Wednesday, May 06, 2009

New---Was The South Becoming Like The North?

Modernizing a Slave Economy: The Economic Vision of the Confederate Nation, John Majewski, 256 pages, The University of North Carolina Press, $39.95.

University of North Carolina Press' Civil War America series usually breaks new ground. Modernizing a Slave Economy: The Economic Vision of the Confederate Nation is not an exception. How closely was the South to become economically like the North before the Civil War? If the war hadn't occurred when it occurred would the South have become a modern economic society with a healthy mix of agriculture and industry?

What would separate Union and Confederate countries look like if the South had won the Civil War? In fact, this was something that southern secessionists actively debated. Imagining themselves as nation-builders, they understood the importance of a plan for the economic structure of the Confederacy. The traditional view assumes that Confederate slave-based agrarianism went hand in hand with a natural hostility toward industry and commerce. Turning conventional wisdom on its head, John Majewski's analysis finds that secessionists strongly believed in industrial development and state-led modernization. They blamed the South's lack of development on Union policies of discriminatory taxes on southern commerce and unfair subsidies for northern industry.

Majewski argues that Confederates' opposition to a strong central government was politically tied to their struggle against northern legislative dominance. Once the Confederacy was formed, those who had advocated states' rights in the national legislature in order to defend against northern political dominance quickly came to support centralized power and a strong executive for war making and nation building.

Early Reviews:
"Majewski makes an argument that is quite novel for antebellum history in its consideration of the possible economic role to be played by government in the South. Well researched and clearly presented, Majewski's analysis merits attention and discussion." Stanley Engerman, University of Rochester and author of Time on The Cross a groundbreaking study of the economics of Southern slavery

"A well-crafted and insightful analysis of the arguments favoring economic development in the antebellum South and their connection to the creation of a southern nation. Writing with clarity and grace about important economic questions, Majewski offers a fresh approach to the old problem of assessing the strengths and weaknesses of Confederate nationalism."
--George C. Rable, Charles Summersell Chair in Southern History, University of Alabama, author of Fredericksburg! Fredericksburg!

John Majewski is professor of history at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He is author of A House Dividing: Economic Development in Pennsylvania and Virginia before the Civil War.

Source of some of the text: University of North Carolina Press

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