Oratory and Rhetoric in the Nineteenth-Century South: A Rhetoric of Defense

By W. Stuart Towns | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 6
Reconstruction: The Bitterness Continues

The bitterness of the previous four decades of North-South hostility hardly ended at Appomattox Court House in April 1865. For the next dozen years, white southerners chaffed under the hardships of Reconstruction: military occupation; Negro, Carpetbag, Scalawag rule; and the slow recovery of the southern economy. Further, these real and perceived ills formed the basis for the next generation's--even the next century's--white southern perception of and attitude toward the North, the Republican Party, and the national government. It is impossible to understand the bitter and vociferous opposition to the 1960s Civil Rights movement, for example, without an understanding of the South's experience of Reconstruction and Redemption.

The region was devastated after the war. In a vivid summary of the economic and human losses, James McPherson writes:

The war not only killed one-quarter of the Confederacy's white men of military age. It also killed two-fifths of southern livestock, wrecked half of the farm machinery, ruined thousands of miles of railroad, left scores of thousands of farms and plantations in weeds and disrepair, and destroyed the principal labor system on which southern productivity had been based. Two- thirds of assessed southern wealth vanished in the war. The wreckage of the southern economy caused the 1860s to become the decade of least economic growth in American history before the 1930s. It also produced a wrenching redistribution of wealth and income between North and South. As measured by the census, southern agricultural and manufacturing capital declined by 46 percent between 1860 and 1870, while northern capital increased by 50 percent. In 1860 the southern states had contained 30 percent of the national wealth; in 1870, only 12 percent. Per capita commodity output (including agriculture) was almost equal in North and South in 1860; by 1870 the North's per capita output was 56 percent greater.1

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