century have tended to view the South as a prosperous agricultural region spearheaded by the production of cotton and tobacco in the plantation regions.


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ForeverFree

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More from the book by Roger Ransom, The Confederate states of America: What Might Have Been.

The dominant feature of Southern society was plantation cotton. The cotton boom of the 19th-century brought a level of prosperity to the South unmatched in the colonial era. The per capita income of free Southerners in 1860 was roughly equal to that in other areas of the United States and considerably higher then income in all but a handful of countries throughout the world.

Wealth was not evenly distributed in this society, and Southerners were highly conscious of class divisions that were based on race and the ownership of slaves and land. At the top of the socioeconomic pyramid where the 394,000 slaveholders. These were the families that controlled the economic and political life of the South. Roughly half of all of them had 10 or more slaves on plantations that produced cash crops that was the life blood of the southern economy.

The other half of the slaveholding class, most of whom had three or fewer slaves, owned their own farms, (made) a few bales of cotton, and hoped that someday they might acquire additional slaves, allowing them to move up the social ladder and become part of the planter elite.

Though they were snubbed by the wealthy planters, it is worth noting that a person who owned even a single slave enjoyed a net worth well above that of most farmers in the Northern states.

The largest group of free people in the South were the yeoman farmers who scraped out livings practicing what was called walk-away farming. Most of them owned their own farms, and in a normal year they managed to produce the substance needs of their families.​

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ForeverFree

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Final excerpt from the book by Roger Ransom, The Confederate states of America: What Might Have Been.

The average wealth of a slave holder in 1860 was almost 15 times the average wealth a free farmers in the South and nine times that of farmers in the North. Yet while their Northern brethren might look down on the “poor white” farmers of the South, the size of a Southern farm without slaves and the income of most yeoman farmers would have been the envy of most people throughout the world in the 19th-century.

So long as the cotton boom continued, Southern planters would enjoy a steady flow of income, and the rest of the South could share at least some of that prosperity. What might be seen as an early version trickle-down economics was particularly true for Southerners in the 1850s; while the average value of slave farms those by a factor of three over the decade, operators of free farms in the South saw the average value of their farms double over that period. Small wonder that the yeoman farmers regarded King Cotton as a benign ruler whose reign they hoped would extend far into the future.

So what was the vision of the future as seen through southern eyes?… the salient feature of Southern society in the late antebellum period was a fierce resistance to change and particularly to suggestions of change that came from outside the South. The social structure of the South and the values that underlay that social structure had remained essentially unchanged since the time of Jefferson.

Northerners characterized the free white population as being held in the grip of poverty by the power of a small oligarchy of slaveholders who were determined to stymie progress. Yet many, perhaps most, Southerners saw their society as a place where the status quo offered a ample opportunity for economic growth without having to endure the adjustments that accompanied economic and social change (such as immigration and urbanization, which characterized the modernizing North, and which many Southerners saw a negative.-Alan).

The Southerners vision of the future in the 1850s was simple: they wanted to extend the past into the future by re-creating the "old South" in the new areas of the West.​

- Alan
 
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ForeverFree

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To summarize the above, and touch on some other points from Ransom which were not excerpted:

1) Southerners did not see that slavery or their section as a whole were dying. They believed that the section was thriving. Among other things, they openly boasted about how pivotal the South's cotton/slave based economy was to the North and the world.

2) Today's economic historians see the slave based Southern agriculture as being prosperous. There were historians, especially in the first half of the 20th century, who believed that slavery was or was becoming economically moribund by the time of the Civil War. Modern scholars disagree.

3) Southerners did not see their lack of industrialization, immigration (and the demographic growth it offered), and urbanization as negatives. Southerners liked their agricultural and rural lifestyles. In theory and practice, they embraced the Jeffersonian vision of a nation of free and independent family farmers.

4) Slavery was growing, as evidenced by:
• the ongoing increase in the slave population
• the ongoing increase in the value/price of slaves
• the growth in the amount of crop, and the value of crop, that was produced and exported to the North or overseas

- Alan
 
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ForeverFree

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This is an FYI. The following is from a Table in the book Calculating the Value of the Union: Slavery, Property Rights, and the Economic Origins of the Civil War, by James L Huston, 2003, p 28.

Value of wealth of the United States per economic sector, 1860

Category /Estimated $ Value
Slaves: $3,000,000,000
Value of farms: 6,638,414,221
Value of farm implements: 246,125,064
Investment in manufacturing: 1,050,000,000
Investment in railroads: 1,166,422,729
Bank capital: 227,469,077
Home productions: 27,484,144
Value of livestock: 1,098,862,355

Total: 13,452,000,000

Total assessed real estate and personal property: 16,159,616,068

Value unaccounted for: 2,707,616,000
===================

Note that, these numbers are for the entire United States. So, for example, the value of the nationwide investment in manufacturing and railroads and bank capital was less than the value of slaves.

Also, "the $3 billion figure for slaves is a compromise over economists' varying estimations."

- Alan
 

CSA Today

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Laurinburg NC
From the book by Roger Ransom, The Confederate states of America: What Might Have Been.

…the enormous boom in cotton production had breathed new life into the slave system of the South. Far from dying out, slavery flourished in the years after 1790 as a never before. …In 1805 there were just over 1 million slaves whose collective value was worth about $300 million; 55 years later there were 4 million slaves worth close to $3 billion, an amount equal to roughly half the total value of all the farms in the slave south. On the eve of the Civil War nearly 4 out of 10 people in the 11th states that were to form the Confederacy were slaves, and they accounted for more than half the agricultural labor in those states.​

To see the extent to which this exploitation of labor produced enormous levels of wealth for slaveholders, one need only look at map 1.2 which shows the distribution of wealth per free adult reported for households in the 1860s census of population. All the counties in the United States reporting an average per capita wealth of $2000 dollars or more were in the slave areas of the South. The map clearly shows why Southerners in 1860 where willing to risk so much to protect the value of their slave assets.

… by the end of the 1830s cotton accounted for almost two-thirds of all exports from the United States. The income from these cotton exports provided a huge stimulus to the economies of states along the Atlantic seaboard, a stimulus that soon spilled over into the old Northwest.

Economic historians in the late 20th century have tended to view the South as a prosperous agricultural region spearheaded by the production of cotton and tobacco in the plantation regions.


- continues

Historian E. Merton Coulter would have agreed. In 1860, 5 of the 10 per-E. capita most prosperous states were in the South – Louisiana #2 [Connecticut was #1], South Carolina #2, Mississippi #5, Georgia #8, Texas #9 and Kentucky #10.

E. Merton Coulter, The South during Reconstruction, 1865-1877. pp. 192-193.
 

wausaubob

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Location
Denver, CO
Slavery was dying because it lacked the demographic power to compete with the free economy of the north.
Both sections were growing.
However the north was deliberately encouraging voluntary immigration. The economy was attracting white people who were potential voters.
Their system had crossed the Rocky Mountains and had established itself in Kansas and Nebraska.
The South's solution to this outcome was to attempt to build a closed system. In that closed system new slave owners had to come from the South. There was not a similar system anywhere, in the US or abroad the could be a substantial source of population growth.
Meanwhile the slaves were not ignorant, involuntary immigrants from Africa. They had been in the US for several generations. They were of mixed ancestry. And they knew the difference between freedom and slavery.
In this system, the slaves were generating wealth, but Southerners and their political attitudes were increasingly rejected by the North.
The last political refuge for slavery, once had lost the political contest and with it access to western expansion, was to form a closed, one party, militarized state.
How was that state going to survive next to one the freest, fastest growing countries in the world? How was it going to hold its 4 border states, which contained a large dissenting population, once the exigencies of the war ended?
Even with the war, the dissent made itself felt.
It was not a diverse economy and it was using a labor system that was abhorrent to the European world and the rest of North America.
Though it could generate cash, what it could not generate was political allies.
And Stephen A. Douglas' popular sovereignty formula was based on this weakness.
If the South could generate enough white voters to compete in the west, he would allow it. But the truth was that even with the South there were people who did not like the system and did not like the rich landowners.
They were caught between the rising social awareness of the slaves, and the active dislike of the north for the measures used to the slave system.
 

leftyhunter

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T
From A Declaration of the Immediate Causes which Induce and Justify the Secession of the State of Mississippi from the Federal Union:

In the momentous step, which our State has taken of dissolving its connection with the government of which we so long formed a part, it is but just that we should declare the prominent reasons which have induced our course.

Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery - the greatest material interest of the world. Its labor supplies the product, which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of commerce of the earth. These products are peculiar to the climate verging on the tropical regions, and by an imperious law of nature, none but the black race can bear exposure to the tropical sun. These products have become necessities of the world, and a blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization.

From a March 4, 1858, speech by James H. Hammond, a US senator from South Carolina, concerning the admission of Kansas to the Union and other matters

But the strength of a nation depends in a great measure upon its wealth, and the wealth of a nation, like that of a man, is to be estimated by its surplus production. ...All the enterprises of peace and war depend upon the surplus production of a people.

It appears, by going to the reports of the Secretary of the Treasury, which are authentic, that last year the United States exported in round numbers $279,000,000 worth of domestic produce, excluding gold and foreign merchandise re-exported. Of this amount $158,000,000 worth is the clear produce of the South; article s that are not and cannot be made at the North. There are then $80,000,000 worth of exports of products of the forest, provisions, and breadstuffs. If we assume that the South made but one-third of these, and I think that is a low calculation, our exports were $185,000,000, leaving to the North less than $95,000,000.

In addition to this, we sent to the North $30,000,000 worth of cotton, which is not counted in the exports. We sent to her $7 or $8,000,000 worth of tobacco, which is not counted in the exports. We sent naval stores, lumber, rice, and many other minor articles.

...No, you dare not make war on cotton. No power on earth dares to make war upon it. Cotton is king.

===============

We have had a half dozen threads recently whose topic was the condition slavery in the US at the time of the Civil War. The claim has been made that slavery was dying.

I want to share some excerpts from Roger Ransom's book The Confederate states of America: What Might Have Been. I hope that this amount of excerpting is not excessive. Note that, this might seem like a lot of paragraphs from the book; but I have broken the book's paragraphs into smaller paragraphs for the sake of readability. Please forgive the typos.

The point that Ransom makes is that when the Civil War began, slavery was thriving, or rather, that the slavery-based Southern economy was seen as thriving.

All of the following is from pages 19-45 of the Ransom book.

- Alan
The Achilles heel of the Southern political economy was that literally the wealth really was concentrated more or less into one percent of the population. That's all well and good in peacetime but in war time not so much. The slave owners has the war progressed and social order collapsed saw that their previous economic model was simply not viable.
Leftyhunter
 

cedarstripper

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western New York
[QUOTE="ForeverFree, post: 1541994, member: 2771]The per capita income of free Southerners in 1860 was roughly equal to that in other areas of the United States and considerably higher then income in all but a handful of countries throughout the world.[/quote]

Yazoo County, MS. - 1860: White population - 5657. Slaves - 16,716.
Allegany County, NY (a small, rural, dairy farming county) - 1860: population - about 42,000.

Was Yazoo county prosperous agriculturally? Sure, for the 700 slaveholders, and to diminishing levels the rest of supporting local economy. To the 16,716 slaves - not so much.

In Allegany County, NY, however, the workforce is included when determining average income and net worth.

The South was prosperous agriculturally....as compared to where? And who needed to be prosperous before we judge a region to be? A small number of planters, ignoring the labor of slaves?







 

wausaubob

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Location
Denver, CO
In a slave society they most certainly are capital assets.
:angel: Counting them as capital assets is the same as saying the South gets to use an entirely different accounting system, which the rest of the western world had abandoned. It is not that different then saying 2+2=5.
Does the North get to capitalize the future earning potential of its workers and count that as an asset?:wink:
 

wausaubob

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Denver, CO
If one could capitalize the future earning potential of the 2,000 best workers in Alleghany County and distribute that among the top 200 land owners in the county in 1860, the top 200 earners would be rich and have an excellent balance sheet for as long as it took the 2,000 best workers and their friends to overthrow the system.
 

cash

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Right here.
:angel: Counting them as capital assets is the same as saying the South gets to use an entirely different accounting system, which the rest of the western world had abandoned. It is not that different then saying 2+2=5.
Does the North get to capitalize the future earning potential of its workers and count that as an asset?:wink:

Free laborers are not property. Slaves are property.
 
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