Building a modern South : political economy in nineteenth-century Virginia

Gilliam, George Harrison, Corcoran Department of History, University of Virginia
Ayers, Edward, Department of History, University of Virginia
Mccurdy, Charles, Department of History, University of Virginia

To what extent did Virginians create a new economic, legal, and political regime supported by new institutions following the devastations and upheavals of the Civil War? That is the principal question addressed in this dissertation.

"Building a Modern South: Political Economy in Nineteenth-Century Virginia" emphasizes the major themes of continuity and adaptation in a capitalist economy that is disrupted by war and major changes in its labor systems. The focus is on the nexus between politics (politicians and the institutions of government), business (businessmen and economic institutions), and the law. This study cuts across the rather arbitrary "eras" other historians have defined, which tend to distort or obscure long-term trends, in order to provide a more dynamic account of how much the fundamental structures of law, capital, and politics changed and did not change. It considers the modernization of Virginia as part of a century-long process. It directly engages, and refutes, two themes-­ that the Civil War marked a discontinuity in the history of the South, and that the North colonized the South--which have been the dominant scholarly narrative in the field.

Virginians were deeply committed to capitalist structures throughout the nineteenth century. Paradoxically, state intervention in the economy was far more present than most have recognized. When Virginians considered joining the Confederacy, the economic logic of secession was a central concern. After the war, Virginians adapted to the emergence of new wage earners and consumers, scaled and adjusted debt, and handed the judiciary a principal role in mediating economic issues. Virtually all of Virginia's leaders opposed increasing taxes to pay the state's antebellum sovereign debt; Funder Conservatives joined Readjusters in devising structures and procedures to frustrate the state's creditors. The process by which Virginians rebuilt their public and private institutions, renewed and strengthened ties with the national economy, and reconstructed the Old Dominion's political and economic infrastructure, was a gradual one, pushed and pulled by forces that were evident in the state decades before the Civil War. The story is one of adaptation rather than revolution.

Note: Abstract extracted from PDF file via OCR.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Digitization of this thesis was made possible by a generous grant from the Jefferson Trust, 2015.

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