The generally negative image of the South in today’s US media is nothing new. Neither is the economic exploitation of Southerners and the South’s resources. As author Frank Conner explains in the following excerpt taken from pages 15-16 of his book The South Under Siege 1830-2000, anti-Southern elements in the Northeast have been doing essentially the same thing for two hundred years:
Because of geography-based economic differences, and racially-based ideological differences that were reinforced by geography, the North and the South grew steadily apart from the time their respective colonies were first established.
The New Englanders harbored a special grudge for the South, which had welcomed the despised Celts. Northerners travelling in the South on business resented deeply the easygoing-yet-aristocratic mien of the planters, who often made them feel inferior; but they could not openly express that resentment without appearing ridiculous. Thus they focused their resentments upon the transplanted Celts, whom they considered to be what today would called “trailer trash.” They believed the entire South to be unforgivably lazy and unbusinesslike. It was unthinkable to those Northerners to have to share the North American continent with the languid, superior planters and the hated transplanted Celts, without conquering and ruling them. And so the Northerners did the next-best thing.
Slowly, generations of New England/New York business men made the Southern planters economically dependent upon them, by providing the perennially-cash-short planters with the crop factoring they needed; by carrying the planters’ agricultural products to New York via New England coasters for transshipment to England; and later by buying some of the Southern cotton for processing in New England textile mills.
After 1795, the Southern planters – shortsightedly ignoring the dangers of allowing themselves to become dependent upon the services of firms from another region which did not wish them well – concentrated almost exclusively upon cultivating cotton and left their other business in the hands of Northerners. When the Northern capitalists had the Southern planters where they wanted them, they squeezed hard.
Meanwhile, starting in the 1830s, other New Englanders mounted an ideological war against the South. Both the overtones and undertones of that viciously-fought propaganda war were irrational. But the economic and ideological wars had the same purpose: to break the South and bring it under the control of the Northerners.
Author and linguist MacDonald King Aston reaches the same conclusion about the North’s hostility towards the South in his book Yankee Babylon: American Dream, American Nightmare. On page 8 he writes about the competing world-views and mentalities which sparked this hostility between the two great civilisations in the early Union:
The divide between the New England states and those at the South, regarded in hindsight to be sure, was never a mere political disunity, but an impossible union of opposites.
…Traditional Southerners, those who are Southern by kinship and culture, and not merely by geography, quite easily recognise the divarication between themselves and the Yankee. To Southerners, the Yankee is marked by a singular ruthlessness with regard to all things, whether social or individual. The Yankee must be forever “up and doing,” as Richard Weaver put it, ceaselessly mired in a chimeric progress, unable simply to live, to meet life on its own terms, and ploddingly insisted on imposing the seemingly obvious good of social and political conformity upon the South, by violence if need be. To the Yankee, on the other hand, the Southerner retains all the attributes claimed by the New Englanders hundreds of years ago: lack of ambition, over-religiosity, ignorance and lack of education in general, backwards, and uninterested in reform or progress. Richard Weaver’s portrait of the South as a social civilisation and the North as a business civilisation seems more true than ever.