South Carolina: A Short History, 1520-1948

By David Duncan Wallace | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER XLV
AGRICULTURE, COMMERCE, AND MANUFACTURING, 1835-1860

THE ECONOMIC IDEAL of South Carolina up to 1860 remained the same as that adopted with the dominance of rice in the eighteenth century: a staple agricultural product raised in great quantities by slave gangs, a domestic transportation system to bring it to port, direct foreign trade in this commodity, with which the utilities of civilized existence were to be purchased from outside. The glorification of agriculture as morally superior to other industries discouraged the development of varied possibilities and contributed to the strength and weakness of an aristocratic planter-dominated society. Despite the great increase of population from 1790 to 1850, the average acreage of farms in South Carolina rose from 310 to 541. In many districts small farms were consolidated into plantations as the former owners moved west or degenerated. The State Agricultural Society in 1844 was interested in share-farming, a system which developed under economic compulsion after 1865.

"Summer absenteeism," a necessity in the rice region and a luxury enjoyed by many elsewhere, was an impediment to good farming. The planter's mistakes, said Colonel William J. Taylor in 1843, were leaving too much to overseers; neglect therefore to apply science to agriculture; debt, "an error of the first magnitude"; too much politics; and overemphasis on great cotton production to the neglect of stock and other crops and the preservation of fertility. Land butchery was constantly denounced, promoting, as it did, the drain of population to new Western lands, whose availability was a constant temptation to land butchery in the East. The difficulties of South Atlantic States agriculture from 1840 to 1860 were due to its own bad methods as well as to the competition of the West.

The movement of population into or out of a region is an infallible sign of its relative economic condition. The great tide of immigrants seeking opportunity in South Carolina during the twenty-five years preceding 1790 had more than trebled the population. The strong continuance of this tendency was marked by an increase of population by 40 per cent in the decade ending in 1800, but soon the effects of the causes noted above were forcing attention. The soil depletion which

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South Carolina: A Short History, 1520-1948
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