**** ROTATE **** **** ROTATE **** **** ROTATE **** **** ROTATE ****

Find this Story

Print, a form you can hold

Wireless download to your Amazon Kindle

Look for a summary or analysis of this Story.

Enjoy this? Share it!

The South After The War
by [?]


September 8, 1877.

Having just returned from a few weeks’ stay in Virginia it has occurred to me as probable that your readers would be interested in hearing how such changes in Southern manners and tone of thought and economical outlook as could be noted in a brief visit strike one who had travelled in that region before the war had revolutionized it. It is now twenty years since I spent a winter traversing the Cotton States on horseback, sleeping at the house which happened to be nearest when the night caught me. Buchanan had just been elected; the friends of slavery, though anxious, were exultant and defiant, and the possibility of a separate political future had begun to take definite shape in the public mind, at least in the Gulf States. I am unable to compare the economical condition of that part of the country at that time with its condition to-day, because both slavery and agriculture in Virginia differed then in many important respects from slavery and agriculture farther south. But the habits and modes of thought and feeling bred by slavery were essentially the same all over the South; and I do not think that I shall go far astray in assuming that the changes in these which I have noticed in Virginia would be found to-day in all the other States.

The first which struck me, and it was a most agreeable one, was what I may call the emancipation which conversation and social intercourse with Northerners had undergone. In 1857 the tone of nearly everybody with whom I came in contact, however veiled by politeness, was in some degree irritable and defiant. My host and I were never long before the evening fire without my finding that he was impatient to talk about slavery, that he suspected me of disliking it, and yet that he wished to have me understand that he did not care, and that nobody at the South cared two cents what I thought about it, and that it was a little impertinent in me, who knew so little of the negro, to have any opinion about it at all. I was obliged, too, to confess inwardly that there was a good deal of justification for his bad temper. There was I, a curious stranger, roving through his country and eating at his board, and all the while secretly or openly criticising or condemning his relations with his laborers and servants, and, in fact, the whole scheme of his domestic life. I was not a pleasant companion, and nothing could make me one, and no matter on what themes our talk ran, it was colored by our opinions on the institution. He looked at nearly everything in politics and society from what might be called the slaveholder’s point of view, and suspected me, on the other hand, of disguising reprobation of the South and its institutions in any praise of the North or of France or England which I might utter. So that there was a certain acridity and a sense of strong and deep limitations and reserves in our discussions, somewhat like those which are felt in the talk of a pious evangelical Protestant with a pious Catholic.

In Virginia of to-day I was conscious of a curious change in the atmosphere, as if the windows of a close room had been suddenly opened. I found that I was in a country where all things were debatable, and where I had not to be on the lookout for susceptibilities. The negro, too, about whom I used to have to be so careful, with whom I used to make it a point of honor not to talk privately or apart from his master when I was staying on a plantation, was wandering about loose, as it were, and nobody seemed to care anything about him any more than about any poor man. I found every Southerner I spoke to as ready to discuss him as to discuss sheep or oxen, to let you have your own views about him just as you had them about sheep or oxen. Moreover, I found instead of the stereotyped orthodox view of his place and capacity which prevailed in 1857, a great variety of opinions about him, mostly depreciatory, it is true, but still varying in degree as well as in kind. It is difficult to give anyone who has never had any experience of the old slave society an idea of the difference this makes in a stranger’s position at the South. In short, as one Southerner expressed it to me on my mentioning the change, “Yes, sir, we have been brought into intellectual and moral relations with the rest of the civilized world.” All subjects are now open at the South in conversation.