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

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

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

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


Cities were the core of a changing economy and culture that penetrated the rural hinterland and remade the South in the decades following the Civil War. In New Men, New Cities, New South, Don Doyle argues that if the plantation was the world the slaveholders made, the urban centers of the New South formed the world made by merchants, manufacturers, and financiers. The book's title evokes the exuberant rhetoric of New South boosterism, which continually extolled the "new men" who dominated the city-building process, but Doyle also explores the key role of women in defining the urban upper class.

Doyle uses four cities as case studies to represent the diversity of the region and to illuminate the responses businessmen made to the challenges and opportunities of the postbellum South. Two interior railroad centers, Atlanta and Nashville, displayed the most vibrant commercial and industrial energy of the region, and both cities fostered a dynamic class of entrepreneurs. These business leaders' collective efforts to develop their cities and to establish formal associations that served their common interests forged them into a coherent and durable urban upper class by the late nineteenth century. The rising business class also helped establish a new pattern of race relations shaped by a commitment to economic progress through the development of the South's human resources, including the black labor force. But the "new men" of the cities then used legal segregation to control competition between the races.

Charleston and Mobile, old seaports that had served the antebellum plantation economy with great success, stagnated when their status as trade centers declined after the war. Although individual entrepreneurs thrived in both cities, their efforts at community enterprise were unsuccessful, and in many instances they remained outside the social elite. As a result, conservative ways became more firmly entrenched, including a system of race relations based on the antebellum combination of paternalism and neglect rather than segregation. Talent, energy, and investment capital tended to drain away to more vital cities.

In many respects, as Doyle shows, the business class of the New South failed in its quest for economic development and social reform. Nevertheless, its legacy of railroads, factories, urban growth, and changes in the character of race relations shaped the world most southerners live in today.


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."

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 ward's . . .

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