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Planting a Capitalist South

Masters, Merchants, and Manufacturers in the Southern Interior, 1790-1860

280 pages / 6.00 x 9.00 inches / 1 Map

ebook available

Southern History

  Paperback / 9780807135310 / August 2009

In Planting a Capitalist South, Tom Downey effectively challenges the idea that commercial and industrial interests did little to alter the planter-dominated political economy of the Old South. By analyzing the interplay of planters, merchants, and manufacturers, Downey characterizes the South as a sphere of contending types of capitalists: agrarians with land and slaves versus commercial and industrial owners of banks, railroads, stores, and factories. His book focuses on the central Savannah River Valley of western South Carolina, an influential political and economic region and the home of some of the South's leading states' rights and proslavery ideologues; which also spawned a number of inland commercial towns, one of the nation's first railroads, and a robust wage-labor community. As such, western South Carolina provides a unique opportunity for looking at contrasting economic forces but solely within the boundaries of the South--slavery vs. free labor, industrial vs. agricultural, urban vs. rural. A revisionary study, Planting a Capitalist South offers clear evidence of a burgeoning transition to capitalist society in the Old South. 

Tom Downey is assistant editor of the Papers of Thomas Jefferson at Princeton University.

Review of Planting a Capitalist South

"This is a pathbreaking book, well grounded in the appropriate documentary record. Downey makes especially good use of the reports of the South Carolina Canal and Rail Road Company and of other corporations, which are so tedious to read, to offer an exciting and fresh perspective on an old problem of vital importance, the relationship between businessmen and planters in the Old South"

SOURCE: American Historical Review

Review of Planting a Capitalist South

"Downey's book has many merits. First of all, it successfully presents a comprehensive and harmonious picture of the development of the region. Second, it helps to better define the contours of the long misunderstood southern political economy and its transformations during the latter part of the antebellum era. It is indeed a well-written and well-thought piece of historiography showing in microcosm how a new synthesis of antebellum southern history should be conceived."

SOURCE: Enterprise and Society

Review of Planting a Capitalist South

"Downey's book is a welcome new addition to the growing corpus of studies seeking to understand the lives of white merchants and manufacturers. Well written and researched, Downey's excellent work will add greater nuance to our picture of the social and economic life of the Old South, particularly our picture of the emerging southern middle class."

SOURCE: Georgia Historical Quarterly

Review of Planting a Capitalist South

"Planting a Capitalist South makes several important contributions. The idea that commerce and industry challenged tenets of republican ideology may be a familiar one, but Downey pursues it in directions seldom explored by previous historians of the Old South, examining conflicts over issue like railroad routes, water rights, and the power of town governments. Moreover, he links those subjects to historians' debates about the capitalist character of the region, and he stakes out an innovative position with his argument that the late antebellum South was in the midst of a transition to capitalism."

SOURCE: Business History Review

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