Southern Economics


The Truth About Tariffs

Most Civil War and Reconstruction Era historians dismiss Southern complaints about tariffs, both as a cause of the War and of postbellum Southern poverty. They contend that the only impact of the tariffs was to raise the price of domestic goods protected by such tariffs. The price inflation, they argue, affected all Americans, not just Southerners. Although most concede that the domestic…
Philip Leigh
September 26, 2023


When you read Raleigh, what comes to mind? How about Charleston? Nashville? Birmingham? One can almost hear the ring of iron in the name “Birmingham”. Waves splash at the sound of Charleston. The raucous theatres of Nashville ring back when country music was “country western”. Raleigh conjures images of tar, pork and tobacco. So what happened to these industries that…
Sara Sass
October 18, 2022

The Federalist Crucible

From the 2004 Abbeville Institute Summer School. Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson have dinner. It looks like funding an assumption of State debts by the general government is not going to go through, and Hamilton’s very worried because U.S. stock is plummeting in the international finance markets. So, a deal is struck. Jefferson will put pressure on his people to…
John Devanny
September 16, 2022

Thomas Roderick Dew

Editor's note: The author of this piece won the Bennett History Medal in 1908 for this essay, and was published in the June 1909 volume of the John P. Branch Historical Papers. The Bennett prize is still awarded annually by Randolph Macon College to the best undergraduate history paper. This particular essay displays a depth of understanding even contemporary graduate…
D. Ralph Midyette, Jr.
December 2, 2021

The Truth About Tariffs and the War

During the past thirty years most historians claim that slavery was the dominant cause of the Civil War. They increasingly insist that the South’s opposition to protective tariffs was a minimal factor, even though such tariffs were specifically outlawed in the Confederate constitution. Historian Marc-William Palen, for example, writes: One of the most egregious of the so-called Lost Cause narratives…
Philip Leigh
August 13, 2021

Industrialization and the Survival of the Peculiar Institution

Coming out of the American Revolution, the nation faced a slave problem that most today could scarcely imagine and that was unemployment. The Slave labor force had grown from reproduction and from importing of slaves by the northern slave traders in a situation that, using modern business terms, was more of supplier push than buyer pull. That is the suppliers…
James (Jim) Pederson
February 18, 2021

Who Owns America Now?

From the 2020 Abbeville Institute conference on "Who Owns America?" October 16-17, 2020 in Charleston, SC. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T5G4NWbkjJA&feature=youtu.be
John Devanny
December 28, 2020

Industrial Combinations

From The Land We Love, V, no. I (May 1868), 25-34, edited by Joseph S. Stromberg. Combinations for the prosecution of industrial pursuits are the characteristic of our age. They now enjoy almost universal favor, and are extending themselves, in old and new directions, every year. In the delight which is inspired by their efficiency for money-getting, people seem unsuspicious…
Robert Lewis Dabney
September 25, 2020

The Economy, Stupid

Just as the Earth revolves on its axis each day and travels around the Sun in an equally regular pattern, so has world history tended to be cyclical in nature throughout the centuries, with many episodes seemingly being repeated countless times over.  In many cases the basic cause behind such recurring cataclysmic events as war, radical changes in political systems…
John Marquardt
March 13, 2020
Review Posts

Southern Anticolonialism

A review of Burden of Dependency: Colonial Themes in Southern Economic Thought (Johns Hopkins, 1992) by Joseph Persky An Under-Appreciated Book In 1973, the young economist Joseph J. Persky wrote piece in Southern Exposure with a promising title: “The South: A Colony at Home.” He recalls thinking at the time that he was in “some sort of “vanguard.” I read…
Joseph R. Stromberg
December 17, 2019

New South Voices of the Southern Tradition

Presented at the 2017 Abbeville Institute Summer School. As scholars dedicated to exploring what is true and valuable in the Southern tradition, we are most often drawn to the antebellum South and the early federal period, the days when Jeffersonian federalism and political economy reigned supreme and Southern statesmen were regarded as the best in the land. We still fight…
Brion McClanahan
July 28, 2017

Robert Lewis Dabney and the New South Creed

Only a few prominent Southerners actively questioned the call for the rapid industrialization of the South or pointed to the broader implications involved in such a policy after the Confederacy's defeat in 1865. Of those who rejected what came to be called "the New South Creed," Robert Lewis Dabney stands out as the most significant and the most deserving of…
Boyd Cathey
July 14, 2017
Review Posts

Poor but Proud

A review of J. Wayne Flynt, Dixie's Forgotten People: The South's Poor Whites. Bloomington and London: Indiana University Press, 1979. Professor Flynt, the author of this volume, concentrates on the economic condition and the cultural life of poor white South­erners, but does not fail to mention some of the vices of the American majority, especially the attempt, often unsuccessful, to…
Michael Jordan
June 13, 2017

Yankee Finance Capitalism Part II: The Jeffersonian Triumph

“The revenue of the state is the state.” Edmund Burke The rise of the modern nation state in the 1600s was founded upon monarchies securing independent sources of revenue to pay for the royal armies that secured their dynasties.  Jacques Colbert, Louis XIV’s minister of finance, designed a system of state monopolies, internal free trade districts, tariffs and internal taxes…
John Devanny
June 9, 2017

Was the South Poor Before the War?

This essay was written in 1982 under the direction of Emory Thomas at the University of Georgia and was originally titled, "The Affluent Section: The South on the Eve of the War Between the States." "Once upon a time we all knew that the antebellum South was poor", asserted Harold D. Woodman in the 1975 issue of Agricultural History.  He was…
William Cawthon
May 26, 2017
Review Posts

A Southern Political Economy vs. American State Capitalism

General Lee was a soldier and leader of men, not a politician. Although several of his decisions as soldier had an important political impact in American history, he seldom discussed such matters. An exception is his correspondence with the British historian Acton shortly after the war. Acton had spent a long career studying how constitutional liberty had gradually developed as…
Clyde Wilson
August 10, 2016

Thomas Jefferson vs. Paul Krugman, Alan Greenspan, et. al.

This post was originally published at The Deliberate Agrarian. Paul Krugman is a popular guy these days. The American economist was awarded a Nobel prize in Economics this year. In a recent interview I heard Krugman say that no one person is responsible for America’s current financial crisis. But, he said former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan certainly deserves a…
Herrick Kimball
May 19, 2016
Clyde Wilson Library


Declining prosperity is now a settled fact of American life. Prosperity is not measured by the day’s average of stock speculation, or the profits of bankers, or the munificence of government subsidies and salaries, or the consumption of luxury goods, or even by the Gross Domestic Product. It is amazing how in a few short decades American “educators,” “experts,” “journalists,”…
Clyde Wilson
October 14, 2015

Civil War Arbitrage

Wouldn’t it be great if an act of Congress enabled your federal government bonds to be worth twice what you paid for them? That’s precisely what happened for many federal Civil War bond investors during the Reconstruction Era. In the second year of the War in 1862 it was obvious the federal government could not finance the war without creating…
Philip Leigh
July 31, 2015
Clyde Wilson Library

A Jeffersonian Political Economy

Your other lecturers have pleasant and upbeat subjects to consider. I am stuck with economics, which is a notoriously dreary subject.   It is even more of a downer when we consider how far the U.S. is today from a Southern, Jeffersonian political economy which was once a powerful idea. Economics as practiced today is a utilitarian and materialistic study. It…
Clyde Wilson
July 29, 2015

A Lady Champion of Free Trade

In her famous diary, Mary Chesnut called Mrs. Louisa S. McCord “the very cleverest woman” she knew. Of these two women from South Carolina, Chesnut is the most famous and widely read today, but Mrs. McCord—far more than clever—was a force to be reckoned with in her own time. In the antebellum era, she was the author of a number…
Karen Stokes
June 19, 2015