The Origins of Southern History

In 1819, a Virginian wrote to the Richmond Examiner to criticize those who were trying to keep slavery out of the new state of Missouri. They had cast “foul aspersions upon the southern character, and their “next scheme” might well be “an universal emancipation.” He signed himself “Southron,” an early version of “Southerner,” probably the first time anyone ever publicly identified himself that way in political debate. Southern identity was thus being forged in political controversy, framed by a defense of racial slavery, and Southern history had begun.

Lecture Description

When America’s first geographer, Jedidiah Morse, toured the southern states shortly after the American Revolution, he found that they shared little in common; in Georgia alone, for example, “No general character will apply to the inhabitants at large. Collected from different parts of the world, as interest, . . . their character and manners must of course partake of all the varieties which distinguish the several states and kingdoms from which they come.” Had he travelled shortly after the Civil War, of course, he would have had no doubt that (white) southerners now shared “general character” forged in a slave society that had been overthrown in war. This lecture traces the rise of “the South” as a single place and “southern” as an identity (for whites) between those two eras.

CATEGORIES

General and Historiography South

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