book report: Bitterly Divided (5) by David Williams

This is the last one, I think. David Williams in his book Bitterly Divided about the secession of the South and the divided loyalties of Southerners concludes with observations and predictions. Southerners had shown their displeasure at the polls in 1863 but is it that simple to agree with the speculation that if there were 1865 elections in the South, the bums would have been kicked out of office? (p.247) If fraudulent politics were needed to get some states to secede, would honest election results have been released that sought reunion?

I did enjoy the short summary of how the rich planters restored their esteem by those who fought on their behalf by creating the myth of the Lost Cause.
The Old Order moved to shore up its image as well through a post-war pop-culture movement that came to be known as the Lost Cause. With white supremacy its creed and Robert E. Lee its Christ, the mythological Lost Cause became something of a religion for most white southerners, romanticizing the South's Confederate past and encouraging a racist future. That during the war white southerners had "cursed the Southern Confederacy," that they had fought each other "harder than we ever fought the enemy," all mattered little in the post-war era. What did matter was that the fiction of kind masters, contented farmers, and happy slaves in an idyllic Old south justified the Confederacy, bolstered white supremacy, and fit perfectly with post-war planter politics. p.248
It was this mythology coupled with the practice of lynching that was used to terrorize whites during the war that enabled the rich planters to continue as they had before and during the war.
Southern blacks and white Unionists found themselves besieged by a resurgent planter power structure, which proceeded to disenfranchise blacks and many poor whites. Largely abandoned by the federal government within a decade of the war's end, blacks and white Republicans were terrorized by the Ku Klux Klan, a guerrilla arm of the Democratic Party. The oppression was economic as well as political. In urban centers, the structure of company towns, company stores, and payment in scrip rather than cash made virtual debt slaves of workers. Rural folk, many of whom had lost their land to larger landholding creditors during the war, found themselves forced into tenancy and sharecropping. Dependent on landholders for lodging and/or credit, poor whites were virtual debt slaves as well. Even those who held a bit of land were kept indebted with liens against their crops and interest rates that averaged 50 percent or more. pp.248-9
But the God of justice had his way. "Significant change began only in the 1920s after the boll weevil wiped out most of the South's cotton crop...In a way, the tiny boll weevil freed more slaves in a few seasons of pestilence than Lincoln and the Union army did in four years of war." p. 250 Thank God for the boll weevil. Thank you David Williams for the wealth of anecdotes from the South to show the complexity of a nation.


Popular Posts