Title Reviewed:
Origins of the New South, 1877–1918.

Author Reviewed:
C. Vann Woodward

J. Carlyle Sitterson


Indiana Magazine of History, Volume 48, Issue 1, pp 86-88

Article Type:
Book Review

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Origins of the New South, 1877–1918. By C. Vann Woodward. A History of the South, IX, edited by Wendell H. Stephenson and E. Merton Coulter. (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press and the Littlefield Fund for Southern History of the University of Texas, 1951. Pp. xi, 542. Illustrations, index, bibliography. $6.50.)

Students of Southern history who applauded Vann Woodward's Tom Watson: Agrarian Rebel will not be disappointed in his Origins of the New South, 1877–1913. Treating the difficult period between Reconstruction and the modern South, Woodward has brought the myriad factors and conflicting forces of the South's history into focus and for the first time the post-Reconstruction period takes on a clarity and meaning comparable to earlier periods of Southern history. In the best traditions of modern historical scholarship, the author conceives of history in the broad sense and treats economic and social developments equally as extensively as political.

Like Woodward's earlier book on Watson, this volume is characterized by boldly stated and impressively developed theses. In the first chapter, the author states a thesis that becomes a controlling consideration in much of the material that follows. In his own words: "It was not the Radicals nor the Confederates but the Redeemers [the leaders in the restoration of home rule and white control in the South] who laid the lasting foundations in matters of race, politics, economics, and law for the modern South." His picture of the Redeemers, however, is not the conventional one. Rather they are led by a group of former Whigs with industrial, commercial, and capitalistic interests. In one of the book's most interesting chapters, "The Forked Road to Reunion," Woodward advances a reinterpretation of the Compromise of 1877 in the disputed Presidential election of 1876. He contends that economic considerations were paramount in the decision of Southern Redeemers not to contest Hayes' claim to the Presidency—assurances from the Hayes group of support for railroads, Mississippi levees, patronage, etc. Thus Southern conservatives made the choice for their section. Instead of taking the "left fork" to reunion by joining the West, the South took the right fork and joined the industrial, capitalistic East. Subsequent chapters trace the consequences of that choice in dominance of the South for a generation by the conservative Redeemers; Woodward removes from them the halo of scrupulous honesty in public life which historians have too uncritically accepted and conferred upon them.

Several chapters deal with major economic developments of the period—the rise of industry, the condition of agriculture, the farm movements, the status of labor, and exploitation of the South by outside capital. Woodward correctly casts doubt upon the adequacy of "moral incitement" as the major factor in the growth of the Southern textile industry, but a full and accurate account of the locational factor in Southern textiles still awaits a fuller account of the entire movement as does any definitive appraisal of the profitableness of the industry during the post-Civil War period. Selections of a few examples of large profits may not necessarily be representative. Equally important is the answer to the question of how many failed and why? Woodward's chapter on "The Colonial Economy" is an excellent picture of the control of Southern economic life by outside capital. While admitting the benefits of industrialism, he emphasizes the "colonialism" of the system. Woodward's sympathetic treatment of Southern Populism might lead one to the conclusion that the Populist program held the solution for the ills of the agrarian South. Yet, throughout the volume the author reverts to poverty as the core of the South's problems. Certainly, the New South advocates were somewhat naive in their view of industry as a panacea and unblushing in their embracing of outside capital; nevertheless, no one has yet demonstrated how the basic Southern problem of poverty can be eradicated without industrialization, despite the efforts of the Southern agrarians and I'll Take My Stand.

There is not space here to comment on other large themes that Woodward handles interestingly—the tragic story of the Negro; "The Divided Mind of the South" which readily accepted the New Order of industrialism, capitalism, and materialism, while at the same time paying obeisance to the "Old South" that never was; the Progressive movement of the early twentieth century South, too little considered by students of progressivism in the nation. Highly informative and of great value to the student of the South during this period is the author's excellent critical essay on authorities. Not only is Woodward's volume one of the best modern works on the post-Civil War South, but its readers will be all the more impatient to read the rest of the story in Rupert Vance's tenth volume in the series on The Present South.

University of North Carolina

J. Carlyle Sitterson

Published by the Indiana University Department of History.