New Men, New Cities, New South: Atlanta, Nashville, Charleston, Mobile, 1860-1910

By Don H. Doyle | Go to book overview
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Preface

The present social tendencies of the South are the social tendencies of the cities, and it is here that we must study the trend of Southern life and thought at the present time.

-- Gustavus W. Dyer, 1909

This book is about the cities of the post- Civil War South, the business leaders who helped create them, and their role in shaping the new order that followed war, emancipation, and Reconstruction. Until recently most historians of the South have focused on the agrarian sources of southern distinctiveness: the plantation, slavery, and the planter elite. This book turns from the rural South to the development of towns and cities and from the masters, slaves, and plain folk who farmed the soil to the entrepreneurs who built the factories, banks, railroads, and cities that were central forces in the making of the modern South.

The rise of cities, merchants, and industrialists in the New South is standard fare in American history textbooks, but surprisingly little research supports the broad generalizations that now summarize the region in this era. Contemporary observers of the New South marked the ascendant merchant and industrialist class as the major source of change within the region. Henry Grady, the most eloquent spokesman for the New South movement, celebrated the emergence of the South's new men and the cities and factories they built: "[They] won fame and fortune by no accident of inheritance . . . but by patient, earnest, heroic work." A Richmond editor noted approvingly: "[W]e find a new race of rich people have been gradually springing up among us, who owe their wealth to successful trade and especially to manufacturers. . . . [They] are taking the leading place not only in our political and financial affairs, but are pressing to the front for social recognition." With less enthusiasm, Mark Twain commented on this new breed as "brisk men, energetic of movement and speech: the dollar their god, how to get it their religion."1

C. Vann Woodward, the preeminent historian of the New South, made the ascendance of an urban entrepreneurial class a central theme of his majestic survey of the region, Origins of the New South. It was "essentially new, strikingly resembling the same class in Midwestern and Northern cities." By Wood's

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