The Natural Selection of Southern Ideology

An analysis of ideological and economic factors in the failure of the Confederacy.

This paper integrates several Civil War topics, including the power dynamics of oligarchies in the antebellum South, the authorship and diffusion of pro-slavery ideology, the development and implications of the plantation slavery economy, and an analysis of different explanations for the collapse of the Confederacy, into the thesis that the South’s lack of pragmatism and adaptability brought about its defeat. The writer dissects the discourse of James Henry Hammond and John C. Calhoun and presents pro-slavery ideology as a fundamentally conservative reaction to early capitalism that diffused from a planter elite to the Southern masses through the conflation of the Southern identity with the institution of slavery. The industrial and technological stagnation, aristocratic trends, and dependent nature of the Southern economy are weighed as cogent factors in the failure of Confederate resources. The writer explains, using cognitive dissonance theory, how the conflicting elements of Confederate nationalism, such as scriptural fundamentalism, states’ rights theory, and pro-slavery discourse, failed to successfully coexist with the reality of slavery and led to problems with strategy, conscription, enlistment, and solidarity.

Paper Outline
I. Introduction
II. Reactionary, Principled Ideology
III. Socioeconomic Maladjustment
IV. Confederate Defeat by Tradition and Ideology
V. Conclusion
“James Henry Hammond, editor of The Southern Times, defended the right to property through scriptural fundamentalism and carried slavery above human criticism by declaring it a biblically sanctioned institution. In order to justify chattel slavery’s presuppositions of vindicated human property, proslavery ideology needed to incorporate the priority of slaveholders , right to property over slaves, right to liberty. Hammond provided this by asserting that man’s right to “property in man” had been “consecrated” by the Bible. Suggesting a similitude between abolitionism and anti-property radicalism, as did many reactionary Southerners, Hammond anticipated that, after defeating slavery, the property-threatening ideology of antislavery would challenge the capital of the North.”