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

By Don H. Doyle | Go to book overview
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4
New Men

This is a new era. Its necessities and opportunities caller call for new men, young men with a future, not dead men with a miasmatic smell of dead issues clinging to their garments. -- Nashville Banner, 1872

Atlanta is full of these self-made men. They enrich her blood, quicken her pulse and give her vitality. . . . They have won fame and fortune by no accident of inheritance. . . . They have sunk the corner-stones of the only aristocracy that Americans should know. . . . -- Henry Grady, 1880

The new order of things that followed the war and Reconstruction magnified the role of an urban business class within the South. To be sure, this class had antecedents in the antebellum towns and cities. But its incarnation in the New South era was far more imposing in scale, in geographic breadth, and in ideological vigor. The New South movement that gathered fun power in the 1880s was the product of this ascendant business class of merchants, financiers, and industrialists and their allies, particularly those in the press. Through this program, business leaders proposed an agenda for economic development and social uplift that cast them in preeminent roles as architects of the new order.1 As such they held up their factories and railroads, their cities, and, above all, their own lives as models for the South to emulate.

For all the peculiar features of southern history, the formation of its business class can be told in the familiar American parable of country boys who rose to become merchant princes. The urbanization of Dixie was the result of thousands of young people's decision to leave the countryside in a calculated risk to seek their main chance in the cities, to pursue new jobs and new urban ways of living. Though most began and finished their lives as wage-earning laborers, many others entered a broad middle class of merchants, financiers, manufacturers, and professionals. From this element, a few emerged to build great fortunes and take their places as leaders of business and civic affairs within their cities. "We find a new race of rich people have been gradually springing up among us, who owe their wealth to successful trade and especially to manufactures," a Richmond editor observed in 1876. They "are taking the leading place not only in our political and financial affairs, but are pressing to the front for social recognition."2

It was these men of the ascendant business class who led in building the cities of the New South. In turn, the rising cities molded the southern business

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