The Plundered South

Address by Sam H. Jones, Governor of Louisiana to the Southern Farm Bureau Training School, Monroe, La., August 18, 1943

The history of mankind relates many stories where superior military force has conquered nations of superior civilization. In the wake of overwhelming brute force the great citadels of culture and economic and social progress have fallen never to rise again. Egypt, Byzantium, Greece and Rome are but comparatively modern examples of these uncommendable sporadic outbreaks that unfortunately have characterized the course of mankind—and littered the rugged pathway of civilization’s struggle upward.

But here in America, for more than a hundred years, we have witnessed and lived through a more refined version of the same process—a process that has for its purpose the reduction of the fairest portion of our country to the permanent status of a conquered province—and the thwarting even of the laws of nature to perpetuate this unthinkable injustice. For more than a hundred years the Southern part of the United States has been the victim of a studied plan to overcome its superior economic advantages and reduce it to a state of economic vassalage.

The war of the sixties was but a minor factor in the deliberate design to take the richest portion of the nation and, somehow, convert it into the most poverty-stricken—with resulting damage to its institutions, culture and standards of civilization. And how well this design has succeeded may be clearly delineated by this statement: In less than 100 years the South has seen its wealth and income reduced from the highest in the nation to the lowest. It has seen its foreign commerce descend from a position of world supremacy to one of third-rate importance within the nation itself. It has seen its once proud agriculture—which produced a majority of the nation’s wealthy men prior to the war of the sixties—reduced to a system of peasantry which must acknowledge in shame that it has four million tenant farmers whose people have an average per capita income of only $73.00 per year. And, finally, it has seen its position of dominance in the field of statesmanship and government overthrown and that section which once furnished the presidents of the nation is now considered fortunate, indeed, if a single cabinet position is condescendingly allotted to it.

And thus today that section of America which was ordained by nature to be the richest has become the poorest. Its natural resources are being ruthlessly taken. Its raw materials are daily being siphoned away. Its farmers have been placed in the bondage of Northern industrialists. Its own businessmen have denied the right to industrialize. Its streams and waterways which once carried more cargo than the ships of the British Empire have been made impotent and useless because of juggled freight rates which force both industry and commerce into the Northeast portion of our country, comprising only fourteen percent of the nation’s land are and with only eleven percent of the basic raw materials of the country.

So in spite of the fact that we have today the same land, the same climate, the same natural resources, the same geographical position—and the same strains of blood in our citizenship, 97.8 percent of which is native born—we have the lowest income, the least wealth, the poorest educational facilities, the least number of books in circulation, the smallest bank deposits, the smallest percentage of insurance assets, the most limited advantages in health and hygiene, the most eroded soils, the poorest agriculture and the most ineffective representation in the affairs of the nation; not because of the quality of that leadership but because of the existing political system.

Thus what has been done to us in a period of 100 years makes the sack and pillage of Rome look like the work of amateurs. The ancient vandals in their uncivilized way visited destruction and took away the spoils of war—then went their way. We in the South have had to submit, not to one sporadic foray, but to a century of constant strength-sapping tactics and practices that have taken from us all that could be taken and have levied tribute against us on all that is left. Thus today the Southern cotton farmer is an indentured slave of the Northern industrialist for one fourth of his lifetime. The Southern manufacturer must pay a tribute of 37 percent to sixty-five percent to his Northern competitor. The Southern farmer, constituting one-half the nation’s total, is so poor he is able to buy only one-fifth the nation’s farm implements. The Southern laboring man gets, in peace time, an average of 16 cents an hour less than his Northern brother, and, even in this time of war, the United States government, itself, has placed its stamp of approval on a discrimination against him in certain war plants, which means 25 percent less to Southern labor—when the cost of the raw material is the same and the product is sold to the government itself for exactly the same price.

In a land of supposedly equal opportunity children of the South have but a fraction of the chance for a good education as those in more fortunate sections. As proof of this there are four million children in a certain section of the rural South whose parents have an aggregate income of only two percent of the nation’s total. In a section of the industrial Northeast, on the other hand, there are eight million school children whose parents have an aggregate income of 42 percent of the nation’s total. Thus these children have 21 times the better opportunity to get a start in life than the boys and girls of the South. Because of lower income and wealth it requires in a given portion of the South a rate of school taxation four times as much per capita to give the same standards of public education as it does in a given portion of the Northeast.

This picture presents, not a sectional, but a national problem. It was Abraham Lincoln who said a nation cannot survive half slave and half free; and that a house divided against itself cannot long endure. It is just as true today that this country can never be the strong, healthy, virile nation, economically, socially and politically it is entitled to be, until the legal obstacles to the progress of the South have been removed—and until we are accepted back into the Union of the American States, in full fellowship and in full and equal stature.

Perhaps there are those who believe I have overstated the facts. I have, if anything, understated the facts; and I shall, here, document the charge.

At the present time, or just prior to the present war, the average per capita wealth of the Southern people was about one third of that of the Northeastern states. To be exact ours was $463.00 per capita; theirs more than $1,370.00 per capita. Because we have today only about one third as much wealth per capita it will be interesting to you to know that in 1860 the per capita wealth in the South was approximately 25 percent greater than that in the North. And it might be interesting to residents of Louisiana to know that the per capita wealth of this State was 72 percent more than the average for the North; and that Louisianians had incomes considerably higher than New Yorkers in the year 1850. And in that year the poorest state in the South was richer than any of the states of the North, Massachusetts and Rhode Island excepted. So when it is considered that today that the poorest state in the North is richer than the richest state in the South these figures are truly amazing.

For fear that some may go away wondering whether negro slaves were included in the above statistics for 1850, let me hasten to assure you that they were. Had they not been included the per capita wealth of the South would have been 343 percent of that of the North (U. S. Census 1850: property worth all Northern states $233 per person; Southern states $806 per person).

The value of exports has always been considered a fair indicator of economic stability. The United States Department of Commerce figures for the year 1859 show Northern exports to be $45,395,541 and those of the South to be $193,399,618—or about 4 ½ times those of the North. So strong was the position of the South that the London Economist, a British commercial newspaper made the astounding statement in 1858 that the economic life of Great Britain was controlled from New Orleans and Charleston. If you should mention these cities in British commercial circles today they’d probably say with reference to New Orleans: “Oh, yes, that’s the place where they stage the famous Mardi Gras”; and of Charleston they’d probably inquire whether you referred to South Carolina, West Virginia or Charlestown, Massachusetts.

In the year 1850 the total wealth of the nation was approximately seven billion dollars of which almost 50 percent was located in the South. Today the total wealth is approximately 300 billion dollars of which the South has only 10 percent. In 1850 the South had better than 80 percent of the nation’s exports; today it has about 21 percent. In that year New Orleans had 20 percent more exports than New York, while in the year 1940 the value of its exports has dropped to about 11 ½ percent of those of New York.

All this was reflected in social and other conditions prevailing as far back as 1850 when one commentator observed that “the census discloses a degree of poverty in New England which scatters thousands of families to the four winds of heaven and feeds the poor houses with 135 percent more paupers than is found in the South.” The same commentator pointed out that in 1847 in the city of New York one out of every five residents were given relief from public funds and public charity. From 1836 to 1848 pauperism increased ten times faster than wealth or population in New York and Massachusetts, while in the South pauperism was almost unknown.

How completely the position has been reversed is shown by the fact that in 1940 one out of every five citizens of Louisiana received some form of public relief when such was practically non-existent in the South 90 years before.

A comparison between the South and New England is now and then revealing and amazing. Today New England is a community of high income, social standards and educational attainments. Its economy far exceeds that of the South. Yet in 1850 the economy of that section was such that one out of every seven families was without a home, while in the South only one family out of every 52 was without a home.

Parenthetically the connection between poverty and crime is also vividly shown by the census figures of 1850. These figures show that New York State, with a population of nearly four million, had 10,270 convictions for crime while South Carolina, with only 1/5 of that population, had only 46 such convictions—or, to put it in another way about 4500 percent less than in New York State.

All that I have said heretofore has been confined to facts for which there is documentary proof. Let me now repeat a story I have heard repeatedly but in substantiation of which I have not yet found written evidence, but which I believe. I am told that at one time in the early days of this country there was a total of only eight millionaires in the entire United States and that seven of these resided in Natchez, Mississippi, deriving their wealth and incomes from the rich delta lands across the Mississippi River in Louisiana. If this story is true, I might add that the same fertile lands are still here but the millionaires therefrom are gone.

Now how has this modern sack and pillage of this Southern empire been accomplished? How has the South been reduced to a state of economic, social and political bondage? We have seen how, in an even race with no handicaps imposed, the South far outstripped the North and controlled the economy not only of America, but of the British Empire. How, then, did this modern phenomenon of economic juggling take place. And it is a sullied and systematic plan.

I think this last question can best be answered by quoting Abbott Lawrence, who was Daniel Webster’s political and economic adviser, when the former wrote the latter in the year 1828, commenting on the proposed tariff law, saying: “This bill if adopted as amended will keep the South and West in debt to New England the next hundred years.”

Perhaps Abbott Lawrence overstated the importance of that particular measure. But he did not overstate the importance of the idea that was accepted in that bill—the idea that natural advantages can be overcome by legislative tinkering which creates artificial subsidies, the effect of which is to build up one section at the expense and by the impoverishment of the other.

Thus the adoption of the principle of federal subsidies for the benefit of the North was the beginning of the end of the economic supremacy of the South. And from that day forward our future and stability was trembling and doomed. But, in passing, let me say that we of the South were not without fault in our own undoing. We failed and refused to see then the inevitable industrialization of the nation. We failed to see then that the industrialization of the South would have been the greatest possible boon to Southern agriculture. But this failure on our part does not justify the long line of abuses and acts of favoritism which have built the North at the expense of the South and the West.

The tariff was the first of these subsidies. It caused the Southern farmer to sell his cotton in an unprotected market and buy his goods in a protected market, at a price which is 25 percent above the world price level. Thus in the more or less typical pre-war year of 1937 the Southern cotton farmer paid a tribute of $800,000,000 to the Northern manufacturer. (And the same government which exacts this tribute refused by another piece of legislation to let the South manufacture its own products.)

I should like to quote from a speech made by Senator Eastland of Mississippi, showing the effect of this tariff subsidy on the Southern cotton farmer as follows: “This means that one year in four, one week in four, three months in twelve, one year in each four, the cotton farmer works to pay tribute to the manufacturer of the East. He is forced by law to give this additional labor to the protected interests of this country. When a cotton grower reaches the age of sixty, he has contributed fifteen years of free labor to the protected interests of the North and East—one year in four, fifteen years in sixty. This is not only economic slavery but human slavery, just as bad, just as dark, and just as unjust as ever existed on any continent of this earth.”

This subsidy, by means of the tariff, effectively subordinated the farm interests of America to those of industry. They have remained subordinate ever since. But there were still other advantages which had to be erased or checkmated. The South, by virtue of its waterways and ports, at one time controlled four-fifths of the nation’s commerce. But about this time the railroad was becoming a factor. Then it was that another form of subsidy was brought into play to destroy the advantages which nature had given us and further assist the North. Millions and millions of acres of land were granted to railroad corporations, the obvious purpose of which was to favor the Northeastern ports at the expense of the Southern ports to build the North at the expense of the South. How well this has succeeded is best shown by the comparative figures showing exports from Northern and Southern ports for both the years 1850 and 1940.

This design was again carried out by the use of federal funds to divert commerce away from Gulf ports by building the Panama Canal instead of using the Nicaraguan or Isthmus of Tehauntepec routes. Of the three routes suggested only one was not advantageous to the Gulf ports. It was, of course, the one selected—to the great advantage of New York and other Northeastern ports and the resulting great detriment to the South. And only recently the President of the United States recommended the expenditure of several hundred million dollars to build the St. Lawrence waterway, the only effect of which would be to help a foreign country and the extreme Northeast part of this country at the expense of the South and the Mid-West. Only the intervention of war prevented this discriminatory move.

Having used subsidies to build up industries in the Northeast and having used subsidies to control the transport of a nation by means of railroads, our friends in the North sought to nail down these advantages by using still another subsidy. This was the new national freight rate scandal built up through the medium of the Interstate Commerce Commission. The plan is very simple. The country is divided up into arbitrary freight rate territories. The 14 percent of the nation’s land area North of the Ohio and Potomac and east of the Mississippi is appropriately designated the “Official territory,” meaning, obviously the rest of us are un-official. The purpose is to compel the concentration of all high class manufacturing concerns in that area—in spite of the fact that 89 percent of the basic raw materials are outside that territory in the South and West. It works. Even with this handicap of raw materials that territory has 76 percent of the high class manufacturing in the nation. How does this come about? By fixing the freight rate in the official territory on the basis of $1.00; by increasing the rate to $1.39 in the Southeast and $1.65 in the Southwest. Nothing could be simpler.

Now in order to perpetuate the political control in the hands of the Northeast a system of political subsidies was inaugurated and remains in effect today. Originally it took the form of pensions to the Union soldiers which the South had to pay along with pensions to its own soldiers. Thus our money was siphoned off to increase the purchasing power of the North and to nourish the infant industries to in turn crush and enslave the South. From 1862 to 1936 the federal government distributed in such pensions a total of over eight billion dollars, 90 percent of which went to the Northeast (See Divided We Stand, by Walter Prescott Webb).

This system, with the accompanying waving of the “bloody shirt” worked so well that it was embellished as the years rolled by and those who cried the hardest against the South and offered the most in cash benefits to Northern veterans usually won the elections and controlled the country.

And now that this phase of prejudice has happily passed from us the principle of subsidy had to be expanded to other and new fields. Thus the WPA came into existence. One would think, of course, that in a land of equal opportunities and equal rights, there would be an equal distribution of the dole. But this could not be. No one had to contest Southern votes, so why waste money on them. They were always in the bag for one party and out of the bag for the other. As a result, Pennsylvania, a doubtful Northern state, received in one year as much for WPA as ten Southern states combined. And no one has ever satisfactorily explained why a Southerner was paid only $28 per month while a Northerner was paid $50 a month, to lean on the same kind of shovel, and rake the same kind of leaves.

Thus our Northern friends have effectually succeeded in checkmating all our natural advantages with artificial obstacles; they have neatly jockeyed us into a political corner from which we seem incapable of emerging. And to add insult to injury, they assume all right, title and interest in our vital resources such as oil and gas; create neat little agencies like the Federal Power Commission to legalize the theft of our natural gas; and finally get mad because God Almighty placed the raw petroleum for gasoline underneath the soil of the Southwest and far distant from them. To thwart this work of nature they get a ruling from some bureau that we get no more than they get, although we have here a surplus of gasoline, a surplus of transportation facilities within the South; and a surplus of synthetic rubber with which to make the tires.

Because we of the South have not been the favored section of the nation, it has never occurred to us that it would be just as logical for us to demand that Maine stop eating so many lobsters of which it has a surplus, or that Vermont stop consuming maple syrup just because they have so much.

When you consider the effective job that has been done in a perfectly legal way against the South we have to admit a certain cynical admiration for people who can literally make black out of white; night out of day; and riches out of poverty. We have got to hand it to them.

And during all this time we have sought to protect only three treasures. We barricaded ourselves in the house of democracy because it was the only shelter available to us. We brought into that house our three most treasured possessions. (1) Allies to fight tariff discriminations, (2) States rights to protect our rights as sovereign commonwealths, and (3) the right to regulate within the law our own social and racial problems. We traded all else for these three. We barricaded the doors against our known enemies from without, only to realize too late that these possessions had been taken from us by friends in our own household.

It has not been a pleasant ending.

It should not be an ending at all. A hundred years ago the position of the North and the South was reversed. The people of the North did not capitulate. They did not sit idly by. They mapped out a program for the development of their section.

They mapped out a program for the development of their section. They put it to work with might and main. They succeeded by the force of their own determination. And today prosperity reigns throughout that section, even beyond the optimistic predictions of Abbott Lawrence himself.

The fight of the North shows courage we could well emulate. I propose that we commence now to pull the South up by its own bootstraps. But I do not propose that in doing so we endeavor to injure any other section. In a land with so much natural wealth this should never be necessary. In addition to this, as good Americans, we have no desire to do harm to another group in our sister states.

How then can we do this: First by correcting our own farm problems, diversifying our activities, improving our crops, expanding our cattle industry, developing our markets, and carrying farm education to the adults throughout the area. Second, by utilizing our bountiful natural resources and raw materials in developing an industrial South that will balance our economy and actually become a boon to agriculture itself. Third, by developing our commerce, foreign and domestic, by means of waterways, ocean lines, air transport, along with highways and railroads—remaining ever mindful that the greatest development will lie to the South of us in Latin America with which we are in close proximity. Fourth, by abandoning traditional political tactics which have done nothing but maneuver us into a corner and further impoverish our people.

I am aware that some object to diversification of farm activity. I am aware that some say we should not compete with the middle and Southwest in cattle raising. My own opinion is that the sooner we get more things in common, economically and politically speaking, with the Middle West, the better off we are going to be and the sooner. Today we are stagnating agriculturally. We are losing our world cotton markets without rhyme or reason simply because our voice is not loud enough. For a hundred years we of Louisiana have fought a battle to maintain our sugar crops and have partially won even over the preachments of Mr. Henry Wallace that sugar is an “uneconomic crop,” despite the fact that South Louisiana has lived on sugar for the better part of two centuries. Today we are in a fair way to losing our rice export market because of a few crackpots in Washington who think more of foreign social experiments than they do of their own people.

I am aware that the meek and weak-hearted say that we can never industrialize. But I know that when a section has the overwhelming majority of the basic raw materials, the finest climate and working conditions, the most efficient labor anywhere in America, and the best and most varied transportation facilities, there is but one thing necessary to succeed and that is to whip the freight rate obstacle. This what the Southern Governors intend to do. And as evidence that we mean business, we are working with Western Governors on a program which will consolidate the strength of both sections for the mutual advantage of both.

I am aware that some throw cold water on new trade routes but I know that cargo follows passenger traffic. And I know that today the overwhelming foreign air traffic flows through the air terminals of Miami, New Orleans and Brownsville—all Southern cities. And, with their proximity to twenty republics of the Latin American world, all that is needed is a little ingenuity and activity on our part to resume at least in part the place we once held in the field of commerce.

And finally I know that some believe we should never grow up and become politically mature. There are those who favor the further relinquishment of our rights—such as those who voted to abolish the two-thirds rule in the Democratic Party, thus leaving the South without any voice whatsoever either in the party convention or in the national elections. A continuation of the course we have been pursuing for the past several decades can mean only one thing—the perpetuation of the idea that we are politically innocuous, economically doomed, and intellectually inferior to the remainder of the country.

I do not agree with the defeatist attitude.

I choose rather to follow the philosophy of that great Southerner, Henry W. Grady, who, speaking in far off New England, uttered these pleasant sounding yet true and forceful words and predictions:

Far to the South—separated by a line—once defined in irrepressible difference, once traced in fratricidal blood, and, now, thank God, but a vanishing shadow—lies the fairest and richest domain on this earth. It is the home of a brave and hospitable people. There is centered all that can please or prosper humankind; a perfect climate above a fertile soil yields to the husbandman every product of the temperate zone. There, by night, the cotton whitens beneath the stars, and by day the wheat locks the sunshine in its bearded sheaf. In the same field the clover steals the fragrance of the wind, and tobacco catches the quick aroma of the rains.

There are mountains stored with exhaustless treasures; forests vast and primeval and rivers that, tumbling or loitering, run wanton to the sea. Of the three essential items of all industries, cotton, iron and wood—that region has easy control.

Not maintained by human contrivance of tariff or capital. Afar off from the fullest and cheapest source of supply, within touch of field and mine and forest—not set amid bleak hills and costly farms from which competition has driven the farmer in despair, but amid cheap and sunny lands, rich with agriculture, to which neither season nor soil has set a limit—this system of industries is mounting to a splendor that shall dazzle and illumine the world.

You might also enjoy these articles...