Academic journal article The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography

A New Beginning, 1892-1945

Academic journal article The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography

A New Beginning, 1892-1945

Article excerpt

The emphasis on Cavalier bloodlines and colonial gentry in the VMHB and other Society publications helped feed the idea of a golden age of Virginia during which republican liberty supposedly grew thick as tobacco on plantations run by benevolent planters and protean Revolutionaries.

Randall M. Miller

Starting in 1892, the society witnessed a resurgence in popular support accompanied by a marked improvement in its financial health. It also expanded its publication program, including the founding of what would become one of the finest and most respected state historical journals in the nation, the Virginia Magazine of History and Biography.

The difficult years of the war and Reconstruction, during which the society barely managed to avoid extinction, had passed. Now cultural, economic, and especially intellectual developments provided a climate in which the VHS, blessed with a new leadership, could prosper, and do so in the first real home of its own since its inception in 1831.

Just as the war and its aftermath had such a tremendous effect on Virginia and on the society, so too did the healing of those wounds. Starting in the mid-1880s, among white Americans a spirit of reconciliation spread throughout the nation. In the South the sense of bereavement that marked the immediate postwar years-so many young men killed, so much property destroyed, a way of life gone-gave way to a greater appreciation of the camaraderie and shared experience of battle. The past would not be forgotten, but it would be viewed in a newer light. Robert E. Lee, whose life seemed to exemplify all that both the Old and the New South cherished, became not only a symbol of the Lost Cause but also a prophet of reconciliation. That healing of animosity between blue and gray would come, however, at the expense of African Americans.1

The New South, the one that allegedly arose like a phoenix from the ashes of war and Reconstruction, had been the dream of some southern intellectuals for decades.2 They had wanted the South to throw off what they saw as the crippling burden of a slave-based cotton economy and the dependence it bred on northern mills and markets. With the abolition of slavery and the widespread destruction of the war, the South could not go back to what had existed; it had to adopt a new model, and the one pushed by advocates for the so-called "New South" called for an abandonment of a single-crop economy, the embrace of industrialization, the growth of cities, and an economic self-sufficiency that would permit the South to be a true partner with the North, not its economic inferior and dependent. As Henry Grady, the editor of the Atlanta Constitution and the New South's most famous spokesman, told a Boston audience in 1889, "We are going to take a noble revenge . . . by invading every inch of your territory with iron, as you invaded ours twenty-nine years ago."3

In speeches, books, editorials, and articles, advocates of change tried to convince their fellow southerners. The South had to abandon the gentility and leisure of the antebellum years and adopt the ethic of hard work. Because little investment capital existed in the former Confederate states, they had to lure northern bankers and capitalists. To do so, many states adopted policies that are familiar in our own day-tax exemptions, offers of cheap labor, and potentially large markets for goods and services. But in one way or another, they also had to bury the animus that had divided the nation for so long.

In the North the bitterness that had been aimed at the former rebels-after all, the Union had lost many of its sons as well-gave way to better feelings, now that the South had abandoned its slave-based agrarian feudalism and become part of the larger United States again. The ideas of the New South echoed much of the popular ethos in the North and reinforced the belief that these economic, social, and political traits that the North had long seen as the basis for American greatness would now be shared by the entire nation. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.