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Current R., Williams T. H., Freidel F., Brinkley A. American History: a survey. 7th edition; New York, 1987.


 

Chapter 11. The North and the South: Diverging Societies

Americans in the mid-nineteenth century liked to believe that theirs was a nation specially ordained by God, that their Union represented a beacon of liberty and stability that would serve as a model to the rest of the world. In fact, however, the United States in these years was in many respects not truly a nation at allat least not in the way nations would be defined in later times. It was, rather, a highly decentralized confederation of states, many of which had little in common with one another. Those states remained together in part because the union was so loose, and the central authority of the nation so weak, that the differences among them did not often have to be confronted.

When the United States began to move in the direction of greater national unity, as it did in the 1840s, it encountered a series of major obstacles. And one obstacle, in particular, became so powerful that it soon threatened to tear the nation apart: sectionalism. The rivalry bt one part or the country with another was not, of course, new to the mid-nineteenth century. There had been sectional differences as early as the seventeenth century among the colonies of the South, the mid-Atlantic, and New England.

By the 1840s and 1850s, however, sectionalism had changed both in its nature and in its intensity. In many respects, there were now four quite distinct regions: the Northeast, with a growing industrial and commercial economy and an increasing density of population; the Northwest, a rapidly expanding agricultural region; the Southeast, with a settled plantation system and (in some areas) declining economic fortunes as well; and the Southwest, a booming frontierlike region with an expanding cotton economy. As the sectional crisis grew more intense, however, many Americans came to view their nation as divided into two sections, each with a distinctive and relatively homogeneous culture: the North and the South.

The most obvious aspect of this division was a basic difference in the labor systems of the sections. The South was not only maintaining but, as its plantation economy expanded into new areas of the Southwest, intensifying its commitment to slavery as its primary source of labor. The Northeast and the Northwest were committed to a free-labor economy. But slavery was only part of a much larger difference between the sections. In the North, a modern, diversified economy was developing, with an important manufacturing sector, a flourishing commercial life, and an expanding range of urban services and activities. Between the North and the Northwest, moreover, close economic and cultural ties were developing. And the South, as a result, was becomingor at least sensed itself becomingisolated, left behind. Increasingly dependent on the North for manufactured goods, for commercial services, for many of the most basic necessities of life; increasingly cut off from the flourishing agricultural regions of the Northwest; increasingly committed to a way of life that much of the rest of the nation considered obsolete: the South was coming to seem a colonial appendage of the powerful regions to the north. In the 1840s and 1850s, this schism oetween Northern and Southern societies greatly intensified. Ultimately, it produced tensions and conflicts that contributed to the disruption of the Union.

The Developing North

The most conspicuous change in American life in the 1840s and 1850s was the rapid development of the economy and society of the Northeast. Industrialization, which had begun slowly in the years immediately following the War of 1812 and had gathered force in the 1820s and 1830s, now burst forth as a major factor in the Northern economy. Urban centers, in the past relatively few and relatively small, now grew rapidly. Class divisions became more visible and pronounced. New industrial capitalists and financiers accumulated fortunes only rarely seen in earlier times; a growing urban middle class became an ever more important factor in American society; and a rapidly expanding industrial labor force created an increasingly distinct working class. The Northeast, and with it in many ways its new economic ally the Northwest, was developing a complex, modern society, one that would greatly increase the differences that had always existed between that region and the South.

Northeastern Industry

Between 1840 and 1860, American industry experienced a steady and, in some fields, spectacular growth. In 1840, the total value of manufactured goods produced in the United States stood at $483 million; ten years later the figure had climbed to over $1 billion; and in 1860 it reached close to $2 billion. For the first time, the value of manufactured goods was approximately equal to that of agricultural products.

Industrial growth was greatest in the states of the Northeast. Of the approximately 140,000 manufacturing establishments in the country in 1860, 74,000 were located in the Northeast. They included, moreover, most of the larger enterprises. Although the Northeast had only a little more than half the mills and factories of the nation, it produced more than two-thirds of the manufactured goods. Of the 1,311,000 workers in manufacturing in the United States, about 938,000 were employed in the mills and factories of New England and the middle states.

Even the most highly developed industries still showed qualities of immaturity and were far from the production levels they would later attain. Cotton manufacturers, for example, produced goods of coarse grade; fine items continued to be imported from England. The woolens industry suffered from a limited supply of domestic raw wool and could not even produce enough coarse goods to satisfy the home market. American industry exported little; it was unable to meet fully the demands of American consumers. But technology and industrial ingenuity were preparing the way for future American industrial supremacy.

The machine tools used in the factories of the Northeastsuch as the turret lathe, the grinding machine, and the universal milling machinewere by the 1840s already better than those in European factories. The principle of interchangeable parts, first applied decades earlier in gun factories by Eli Whitney and Simeon North, was by the 1840s being introduced into many other industries. Coal was replacing wood as an industrial fuel, particularly in the smelting of iron. Coal was also being used in increasing amounts to generate power in steam engines, which were replacing the water power that had in the past driven most of the factory machinery in the Northeast. The production of coal, most of it mined in the Pittsburgh area of western Pennsylvania, leaped from 50,000 tons in 1820 to 14 million tons in 1860. The new power source made it possible to locate mills away from running streams and thus permitted industry to expand still more widely.

The great technical advances in American industry owed much to American inventors. Patent records give some indication of the extent of Yankee ingenuity in these years. In 1830, the number of inventions patented was 544; in 1850, the figure rose to 993; and in 1860, it stood at 4,778. Several industries provide particularly vivid examples of how a technological innovation could produce a major economic change. In 1839, Charles Goodyear, a New England hardware merchant, discovered a method of vulcanizing rubber; his process had been put to 500 uses by 1860 and had succeeded in establishing a major American rubber industry. In 1846, Elias Howe of Massachusetts constructed a sewing machine; Isaac Singer made improvements on it, and the Howe-Singer machine was soon employed in the manufacture of ready-to-wear clothing. A few years later, during the Civil War, it would supply the Northern troops with uniforms.

In an earlier period, the dominant economic figures in the Northeast had been the merchant capitalistsentrepreneurs who engaged in foreign or domestic trade, who invested their surplus capital in banks, and who sometimes financed small-scale domestic manufacturers. The merchant capitalists remained figures of importance in the 1840s. In such cities as New York, Philadelphia, and Boston, important and influential mercantile groups operated shipping lines to Southern portscarrying away cotton, rice, and sugaror dispatched fleets of trading vessels to the ports of Europe and the Orient. Many of these vessels were the famous clippers, the most beautiful and the fastest sailing ships afloat. In their heyday in the late 1840s and early 1850s, the clippers were capable of averaging 300 miles a day, which compared favorably with the best time then being made by steamships.

Nevertheless, merchant capitalism was entering a state of decline by the middle of the century. Although the value of American exports, still largely agricultural, increased from $124 million in 1840 to $334 million in 1860, American merchants in the 1850s saw much of their carrying trade fall into the hands of British competitors, who enjoyed the advantages of steam-driven iron ships and government subsidies.

Foreign competition was not, however, the principal cause of the decline of the merchant capitalist. It was the rise of the factory system in the United States. Merchants now saw greater opportunities for profit in manufacturing than in trade. They shifted their capital from mercantile investments to industry. They became owners and operators of factories or invested their money in factories operated by others. Indeed, one reason that industries developed soonest in the Northeast was that an affluent merchant class already existed there and had the money and the will to finance them.

As in the past, many business concerns continued to be owned by individuals, by families, or by small groups of partners. But by the 1840s, particularly in the textile industry, the corporate form of organization was spreading rapidly. In their overseas ventures, merchants had been accustomed to diversifying their risks by buying shares in a number of vessels and voyages. They employed the same device when they moved their capital from trade to manufacturing. They tended to purchase shares in several textile companies. Ownership of American enterprise, in other words, was moving away from individuals and families and toward its highly dispersed modern form: many stockholders, each owning a relatively small proportion of the total. The discovery of new and more flexible forms of financing was, along with the technological innovations of the era, a crucial factor in the advancement of industrialization.

Whatever the form of business organization, and there continued to be many different forms, industrial capitalists soon became the new ruling class, the aristocrats of the Northeast. And just as they had sought and secured economic dominance, they reached for and often achieved political influence. In local or national politics, the capitalists liked to be represented by highly literate lawyers who could articulate their prejudices and philosophy. Their ideal of a representative was Daniel Webster of Massachusetts, whom the business leaders of the section, at considerable financial cost to themselves, supported for years in the United States Senate.

Transportation and Communications

The new industrial economy could not have developed without an adequate transportation system. New forms of transportation were essential for moving raw materials to the factories and for moving finished goods out. And they were essential, above all, in forging ties between the industrial Northeast and the growing agricultural regions of the Northwestan alliance that became crucial not only to the growth of the American economy but also to the sectional tensions that would soon rise to threaten the Union.

In the 1830s, most of the goods exchanged between the two sections were carried on the Erie Canal. But after 1840, railroads gradually supplanted canals and all other modes of transport. The railroads enabled the Western farmers to ship their products cheaply and quickly to Eastern markets and thus helped to force many Eastern farmers out of business.

In 1840, the total railroad trackage of the country was only 2,818 miles; by the end of the decade, the trackage figure had risen to 9,021 miles. But an outburst of railroad construction without previous parallel occurred in the 1850s. The amount of trackage tripled between 1850 and 1860. The Northeast developed the most comprehensive and efficient system, with twice as much trackage per square mile as the Northwest and four times as much as the South. Railroads were reaching even west of the Mississippi, which at several points was spanned by iron bridges. One line ran from Hannibal to St. Joseph on the Missouri River, and another was being built from St. Louis to Kansas City.

In the South, such towns as Charleston, Atlanta, Savannah, and Norfolk had direct connections with Memphis, and thus with the Northwest; and Richmond was connected, via the Virginia Central, with the Memphis and Charleston railroad. In addition, several independent lines furnished a continuous connection between the Ohio River and New Orleans. The South, however, remained generally unconnected to the national railroad system. Most lines in the region were short, local ones. And the absence of a major railroad system became another factor isolating the South from the rest of the nation.

A new feature in railroad developmentone that would profoundly affect the nature of sectional alignmentswas the trend toward the consolidation of short lines into trunk lines. By 1853, four major railroad trunk lines had surmounted the Appalachian barrier to connect the Northeast with the Northwest. Two, the New York Central and the New York and Erie, gave New York City access to the Lake Erie ports. The Pennsylvania road linked Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, and the Baltimore and Ohio connected Baltimore with the Ohio River at Wheeling. From the terminals of these lines, other railroads into the interior touched the Mississippi River at eight points. Chicago became the rail center of the West, served by fifteen lines and more than a hundred daily trains. The appearance of the great trunk lines tended to divert traffic from the main water routesthe Erie Canal and the Mississippi River. By lessening the dependence of the West on the Mississippi, the railroads helped to weaken further the connection between the Northwest and the South.

Capital to finance the railroad boom came from various sources. Private American investors provided part of the necessary funding; and railroad companies borrowed large sums from abroad. But local governmentsstates, cities, towns, countiesalso often contributed capital, because they were eager to have railroads to serve their needs. This support took the form of loans, stock subscriptions, subsidies, and donations of land for rights of way. The railroads obtained additional assistance from the federal government in the shape of public land grants. In 1850, Senator Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois and other railroad-minded politicians persuaded Congress to grant federal lands to the state of Illinois to aid the Illinois Central, then building toward the Gulf of Mexico; Illinois then transferred the land to the railroad company as an incentive to build lines in the state. Other states and their railroad promoters demanded the same privileges; and by 1860, Congress had allotted over 30 million acres to eleven states.

Facilitating the operation of the railroads was another important technological innovation: the magnetic telegraph. Its lines extended along the tracks, connecting one station with another and aiding the scheduling and routing of the trains. But the telegraph had an importance to the nation's economic development all its own. It permitted instant communication between distant cities, tying the nation together as never before. And yet, ironically, it also helped reinforce the schism between the two sections. As with railroads, telegraph lines were far more extensive in the North than in the South; and they helped similarly to link the North more closely to the Northwest (and thus to separate that region further from the South).

The telegraph had burst into American life in 1844, when Samuel F. B. Morse, after several years of experimentation, succeeded in transmitting from Baltimore to Washington the news of James K. Polk's nomination for the presidency. The Morse telegraph seemed, because of the relatively low cost of constructing wire systems, the ideal answer to the problems of long-distance communication. By 1860, more than 50,000 miles of wire connected most parts of the country; and a year later, the Pacific telegraph, with 3,595 miles of wire, was opened between New York and San Francisco. Nearly all of the independent lines had been absorbed into one organization, the Western Union Telegraph Company.

New forms of journalism also served to draw communities together into a common communications system, as well as to reveal more clearly to different regions their differences from one another. In 1846, Richard Hoe invented the steam cylinder rotary press, making it possible to print newspapers rapidly and cheaply. The development of the telegraph, together with the introduction of the rotary press, made possible much speedier collection and distribution of news than ever before. In 1846, the Associated Press was organized for the purpose of cooperative news gathering by wire; no longer did publishers have to depend on an exchange of newspapers for out-of-town reports. Major metropolitan newspapers began to appear in the larger cities of the Northeast. Horace Greeley's Tribune, James Gordon Bennett's Herald, and Henry J.Raymond's Times were all published in New York; but all gave serious attention to national and even international events and had substantial circulations beyond the city. Southern newspapers, by contrast, tended to have smaller budgets and reported largely local news. Few had any impact outside their immediate communities.

The combined circulation of the Tribune and the Herald exceeded that of all the daily newspapers published in the South.

In the long run, journalism would become an important unifying factor in American life. In the 1840s and 1850s, however, the rise of the new journalism helped to feed the fires of sectional discord. Most of the major magazines and newspapers were in the North, reinforcing the South's sense of subjugation. Above all, the news revolutionalong with the revolutions in transportation and communications that accompanied itcontributed to a growing awareness within each section of how the other section lived, an awareness of the deep differences that had grown up between the North and the Southdifferences that would ultimately seem irreconcilable.

Cities and Immigrants

One of the most profound changes in the nature of Northeastern society in the antebellum period was in the character and distribution of the population, above all the growing size of cities. Between 1840 and 1860, the population of New York, for example, rose from 312,000 to 805,000. (New York's population numbered 1.2 million in 1860 if Brooklyn, which was then a separate municipality, is included.) Philadelphia's population grew over the same twenty-year period from 220,000 to 565,000; Boston's from 93,000 to 177,000. By 1860, 26 percent of the population of the free states was living in towns or cities (places of 2,500 people or more), up from 14 percent in 1840; that percentage was even higher for the industrializing states of the Northeast. (In the South, by contrast, the increase of urban residents was only from 6 percent in 1840 to 10 percent in 1860.)

The enlarged urban population was in part simply a reflection of the growth of the national population as a whole, which rose by more than a thirdfrom 23 million to over 31 millionin the decade of the 1850s alone. But it was also a result of the flow of people into the cities from two sources in particular. The first and for a time larger source was the native

farming classes of the Northeast, whose members were being forced off their lands by Western competition. The second and ultimately at least equally important source was immigration from Europe. Between 1830 and 1840, only a relatively small number of foreigners had moved to the United States, about 500,000 in all. Beginning in 1840, however, the floodgates opened. The number of immigrants arriving in 184084,000was the highest for any one year so far in the century. But in the ensuing years, even that number would come to seem insignificant. Between 1840 and 1850, more than 1.5 million Europeans moved to America; in the last years of the decade, the average number arriving annually was almost 300,000. Of the 23 million people in the United States in 1850, 2,210,000 (approximately 10 percent) were foreign-born. Still greater numbers arrived in the 1850sover 2.5 million. Almost half of the population of New York City in the 1850s consisted of recent immigrants. And in St. Louis, Chicago, and Milwaukee, the foreign-born outnumbered those of native birth. Few immigrants settled in the South. Only 500,000 lived in the slave states in 1860, and a third of these were concentrated in Missouri.

The newcomers came from many different countries and regions: England, France, Italy, Scandinavia, Poland, and Holland. But the overwhelming majority came from Ireland and Germany. In 1850, the Irish constituted approximately 45 percent and the Germans over 20 percent of the foreign-born in America. By 1860, there were more than 1.5 million Irish and approximately 1 million Germans in the United States. Several factors accounted for the prevalence of immigrants from Ireland and Germany: widespread poverty caused by the economic dislocations of the industrial revolution, famines resulting from the failure of the potato and other crops, dislike of English rule by the Irish, and the collapse of the liberal revolution of 1848 in Germany. The great majority of the Irish settled in Eastern cities, where they swelled the ranks of unskilled labor. The Germans tended to arrive with more money than the Irish, who had practically none, and they generally moved on to the Northwest, where they became farmers or went into buisness in the Western towns.

The Rise of Nativism

The new foreign population almost immediately became a major factor in American political life. Wisconsin, from the moment of its admission to the Union in 1848, permitted aliens to become voters as soon as they had declared their intention of seeking citizenship and had resided in the state for a year. Other states followed Wisconsin's lead in liberalizing voting laws, and in most places the polling officials were even more generous than the law allowed. Many politicians saw in the immigrant population a source of important potential support; and they eagerly courted the new arrivals for their ballots. Others, however, viewed the growing foreign population with alarm. Among the results of their fears were the first important organized nativist movements in American history.

The emerging nativism took many forms. Some critics argued that the immigrants were mentally and physically defective, that they bred urban slums, that they corrupted politics by selling their votes. Others complained that because the aliens were willing to work for low wages, they were stealing jobs from the native work force. Protestants took note of the Irish Catholics' aptitude for politics and claimed that the church of Rome was attaining an undue power in American government. Whig politicians were outraged because so many of the newcomers voted Democratic. Many Americans of older stock feared the immigrants would inject new and radical philosophies into national thought.

Out of these tensions and prejudices emerged a number of secret societies to combat the "alien menace." Most of them originated in the Northeast, and some later spread to the West and even to the South. The first of these, the Native American Association, began agitating against immigration in 1837. In 1845, nativists held a convention in Philadelphia and formed the Native American party. But anti-immigrant sentiment crested in the 1850s. Many of the nativist groups combined in 1850 to form the Supreme Order of the Star-Spangled Banner. It endorsed a list of demands that included banning Catholics or aliens from holding public office, more restrictive naturalization laws, and literacy tests for voting. The order adopted a strict code of secrecy, which included the secret password, used in lodges across the country, "1 know nothing." Ultimately, members of the movement became known as the "Know-Nothings."

Gradually, the Know-Nothings turned their attention to party politics, and after the election of 1852 they created a new political organization that they called the American party. In the East, the new organization scored an immediate and astonishing success in the elections of 1854; The Know-Nothings cast a large vote in Pennsylvania and New York and won control of the state government in Massachusetts. Elsewhere, the progress of the Know-Nothings was more modest. Western members of the party, because of the presence of many German voters in the area, found it expedient to proclaim that they were not opposed to naturalized Protestants. After 1854, however, the strength of the Know-Nothings declined; and the party's most lasting impact was its contribution to the collapse of the second party system and the creation of new national political alignments. (See pp. 387-388.)

Labor in the Northeast

The increasing migration of farmers into the cities, and the great rise in immigration from abroad, became another essential factor in the promotion of industrialization. It provided a labor force.

In the early years of industrial growth, the work force of the Northeastern factories had remained both small and for the most part impermanent. Because mills had been relatively few, manufacturers had made do with a modest, largely female labor supplyfor example, the mill girls of Waltham and Lowell, who generally worked only temporarily in the factories before returning home. (See pp. 254 255.) By the 1840s, however, the need for factory workers was such that a large, permanent laboring dass was beginning to emerge, drawn from the new urban population.

It had also been possible in the early years for mill owners to treat their workers with a paternal solicitude that at times softened the conditions of living and working in a new and alien environment. But with the expansion of industry, such niceties were quickly forgotten. No longer did workers live in neat boardinghouses or dormitories carefully maintained and patrolled by their employers. Instead, they were generally left to their own devices, to find whatever accommodations they could in the cheerless, ugly factory towns that were rapidly growing up. No longer were the conditions of factory labor monitored so as to reduce the hardship of the workers. Instead, factories were becoming large, noisy, unsanitary, and often dangerous places to work; the average workday was extending to twelve, often fourteen hours; and wages were declining, so that even skilled male workers could hope to earn only from $4 to $10 per week, while unskilled laborers were likely to earn only about $1 to $6 per week. Women and children, whatever their skills, also earned less than most men. Conditions were still not as bad as in most factory towns in England and Europe; but neither were American factories the models of cleanliness, efficiency, and human concern that many people had once believed them to be.

Workers faced with the arduous conditions of the new factory complexes made a number of efforts to improve their lot. They tried, with little success, to persuade state legislatures to pass laws setting a maximum workday. Two statesNew Hampshire in 1847 and Pennsylvania in 1848actually passed ten-hour laws, limiting the workday unless the workers agreed to an "express contract" calling for more time on the job. Such measures were virtually without impact, however, because employers could simply require prospective employees to sign the "express contract" as a condition of hiring. Three states Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Pennsylvania passed laws regulating child labor. But again, the results were minimal. The laws simply limited the workday to ten hours for children unless their parents agreed to something longer; employers had little difficulty compelling parents to consent to additional hours.

Perhaps the greatest legal victory of industrial workers came in Massachusetts in 1842, when the supreme court of the state, in Commonwealth v. Hunt, declared that unions were lawful organizations and that the strike was a lawful weapon. Other state courts gradually accepted the principles of the Massachusetts decision. But the union movement of the 1840s and 1850s remained, on the whole, generally feeble and ineffective. Partly because many workers were reluctant to think of themselves as members of a permanent laboring force, resistance to organization remained strong. And those unions that did manage to establish a foothold in industry were usually not strong enough to stage strikes, and even less frequently strong enough to win them.

What organization there was among workers usually occurred at the local level and among limited groups of skilled workers. These early unions often had more in common with preindustrial guilds than with modern labor organizations. Their primary purpose was in most cases to protect the favored position of their members in the labor force by restricting admission to the skilled trades. As early as the 1830s, a few local craft unions had begun to associate with one another to form national organizations. (See p. 256.) More such associations emerged in the 1850s, among them the National Typographical Union, founded in 1852, followed by the Stone Cutters in 1853, the Hat Finishers in 1854, and the Molders and the Machinists, both in 1859.

Despite these modest efforts at organization and protest, what was most notable about the American working class in the 1840s and 1850s was its relative passivity. In England, workers were becoming a powerful, united, and often violent economic and political force. They were creating widespread social turmoil and helping to transform the nation's political structure. In America, nothing of the sort happened.

Many factors combined to inhibit the growth of effective labor resistance. Among the most important was the flood of immigrant laborers into the country. The newcomers were usually willing to work for lower wages than native workers; and because they were so numerous, manufacturers had little difficulty replacing disgruntled or striking workers with eager immigrants. Ethnic divisions and tensionsboth between natives and immigrants, and among the various immigrant groups themselvesoften caused working-class resentments to be channeled into internal bickering rather than complaints against employers. There was, too, the sheer strength of the industrial capitalists, who had not only economic but political and social power and could usually triumph over even the most militant challenges. But a full understanding of the nature of the working-class response to industrialism requires an examination of the emerging social and economic structure of antebellum America.

Wealth and Mobility

The commercial and industrial growth of the United States greatly increased national wealth in the 1840s and 1850s. It elevated, too, the average income of the American people. But what evidence there isand it is admittedly sketchysuggests that this increasing wealth was not being widely distributed. Some groups of the population, of course, shared virtually not at all in the economic growth: slaves, Indians, landless farmers, and many of the unskilled workers on the fringes of the manufacturing system. But even among the rest of the population, disparities of income were becoming so marked as to be impossible to ignore. Wealth had always been unequally distributed in the United States, to be sure. Even in the era of the Revolution, according to some estimates, 45 percent of the wealth was concentrated in the hands of about 10 percent of the population. But by the mid-nineteenth century, that concentration had become far more pronounced. In Boston in 1845, for example, 4 percent of the citizens are estimated to have owned more than 65 percent of the wealth; in Philadelphia in 1860, 1 percent of the population possessed more than half the wealth. Among the American people at large in 1860, 5 percent of the families possessed more than 50 percent of the wealth. On the surface, such figures would seem likely to have encouraged a far greater level of class conflict than actually occurred. But a number of factors operated to quell resentments. There was, first, the fact that however much the relative economic position of American workers may have been declining, the absolute living standard of most laborers was improving. Life, in material terms at least, was usually better for factory workers than it had been on the farms or in the European societies from which they had migrated. They ate better, they were often better clothed and housed, and they had greater access to consumer goods.

There was also a significant amount of mobility within the working class, which helped to limit discontent. Opportunities for social mobility, for working one's way up the economic ladder, were limited; but opportunities did exist. A few workers did manage to move from poverty to riches by dint of work, ingenuity, and lucka very small number, but enough to support the dreams of those who watched them. And a much larger number of workers managed to move at least one notch up the ladderfor example, becoming in the course of a lifetime a skilled, rather than an unskilled, laborer. Such people could envision their children and grandchildren moving up even further.

More important than social mobility was geographical mobility. Unlike European nations, America had a huge expanse of unsettled land in the West, much of it being opened for settlement for the first time in the 1840s and 1850s. To some workers, therefore, the dream of saving money to move out to the frontier could become a realitythus creating what the historian Frederick Jackson Turner called a "safety valve" for discontent. For most workers, however, the expense and expertise required for a move to the agricultural frontier made such a step impossible. Far more frequent was the movement of laborers from one industrial town to another. Restless, questing, these "people in motion," as some scholars have described them, were often the victims of layoffs, looking for better opportunities elsewhere. Their search may seldom have led to a marked improvement in their circumstances; but the rootlessness of this large segment of the work forceperhaps the most distressed segmentmade effective organization and protest far more difficult.

There was, finally, another "safety valve" for working-class discontent: politics. Economic opportunity may not have greatly expanded in the nineteenth century, but opportunities to participate in politics did. And to many working people, access to the ballot seemed to offer a way to help guide their society and to feel like a significant part of their communities.

Women and the "Cult of Domesticity"

The new industrializing society of the Northern regions of the United States produced a profound change in the nature and function of the family. At the heart of the transformation was the shift of income-earning work out of the home and into the shop, mill, or factory. In the early decades of the nineteenth century (and for many years before that), the family itself had been the principal unit of economic activity. Family farms, family shops, and family industries were the norm throughout most of the United States. Men, women, and children worked together, sharing tasks and jointly earning the income that sustained the family.

Among the farming population, which continued to constitute the majority of the American people, the family generally remained a unit of joint economic activity. But in the industrial economy of the rapidly growing cities, the traditional economic function of the family suffered a gradual erosion. The urban household itself became increasingly less important as a center of production. Instead, most income earners left home each day to work elsewhere. A sharp distinction began to emerge between the public world of the workplacethe world of commerce and industryand the private world of the familya world now dominated by housekeeping, child rearing, and other primarily domestic concerns.

Among members of the growing middle class, at least, the emerging distinction between the public and private worlds, between the workplace and the home, was accompanied by the emergence of an equally sharp distinction between the roles of men and women. There had, of course, always been important differences between the male and female spheres in American society. Women had long been denied many legal and political rights enjoyed by men; it was widely assumed that within the family, the husband and father ruled and the wife and mother bowed to his demands and desires. It was practically impossible for most women to obtain a divorce, although divorces initiated by men were often easier to arrange. (Men were also far more likely than women to win custody of children in case of a divorce.) In most states, husbands retained almost absolute authority over both the property and persons of their wives; wife beating was illegal in only a few areas. And women traditionally had very little access to the worlds of business or politics. Indeed, women generally were forbidden by custom to speak in public before mixed audiences.

Women traditionally also had far less access to education than men, a situation that survived into the mid-nineteenth century. Although they were encouraged to attend school at the elementary level, they were strongly discouragedand in most cases effectively barredfrom pursuing higher education. Oberlin in Ohio became the first college in America to accept woman students; it permitted four to enroll in 1837, despite criticism that coeducation would become a rash experiment approximating free love. Oberlin authorities were confident that "the mutual influence of the sexes upon each other is decidedly happy in the cultivation of both mind & manners." But few other institutions shared their views. Coeducation remained extraordinarily rare until long after the Civil War; and only a very few women's collegessuch as Mount Holyoke, founded in Massachusetts by Mary Lyon in 1837emerged.

But however unequal the positions of men and women in the preindustrial era, those positions had generally been defined within the context of a household in which all members played crucial roles in the generation of family income. In the middle-class family of the new industrial society, however, the husband was assumed to be the principal, usually the only, income producer. The wife was now expected to remain in the home and to engage in largely domestic activities.

The result was an important shift in the concept of the woman's place within the family and of the family's place within the larger society. Women in the mid-nineteenth century came to be seen as guardians of the "domestic virtues." Their role as mothers, entrusted with the nurturing of the young, came to be seen as far more central to the family than it had in the past. And their role as wivesas companions and helpers to their husbandsgrew more important as well. Middle-class women, no longer producers, now became more important as consumers. They learned to place a high value on keeping a clean, comfortable, and well-appointed home; on entertaining; on dressing elegantly and stylishly.

Occupying their own, separate sphere, women began to develop a distinctive female culture. Friendships among women became increasingly intense; women began to form their own social networks (and, ultimately, to form female clubs and associations that were of great importance to the advancement of various reforms). A distinctive feminine literature began to emerge to meet the demands of middle-class women. There were romantic novels (many of them by female writers), which focused on the private sphere that women now inhabited. There were women's magazines, of which the most prominent was Godey's Lady's Book, edited after 1837 by Sarah Hale, who had earlier founded a women's magazine of her own. The magazine scrupulously avoided dealing with public controversies or political issues and focused instead on fashions, shopping and homemaking advice, and other purely domestic concerns. Politics and religion were inappropriate for the magazine, Hale explained in 1841, because "other subjects are more important for our sex and more proper for our sphere."

By the standards of a later era, the increasing isolation of women from the public world seems to be a form of oppression and discrimination. And it is true that few men considered women fit for business, politics, or the professions. On the other hand, most middle-class menand many middle-class women as wellconsidered the new female sphere a vehicle for expressing special qualities that made women in many ways superior to men. Women were to be the custodians of morality and benevolence, just as the homeshaped by the influence of womenwas to be a refuge from the harsh, competitive world of the marketplace. It was the responsibility of women to provide religious and moral instruction to their children and to counterbalance the acquisitive, secular impulses of their husbands. Thus the "cult of domesticity," as some scholars have called it, brought both benefits and costs to middle-class women. It allowed them to live lives of greater material comfort than in the past, and it placed a higher value on their "female virtues" and on their roles as wife and mother. At the same time, it left women increasingly detached from the public world, with fewer outlets for their interests and energies.

The costs of that detachment were particularly clear among unmarried women of the middle class. By the 1840s, the ideology of domesticity had grown so powerful that few genteel women would any longer consider working (as many had in the past) in shops or mills (and few employers would consider hiring them). But unmarried women nevertheless required some income-producing activity. They had few choices. They could become teachers or nurses, professions that seemed to call for the same female qualities that made women important within the home; and both those professions began in the 1840s and 1850s to attract large numbers of women. Otherwise, unmarried females were largely dependent on the generosity of relatives.

Except for teaching and nursing, work by women outside the household gradually came to be seen as a lower-class preserve. Working-class women could not afford to stay home and cultivate the "domestic virtues." They had to produce income for their families. They continued to work in factories and mills, but under conditions far worse than those that the original, more "respectable" woman workers had enjoyed. They also frequently found employment in middle-class homes. Domestic service became one of the most frequent sources of female employment. In other words, now that production had moved outside the household, women who needed to earn money had to move outside their own households to do so.

Accompanying (and perhaps in part caused by) the changing economic function of the family was a decline in the birth rate. In 1800, the average American woman could be expected to give birth to approximately seven children during her childbearing years. By 1860, women bore an average of five children apiece. The birth rate fell most quickly in urban areas and among middle-class women. Mid-nineteenth-century Americans had access to certain birth control devices, which undoubtedly contributed in part to the change. There was also a significant rise in abortions, which remained legal in some states until after the Civil War and which, according to some estimates, may have terminated as many as 20 percent of all pregnancies in the 1850s. But the most important cause of the declining birth rate was almost certainly a change in sexual behaviorincluding increased abstinence.

The deliberate effort among middle-class men and women to limit family size was a reflection of a much larger shift in the nature of society in the mid-nineteenth-century North. In a world in which the economy was becoming increasingly organized, in which production was moving out of the home, in which individuals were coming to expect more from the world, in which more emphasis was being placed on calculations about the future, the idea of making careful, rational decisions about bearing children was of particular appeal. It expressed the increasingly secular, rationalized, and progressive orientation of the rapidly developing American North.

Northeastern Agriculture

The story of agriculture in the Northeast after 1840 is one of decline and transformation. The reason for the decline was simple: the farmers of the section could no longer compete with the new and richer soil of the Northwest. Centers of production were gradually shifting westward for many of the farm goods that had in the past been most important to Northeastern agriculture: wheat, corn, grapes, cattle, sheep, and hogs. In 1840, the leading wheat-growing states were New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Virginia; in 1860, they were Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, Ohio, and Michigan. In the case of corn, Illinois, Ohio, and Missouri supplanted New York, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. In 1840, the most important cattle-raising areas in the country were New York, Pennsylvania, and New England; but by the 1850s, the leading cattle states were Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and Iowa in the West, and Texas in the South.

Some Eastern farmers responded to these changes by moving west themselves and establishing new farms. Still others moved to mill towns and became laborers. Some farmers, however, remained on the land and managed to hold their own against, at times even to surpass, the Northwest in certain lines of agriculture. As the Eastern urban centers increased in population, many farmers turned to the task of supplying food to the city masses; they engaged profitably in truck gardening (vegetables) or fruit raising. New York, for example, led all other states in apple production. The rise of cities also stimulated the rise of dairy farming. The profits to be derived from supplying milk, butter, and cheese to local markets attracted many farmers in central New York, southeastern Pennsylvania, and various parts of New England. Approximately half of the dairy products of the country were produced in the East; most of the rest came from the West, where Ohio was the leading dairy state. Partly because of the expansion of the dairy industry, the Northeast led other sections in the production of hay. New York was the leading hay state in the nation, and large crops were grown in Pennsylvania and New England. The Northeast also exceeded other areas in producing potatoes.

Nevertheless, while agriculture in the region remained an important part of the economy, it was steadily becoming less important relative both to the agriculture of the Northwest and to the industrial growth of the Northeast itself. As a result, the rural population in many parts of the Northeast continued to decline.

The Old Northwest

Life was different in the states of what was known as the Northwestnow the Midwestin the mid-nineteenth century. There was some industry in this region, more than in the South; and in the two decades before the Civil War, the section experienced steady industrial growth. By 1860, it had 36,785 manufacturing establishments employing 209,909 workers. Along the southern shore of Lake Erie was a flourishing industrial and commercial area of which Cleveland was the center. Another manufacturing region was in the Ohio River valley, with the meatpacking city of Cincinnati as its nucleus. Farther west, the rising city of Chicago, destined to become the great metropolis of the section, was emerging as the national center of the agricultural machinery and meat-packing industries. The most important industrial products of the West were farm machinery, flour, meat, distilled whiskey, and leather and wooden goods.

On the whole, however, industry was far less important in the Northwest than in the Northeast. The Northwest remained primarily an agricultural region. Its rich and plentiful lands made farming there a lucrative and expanding activity, in contrast to the Northeast. Thus the typical citizen of the Northwest was not the industrial worker or the poor, marginal farmer but the owner of a reasonably prosperous family farm. The average size of Western farms was 200 acres, the great majority of them owned by the people who worked them.

In concentrating on corn, wheat, cattle, sheep, and hogs, the Western farmer was motivated by sound economic reasons. As the Northeast became more industrial and urban, it enlarged the domestic market for farm goods. At the same time, England and certain European nations, undergoing the same process, started to import larger amounts of food. This growing worldwide demand for farm products resulted in steadily rising farm prices. For the farmers, the 1840s and early 1850s were years of increasing prosperity.

The expansion of agricultural markets had profound effects on sectional alignments in the United States. The Northwest sold by far the greatest part of its products to the residents of the Northeast; only the surplus remaining after domestic needs were satisfied was exported abroad. The new well-being of Western farmers, then, was sustained in large part by Eastern purchasing power. Eastern industry, in turn, found an important market for its products in the prospering West. Between the two sections a strong economic relationship was emerging that was profitable to bothand that was increasing the isolation of the South within the Union.

To meet the increasing demand for its farm products, the Northwest worked strenuously, and often frantically, to increase its productive capacities. One way it did so was by taking advantage of the large areas of still unoccupied land and enlarging the area under cultivation during the 1840s. By 1850, the growing Western population had settled the prairie regions east of the Mississippi and was pushing beyond the river. But another way the Northwest increased production was by adopting agricultural techniques designed to produce the largest possible crop in the shortest possible time. The average Western farmer engaged, therefore, in wasteful, exploitive methods of farming that often resulted in rapid exhaustion or the region's rich soil.

At the same time, however, Northwestern farmers were discovering improved agricultural techniques. New varieties of seed, notably Mediterranean wheat, which was hardier than the native type, were introduced in some areas; better breeds of animals, such as hogs and sheep from England and Spain, were imported to take the place of native stock. Of greater importance were the improvements that Americans continued to introduce in farm machines and tools. During the 1840s, more efficient grain drills, harrows, mowers, and hay rakes were placed in wide use. The cast-iron plow, devised earlier, continued to be popular because its parts could be replaced when broken. An even better implement appeared in 1847, when John Deere established at Moline, Illinois, a factory to manufacture plows with steel moldboards, which were more durable than those made of iron.

Two new machines heralded a coming revolution in grain production. The most important was the automatic reaper, invented by Cyrus H. McCormick of Virginia. The reaper took the place of sickle, cradle, and hand labor and enabled a crew of six or seven men to harvest in a day as much wheat (or any other small grain) as fifteen men could harvest using the older methods. McCormick, who had patented his device in 1834, established a factory at Chicago, in the heart of the grain belt, in 1847. By 1860, more than 100,000 reapers were in use on Western farms. Almost as important to the grain grower was the threshera machine that separated the grain from the wheat stalks. Threshers appeared in large numbers after 1840. Before that time, grain was generally flailed by hand (seven bushels a day was a good average for a farm) or trodden by farm animals (twenty bushels a day on the average). A threshing machine could thresh twenty-five bushels or more in an hour. Most of the threshers were manufactured at the Jerome I. Case factory in Racine, Wisconsin.

The Northwest was the most self-consciously democratic section of the country. But its democracy was of a relatively conservative typecapitalistic, property conscious, middle-class. Abraham Lincoln, an Illinois Whig, voiced the economic opinions of many of the people of his section. "I take it that it is best for all to leave each man free to acquire property as fast as he can," said Lincoln. "Some will get wealthy. I don't believe in a law to prevent a man from getting rich; it would do more harm than good. . . . When one starts poor, as most do in the race of life, free society is such that he knows he can better his condition; he knows that there is no fixed condition of labor for his whole life."

The Expanding South

The South, like the North, experienced dramatic growth in the middle years of the nineteenth century. Southerners fanned out into the new territories of the Southwest and established new communities, new states, and new markets. The Southern agricultural economy grew increasingly productive and increasingly prosperous. Trade in such staples as sugar, rice, tobacco, and above all cotton made the South a major force in international commerce and created substantial wealth within the region. Southern society, Southern culture, Southern politicsall were affected by these important demographic and economic changes. The South in the 1850s was a very different place from the South of the first years of the century. Yet for all the expansion and all the changes, the South experienced a much less fundamental transformation in these years than did the North. It had begun the nineteenth century a primarily rural and agricultural region; it remained overwhelmingly agrarian in 1860. It began the century with few important cities and little industry; and so it remained sixty years later. In 1800, the economy of the South had been dominated by a plantation system dependent on slave labor; by 1860, that system had only strengthened its grip on the region. As one historian has written, "The South grew, but it did not develop." And as a result, it became increasingly unlike the North and increasingly sensitive to what it considered to be threats to its distinctive way of life.

The Rise of King Cotton

The most important economic development in the South of the mid-nineteenth century was the shift of economic power from the "upper South," the original Southern states along the Atlantic coast, to the "lower South," the expanding agricultural regions in the new states of the Southwest. That shift reflected above all the growing dominance of cotton in the Southern economy.

Much of the upper South continued in the nineteenth century to rely, as it always had, on the cultivation of tobacco. But the market for that crop was notoriously unstable, subject to recurrent depressions, including a prolonged one that began in the 1820s and extended into the 1850s. And tobacco rapidly exhausted the land on which it was grown, which made it difficult for most growers to remain in business in the same place for very long. By the 1830s, therefore, many farmers in the old tobacco-growing regions of Virginia, Maryland, and North Carolina were shifting to other cropsnotably wheatwhile the center of tobacco cultivation was moving westward, into the piedmont area.

The southern regions of the coastal SouthSouth Carolina, Georgia, and parts of Floridacontinued to rely on rice production, a more stable and lucrative crop. But rice demanded substantial irrigation and needed an exceptionally long growing season (nine months), so cultivation of that staple remained restricted to a relatively small area. Sugar growers, similarly, enjoyed a reasonably profitable market for their crop; but sugar cultivation, too, required special conditions and a long growing time and thus did not spread much beyond a small area in southern Louisiana and eastern Texas. Long-staple (Sea Island) cotton was another lucrative crop; but like rice and sugar, it could be grown only in a limited areathe coastal regions of the Southeast.

The decline of the tobacco economy in the upper South, and the inherent limits of the sugar, rice, and long-staple cotton economies farther south might have forced the region to shift its attention to other, nonagricultural pursuits in the nineteenth century had it not been for the growing importance of a new product, which soon overshadowed all else: short-staple cotton. This was a hardier and coarser strain of cotton, which could be grown effectively in a variety of climates and in a variety of soils. It was more difficult to process than the long-staple variety; its seeds were far more difficult to remove from the fiber. But the invention of the cotton gin (see pp. 194-195) had largely solved that problem, and by the 1820s cotton production was spreading rapidly. From the western areas of South Carolina and Georgia, production moved steadilyfirst into Alabama and Mississippi, then into northern Louisiana, Texas, and Arkansas. By the 1850s, cotton had come to be the linchpin of the Southern economy. In 1820, the South had produced only about 500,000 bales of cotton. By 1850, it was producing nearly 3 million bales a year, and by 1860 nearly 5 million. There were periodic fluctuations in cotton prices, resulting generally from overproduction; periods of boom were frequently followed by abrupt busts. But the cotton economy continued to grow, even if in fits and starts. By the time of the Civil War, cotton constituted nearly two-thirds of the total export trade of the United States and was bringing in nearly $200 million a year. The annual value of the rice crop, in contrast, was $2 million. It was little wonder that Southern politicians now proclaimed: "Cotton is king!"

Settlement of the cotton kingdom bore certain resemblances to the rush of gold seekers to a new frontier. The prospect of tremendous profits quickly drew settlers by the thousands. Some who came were wealthy planters from the older states who transferred their assets and slaves to a cotton plantation. Most were small slaveholders or slaveless farmers who intended to become planters. A similar shift occurred in the slave population. In the period 1820-1860, the number of slaves in Alabama leaped from 41,000 to 435,000, and in Mississippi from 32,000 to 436,000. In the same period, the increase in Virginia was only from 425,000 to 490,000. It has been estimated that between 1840 and 1860, 410,000 slaves moved from the upper South to the cotton stateseither accompanying masters who were themselves migrating to the Southwest, or (more often) sold to planters already there. Indeed, the sale of slaves to the Southwest became an important economic activity in the upper South and helped the troubled planters of that region to compensate for the declining value of their crops.

Southern Trade and Industry

In the face of this booming agricultural expansion, other forms of economic activity developed slowly in the South. The business classes of the regionthe manufacturers and merchantswere not without importance. There was growing activity in flour milling and in textile and iron manufacturing, particularly in the upper South. The Tredegar Iron Works in Richmond, for example, compared favorably with the best iron mills in the Northeast. But industry remained an insignificant force in comparison with the agricultural economy. The total value of Southern textile manufactures in 1860 was $4.5 milliona threefold increase over the value of those goods twenty years before, but only about 2 percent of the value of the cotton exported that year.

To the degree that the South developed a nonfarm commercial sector, it was largely to serve the needs of the plantation economy. Particularly important were the brokers, or factors, who marketed the planters' crops. These merchants were centered in such towns as New Orleans, Charleston, Mobile, and Savannah, where they worked to find buyers for cotton and other crops and where they purchased needed goods for the planters they served. The South had only a very rudimentary financial system, and the factors often also served the planters as bankers, providing them with credit. Planters frequently accumulated substantial debts, particularly during periods when cotton prices were in decline; and the Southern merchant-bankers thus became figures of considerable influence and importance in the region. There were also substantial groups of professional people in the Southlawyers, editors, doctors, and others; they too, however, were closely tied to and dependent on the plantation economy.

However important these manufacturers, merchants, and professionals might have been to Southern society, they were relatively unimportant in comparison with the manufacturers, merchants, and professionals of the North, on whom Southerners were coming more and more (and increasingly unhappily) to depend. Perceptive Southerners recognized the economic subordination of their region. "From the rattle with which the nurse tickles the ear of the child born in the South to the shroud that covers the cold form of the dead, everything comes to us from the North,'* exclaimed the Arkansas journalist Albert Pike.

Perhaps the most prominent advocate of Southern economic independence was James B. D. De Bow, a resident of New Orleans. He published a magazine advocating Southern commercial and agricultural expansion: De Bow's Review, which survived from its founding in 1846 until 1880. De Bow made his journal into a tireless advocate of Southern economic independence from the North, warning constantly of the dangers of the "colonial" relationship between the sections. One writer noted in the pages of his magazine: "I think it would be safe to estimate the amount which is lost to us annually by our vassalage to the North at $100,000,000. Great God!" Yet De Bow's Review was itself clear evidence of the dependency of the South on the North. It was printed in New York, because no New Orleans printer had facilities adequate to the task; it was filled with advertisements from Northern manufacturing firms; and its circulation was always modest in comparison with those of Northern publications. In Charleston, for example, it sold an average of 173 copies per issue, while Harper's Magazine of New York regularly sold 1,500 copies to Carolinians.

Despite this awareness of the region's "colonial dependency," the South made few serious efforts to develop an economy that might challenge that dependency. An important question about antebellum Southern history, therefore, is why the region did so little to develop a larger industrial and commercial economy of its own.

Part of the reason was the great profitability of the region's agricultural system, and particularly of cotton production. Another reason was that wealthy Southerners had so much capital invested in their land and in their slaves that they had little left for other investments. Some historians have suggested that the Southern climatewith its long, hot, steamy summerswas less suitable for industrial development than the climate of the North. Still others have gone so far as to claim that Southern work habits impeded industrialization; white Southerners appearedat least to many Northern observersnot to work very hard, to lack the strong work ethic that fueled Northern economic development.

But the Southern failure to create a flourishing commercial or industrial economy was also in part the result of a set of values distinctive to the South that discouraged the growth of cities and industry. White Southerners liked to think of themselves as

representatives of a special way of life: one based on traditional values of chivalry, leisure, and elegance. Southerners were, they argued, "cavaliers"people happily free from the base, acquisitive instincts of Northerners, people more concerned with a refined and gracious way of life than with rapid growth and development.But appealing as the "cavalier" image was to Southern whites, it conformed to the reality of Southern society in strictly limited ways.

Plantation Society

Only a minority of Southern whites owned slaves. In 1850, when the total white population of the South was over 6 million, the number of slaveholders was only 347,525. In 1860, when the white population was just above 8 million, the number of slaveholders had risen to only 383,637. These figures are, of course, somewhat misleading, since each slaveholder was normally the head of a family averaging five members. But even with all members of slaveowning families included in the figures, those owning slaves still amounted to perhaps no more than one quarter of the white population. And of the minority of whites holding slaves, only a small proportion owned them in substantial numbers.

How, then, did the South come to be seenboth by the outside world and by many Southerners themselvesas a society dominated by great plantations and wealthy landowning planters? In large part, it was because the planter aristocracythe cotton magnates, the sugar, rice, and tobacco nabobs, the whites who owned at least forty or fifty slaves and 800 or more acresexercised power and influence far in excess of their numbers. They stood at the apex of society, determining the political, economic, and even social life of their region. Enriched by vast annual incomes, dwelling in palatial homes, surrounded by broad acres and many black servants, they became a class to which all others paid a certain deference. Southerners liked to compare their planter class to the old upper classes of England and Europe: true aristocracies long entrenched. In fact, however, the Southern upper class was in most cases not at all similar to the landed aristocracies of the Old World. In some areas of the upper Souththe tidewater region of Virginia, for examplethe great aristocrats were sometimes people whose families had occupied positions of wealth and power for generations. In most of the South, however, a longstanding landed aristocracy, though central to the "cavalier" image, was largely a myth. Even the most important planters in the cotton-growing areas of the region were, typically, new to their wealth and power. As late as the 1850s, the great landowners in the lower South were still often first-generation settlers, who had arrived with only modest resources, who had struggled for many years to clear land and develop a plantation in what was at first a rugged frontier, and who had only relatively recently begun to live in the comfort and luxury for which they were now famous. Large areas of the "Old South" (as Americans later called the South of the pre-Civil War era) had been settled and cultivated for less than two decades at the time of the Civil War. Nor was the world of the planter nearly as leisured and genteel as the "cavalier" myth would suggest. Growing staple crops was a businessoften a big and highly profitable business which was in its own way just as competitive and just as risky as the industrial enterprises of the North. Planters had to supervise their operations carefully if they hoped to make a profit. They were, in many respects, just as much competitive capitalists as the industrialists of the North whose life styles they claimed to hold in contempt.

Indeed, it may have been the newness and pre-cariousness of the plantation way of life, and the differences between the reality of that life and the image of it, that made many Southern planters determined to portray themselves as genteel aristocrats. Having struggled so hard to reach and maintain their position, they were all the more determined to defend it. (It was perhaps no accident that the defense of slavery and of the South's "rights" was stronger in the new, booming regions of the lower South and weaker in the more established and less flourishing areas of the tidewater.)

Wealthy Southern whites sustained their image of themselves as aristocrats in many ways. They adopted an elaborate code of "chivalry," which obligated white men to defend their "honor" (often through dueling). They avoided such "coarse" occupations as trade and commerce; those who did not become planters often gravitated toward the military, a "suitable" career for men raised in a culture in which medieval knights (as portrayed in the novels of Walter Scott) were a powerful and popular image. Above all, perhaps, the aristocratic ideal found reflection in the definition of a special role for Southern white women.

The Southern Lady

In some respects, affluent white women in the South occupied roles very similar to those occupied by middle-class white women in the North. Their lives were expected to be centered in the home, where they would serve as companions to (and hostesses for) their husbands and as nurturing mothers for their children. Even less frequently than in the North did "genteel" Southern white women engage in public activities or find income-producing employment.

But the life of the "Southern lady" was also in many ways very different from that of her Northern counterpart. For one thing, the cult of honor in the region meant that Southern white men gave particular importance to the "defense" of women. In practice, this generally meant that white men were even more dominant and white women even more subordinate in Southern culture than they were in the North. George Fitzhugh, one of the South's most important social theorists, wrote in the 1850s: "Women, like children, have but one right, and that is the right to protection. The right to protection involves the obligation to obey."

More important in determining the role of Southern white women, however, were the social realities in which they lived. The vast majority of females in the region lived on farms, relatively isolated from people outside their own families, with virtually no access to the "public world" and thus few opportunities to look beyond their roles as wives and mothers. For many women, living on farms of modest size meant a fuller engagement in the economic life of the family than was becoming typical for middle-class women in the North. These women engaged in spinning, weaving, and other production; they participated in agricultural tasks; they helped supervise the slave work force. On the larger plantations, however, even these limited roles were often considered unsuitable for white women; and the "plantation mistress" became, in some cases, more an ornament for her husband than a meaningful part of the economy or the society.

Southern women also had far less access to education than their Northern counterparts. Nearly a quarter of all white women over twenty were completely illiterate; relatively few women had more than a rudimentary exposure to schooling. Even wealthy planters were not much interested in extensive schooling for their daughters. The few female "academies" in the South were designed largely to train women to be suitable wives.

Southern white women had other special burdens as well. The Southern birth rate remained nearly twenty percent higher than that of the nation as a whole, and infant mortality in the region remained higher than elsewhere; nearly half the children born in the South in 1860 died before they reached five years of age. And the slave labor system created particular problems. Male slaveowners had frequent sexual relationships with the female slaves on their plantations; the children of those unions became part of the plantation labor force and served as a constant reminder to white women of their husbands' infidelity. Resentment of such relationships ran deep among Southern women, and yet the social code under which they lived generally prevented them from venting their anger, or even openly acknowledging that the relationships existed at all.

A few Southern white women rebelled against their roles and against the prevailing assumptions of their region. Some became outspoken abolitionists and joined Northerners in the crusade to abolish slavery. (See pp.355-360.) Some agitated for other reforms within the South itself. Most white women, however, found few outlets for whatever discontent they felt with their lot. Instead, they generally convinced themselves of the benefits of their position andlike Southern white mendefended the special virtues of the Southern way of life.

The Plain Folk

The typical white Southerner was not a great planter and slaveholder, but a modest yeoman farmer. Some owned a few slaves, with whom they worked and lived far more closely than did the larger planters. Most (in fact, two-thirds of all white families) owned no slaves at all. These "plain folk," most of whom owned their own land, devoted themselves largely to subsistence farming. During the 1850s, the number of nonslaveholding landowners increased much faster than the number of slaveholding landowners. While there were occasional examples of poor farmers moving into the ranks of the planter class, such cases were rare. Most yeomen knew that they had little prospect of substantially bettering their lot.

One reason was the Southern educational system, which provided poor whites with few opportunities to learn and thus limited their chances of advancement. For the sons of wealthy planters, however, the system provided ample opportunities to gain an education. In 1860 there were 260 Southern colleges and universities, public and private, with 25,000 students enrolled in them, or more than half the total number of students in the United States. The lower South had 11,000 students in its institutions of higher learning, while New England, with approximately the same population, could boast of only 3,748. College was within the reach of only the upper class, however. And below the college level, where the white lower classes more often looked, the schools of the South were not only fewer but also inferior to those of the Northeast (although not much worse than the crude schools of the Northwest). The South had more than 500,000 white illiterates, or over half of the country's total.

That a majority of the South's white population consisted of modest farmers largely excluded from the dominant plantation society presents an important question about the antebellum South. Why did the plain folk have so little power in the public world of the Old South? Why did they not oppose the aristocratic social system in which they shared so little? Why did they not resent the system of slavery, from which they generally did not benefit? There is no single answer to such questions.

Some nonslaveowning whites did oppose the slaveholding oligarchy, but for the most part in limited ways and in a relatively few, isolated areas. These were the Southern highlanders, the "hill people," who lived in the Appalachian ranges east of the Mississippi and in the Ozarks to the west of the river. Of all Southern whites, they were the most set apart from the mainstream of the region's life. They practiced a crude form of subsistence agriculture, owned practically no slaves, and had a proud sense of seclusion. They held to old ways and old ideals, which included the ideal of loyalty to the nation as a whole. Such whites frequently expressed animosity toward the planter aristocracy of the other regions of the South and misgivings about (although seldom moral objections to) the system of slavery. The mountain region was the only part of the South to defy the trend toward sectional conformity; and it was the only part to resist the movement toward secession when it finally developed. Even during the Civil War itself, many refused to support the Confederacy; some went so far as to fight for the Union.

Far greater in number, however, were the nonslaveowning whites who lived in the midst of the plantation system. Many, perhaps most of them, accepted that system because they were tied to it in important ways. Small farmers depended on the local plantation aristocracy for many things: for access to cotton gins, for markets for their modest crops and their livestock, for financial assistance in time of need. In many areas, there were also extensive networks of kinship linking lower- and upper-class whites. The poorest resident of a county might easily be a cousin of the richest aristocrat. Taken together, these mutual tiesa system of vaguely paternal relationships-helped mute what might otherwise have been pronounced class tensions.

There were other white Southerners, however, who did not share in the plantation economy in even these limited ways and yet continued to accept its premises. These were the members of that tragic and degraded classnumbering perhaps a half-million in 1850known variously as "crackers," "sandhillers," or "poor white trash." Occupying the infertile lands of the pine barrens, the red hills, and the swamps, they lived in miserable cabins amid almost unbelievable squalor. Their degradation resulted partly from dietary deficiencies and disease. These poor whites resorted at times to eating clay; and they were afflicted by pellagra, hookworm, and malaria. Held in contempt by both the planters and the small farmers of the South, they formed a true underclass. In many ways, their plight was worse than that of the black slaves (who themselves often looked down on the poor whites).

Even among these Southernersthe true outcasts of white society in the regionthere was no real opposition to the plantation system or slavery. In part, undoubtedly, this was because these men and women were so benumbed by poverty that they had little strength to protest. But it resulted also from perhaps the single greatest unifying factor among the Southern white populationthe one force that was most responsible for reducing tensions among the various classes. That force was race. However poor and miserable white Southerners might be, they could still consider themselves members of a ruling race; they could still look down on the black population of the region and feel a bond with their fellow whites born of a determination to maintain their racial supremacy. As Frederick Law Olmsted, a Northerner who visited the South and chronicled Southern society in the 1850s, wrote: "From childhood, the one thing in their condition which has made life valuable to the mass of whites has been that the niggers are yet their inferiors."

The "Peculiar Institution"

White Southerners often referred to slavery as the "peculiar institution." By that, they meant not that the institution was odd but that it was distinctive, special. The description was an apt one, for American slavery was indeed distinctive. The South in the mid-nineteenth century was the only area in the entire Western worldexcept for Brazil and Cuba where slavery still existed; and Southern slavery differed even from its Caribbean and Latin American counterparts. Slavery, more than any other single factor, isolated the South from the rest of American society. And as that isolation increased, so did the commitment of Southerners to defend the institution. William Harper, a prominent South Carolina politician in the 1840s, wrote: "The judgment is made up. We can have no hearing before the tribunal of the civilized world. Yet, on this very account, it is more important that we, the inhabitants of the slave-holding States, insulated as we are by this institution, and cut off, in some degree, from the communion and sympathies of the world by which we are surrounded, . . . and exposed continually to their animadversions and attacks, should thoroughly understand this subject, and our strength and weakness in relation to it."

Within the South itself, the institution of slavery had paradoxical results. On the one hand, it isolated blacks from whites, drawing a sharp and inviolable line between the races. As a result, blacks under slavery began to develop a society and culture of their own, one that was in many ways unrelated to the white civilization around them. On the other hand, slavery created a unique bond between blacks and whitesmasters and slavesin the South. The two races may have maintained separate spheres, but each sphere was deeply influenced by, indeed dependent on, the other.

Varieties of Slavery

Slavery was an institution established by law and regulated in detail by law. The slave codes of the Southern states forbade slaves to hold property, to leave their masters' premises without permission, to be out after dark, to congregate with other slaves except at church, to carry firearms, or to strike a white person even in self-defense. The codes prohibited whites from teaching slaves to read or write, and they denied to slaves the right to testify in court against white people. They contained no provisions to legalize slave marriages or divorces. If an owner killed a slave while punishing him, the act was generally not considered a crime. Slaves, however, faced the death penalty for killing or even resisting a white person and for inciting to revolt. The codes also contained extraordinarily rigid provisions for defining a person's race. Anyone with even a trace of African ancestry was considered black. And anyone thought to possess any such trace was presumed to be black unless he or she could prove otherwise.

These and dozens of other restrictions and impositions indicate that the slaves lived under a uniformly harsh and dismal regime. Had the laws been rigidly enforced, that might have been the case. In fact, however, they were applied unevenly. Sometimes slaves did acquire property, were taught to read and write, and did assemble with other slaves, in spite of laws to the contrary. Although major slave offenses were generally referred to the courts (and thus to the jurisdiction of the slave codes), most transgressions were handled by the master, who might inflict punishments ranging from some mild disciplinary action to flogging or branding for running away. In other words, despite the rigid provisions of law, there was in reality considerable variety within the slave system. Some blacks lived in almost prisonlike conditions, rigidly and harshly controlled by their masters. Many (probably most) others enjoyed a certain flexibility and (at least in comparison to the regimen prescribed by law) a striking degree of autonomy.

The nature of the the relationship between masters and slaves depended in part on the size of the plantation. Thus the typical master had a different image of slavery from that of the typical slave. Most masters possessed very few slaves, and their experience with (and image of) slavery was therefore shaped by the special nature of slavery on the small farm. Small farmers generally supervised their workers directly and often worked closely alongside them. On such farms, blacks and whites developed a form of intimacy unknown on larger plantations. The paternal relationship between such masters and their slaves could, like relationships between fathers and children, be warm and in many ways benevolent. It could also be tyrannical and cruel. In general, the evidence suggests, blacks themselves preferred to live on larger plantations, where they had more opportunities for privacy and for a social world of their own.

Although the majority of slaveowners were small farmers, the majority of slaves lived on plantations of medium or large size, with sizable slave work forces. There the relationship between master and slave was usually far less intimate. Substantial planters often hired overseers and even assistant overseers to represent them. "Head drivers," trusted and responsible slaves often assisted by several subdrivers, acted under the overseer as foremen. Larger planters generally used one of two methods of assigning slave labor. One was the task system, most widely used in rice culture, under which slaves were assigned a particular task in the morning, for example, hoeing one acre; after completing the job, they were free for the rest of the day. The other, far more common, was the gang system, employed on the cotton, sugar, and tobacco plantations, under which slaves were simply divided into groups, each of them directed by a driver, and worked for as many hours as the overseer considered a reasonable workday.

Slaves were provided with at least enough necessities to enable them to live and work. They were furnished with an adequate if rough diet, consisting mainly of corn meal, salt pork, and molasses. Many were allowed to raise gardens for their own use and were issued fresh meat on special occasions. They received issues of cheap clothing and shoes. They lived in rude cabins, called slave quarters, usually clustered together in a complex near the master's house. Medical care was provided by the plantation mistress or by a doctor retained by the owner. Slaves worked hard, beginning with light tasks as children; and their workday was longest at harvest time. Slave women worked particularly hard. They generally shared the labor in the fields with the men, and they assumed as well the traditional women's chores of cooking, cleaning, and child rearing in the slave fam-ily.

Some historians have argued that the material conditions of slavery were, in fact, superior to those of Northern industrial workers. Whether or not that is true (and the evidence for this conclusion is at least debatable), the conditions of American slavery were undoubtedly less severe than those of slavery in the Caribbean and South America. There the slave supply was constantly replenished well into the nineteenth century by the African slave trade, giving owners less incentive to protect their existing laborers. Working and living conditions there were arduous, and masters at times literally worked their slaves to death. In the United States, in contrast, there were strong economic incentives to maintain a healthy slave population. One result of this was that America became the only country where a slave population actually increased through natural reproduction.

One example of the solicitude with which masters often treated their slaves was the frequent practice of using hired labor, when available, for the most unhealthy or dangerous tasks. A traveler in Louisiana noted, for example, that Irishmen were employed to clear malarial swamps and to handle cotton bales at the bottom of chutes extending from the river bluff down to a boat landing. If an Irishman died of disease or was killed in an accident, the master could hire another for a dollar a day or less. But he would lose perhaps $1,000 or more if he lost a prime field hand. Still, cruel masters might forget their pocketbooks in the heat of momentary anger. And slaves were often left to the discipline of overseers, who had no pecuniary stake in their well-being; overseers were paid in proportion to the amount of work they could get out of the slaves they supervised.

Household servants had a somewhat easier life physically at leastthan did field hands. On a small plantation, the same slaves might do both field work and house work; but on a large one, there would generally be a separate domestic staff: nursemaids, housemaids, cooks, butlers, coachmen. These people lived close to the master and his family, eating the leftovers from the family table and in some cases even sleeping in the "big house." Between the blacks and whites of such households affectionate, almost familial relationships might develop. More often, however, house servants resented their isolation from their fellow slaves and the lack of privacy that came with living in such close proximity to the family of the master. When emancipation came after the Civil War, it was often the house servants who were the first to leave the plantations of their former owners. Slavery in the cities differed significantly from slavery in the country. On the relatively isolated plantations, slaves had little contact with free blacks and lower-class whites, and masters maintained a fairly direct and effective control; a deep and unbridgeable chasm yawned between slavery and freedom. In the city, however, a master often could not supervise his slaves closely and at the same time use them profitably. Even if they slept at night in carefully watched backyard barracks, they went about by day on errands of various kinds. Othersparticularly skilled workers such as blacksmiths or carpenterswere hired out; and after hours they often fended for themselves, neither their owners nor their employers bothering to supervise them. Thus urban slaves gained numerous opportunities to mingle with free blacks and with whites. In the cities, the line between slavery and freedom remained, but it became less and less distinct.

Indeed, white Southerners generally considered slavery to be incompatible with city life; and as Southern cities grew, the number of slaves in them declined, relatively if not absolutely. The reasons were social rather than economic. Fearing conspiracies and insurrections, urban slaveowners sold off much of their male property to the countryside. The cities were left with an excess of black women while they continued to have an excess of white men (a situation that helped to account for the birth of many mulattoes). While slavery in the cities declined, segregation of blacks both free and slave increased. Segregation was a means of social control intended to make up for the loosening of the discipline of slavery itself.

The Continuing Stave Trade

The transfer of slaves from one part of the South to another was one of the most important demographic consequences of the development of the Southwest. Sometimes slaves moved to the new cotton lands in the company of their original owners, who were migrating themselves. More often, however, the transfer occurred through the medium of professional slave traders. Traders transported slaves over long distances on trains or on river or ocean steamers. On shorter journeys, the slaves moved on foot, trudging in coffles of hundreds along dusty highways. Eventually they arrived at some central market such as Natchez, New Orleans, Mobile, or Galveston, where purchasers collected to bid for them. At the auction, the bidders checked the slaves like livestock, watching them as they were made to walk or trot, inspecting their teeth, feeling their arms and legs, looking for signs of infirmity or age. It paid to be careful, for traders were known to deceive buyers by blacking gray hair, oiling withered skin, and concealing physical defects in other ways. A sound young field hand would fetch a price that, during the 1840s and 1850s, varied from $500 to $1,700, depending mainly on fluctuations in the price of cotton. The average figure was about $800, a substantial sum given the value of the dollar at the time. An attractive woman, desirable as a concubine, might bring several times that much. The domestic slave trade was essential to the growth and prosperity of the whole system. It was also one of the most horrible aspects of it. The trade dehumanized all who were involved in it. It separated children from parents, and parents from each other. Even families kept together by scrupulous masters might be broken up in the division of the estate after the master's death. Planters condoned the trade and eased their consciences by holding the traders in contempt and assigning them a low social position.

The foreign slave trade was as bad or worse. Although federal law had prohibited the importation of slaves from 1808 on, they continued to be smuggled in as late as the 1850s. The numbers can only be guessed at. There were not enough such imports to satisfy all planters, and the Southern commercial conventions, which met annually to consider means of making the South economically independent, began to discuss the legal reopening of the trade. "If it is right to buy slaves in Virginia and carry them to New Orleans," William L. Yancey of Alabama asked his fellow delegates at the 1858 meeting, "why is it not right to buy them in Cuba, Brazil, or Africa and carry them there?" The convention that year voted to recommend the repeal of all laws against slave imports. Only the delegates from the states of the upper South, which profited from the domestic trade, opposed the foreign competition.

Slave Resistance

Few issues have sparked as much debate among historians as the effects of slavery on the blacks themselves. (See "Where Historians Disagree" ) Slaveowners, and many white Americans for generations to come, liked to argue that the slaves were generally content, "happy with their lot." That may well have been true in some cases. But it is clear that the vast majority of Southern blacks were not content with being slaves, that they yearned for freedom even though most realized there was little they could do to secure it. Evidence for that conclusion comes, if from nowhere else, from the reaction of slaves when emancipation finally came. Virtually all Southern blacks reacted to freedom with joy and celebration; relatively few chose to remain in the service of the whites who had owned them before the Civil

More often than not, the "Sambo" pattern of behavior was a charade, a facade assumed in the presence of whites. In some cases, however, it might have represented more than thatthe tragic distortion of personality that the rigors of slavery inflicted on its victims. The other extreme was the slave rebelthe black who could not bring himself or herself to either acceptance or accommodation but harbored an unquenchable spirit of rebelliousness. Here, too, there may at times have been personality disorders at work (as is suggested by newspaper advertisements for runaways who were described as having stutters or other behavioral quirks). It was, after all, a somewhat abnormal act to rise up in rebellion against odds so overwhelming that there existed virtually no chance of success. Yet to attribute slave rebellions to mental disorder is to accept a largely white point of view. It is also possible to see in the rebellious slave signs of a strength and courage far greater than most white Southerners were disposed to admit black people could possess.

Actual slave revolts were extremely rare, but the knowledge that they were possible struck terror into the hearts of white Southerners everywhere. In 1800, Gabriel Prosser gathered 1,000 rebellious slaves out-side Richmond, but two blacks gave the plot away, and the Virginia militia was called out in time to head it off. Prosser and 35 others were executed. In 1822, the Charleston free black Denmark Vesey and his followersrumored to total 9,000made preparations for revolt; but again the word leaked out, and retribution followed. In 1831, Nat Turner, a slave preacher, led a band of blacks who armed themselves with guns and axes and, on a summer night, went from house to house in Southampton County, Virginia. They slaughtered sixty white men, women, and children before being overpowered by state and federal troops. More than a hundred blacks were put to death in the aftermath. Nat Turner's was the only actual slave insurrection in the nineteenth-century South, but slave conspiracies and threats of renewed violence continued throughout the section as long as slavery lasted.

For the most part, however, resistance to slavery took other, less drastic forms. In some cases, slaves worked "within the system" to free themselves from itearning money with which they managed to buy their own and their families' freedom. Some had the good fortune to be set free by their master's will after his deathfor example, the more than 400 slaves belonging to John Randolph of Roanoke, freed in 1833. From the 1830s on, however, state laws made it more and more difficult, and in some cases practically impossible, for an owner to manumit his slaves. The laws, when permitting manumission, often required the removal of the freed slaves from the state. Slaveowners objected to the very presence of free blacks, who by their existence set a disturbing example for the slaves.

By 1860, there nevertheless were about 250,000 free blacks in the slaveholding states, more than half of them in Virginia and Maryland. A few (generally on the northern fringes of the slaveholding regions) attained wealth and prominence. Some owned slaves themselves, usually relatives whom they had bought in order to ensure their ultimate emancipation. Most, however, lived in abject poverty, under conditions worse than those afflicting blacks in the North. Law or custom closed many occupations to them, forbade them to assemble without white supervision, and placed numerous other restraints on them. They were only quasi-free, and yet they had all the burdens of freedom: the necessity to support themselves, to find housing, to pay taxes. Yet great as were the hardships of freedom, blacks usually preferred them to slavery.

Some blacks attempted to resist slavery by escaping from it, by running away. A small number managed to escape to the North or to Canada, especially after sympathetic whites began organizing the so-called underground railroad to assist them in flight. But the odds against a successful escape, particularly from the Deep South, were almost impossibly great. The hazards of distance and the slaves' ignorance of geography were serious obstacles. So were the white "slave patrols," which stopped wandering blacks on sight throughout the South demanding to see travel permits. Without such a permit, slaves were presumed to be runaways and were taken captive. For blacks who attempted to escape through the woods, slave patrols often employed bloodhounds. Despite all the obstacles to success, however, blacks continued to run away from their masters in large numbers. Some did so repeatedly, undeterred by the whippings and other penalties inflicted on them when captured.

But perhaps the most important method of resistance was simply a pattern of everyday behavior by which blacks defied their masters. That whites so often considered blacks to be lazy and shiftless suggests one means of resistance: refusal to work hard. Slaves might also steal from their masters or from neighboring whites. They might perform isolated acts of sabotage: losing or breaking tools (Southern planters gradually began to buy unusually heavy hoes because so many of the lighter ones got broken) or performing tasks improperly. In extreme cases, blacks might make themselves useless by cutting off their fingers or even committing suicide. Or, despite the terrible consequences, they might on occasion turn on their masters and kill them. The extremes, however, were rare. For the most part, blacks resisted by building into their normal patterns of behavior subtle methods of rebellion.

Slave Religion and the Black Family

But resistance was only part of the slave response to slavery. The other was an elaborate process of adaptationa process that did not imply contentment with bondage but a recognition that there was no realistic alternative. One of the ways blacks adapted was by developing a rich and complex culture, one that enabled them to keep a sense of racial pride and unity. In many areas, they retained a language of their own, sometimes incorporating African speech patterns into English. They developed a distinctive music, establishing in the process what was perhaps the most impressive of all American musical traditions. The most important features of black culture, however, were the development of two powerful institutions: religion and the family.

A separate slave religion was not supposed to exist. Almost all blacks were Christians, and their masters expected them to worship under the supervision of white ministersoften in the same chapels as whites. Indeed, autonomous black churches were banned by law. Nevertheless, blacks throughout the South developed their own version of Christianity, at times incorporating such African practices as voodoo, but more often simply bending religion to the special circumstances of bondage. Natural leaders emerging within the slave community rose to the rank of preacher; and when necessary, blacks would hold services in secret, often at night.

Black religion was far more emotional than its white counterparts, and it reflected the influence of African customs and practices. Slave prayer meetings routinely involved fervent chanting, spontaneous exclamations from the congregation, and ecstatic conversion experiences. Black religion was also more joyful and affirming than that of many white denominations. And above all, black religion emphasized the dream of freedom and deliverance. In their prayers and songs and sermons, black Christians talked and sang of the day when the Lord would "call us home," "deliver us to freedom," "take us to the Promised Land." And while their white masters generally chose to interpret such language merely as the expression of hopes for life after death, blacks themselves were undoubtedly using the images of Christian salvation to express their own dream of freedom in the present world.

The slave family was the other crucial institution of black culture in the South. Like religion, it suffered from certain legal restrictionsmost notably the lack of legal marriage. Nevertheless, the nuclear family consistently emerged as the dominant kinship pattern among blacks. Such families did not always operate precisely according to white customs. A black couple would often begin living together before declaring any intent to marry; and a black woman would often bear a child before becoming wed. But family ties were generally no less strong than those of whites, and many slave marriages lasted throughout the course of long lifetimes.

When marriages did not survive, it was often because of circumstances over which blacks had no control. Up to a third of all black families were broken up by the slave trade. And that accounted for some of the other distinctive characteristics of the black family, which adapted itself to the cruel realities of its own uncertain future. Networks of kinshipwhich grew to include not only spouses and their children, but aunts, uncles, grandparents, even distant cousinsremained strong and important and often served to compensate for the breakup of nuclear families. A slave suddenly moved to a new area, far from his or her family, might create "fictional" kinship ties and become "adopted" by a family in the new community. Even so, the impulse to maintain contact with a spouse and children remained strong long after the breakup of a family. One of the most frequent causes of escape from the plantation was a slave's desire to find a husband, wife, or child who had been sent elsewhere. It was not only by breaking up families through sale that whites intruded on black family life. Black women, usually powerless to resist the sexual advances of their masters, often bore the children of whiteschildren whom the whites seldom recognized as their own and who were consigned to slavery from birth.

In addition to establishing social and cultural institutions of their own, slaves adapted themselves to slavery by forming complex relationships with their masters. However much blacks resented their lack of freedom, they often found it difficult to maintain an entirely hostile attitude toward their owners. Not only were they dependent on whites for the material means of existencefood, clothing, and shelter; they also often derived from their masters a sense of security and protection. There was, in short, a paternal relationship between slave and mastersometimes harsh, sometimes kindly, but almost invariably important. That paternalism, in fact, became (even if not always consciously) a vital instrument of white control. By creating a sense of mutual dependence, whites helped to reduce resistance to an institution that, in essence, was designed solely for the benefit of the ruling race.

WHERE HISTORIANS DISAGREE

The Nature of Plantation Slavery

Few subjects have produced so rich a historical literature in recent years as the nature of American slavery. And in that literature is lodged one of the liveliest of all scholarly debates. Even more vividly than other historical controversies, the argument over slavery illustrates the extent to which historians are influenced by the times in which they write. Popular attitudes about race have always found reflection in historical examinations of slavery. Never has that been more true than in the past two decades.

The first accounts of slavery, written before the Civil War by contemporaries of the institution, were usually stark expressions of the political beliefs of their authors. Southern chroniclers emphasized the benevolent features of the system, the paternalism with which masters cared for their slaves (a stark contrast, they implied, to the brutal impersonality of Northern factory owners and their "wage slaves"), and the carefree, happy demeanor of the slaves themselves. From Northern writers (many of them abolitionists) came a picture of slavery as a brutal, savage institution that dehumanized all who were touched by it. Theodore Dwight Weld's American Slavery as It Is (1839), for many years a widely cited book, depicted a system so horrible in its impact, it was little wonder the book inspired many of its readers to political action.

By the end of the nineteenth century, however, the political climate had changed. White Americans were now eager to foster a spirit of sectional reconciliation; and in both North and South, there was emergingin popular literature, in folktales and myths, and increasingly in scholarshipa romantic vision of the Old South as a graceful and serene civilization. It was a receptive climate for the publication in 1918 of the most influential study of slavery of the time (and for many years thereafter): Ulrich B. Phillips's American Negro Slavery. Phillips portrayed slavery as an essentially benign institution, in which kindly masters looked after submissive, childlike, and generally contented blacks. Black people, he suggested, were for the most part lazy and irresponsible; and the occasional harshness of the slave system was simply a necessary part of supervising a backward labor force. The book was, in effect, an apology for the Southern slaveowner; and for nearly thirty years, it remained the authoritative work on the subject. Beginning in the 1940s, when the nation began finally to confront forthrightly its legacy of racial injustice, new approaches to slavery started to emerge. As early as 1941, Melville J. Herskovits was challenging one of Phillips's assumptions: that slaves had retained little if any of their African cultural inheritance. In fact, Herskovits argued, many Africanisms survived in slave culture for generations. Two years later, Herbert Aptheker attacked another of Phillips's claims: that slaves were submissive and content. "Discontent and rebelliousness, " he wrote in American Negro Slave Revolts, "were not only exceedingly common, but, indeed, characteristic of American Negro slaves." But for a time, at least, the more influential challenge to Phillips came from those who claimed that he had neglected the brutality of the system and the damage it did to those who lived under it. Kenneth Stampp's The Peculiar Institution (1956), the first comprehensive study of slavery since Phillips, emphasized the harshness of the system not only its physical brutality but its psychological impact on men and women kept in a virtual prison, with little room to develop their own social and cultural patterns. An even more devastating portrait of slavery came from Stanley Elkins, whose Slavery (1959) argued that many slaves had, indeed, displayed childlike, submissive, "Sambo" War (although most blacks, of course, remained for many years subservient to whites in one way or another).

Rather than contented acceptance, the dominant response of blacks to slavery was a complex one: a combination of adaptation and resistance. At the extremes, slavery could produce two opposite reactionseach of which served as the basis for a powerful stereotype in white society. One extreme was what became known as the "Sambo"the shuffling, grinning, head-scratching, deferential slave who acted out the role that he recognized the white expected of him.

personalities, as Phillips had suggested. But to Elkins, such personalities were evidence of the terrible damage the institution had inflicted on them. Comparing the slave system to Nazi concentration camps in World War II, he cited the effects on the individual of enforced "adjustment to absolute power" and the tragic distortions of character that resulted.

Stampp and Elkins reflected the general belief of white liberals in the 1950s and early 1960s that their society bore a large measure of guilt for the injustices it had inflicted on blacks, that whites must work to undo the damage they had done in the past. By the early 1970s, however, racial attitudes had changed again, with the emergence of the "black power" ideology and the widespread belief among blacks and some whites that blacks themselves should determine their own future. The new emphasis on black pride and achievement, therefore, helped produce a new view of the black past, emphasizing the cultural and social accomplishments of blacks under slavery. John Blas-singame, in The Slave Community (1973), echoed the approach of Herskovits thirty years before in arguing that "the most remarkable aspect of the whole process of enslavement is the extent to which the American-born slaves were able to retain their ancestors' culture." Herbert Gutman, in The Black Family in Slavery and Freedom, 1750-1925 (1976), provided voluminous evidence to support his claim that the black family, far from being weakened and destroyed by the slave system, survived with remarkable strengthalthough with some differences from the prevailing form of the white family. The slave community, Gutman claimed, was so successful in preserving and developing its own culture that the master class was unable, despite its great legal power, to affect it in any significant way.

This emphasis on the ability of blacks to maintain their own culture and society under slavery, and on their remarkable achievements within the system, formed the basis of two studies in 1974 that claimed to present comprehensive new portraits of the entire system. Time on the Cross, by Robert Fogel and Stanley Engerman, used quantitative methods to show not only that slaves were skilled and efficient workers, not only that the black family was strong and healthy, but that the institution of slavery was a prosperous one that benefited masters and slaves alike. Slave workers, Fogel and Engerman claimed, were generally better off than Northern industrial workers. Slaves often rose to managerial positions on plantations. Whippings were few, and families were rarely broken up. The findings of Time on the Cross soon came under harsh attackboth from those who were offended by what they considered its apology for slavery and, more important, from historians who claimed to have discovered crucial flaws in Fogel and Engerman's methods. More influential in the long run was Eugene Genovese's Roll, Jordan, Roll: The World the Slaves Made. Genovese revived the idea of "paternalism" as the central element of the slave system. But in his view, paternalism was not an expression of white generosity; it was a powerful instrument of control. And it worked in two directions, enabling blacks to make demands of whites as well as the other way around. Moreover, within this paternal system, Genovese claimed, blacks retained a large cultural "space" of their own within which they developed their own family life, traditions, social patterns, and above all religion. Indeed, slaves had by the mid-nineteenth century developed a sense of themselves as part of a separate black "nation"a nation tied to white society in important ways, but nevertheless powerful and distinct.


 

 



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