Opinions & Views

Erasing Mason-Dixon

The South has an enduring status as a region somewhat separate from the main thrust of American life. The tension be­tween agrarian and commercial impulses in American society, epitomized by the yeomen idealized in Thomas Jefferson's Notes on the State of Virginia and the striving industrial class whose rise was promoted by Alexander Hamilton's Re­ports as Secretary of the Treasury, had its most bitter dimension in the conflict over the status of slavery. Although the American Founders sought to put slav­ery on the road to eventual extinction because they recognized it as an evil at odds with the first principle of the Decla­ration of Independence, substantial por­tions of the South resisted every scheme of emancipation, a resistance that intensified as opposition to slavery increased around the country. The most candid Southerners conceded that slavery could not endure among any people genuinely animated by the principles of the Decla­ration, so they recommended discarding the founding principle and replacing it with a new cornerstone: a doctrine of racial superiority which led some to con­coct the notion that slavery could be a "positive good."

The Northern victory in the Civil War cannot be fully and properly understood as the result of a superior industrial base and a larger population prevailing over a people who had remained true to a set of agrarian,...

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