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Between Slavery and CapitalismThe Legacy of Emancipation in the American South$
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Martin Ruef

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780691162775

Published to Princeton Scholarship Online: October 2017

DOI: 10.23943/princeton/9780691162775.001.0001

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Class Structure in the Old and New South

Class Structure in the Old and New South

(p.75) Chapter 4 Class Structure in the Old and New South
Between Slavery and Capitalism

Martin Ruef

Princeton University Press

This chapter assesses whether the class structure of the South changed in the postbellum era and whether different individual and locational attributes predicted who would come to occupy preferred social positions. It suggests another source of categorical uncertainty during Reconstruction and beyond. While many Southern journalists and politicians celebrated the expansion of an entrepreneurial middle class at the time, this class actually declined numerically in the proverbial New South. Moreover, the “decaying” planter class was remarkably persistent, both in its dominance of the top of the wealth distribution and its involvement in the postwar industrialization of the region. The social categories of planters and middling Southerners that were deployed in popular discourse—and within the “New South Creed”—thus had little in common with the reality of class structure following the Civil War.

Keywords:   class structure, postbellum era, social positions, categorical uncertainty, entrepreneurial middle class, New South, planter class, wealth distribution, postwar industrialization, Civil War

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