Front Page Titles (by Subject) The Celtic South: The Aftermath of War - Literature of Liberty, Summer 1981, vol. 4, No. 2
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The Celtic South: The Aftermath of War - Leonard P. Liggio, Literature of Liberty, Summer 1981, vol. 4, No. 2 
Literature of Liberty: A Review of Contemporary Liberal Thought was published first by the Cato Institute (1978-1979) and later by the Institute for Humane Studies (1980-1982) under the editorial direction of Leonard P. Liggio.
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The Celtic South: The Aftermath of War
“The South from Self-Sufficiency to Peonage: An Interpretation.” American Historical Review 85 (December 1980):1095–1118.
Contemporary observers of the antebellum South frequently remarked that Southerners loved their leisure—or, as hostile observers used to say, they were lazy. “They (Southerners) seldom show any spirit of enterprise,” wrote Andrew Burnaby in 1759, “or expose themselves willingly to fatigue.... They are content to live from day to day.” Was this an accurate description of the pre-Civil War South?
According to Profs. McDonald and McWhiney, Southerners of all social classes would have rejected the naive and culture-bound assumption that people naturally seek to better their condition in the same way, and, in their article, they assemble considerable statistical evidence to demonstrate the abundance of leisure enjoyed in the South.
They estimate, for example, that, in 1850, a slave in rural Mississippi could have been expected to work, at the very most, 136 ten-hour days a year, compared with 310 such days for a “free” agricultural worker in the North. Work estimates for white farm laborers in Alabama in the same year run to only 11 forty-hour weeks per year. Of the South's nearly 557,000,000 total acres, fewer than 10 percent were improved by 1850. The undeveloped land and the ill-kept houses of the region gave to the causal observer the impression of grinding poverty. However, this impression was far from accurate.
Profs. McDonald and McWhiney comment that Southerners of this period lived quite literally “off the hog.” Virtually everyone, even those who owned no land, owned animals. They did not need to own land, since the open range prevailed throughout the South. Animals were simply branded or clipped and turned loose to graze the land—anybody's land. When the larder got low, plain folk simply went out and fetched another hog. For vegetables, almost no tillage was necessary. Green gardens once planted, grew wild, reseeding themselves year after year. Once a year—in the fall, after the livestock had fattened themselves on acorns and other nuts—herds were rounded up and driven to market as a cash crop. A few weeks of work in the spring and a few more in the fall, were all that was required to keep this marvelously self-sufficient system going.
The leisurely life style of the Southern plain folk was not a by-product of slavery, as many contemporary travelers thought. The authors see the Southern way as a classical example of what some cultural geographers have called “cultural pre-adaption.” Their preliminary data indicate that 70 percent of white Southerners were of Celtic extraction—mainly Welsh, Scots, Irish, and Scotch-Irish. Unlike Englishmen, but very much like Southerners, Celts preferred tending herds, which did not require the same physical toil involved in arable farming. As a result, visitors among Celtic peoples generally thought them indolent. These pastoral nations also preferred open-range husbandry—a way of life for most of the Scottish plain folk until well into the eighteenth century.
The postbellum period of Southern history witnessed a gradual, but inexorable transformation from leisurely plenty to toilsome misery. With the heavy loss of livestock during the Civil War, the disappearance of the open range, and the lack of capital among both freedmen and poor whites, tenancy and sharecropping reduced most whites and blacks to a system of virtual peonage. Burdened by debts, tenants were essentially fixed to the soil, leaving only at the landlord's bidding. By 1930, only 27 percent of farms in Alabama and Mississippi were operated by their owners.
This newly agriculturalized South was characterized by long work days and declining production. Hog production for instance, fell by 80 percent between 1860 and 1930, while, during the same period, the cotton crop dropped from 83,174,800 lbs. to 51,023,000 lbs. At the same time, poverty and disease sapped the strength of an overburdened and underfed population. Thus, a gigantic trap slowly and inexorably closed upon Southerners, until, by the first third of the twentieth century, almost no one in the once luxuriant region was free.