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ZOMG Samnell, dumb it down a bit for the rest of us, will you? I prefer books featuring rocketships and rayguns, okay?
I did go back and make notes to keep the players straight. Freehling writes mammoth chapters divided into shorter sections, which can be really nice because you know when he changes the subject but can also get annoying.
Notes from Prelude to Civil War: The Nullification Controversy in South Carolina 1816-1836 by William W. Freehling.
Chapter Two: A Spotty Economy.
Opposition to high protective tariffs was normal in the antebellum South. However, the most Southerners treated this as a normal political fight “in Congress and the courts”. SC nullifiers wanted to go to war over it. The rest of the South -surprise!- didn’t get that extreme. Why such intensity in SC?
Could be depression. If so, would follow that SC whites against nullification would have had not suffered the downturn, or done so less severely. Turns out that to a degree, that’s true. Nullifiers included:
Upcountry cotton planters
Charleston mechanics (skilled labor)
All hurt by the depression. By contrast, Charleston merchants and mountain yeomen not hurt much and opposed nullifiers. But two exceptions: Lowcountry rice and long-staple cotton planters “overwhelmingly” nullificationist but “somewhat prosperous”. If it was just profit, one would expect their indifference or opposition. More at play.
Boom begins in 1816, end of war and embargo. Low interest rates, inflated currency encourage high levels of debt. Lots of overextension. Staple prices twice normal. With things only going up, many planters mortgage estates to the hilt to expand and indulge in conspicuous consumption. Textile factories in Upcountry shuttered to focus on growing rather than processing cotton. Investments shift from “countinghouses” to fields.By 1819, economy almost completely centered on agriculture.
Depression comes in 2 stages, persists longer than boom.
1) Panic of 1819 to resumption of English specie payments in 1822. Stage had little to do with SC itself, just a general depression they suffered. Sharp currency contraction. Customers rushed to redeem paper for specie, so bankers called in loans and pulled back paper issues. English specie payments make deflation worse. (By removing last supply of new paper?) Paper in circulation cut in half over period. Worst depression since revolution. Cost of living went down over 35%, which mitigated the deflation a bit. Thus you weren’t hurt too bad...unless you had a lot of debts. Debts much harder to pay with it.
2) Decline in prices (cotton) due to overproduction. Doesn’t hit as many commodities as first stage, but consumer prices steady. Thus falling incomes hurt more. Debtors feeling pinch from deflation hurt worse thanks to low incomes in late 1820s. Upcountry cotton hit hardest thanks to its own overproduction and high debts.
Rice planters in tidewater/lowcountry. First depression stage takes rice from six cents to less than three per pound. Land and slaves go up for auction as some ruined, but rice prices rise above three cents again despite general price decline. For whole 1819-29 depression, rice falls only a little more than cost of living
Offset between falling price and COL easier to see in hindsight. Declining incomes feel like losing ground despite purchasing power. Cause for controversy all the same. But rice planters could see good incomes all the same. ~3 cents per pound was typical pre-1800 price and remained typical price through 1854. High prices of 1816-9 boom abnormal, let down but not crushing. Decade before controversy rice planters got roughly average prices.
Yields steady because swamps renew themselves. Easy to fertilize when needed. Robert Barnwell Rhett (famous nullifier, fire-eater) boasts losing 1 crop in 11 years. Praises steady prices. Not a guy feeling the pinch. Bankruptcy scares of first stage depression mostly false alarm. Expected rice profits 8% per year, aside benefits like food, servants, house. Rare for rice planters to actually go under, even if occasionally cash-poor.
Sea-island cotton. Long staple luxury good. Different grades: island-grown superfine (few planters), regular sea island (ditto insular), less fine (ditto), less silky “mains and santee” (mainland, Santee basin). Even low-grade is luxury good, not hit by overproduction issues. Lots of demand for lace, muslin, scarves. Big profits, so planters stop caring about quality: “delicate fibers ginned with stained products enclosed and tossed into a bag with potato skins, crushed seeds, and rusty jack knives”. On eve of panic, worst stuff barely better than upcountry cotton.
1820s consumers sick of the screwing around. Best quality commands premium, but regular, main, and santee drop 45% 1819-22, against just 35% drop in COL. Caterpillars eat several mid-20s crops. Poor quality + better factory processing come close to closing quality gap between staples.
Lowcountry cotton planters clean up act. More fertilization. Plantation land reclaimed and returned to use, especially Edisto Island. Poor soil still issue, some planters abandon lands, but production and quality increase in 20s so not controlling. Lots of complaints about uncultivated land, but most vacant plantations actually inland tidewater given up when growing rice closer to ocean/on rivers turned more profit.
Return to quality kept lowcountry long-staple out of competition with upcountry short-staple. Independent uses, so price decline only 15% (1822-9) for lowcountry, vs upcountry 36%. COL drop 22% same period. Lowcountry cotton like rice: price drop barely more than COL drop.
Sea island planters worried about finance more than rice guys anyway. Income probably lower than for rice than was pre-1818-19 boom. Caterpillars and soil+fertilization not issues at all for rice, but problem for cotton. So still looking for ways to make mortgage. Late 20s Kinsey Burden experiments and gets silkiest lowcountry fiber yet. Sells 18,000 pounds in ‘26. $1.10 a pound. Next year gets $1.25. Everyone wants to know how. He almost sells secret to SC legislature for $200k. 1830, everyone thinks it’s a tufted seed. By ‘32, most islanders, many mainlanders growing superfine. But need seed and good soil to make it work. Many got good prices, but failed due to poor yield.
Failures matter for nullification? No. Not clear until after 1832 elections and quick successes just as much nullifier as others. Burden big nullifier himself. Main thing: lowcountry nullifiers not desperate, but actively experimenting and hopeful.
I wrote it as reference to myself, so it's far from my best prose, but it's there. Note that this is only the first four sections of the chapter. Thereafter Freehling gets into talking about SC's lack of capital and the ways that the planter culture exacerbated it as well as drills down in a bit more detail on some case studies.
I finally finished Wolf Hall! Yay me! I am not sure I am ready to tackle the next book in the series, though I probably should read it soonish, before I forget who most of the character are. I just finished the book and can't remember who Lord Lisle is already. I think he might be the one in Calais?
For in-between the Cromwell saga: I have Walter Mosley's A Red Death on hold at the library, and The Reformed Vampire Support Group by Catherine Jinks. I'll read whichever one comes in first.
I also have some short sci-fi anthologies I've been skimming. Nothing spectacular has caught my eye yet, so I won't mention the current ones here. I will say I did enjoy Ted Chiang's Stories of Your Life and Others, which I finished reading awhile ago; "Tower of Babylon" from that collection reminds me a bit of Robert Silverberg's "Sailing to Byzantium" in its evocation of a mythic reality.There is also one about a bicycle I really liked, but I can't remember if it is in Chiang's anthology or another one I'm reading (I have 4 currently on my Jenga-book-pile).
A collection of short stories by Richard Matheson titled "I am legend". Good stuff. I've only read "I am legend" and "The incredible shrinking man" by him before.
I finished the Old Mars anthology. It was a pretty solid anthology but I think I might consider the Old Venus a better book. At least with Old Venus, you had a lot more variable interpretations of Pulp Venus. (Water World, Lethal jungle, weird primeval wilderness, etc), whereas Old Mars almost entirely went with one trope, dying desert world. It also felt like there was a bit more freedom to explore different types of stories in Venus, whereas Old Mars tended to either run with very Bradbury-like stories or Barsoom-esq stories.
Currently reading Ellen Datlow's most recent best horror of the year anthology. The last few years I have found her selections a bit stronger than Stephen Jones, who has a longer running "best of" horror series.
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Since I really, truly am this boring...
To me, it's fascinating, not boring. I hope you'll post more!
Mrs Gersen is from South Carolina. When we were dating, I began to suspect that she was only dimply aware that the Korean War and Vietnam Conflict weren't part of WWII (for example). I said, "OK, I understand you were born after Vietnam, so you don't remember it, but didn't they at least teach this stuff in high school?"
She replied that her year-long high school U.S. History class started sometime in the mid 1800s and ended sometime before the end of the Civil War -- i.e., a year-long class bemoaning the "War of Northern Aggression," and pointedly not even mentioning the fact that the South actually lost.
Apparently her Biology class was even worse.
(Mrs Gersen raised her hand.)
"And who believes that God created mankind?"
(Everyone else raised their hands.)
Teacher: "Well, that settles it, then!"
Samnell wrote:Since I really, truly am this boring...To me, it's fascinating, not boring. I hope you'll post more!
I'll try to post more in the future then. I don't go back often and do notes for myself, so often not much to share. Probably ought to do it more, but I have a lot of built-up resentment of being required to take notes that I didn't need to do well in school and would not have used even if they did help.
Freehling writes very convoluted chapters, which make shim a good candidate for exceptions to policy. Also the only officious adult requiring I do it is me. :)
With regard to Mrs. Gersen's miseducation, that's depressingly stereotypical. I've heard of plenty of aversions, on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line, but the stereotype's not completely made up.
Apparently I had read some of those Matheson stories before, I just forgot that he wrote them. In one of my many SF anthologies stacked away somewhere, I bet.
On to "The Infernal Sorceress" by Gary Gygax. Not one of his D&D stories but an alternate earth with magic and myth. Though the foreword claims that Fritz Leiber's son said there was no ripping-off of his father's works in this book, the protagonists and the style are painfully obviously based on Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser (one of the characters is named Ferret).
Not a bad read so far but Mr. G. but nothing particularly memorable. We'll see how it develops.
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Opted to write up the rest of the chapter. A great deal of it is just more detail on the first part, but there's also banking stuff and things about trade realignment.
Main burden for lowcountry planters: old mortgages. Reduced income almost matches decline in COL. Soil good and cotton coming back, plus lowcountry crop not in competition with upcountry, so income usually enough to make payments. Especially so for rice. Some lowcountry planters still unlucky, yields not high enough to make up the difference and handle boom-era mortgage payments.
Other lowcountry problem: mosquito. Slaves apparently immune to worst kinds of malaria, but often sick, sometimes died, from weaker strains. Severe along the Savannah. James Henry Hammond, Jr: “the mortality on the River … is a drawback to the otherwise certain profit of our fine and fertile land.” Samuel Patterson, Charleston Rice factor: “It was never expected that the number of their people should increase- If they could keep up the force-which in many cases they could not do-it was all they hoped.”
Slave morbidity&mortality severe drain. Many plantations could swing natural increase enough to sell off extras at a profit. (Like Upper South ended up doing.) In lowcountry, births rarely > deaths. (Puts keen interest in keeping open, and later re-opening, Atlantic trade in perspective.) Costs in replacement slaves, medical bills, and lost labor.
White vulnerability to malaria also an issue. Forced reliance on hired overseers. Hard to get the good ones to come to lowcountry and risk themselves. Those who came often got sick, died. If you could get a guy willing to risk that, than he also had to take status loss: overseers members of “an inferior, degraded caste”. Some could make it big and turn planter, but lowcountry situation made it rare. “Needy wanderers” who took job not skilled or educated sufficiently for “intricate, technical, delicate” rice and sea island cotton. Regular “gross inefficiencies and expensive accidents”.
Absentee planters plus bad overseers made for bad gamble, however popular. When planter supervised, less accidents, better yield. Contemporary estimated 10% boost in gross, minimum. Direct supervision increased in 1820s, but most still went absentee. Even with planters on hand, limited improvement due to years absence and personal ignorance. Even sea islanders running high end cotton ended up leaning on overseers.
Crux: lowcountry planters large capitalists “who often despited the painstaking care and economy which a capitalistic enterprise requires.” Management seemed too Yankee. Instead preferred conspicuous consumption: fie wine, summer resorts. More debt meant a bigger show, not cutting back.
Malaria & currency shortage set limits on production, but seldom caused bankruptcies. Planter culture required extravagance, shunned practicality, looked down on overseers. This pushed the unlucky underwater.
Younger generations had limited options. Older planters could not set kids up from lack of funds. “Honorable” professions: law, medicine, religion, overcrowded. Well-bred refused “despised” careers as merchants, overseers, mechanics. Instead drank & idled in Charleston.
All of this looks like a disaster, but not so. Rice remained leading crop. Yields & prices stayed in the black for whole decade prenullification.Whitemarsh Seabrook says rice “a much more certain crop than Cotton, liable to few diseases, less likely to be seriously affected by physical causes, and but seldom subject to ruinous fluctuations in price.” Lowcountry cotton planters lean on Kinsey Burden-style cotton as hope for 1830s. All the same, lowcountry still one of wealthiest groups in nation.
Upcountry cotton planters. Lowcountry guy short on cash now and then. Upcountry “impoverished.” Currency contraction+overproduction of short staple cotton drop prices 71% 1818-1829, only 49% drop in COL. Tarrif hurt here, keeping up consumer prices but not cotton, but didn’t do the whole job.
Poor yields add to low prices, courtesy of depleted soil. Upcountry land less worn out than eroded. Rain+hills. Plowing accelerated process. By 1832 piedmont full of deserved fields. Those still worked worked for less.
Some upcountry skipped off to Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana for new land and lower cost. Those who stayed behind stuck under mortgages. One issue of Edgefield Hive: 9 columns of sheriff’s sales. Could sell everything and not pay back debt.
Southwest lands huge competition, but not only issue. Advantage: except along Savannah, upcountry plantations could count on slave increase for some income. Sell occasionally to make mortgage, give to kids to set up. One guy claims cash value of increase 10%+ of income. With cotton low, % could be higher. Slight exaggeration of Benjamin F. Perry: “the greater part” of slave profits “from their increase, which is very considerable. At this time they sell well, and always bring their value at sheriff’s sale, whilst everything else is sacrificed.”
Longterm slave profits cushioned against cotton fluctuation, let careful prosper still. Secret to success: limit risks, keep yield high, mortgage down, grow own supplies. Plow and drain properly against erosion, fertilize and rotate fields for steady crop. This and debts avoided, planter insulated from currency issues. Grown your own and don’t pay consumer prices. Guy preaching this, George McDiffie, started 1821 with 300 acres and “only a few slaves”. By 1841, he had 5,000 acres and 175 slaves despite years of “extremely low” prices.
McDuffie method against the grain of boom-era thinking. Most uplanders spent the good times going for the biggest possible score. No sense raising corn with cotton at thirty cents a pound. Plenty of land, so no care about wasting it. Profits always going up, so why avoid debt?
Depression hit and the gamblers left exposed to worst of it. Importing food, clothes, supplies meant he needed cash now scarce that low cotton prices could not get him. Erosion left him without soil to even sustain past yields. External forces put the squeeze on. But go the McDuffie way and supplement with slave sales and you could still manage. Just few did.
For same reasons as McDuffie, yeomen usually depression-proof. No debt, by definition raising own supplies, largely independent of boom & bust.
In good times, seemed no limit to SC’s future. State did million dollar internal improvement program to make rivers navigable to the NC border. Ended up costing two million and failed. Above the fall line, trade still switched to wagons. Canals impractical. Below fall line, where less spent, steamboats and river improvements altered trade and changed Charleston economy.
Pre-1819 and steamboat, 1000s of wagoners went down from upcountry each harvest, carrying staples to Charleston, going home with supplies. Center of Charleston economy upper King Street, along neck (connection of peninsula with rest of state). Retailers met wagons there, bartered for goods before going into town for repairs from emchanics.
1819-23, wagon trade shrunk in face of steamboats. Down to quarter of past size. By ‘28, wagons rarely came. At fall line, string of towns grew up, economically significant for first time: Hamburg, on Savannah across from Augusta, GA, Columbia on the Congaree, Camden on Wateree, Cheraw on Pee Dee. Cotton to here by land, some sold there, rest consigned to Charleston merchants. Old Charleston retail center nigh deserted, land value cut in half, grass growing in streets.
Some retailers moved up to fall line towns, Hamburg or Columbia, others to East Bay. But commerce went to fewer hands, squeezing out bulk with the end of petty bartering. Making the move required cash or credit few could raise. (Currency contraction again.) Fewer purchasers in town meant prolonged slump.
Steamboat also hurt Charleston mechanics. White laborers suffered from decline in uplanders into town. Then made worse by competition from free blacks. 1810-20, free black population of city almost doubled, jobs declined with number of men seeking them rising. Whites at disadvantage further because community looked down on manual labor, hated free blacks. To maintain what standing they had, and self-respect, whites had to charge almost twice what blacks would for same work. Also could not obey orders (like a slave) or “obtrude” (solicit) without reducing themselves to level of blacks. By late 20s, free and slave artisans driving whites out of city, getting foothold inw hite-colllar clerking jobs. By ‘37, nonslaveholding mechanics almost forced out. Poor, “rabid racists” often degraded in own eyes, mechanics keen for revolution. More so even than retailers.
Steamboat good for East Bay merchants. As much cotton still going through, decline in “petty” King Street retail put more control over planters in hands of merchants. Columbia merchants often relied on East Bay finance. Economic power concentrated in East Bay.
East Bay prosperity hung on stable amount of trade through Charleston. Very secure. City’s decline as merchant center relative, not absolute. Commerce not decreasing, but only not going up as fast as other ports. More bales than ever in 1832. SC rivers didn’t reach like New York, New Orleans, or Mobile river systems did. Direct import from Europe down, but compensated by indirect import through NY. Many East Bay merchants were agents of European firms pre-20, so not a big shift for them to become agents for NY later.
Bottom line: Charleston mechanics & retailers suffered, but commerce constant and East Bay rich as ever.
East Bay good times not reaped by SC at large. Some trickle-down, though. East Bay financed railroad to Hamburg, to keep their shave of Savannah river trade. But this the exception. No substantial reinvestment in SC economy. Instead successful merchants emigrants from North or Europe, who went home with their fortunes to escape yellow fever, aka “stranger’s fever”.
Outsiders in control fmost SC commerce. Yankees owned most of shipping, bulk of insurance, dominated upcountry peddling. Profits spent outside state, further draining away specie. One of biggest consequences of plantation focus in the boom.
Gentry made things worse with migration. Every summer, spent over $500,000 outside state. Every year, emigrants from upcountry took away cash to Southwest.
Tariff final blow. Customs at CHarleston collected over $500,000 for feds than spend in SC. Another specie outflow. SC exaggerated tariff effects, but between keeping consumer prices up and draining money out contributed to hard times in early 30s.
Specie drain made worse by lack of banking in upcountry. Moneyed economy in fall-line towns wanted banks, yet banking expansion lagged far behind trade.
In 20s, SC’s four private banks all in Charleston and controled by East Bay. Banks issued few long-term mortgages, financed trade via short-term loans to merchants. Merchants convinced that NY goodwill required reliable SC paper money, so very tight rein on issues. Branks of Bank of US, also in Charleston, managed by East Bay and used resources to rpobide bills of exchange on other cities.
Bank of the State of South Carolina, owned and operated by state. Branches in Charleston, Georgetown, Camden, Columbia in 20s. Two upcountry, but not much cash going into piedmont. Charter limited loans to no more than twice capital. Required to bestow equally on upcountry (who needed it) and lowcountry (usually didn’t.) Most of bank’s funds locked in long-term plantation mortgages. Bank thus limited to farm loan office, few new loans for entrepeneurs.
President of bank, Stephen Elliot. Rice planter+botanist. Made limits worse by managing bank like a tidewater aristo. Advocated divorcing paper from specie and issuing rag currency based on land values, alarmed conservatives. But in practice Elliott no radical. One of most tightfisted banks in country. He could issue paper only by calling in old debts. He refused since debtors were peers. Renewed loans instead of foreclosed. Genteel culture beat radical theory.
With so little paper in the upcountry, planters ended up using depreciated dollars from NC and GA. Money very unstable and increased exposure to fluctuations. Worse still, could not pay SC taxes with them. Had to use SC notes, which commanded premium when buying GA or NC dollars. Hording in vicious cycle ensued. Currency contracts more, taxes harder to pay, could be as damaging as booms and busts from wildcat finance.
Especially serious problems in fall line towns. New trade centers needed short-term loans, could get few. Forced to borrow from Charleston banks, controlled by East Bay. They required sign-off of Charleston merchant on all notes. Merchants wanted 2.5% interest for services, which Columbia passed on to planters. Upcountry bled either way. No banks in Hamburg, so they borrowed from Augusta, which then gained advantage in controlling upper Savannah trade. Cheraw’s had same problem.
Legislature tried tof ix bank problem. Early 20s Hamburg and Cheraw get charters. “Irresponsible” businessmen capture Cheraw bank, which fails a few months after opening. Henry Schultz, founder of Hamburg, opened his own bank instead of take on specie-paying requirement from state. Issued paper based on cotton, not gold. August crushed him.
Mid-20s severl bids for charters, but private banks compete with state. Private bank profits enrich individuals, whereas Bank of State gave ~100k each year to treasury. Legislators torn loyalty to Bank of State and need to expand upcountry.
‘26 and ‘27, leg tries compromise. Offers chance to buy several million of stock in Bank of State, if million subscribed. State would get previous invesment, profits. Private subscribers add to capital and get proportionate share of new profits. More capital would go to piedmont.
Compromise did not take into account private interest. Charleston merchants no wish to invest in loan office, every reason to fight piedmont banking. Upcountry merchants wanted bank of their own, not chance to split with upcountry planters. SC planters more into paying off mortgages than buying bank stock. Requisite million never came, state withdrew offer. SC ended 20s with same bank system as entered.
Heavy specie drain + poor upcountry banking limited currency, deepened piedmont depression. Hard money shortage partly due to colonial SC economy, but no economic reason why upcountry banks not chartered, why aristos so extravagant, why Charlestonians could not regain control of own banks. Exaggerated scarcity of currency was another way which SC helped weaken itself by bad economics.
By 32, SC began campaign to revive economy. Upcountry a few experiemnts with horizontal plowing, drainage against erosion. At tidewater, summer villages multiplied as planters came home to supervise operations. Carolinians begin working to retake East Bay. By ‘32, Columbia got private bank charter, Hamburg had bank of State. Good signs, but absenteeism, idle younger sons, slovenly planting, and poor banking persist still.
Campaign against tariff “most articulate expression” of SC’s desire to end avoidable aspects of 20s depression. Nullification came at transition in SC economic history, fury in part about nullifiers doubts about achieving “aggressive, efficient capitalist system”. Often declared tariff double bad: bounties to Yankee merchants as well as SC drain. Rhetoric “scarcely concealed” fear that South would not have equal share with Yankee business in nation’s future.
Deeper economic cause of nullfiication: indigence of Carolinians in 1000s. All around state, citizens risk loss shops, alnd, slaves, focus anger on tariff. White mechanics, degraded and failing against black labor, retailers, poor thanks to end of wagon trade, piedmont cotton sucking down low prices and yields, all hope tariff change would save them.
At SC tidewater, rice + cotton, like most planters, cursed tariff. Yet pushed tariff crusade to revolutionary extreme where most South would not follow. Question not whether lowcountry against tariff but why and why in so strong a form. Minority feared bankruptcy or for kids to have economic reason to risk war for the change.
But most rice and luxury cotton planters prosperous in 20s. Sea islanders expected better in 30s. From economic POV, planters in lowcountry hardly had reason to go for broke. Their crusade not about personal deprivation.
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Going through boxes of books the other night, I found and started re-reading my copy of Gerald Early's One Nation Under a Groove: Motown and American Culture. Which I always thought was weird because, obviously, the title is a Funkadelic song and they were never on Motown. Even weirder, the first chapter is mostly about Frank Sinatra.