Friday, August 17, 2012

Northern and Southern Exceptionalism

Addressing the view (not mine) that the South gave up nothing as a result of the Civil War other than Slavery:

In Chapter 1 ("Antebellum Southern Exceptionalism, A New Look at an Old Question) of Drawn with the Sword, McPherson contrasts the antebellum North and South in several respects bearing out the impassioned political rhetoric of Wigfall and Parker in my previous note. The South was indeed agrarian and resistant to the innovations of the North. In the antebellum period, the North and some Northern European nations alone in the world embraced knowledge, science, engineering and applied them to improving their economies, schools and ways of life.

The South in this period was more like the rest of the world, agrarian and mistrustful of the newfangled ways of the Yankees. While sticking to the old ways, including the constitution as it was conceived, and the Bible unchanged by any modern schools of theology, they were much more given to military pursuits.

"What Northern city," McPherson writes, "for example, could compare with Charleston, which had no fewer than twenty-two military companies in the late 1850s -- one for eery two hundred white men of military age? Another important quasi-military institution in the South with no Northern counterpart . . . [was] the slave patrol, which gave tens of thousands of Southern whites a more practical form of military experience than the often ceremonial functions of volunteer drill companies could do."

"More than three-fifths of the volunteer soldiers in the Mexican War came from the slave states -- on a per capita basis, four times the proportion of free-state volunteers. Seven of the eight military 'colleges (not including West Point and Annapolis) occupations of antebellum men chronicled in the Dictionary of American Biography found that the military profession claimed twice the percentage of Southerners as of Northerners, while this ratio was reversed for men distinguished in literature, art, medicine, and education. In business the per capita proportion of Yankees was three times as great, and among engineers and inventors it was six times as large. When Southerners labeled themselves a nation of warriors and Yankees a nation of shopkeepers -- a common comparison in 1860 -- or when Jefferson Davis told a London Times correspondent in 1861 that 'we are a military people,' they were not just whistling Dixie."

"'The Irony of Southern History' and 'The Search for Southern Identity . . . 'unlike other Americans but like most people in the rest of the world, Southerners had known poverty, failure, defeat, and thus had a skeptical attitude toward 'progress.' The South shared a bond with the rest of humankind that other Americans did not share.'"

"Most societies in the world remained predominately rural, agricultural, and labor-intensive; most, including even European countries, had illiteracy rates as high or higher than the South's 45 percent; most like the South remained bound by traditional values and networks of family, kinship, hierarchy, and patriarchy. The North -- along with a few countries in northwestern Europe -- hurtled forward eagerly toward a future of industrial capitalism that many Southerners found distasteful if not frightening; the South remained proudly and even defiantly rooted in the past. . . with complete sincerity the South fought to preserve its version of the republic of the Founding Fathers -- a government of limited powers that protected the rights of property, including slave property, and whose constituency comprised an independent gentry and yeomanry of the white race undisturbed by large cities, heartless factories, restless free workers, and class conflict. The accession to power of the Republican party, with its ideology of competitive, egalitarian, free-labor capitalism, was a signal to the South that the Northern majority had turned irrevocably toward this frightening future. . . 'We are not engaged in a Quixotic fight for the rights of man [James D. B. De Bow and Jefferson Davis insisted during the Civil War]; our struggle is for inherited rights. . . . We are upholding the true doctrines of the Federal Constitution. We are conservative.

"Union victory in the war destroyed the Southern vision of America and ensured that the Northern vision would become the American vision. . . From the war sprang the great flood that wrenched the stream of American history into a new channel and transferred the burden of exceptionalism from North to South."

Comment: It is hard not to take some of this personally. My mother was born in Illinois and my father in Kansas. I was born in Southern California. How "warlike" were we? My father was of an age to have been in World War II, but he was in an industry needed by the military so he was exempt. But when I was "of an age" to sign up to fight in a war, I joined the Marines, the only one in my graduating class to do so. In my yearbook fellow students called me such things as "bullet-stopper." Maybe I was "warlike" but I wasn't living in a society that was. They thought I was nuts.

So how did I get that way? The only thing I can recall that might apply is that I always did a lot of reading and during WWII poured over the newspaper reports about the progress of the war in Europe and in the Pacific. So when the Korean war broke out, perhaps I was ready. I enlisted when I was 16. They found out I was too young and told me to come back when I was 17; which I did. I only made it to Korea for the last two battle-seasons -- a great disappointment.

In many respects I identify more with the South than the North even though the data base tells me that all my ancestors who "were of an age" fought on the side of the North.

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