Our Southern Zion: A History of Calvinism in the South Carolina Low Country, 1690-1990

By Erskine Clarke | Go to book overview

16
The White Reformed Community, 1876-1941 A "Little World" in Travail and Transition

LESS THAN A hundred years before the Civil War, the South Carolina low country was a region of extraordinary wealth. "By many standards of measurement," an economic historian recently concluded, the low country was "the wealthiest area in British North America, if not the entire world."1 Of course the wealth was in the hands of whites, and African Americans constituted in their own bodies a substantial portion of the region's affluence. Yet even including the slave population in the calculation of per capita wealth, the low country remained fabulously affluent. By the beginning of the Civil War, its wealth had declined relative to other parts of the country, but it had managed to keep its premiere position.2

The years following the Civil War saw a stunning reversal in the low country's economic status. Rather than the land of fabled wealth, it became the land of grinding poverty, one of the poorest of the poor regions of the country. This poverty, so all-encompassing and pervasive, so stark in its contrast to remembered white wealth, would mark the low country for more than a hundred years.3

Accompanying the economic demise of the low country was its loss of political power. Once the proud region that produced national political leaders, the low country lost even its old domination of state politics. Indeed, it became the "whipping boy" of rising new political forces in the state, especially those represented by "Pitchfork" Ben Tillman. Sectional and class jealousies were turned against the low country and were used in shaping a powerful populist movement. Perhaps most revealing, no one from Charleston was elected governor between the end of the Civil War and 1938. This loss of political power was rooted in the economic decline of the region, in the abolition of slavery, and in political and social developments during and immediately following Reconstruction. Constitutional conventions during Reconstruction broadened the electorate, abolished property qualifications for office holding, apportioned legislative representation to the advantage of the up-country, and made provi

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