Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

William J. Cooper, Jr


As a study of the southern social ethic, this work discusses some of the most lasting themes of southern historiography: race and class, continuity and discontinuity. The social ethic might best be defined as a collection of ideas, at times contradictory, that suggest southerners' concepts of life in a good republic, citizenship, and proper economic behavior. It also examines the reality of life in a rural state as it experienced the process of modernization. The first third of the dissertation offers a definition of the social ethic. Liberty and virtue, white southerners believed, inhered in all who avoided enslavement, the variety known to African-Americans as well as that experienced by debtors. Good citizens also participated in the market economy and politics; they eschewed governmental encroachment on community affairs; and they supported the institution of slavery, tacitly or otherwise. The middle third of the study examines the changes to the social ethic and social changes between 1861 and 1900. During the Civil War and Reconstruction, the social ethic experienced significant challenges: first from wartime policies and later from the emancipation of slaves. But, white southerners rescued the racist underpinnings of the ethic through the sharecropping system, the crop-lien law, vote fraud, and violence. Although they believed that the social ethic had been resuscitated, railroads, the rise of a merchant class, and industrialization altered the social setting for the ethic. The final third of the dissertation addresses two groups' responses to the social changes of the postbellum period. Middle-class reformers proposed alternately to elevate those left behind by the commercial revolution of the late nineteenth century and to classify them as undeserving of liberty and virtue. Agrarians, on the other hand, harkened back to the antebellum period and proposed a variety of remedies designed to restore white cultural homogeneity. In the rise of the political rednecks of the early twentieth century, the agrarian and middle-class critiques of the commercial order based on class, but mostly race, flowed together.