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Cotton Calamity and the Invention of the Old South

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Jarod Roll

on 7 September 2016

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Transcript of Cotton Calamity and the Invention of the Old South

Cotton Calamity, the Invention of the Old South, and the Farmers' Rebellion
Great Depression of the 1890s:
Falling Cotton Prices, 1870s-1890s
GDP down over 10%
Banks Failed
Unemployment over 20%
Increase in tenancy, landlessness, debt

New pests of mono-crop culture: boll weevil
White Southern Culture in the maw of colonial capitalism:

Creation of the Old South/Lost Cause in the 1880s and 1890s:
--Old South now good, noble; opposite to rapacious, Yankee culture
--Centrality of women
--United Confederate Veterans (1889)
--Daughters of the Confederacy (1895)
--greatest proponents were former Confederates who embraced Yankee-style business
--Democratic Party rule, backed by violence and fraud; one-party Solid South
--no room for alternative visions
Colonial economy geared to produce cheap commodities after 1875
--timber, land, plantation companies
--railroads for extraction
--government support for corporate regime
--Mississippi River Commission (1879): levee construction to turn delta into mega-plantations
Still, southerners revolted against colonial capitalism in search of alternatives:

The Grange, 1870s
National Greenback Labor Party, 1878
Texas Farmers' Alliance
Knights of Labor
National Farmers' Alliance, 1887
Colored Farmers' Alliance, 1886
Lost Cause stronger than ever after 1896: just as it closed down public opportunity for dissent, also became way to recreate white unity; end one rebellion by creating myth of an earlier rebellion
--symbols of power: memorialization of Confederate dead enshrines the Lost Cause after defeat of Populism
--myth of the old South established alternate explanation for southern woes around 1900: outsiders, not southern capitalists and politicians
--UM statue, 1906; square, 1907
Ocala Demands, 1890
1. reform of the banking system; sub-treasury plan
2. Outlaw futures trading on crops
3. Free coinage of silver
4. Outlaw alien ownership of land
5. Measures to support economic equality
6. Government control of transportation, communication
7. Direct election of US Senators
People's Party, 1892 (Populism)
--ran into problem of race, trying to unite white and black voters to unseat Democrats
Electoral peak in 1894:
--54% in NC, 48% in AL, 36% in TX, 25% in MS, 44% in LA
Election of 1896: backed Democratic Candidate William Jennings Bryan (lost)
--Alliance, People's Party crumbled; so did bi-racial politics in the South; exposed the threat, failed, now defenseless
Farmers' Alliance, Cleburne (TX) Demands, 1886:
"sought legislation as shall secure to our people freedom from the onerous and shameful abuses that the industrial classes are now suffering at the hands of the arrogant capitalists and powerful corporations"
Farmers' Alliance merged with Louisiana Farmers' Alliance in 1887, then similar groups in Arkansas and North Carolina: by 1890 claimed 1.5 million members in 40,000 local groups; Colored Farmers' Alliance had 250,000 members in 16 states in 1890
Ben "Pitchfork" Tillman elected Governor of South Carolina in 1890 on Alliance platform
--but soon tempted by corporate power
--many in Alliance argued for third party to unseat the Democrats
Full transcript