HST 319April 20, 1998Final EssaySouthern ContinuityJust the words ?Southern way of life’ conjures up a timeless image of gentlemen planters and Southern belles. A time of aristocratic rule that centers itself on plantations and the institution of slavery. The antebellum era echos themes of white supremacy, democracy, unity, tradition, nobility, and honor. While some of these themes seem to be immortalized by such classic works as Gone with the Wind and Roots they still seem to represent the Southern way of life. Although slavery as long since ended and their economy is no longer based up cotton plantations to provide their cash crop, the Southern attitude and distinctiveness still exists. The people who live there define and identify themselves with the region. They are Southerners. Over many years the South has faced many challenges and trials which have jeopardized their identity time and time again. These challenges simply helped them modify their and perfect their distinctiveness while maintaining their certain way of life. Hence, the basic theme that is seen throughout Southern history is that of continuity. The South remaining Southern. W.J. Cash said it best by stating that “The South, one might say, is a tree with many age rings, with its limbs and trunk bent and twisted by all the winds of the years, but with the tap root in the Old South.”The antebellum South was a time of southern sectionalism. The South was centered around the institution of slavery. The planters made up the aristocracy which made up the Government, which in turn constantly stood for the protection of slavery. When the confederacy was formed, it was a nationalistic movement for their rights. A movement to protect their way of life, mainly to maintain the institution of slavery. They fought long and hard for what they felt to be the lifeline of their society. However, when their lifeline was taken away from them, they South maintained its distinctiveness. “In defeat, the South not only retained its sense of identity, but added to it the mythos of the Lost Cause, a sense of ancestral pieties and loyalties bequeathed through suffering, and a unity that comes through common depruation and shared hatred and adversity.” Defeat in the war strengthened Southern nationalism. They had paid a high price in order to try to save their way of life and were not going to give up simply with surrender. The defeat of the South in the Civil War only managed to keep them unified under reconfirmed feelings of secession and resistance.
Along with defeat came the trials of a northern reconstruction. The South faced military occupation and life under new governments. The largest test to the South was Lincoln’s “Emancipation Proclamation.” The South had already been plunged into poverty by consequences of the war and the loss of their labor sent them further into economic distress. The antebellum economy had been based on plantations, cotton, and slaves. “With emancipation, the land was now greatly reduced in value, since there were no slaves to work it or cash to pay freedmen, while the demand for several Southern cash crops also receded considerably without any effective southern agriculture opposition.” This meant the landowners had to consider new measures to take with agriculture in order to maintain their property. Many landowners became landlords to former slaves in a sharecropping system of farming. Under this method the black work force could still be controlled and maintained through laws such as Lien Laws. Landowners also got their land farmed for them while keeping most of the profits and supervising the work. While the agriculture was very distressed for a long period after the war not much had changed in the way that they were running it. Wealthy white landowners still had vast control of their land and the black workers that farmed on it.
Reconstruction and emancipation also boasted many political challenges for the South. Military occupancy and northern pressures to agree to a new political system made it difficult for southerners to keep up their democratic identity. The South also had to deal with the new consequence of the black vote, a vote that wealthy southern aristocracy would not ever receive if elections were run fairly. However,