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The post Civil War South: a changing landscape - Essay Example

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If the South would have been victorious in the American Civil war the Confederacy would have ranked as one of the world's wealthiest nations and cotton would have been king. However,the North's triumph over the South brought several changes to the South that fundamentally changed the way they worked,produced,and socialized…
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The post Civil War South: a changing landscape

Download file to see previous pages... If the South would have been victorious in the American Civil war the Confederacy would have ranked as one of the world's wealthiest nations and cotton would have been king. However, the North's triumph over the South brought several changes to the South that fundamentally changed the way they worked, produced, and socialized. The plantations of the antebellum era were replaced in the face of the abolition of slavery and new economic demands. The Freedman now were able to own land, work their own fields, and seek employment as a wage earner. The freed slaves had also lost the only social structure that they had known, which was the slave system. New social systems rose up to fill the void as plantation owners fled the country when plantation economics were no longer viable. Political organizations suddenly felt the pressure of the newly emancipated African Americans. The loss of the Civil War restructured the South economically, agriculturally, economically, and politically.Before the Civil War, the South was dotted with plantations that had all the outward appearances of style, grace, and aristocratic status. However, this status was dependent upon the slave labor that sowed, produced, and harvested the crops. Plantations grew cash crops as well as food crops to be consumed by the owners and workers. Cotton, a very labor-intensive crop, was one of the South's leading economic commodities. After the Civil War, much of the South's agricultural system had been destroyed and the machine for producing cotton, the slave system, had been dismantled. Plantations lay in ruins at the hands of Union troops. As the land stood idle, the freedmen had little real economic opportunity to begin life as a free citizen and the system of sharecropping began be the major method of agricultural production.
The South was additionally changed agriculturally from being a labor-intensive system to being a land intensive system. By 1870, land ownership would become more concentrated with one tenth of the wealthiest landowners owning 60 percent of the tillable average (Nash et al.557). This concentrated land ownership further made cotton the crop of choice as food crop production began to fall off. To produce cotton on the land, owners went from a system of contracts to tenant farming and eventually sharecropping. Tenant farming and sharecropping kept the laborers in debt to buy seed and fertilizer or paying expenses on their living quarters and food. None of these systems of agriculture were acceptable to many blacks that demanded their own land and believed private ownership was an expression of freedom. Though progress was slow in this area, by 1900 25 percent of the black population were landowners (Nash et al. 559). The proliferation of small farms in an environment where large landholders dictated the economics of farming resulted in a great devaluation of the South in terms of agricultural worth.
The changing face of agriculture in the South also changed the economics of the South. In the South, economics and agriculture went hand in hand. After the end of the Civil War the value of agriculture in the South had fallen dramatically, while industrialization began to take hold. Southern states would offer financial incentives to bring railroads and industry to the South. Throughout the South, the value of farms had been cut nearly in half, while the number of factories had nearly doubled between 1860 and 1870 (Reconstruction: The Second Civil War). This transformed the South's economy from an agricultural subsistence economy to a wage earner and merchant economy. Wage earners could purchase goods from local merchants, who could then hire help and recycle their pay through the local economy. Mississippi was typical of the states in the Deep South where "The legislature enacted policies to attract Northern capital, including huge land grants to railroads, and almost no taxes for railroads and other corporations" (Reconstruction: ...Download file to see next pagesRead More
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