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Page 1234

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Maier: And how amazing it is, however, that that southern frontier developed in such a different way than the northern frontier did. They're both agricultural...

[Picture of a pioneer farm]

Miller: That's one of the most interesting things, I think, about the country, that you have pioneers--similar pioneers--going in, at the same time going into two regions of the country.

Maier: But creating very different economies, and very different societies.

Miller: Tremendously different political cultures, yeah.

Maier: I mean, you didn't get any cities, except New Orleans, developing like Cincinnati or Pittsburgh, or St. Louis, Louisville. These were manufacturing centers. They were retail centers. You just didn't get that in the Cotton South.

Miller: What explains that?

[Picture of Eli Whitney]

Ambrose: Eli Whitney.

Miller: Eli Whitney. Yeah.

Ambrose: Explains a lot of it.

Maier: Well, that explains why you had the growth of cotton into that area. But...

Ambrose: And the ability to grow cotton, and the fertility of the soil, and the heat in the South, and all of these combined, meaning you could grow the hell out of cotton there. And because of Eli Whitney, you could make that cotton available on the market, and then you could ship it off to England, and they couldn't get enough of it in England.

Miller: But the problem was, of course, that...

[Picture of a cotton gin]

Ambrose: Getting the seed out.

Miller: Getting the seed out. When Whitney invents his gin, a slave could do that work in a half a day, whereas before it took 33 days to do. And that invention, of course, is what, 1793. And he does it on a Savannah plantation, and everybody steals it.

Ambrose: It had an effect that cannot be fully measured. It made that land more valuable. It made the slave system much more valuable. It meant that someone like Thomas Jefferson, for example, could make his living not by--Virginia soil was pretty well worn out by this time.

Maier: Peat moss, not too good.

[Picture of a cotton plantation]

Ambrose: But you could sell those excess slaves, because they had to have those slaves in Alabama, they had to have them in Mississippi, they had to have them in Louisiana. And the value of slaves went like this. And you had excess slaves, all the time, on these Virginia plantations. And so slavery became the key to Virginia's economy, not because of what the slaves could grow, so much as what you could sell the slaves for.

Miller: Slave breeding.

Ambrose: Sell them down the river.

Miller: New Orleans and Natchez were the two big slave markets down there. So you didn't have to bring your slaves with you when you settled out there. The slave traders were there. And as soon as you had any capital--I mean, that was the key. The land was so cheap. There were land grants in both areas: in the Northwest as well as in the Southeast, and Southwest. And you got there...

Maier: But think of the difference. If your family, to use Jefferson's term, included a large contingent of slaves, those slaves, even as adults, aren't going to be part of a market economy. They're not going to be going to the local store to buy something. So you don't need retailing centers in the same way you did need them in the Ohio territory, where the income went to families in a more nuclear sense. So that you had retailing centers, you had processing centers. You clearly need a different kind of a population than the mass of those who are in the Cotton South. You need people who are educated. And people in the West are investing much more heavily in schools, in libraries. You have very different cultures, very different economies.

Miller: Yeah, the capital's all tied up in land and slaves in the south.

Maier: And it's not a bad investment, we know. The return on it wasn't bad. But the long-term prognosis wasn't very promising.

Miller: Where you're saying, in the North it's a more mixed system.

Maier: You get a more mixed economy than you're getting in the South.

[Picture of Professor Miller]

Miller: But here's a question, though. In this period there's kind of a transition. From about 1800 to 1820 slavery is just getting established in the South -- most of the southerners are yeomen farmers. But by the 1830s, you start to get a so-called 'Solid South.'

Ambrose: I think that's absolutely right. And the original arguments against slavery come from Thomas Jefferson and other southerners, who looked around them and saw this is an evil system and we've got to get rid of it. But by the time you get to the 1830s and cotton has become king, all of a sudden it's a very profitable system, or so it appears to them, and the Jefferson arguments lose their way.

Miller: And there's land hunger, hunger for more slaves, pressure to reopen the slave trade, and all of a sudden, at the same time, the abolitionist movement arises, and you've got two separate sections. The South really is so much part of America in 1800, and then just kind of pulls away. It just pulls away.

Maier: Well, it also becomes more economically isolated, if you think about it; that the West is trading primarily with the Northeast; the South is selling abroad. It is, in some ways, the most independent economy within the regional economies of the United States.

Miller: The only place they really had ties to, ironically, were in New York, and they thought those were exploitative ties, because those New York manufacturers and merchants came in and took over, and made sure that cotton went through New York. And there was a kind of triangular trade, New York to Liverpool, back to New York, back to Charleston, places like that. And there's talk of secession already in the 30s.

Maier: Hey, and you got a little bit of it in Thomas Jefferson, at the time of the Alien and Sedition Acts, his nullification. And of course, at the time of the Missouri Crisis, even more, he really thinks that the crisis over slavery is going to lead to a dismemberment of the union.

But the anticipations of secession or that the Union would fall apart, those weren't the kind of things you memorialize. The idea that resistance and revolution was a continuing resort for people who were disaffected within the Union, or for states.

Miller: But here's a question I've never been able to answer for myself satisfactorily. A lot of northerners went south. Steven Duncan is a planter in Mississippi, who's probably the largest plantation owner, the richest man in Mississippi. He's from Pennsylvania. He supports slavery but he also supports the Union, and he leaves the South at the outbreak of the Civil War. Was there any difference, moral difference, between the people who settled in the Ohio Valley and out toward Illinois, and people who settled in Mississippi and Alabama?

Maier: That's an interesting question.

Miller: See what I mean? Is it slavery that turns them in this way? I mean, we often think that the Civil War is this Manichaean struggle between good and evil, obviously, those who held slaves and those who were opposed to slaves.

Maier: Well, we'd like to think there was a moral difference, but racism was a national institution.

Miller: That's what -- these guys were all frontier, and they take advantage of what the frontier gives them, I mean in terms of what soil's there.

[Picture of Stephen Ambrose]

Ambrose: I would insist that there is a fundamental difference. And that is, in Illinois, even in southern Illinois, in Wisconsin, in Iowa, going out further west, or--you can't own another man. Period. You cannot own another man. Now, you can discriminate against him, you can use him, you can be racist in many of them--you can't own them, you can't sell them. And there were a lot of people in the South that felt that way, to be sure. A lot of small farmers in the South who didn't own their own slaves and who thought, we're on the wrong track here, or who could not make it work economically for them. But the people that controlled the society in the South came up with a justification for slavery, in it's the best of all possible systems, and the blacks are way better off under slavery than they would be if they were under wage slavery up north, and so on. We all know the arguments of the pro-slavery people. And it was accepted. And it became a part of the fiber of the being of a very large number of white southerners. And that was not the case up North. And that is a difference.

Miller: What causes the difference? We know there's a difference.

Ambrose: The economic basis of society, and the way in which you become...

Miller: The way you can make money.

Ambrose: That's right, the way you make money. And that you can be a white man in the South. And it used to be -- it's not the case anymore, but it used to be -- when I first started going south, segregation was still in place. It was wonderful to be a white man in the South in those days. You never had to think about what you were doing to the other half of the population; you just did it, and you benefited from it. And it gnawed its way into your soul. There isn't any way around it. You can't deny it.

Miller: That's what I'm finding with these historical characters. I'm coming across in my own research how quickly northerners become southerners, adopting the ways of the South, accepting slavery, and defending slavery.

Ambrose: You read the Civil War letters, and...

Miller: The metamorphosis is quick.

Ambrose: An awful lot of the Union troops, who were campaigning in Mississippi, in the Vicksburg campaign, and they get to be the most violent anti-Negro people, and cursing them, and bringing them into camp and using them as their own slaves, their own personal slaves. Listen, it's wonderful to be on top, it's wonderful to be the master. Or so it seems. In the end, people up north and eventually in the whole country realize no, it's not wonderful; it really is terrible, and it ruins not only the people that you're subjecting to your whims and your wishes, it ruins you. It has this effect that, in the end, is going to destroy you. But boy, it takes a long time to come to that view.

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