Loading ...
Sorry, an error occurred while loading the content.

FW: H-South Review: Evans Responds to Miller's Review

Expand Messages
  • A.J. Wright
    fyi..aj wright // ajwright@uab.edu ... From: Ian Binnington, H-South [mailto:cfib@eiu.edu] Sent: Monday, October 21, 2002 9:36 AM To: H-SOUTH@H-NET.MSU.EDU
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 21, 2002
    • 0 Attachment
      fyi..aj wright // ajwright@...

      -----Original Message-----
      From: Ian Binnington, H-South [mailto:cfib@...]
      Sent: Monday, October 21, 2002 9:36 AM
      To: H-SOUTH@...
      Subject: H-South Review: Evans Responds to Miller's Review

      Curt Evans Responds to Randall Miller's Review of _The Conquest of Labor_:

      In his preface to _The Cotton Mill Movement in Antebellum Alabama_ (a 1971
      dissertation published unrevised by Arno Press in 1978), Randall M. Miller
      noted the failure of antebellum southern economic historians "to provide
      detailed, interpretive histories of individual industries and of individual
      firms. There is no solid foundation of business histories of Southern
      industries upon which to build a synthesis. We know little about how and by
      whom Southern manufacturing firms were organized, how they were
      capitalized, how and by whom they were managed, and what impact they had
      locally and regionally." Concerning southern industrial laborers, Professor
      Miller added: "We know even less about who manned the machinery. Charles B.
      Dew, Robert McKenzie, and Robert S. Starobin have written valuable studies
      of the slaves' experiences in manufacturing, but the white worker has been
      largely neglected" [1].

      Nearly a quarter century after Professor Miller wrote these words,
      historians have much work to do in order to better illuminate this still
      neglected corner of southern history. Much of the modern discussion of
      antebellum southern industry has been influenced heavily by Eugene
      Genovese's essay "The Industrialists Under the Slave Regime," part of his
      seminal 1965 work, _The Political Economy of Slavery_. Rejecting earlier
      consensus works by such scholars as Weymouth T. Jordan that had chronicled
      the accomplishments of antebellum southern industrialists like Daniel
      Pratt, Genovese asserted that a prebourgeois planter class circumscribed
      the activities of southern manufacturers in order to safeguard their
      traditional agrarian society from the inevitable social disruption entailed
      by a general southern industrialization.

      Clearly influenced, like so many from his generation, by Genovese's famed
      "planter hegemony" thesis, Professor Miller in his work on Pratt (his 1971
      dissertation, a 1972 article, "Daniel Pratt's Industrial Urbanism: The
      Cotton Mill Town in Antebellum Alabama," and a 1981 article, "The Fabric of
      Control: Slavery in Antebellum Textile Mills") portrayed Pratt as in
      essence having capitulated to a planter class hostile to large-scale
      industrialization. In the same decade, Jonathan Wiener's _Social Origins of
      the New South_ (1978) ambitiously sought to extend planter hegemony in
      Pratt's adopted state of Alabama beyond the temporal confines of the Civil
      War into the 1890s. At the end of the 1970s, a battered Pratt emerged from
      the rough handling of historians as a rather impotent figure surrounded by
      an assertive, implacable planter class. And if Pratt (along with famed
      South Carolina textile manufacturer William Gregg, the "most thoroughly
      bourgeois" of southern industrialists, according to Professor Genovese)
      faced such difficulties in the South, was there much point in looking at
      lesser manufacturers?

      Not resting with treatments of planters, scholars have asserted that other
      southerners also provided obstacles to prewar industrialization. Historians
      have long isolated labor as a key reason accounting for the antebellum
      South's lag behind the North in manufacturing. In "Industrialism in the
      Ante-Bellum South" (1928), Philip G. Davidson asserted that both southern
      blacks and southern whites made poor industrial workers. Attempting to
      explain the aversion of white southerners to factory work, Davidson claimed
      that they "had a distaste for mechanic arts, possibly the heritage of an
      English gentry ideal." A dozen years later, Fabian Linden also stressed the
      theme of antebellum southern peculiarity in "Repercussions of Manufacturing
      in the Ante-Bellum South" (1940), asserting that poor whites "had
      degenerated into a backward, sickly people, unskilled in any craft and
      difficult to train, while the non-slaveholding independent farmers, who
      were no less unskilled in industry, were reluctant to give up independence
      to sink to the level of 'hired' help" [2].

      In the 1940s and 1950s scholars challenged the idea, long rooted in racist
      assumptions about the mental capacities of African-Americans, that slaves
      inherently made poor factory workers. Finally Norris W. Preyer demonstrated
      conclusively in his article "The Historian, the Slave, and the Ante-Bellum
      Textile Industry" (1961) that slaves had made perfectly capable mill
      operatives, while Robert S. Starobin's _Industrial Slavery in the Old
      South_ (1970) provided compelling evidence of the successful employment of
      slaves in a wide variety of southern industries. Professor Miller's
      dissertation soon offered more such evidence, as did Charles Dew's recent
      magisterial work, _Bond of Iron: Master and Slave at Buffalo Forge_ (1994).

      While scholars have rehabilitated enslaved factory labor, they have
      continued to neglect, as Professor Miller noted in his 1978 preface, free
      white industrial workers in the antebellum South. Indeed, the author of the
      recent comprehensive text _Industrializing America: The Nineteenth Century_
      (1995) mistakenly asserted that "southern industrialists in the antebellum
      period [relied] almost exclusively on slave labor" and omitted accordingly
      any analysis whatsoever of white factory workers in the antebellum South.
      To be sure, white mill operatives in the Old South have received some
      attention from scholars, though nothing compared with their counterparts in
      the New South. Works on skilled southern white mechanics have been sporadic
      and mostly of a minor nature. What Clement Eaton said of Old South white
      mechanics over forty years ago--that they "have been virtually ignored in
      the study of the structure of southern society"--is almost as true today.
      Moreover, much of the work done on white mechanics, in both the South and
      the North, focuses on city dwellers (frequently immigrants), despite the
      fact that, as Richard Stott noted in "Artisans and Capitalist Development"
      (1997), "the vast majority of skilled craftsmen" did not reside in urban
      areas [3].

      In researching the life of Daniel Pratt, I came to believe that many
      earlier works misportrayed Pratt and, by extension, the industrialist in
      the antebellum and even postbellum South. I saw in Pratt's great successes
      in his adopted state indicators of southern openness toward more extensive
      industrial and urban development. To borrow from my book's introduction:
      "Daniel Pratt's popularity in both antebellum and postbellum Alabama, his
      successful use of southerners (black and white) as productive factory
      workers, and the energy and sobriety of the town he established all belie
      the assertion of some historians that southerners feared industrialization
      and urbanization and scorned discipline and piety."

      There are several specific points that Professor Miller made in his review
      of _The Conquest of Labor_ that I believe I should address. First, I do
      not, as Professor Miller asserts, mistake industry booster James De Bow's
      endorsement of Pratt "for general support for Pratt's proposals as to
      investment in transportation, banking, and manufacturing." De Bow is cited
      in the first three chapters of my book for his descriptive information on
      Pratt's factories and town. My conclusion that Pratt enjoyed wide popular
      support in antebellum and postbellum Alabama rests not on the favorable
      pronouncements of non-Alabamians like De Bow, but rather on my analysis of
      Alabama legislation and newspapers for a period of over twenty-five years
      (1847 to 1873). Particularly important to me were the various party organs
      (Democrat, Whig, American, Republican) in Montgomery, the Alabama state
      capital. To be sure, on occasion the Democratic party parted company with
      Pratt on issues in the 1840s and 1850s, namely banking and state aid for
      railroads (see my lengthy discussion in "The Politics of Daniel Pratt"
      chapter of _The Conquest of Labor_), but, by the end of the 1850s, much of
      Pratt's economic agenda had triumphed in Alabama, to the chagrin of
      traditionalist Jacksonian Democrats. How far below the level of the state's
      economic and social elite support for these policies extended can be
      debated, but the idea that a backward-looking hegemonic planter class
      obstructed Pratt's notions of political economy throughout the antebellum
      era is not tenable in my view.

      Professor Miller challenges this conclusion by raising the matter of
      Pratt's failure to win a railroad for Prattville: "For all his supposed
      influence in the legislature, Pratt was unable to get the state to support
      a railroad link to his factory complex." This indeed would have been
      special interest legislation. But the issue never was whether the State
      would pay for a Prattville branch railroad, but whether the South and North
      Railroad would build its line from Montgomery to Decatur through
      Prattville. That issue was not finally decided until 1869, when Pratt was
      ousted from the Board of Directors of the South and North and the new Board
      decided to complete the road by a shorter route, bypassing Prattville.
      During the last four years of his life, amidst the height of
      Reconstruction, Pratt tried to get a branch line to Prattville built
      through the efforts of local government and private citizens, but, though
      there was much enthusiasm for the project, he failed. "Local interests
      ruled," Professor Miller notes in his review, "and Pratt's was one voice
      among many." Professor Miller will get no argument from me on that point,
      but local interests aggressively competing and clamoring for railroads is a
      far cry from reactionary planters attempting to halt the progress of
      modernity. Despite Pratt's postwar political preference for the Democratic
      party, however, he often received high praise from the Republican press and
      cooperated with local Republicans on economic projects.

      Professor Miller stresses that Pratt ultimately revealed "his true colors
      as a convert to southern interests" by supporting slavery and the
      Confederacy and by "railing against Reconstruction." However, Pratt did not
      view slavery or the Confederacy as necessarily inimical to southern
      industrial development; whereas he firmly believed that Republican control
      of Alabama during Reconstruction would economically wreck the state. It
      should be recalled that Pratt's good friend Robert Patton had been elected
      Governor of Alabama under Presidential Reconstruction, but was
      substantially stripped of power and ultimately replaced under Radical
      Reconstruction. Like Pratt, Patton was a former Whig and an aggressive
      industrial booster. Patton had been the sort of man Pratt had always wanted
      to see in power in Alabama, and it is no surprise that Pratt was bitterly
      resentful over this turn of events. It is a matter for regret that Pratt
      was not more sympathetic to the higher aspirations of Alabama's freedmen,
      but, unfortunately, Pratt saw so-called Radical Republicans as the
      immediate threat to Alabama's industrial development. Nevertheless, Pratt
      ultimately won plaudits from the state's Republican organ, an important
      point not mentioned in Professor Miller's review.

      Just as I found that Pratt enjoyed much support in Alabama for his economic
      ideas, I also concluded that he was able to attract competent black and
      white workers to labor in his factories. In his review, Professor Miller
      indicates that he is skeptical of my generally positive assessment of white
      mill hands. Although Professor Miller himself found some favorable things
      to say about southern white labor in his 1971 dissertation, his assessment
      ten years later in "The Fabric of Control" is harsh. After detailing the
      various social uplift efforts by mill owners who hoped to transform whites
      into minimally capable operatives, Miller witheringly concludes: "All the
      expenses for Sabbath Schools, religious tracts, and stationed preachers as
      well as all the strictures on strong drink, strong language, and strong
      play did not make southern whites work to the clock-time rhythms of the
      factories or internalize 'Yankee' values."

      On the contrary, Professor Miller continues, all across the South, "white
      factory hands arrived late, left early, or failed to show up at all. They
      drank, they stole, and they drifted away. They were, on the whole, an
      unreliable work force who clung to the preindustrial work habits and values
      of rural and village culture" [4]. Here we are not far from the southern
      white trash stereotype glimpsed in Fabian Linden's vision of poor whites
      "degenerated into a backward, sickly people, unskilled in any craft and
      difficult to train." Fair enough, but are such characterizations accurate
      or exaggerated?

      My own view is that Pratt's case suggests such characterizations are
      overdrawn. Since Pratt's cotton and wool mills were among the most
      successful in the South, it would seem that Pratt's workers must have
      learned some "habits of industry," whether or not they internalized
      so-called Yankee values. In 1860, Prattville Manufacturing Company (PMC)
      ranked first among Alabama textile factories in terms of output per worker
      (worker productivity). The uncharacteristic all-slave Bell Factory of
      Huntsville, Alabama ranked third. In his dissertation Professor Miller
      writes that Bell's success proves "the remarkable adaptability of slave
      labor to cotton manufacturing," which may well be true, but can we not then
      draw the same conclusion about southern white labor in light of the evident
      success of PMC [5]? Admittedly, Professor Miller argued that Pratt was
      forced by the supposed intractability of his southern white work force to
      make a significant shift to slave labor in the 1850s, but my own analysis
      of available evidence has led me to conclude that this contention is an
      error. I believe Pratt's mill hands in 1860 were mostly white.

      Professor Miller cites as evidence of Pratt's workers holding on to
      premodern ways his claim that Pratt twice lost the vote of Prattville in
      races for the Alabama state legislature. This is a misleading contention.
      First of all, how the men in textile families voted is not a certain
      measure of how effectively they, as well as the more numerous women and
      children, labored in mills. But Pratt actually won Prattville precinct with
      62 percent of the vote in his first race for the state legislature, in
      1855. In his second race, which took place in 1860, Pratt narrowly lost
      Prattville precinct, taking 49.6 percent of the vote. However, as I argue
      in my book, Pratt's loss that year probably can be attributed to the fact
      that Prattville precinct included numerous planters (most of whom lived
      outside the town of Prattville) who seem to have supported immediate
      secession and likely voted against Pratt, who was running on a
      cooperationist ticket.

      Whereas Pratt in 1855 had done best in wealthy planter precincts and worst
      in poorer yeoman precincts, in 1860, when secession, not state aid for
      railroads, was the key political issue, just the opposite results obtained.
      For example, Pratt won 71 percent of the vote in Robinson Springs, the
      wealthiest precinct in Autauga, in 1855, but, in 1860, he actually lost the
      precinct, taking only 48 percent of the vote. Conversely, Pratt in 1855
      captured a paltry 24 percent of the vote in Chestnut Creek, the poorest
      precinct in Autauga, but in 1860, he claimed a stunning 85 percent of the
      vote there. My belief is that Pratt won many of the votes of the men in
      textile families in both 1855 and 1860, though this, like the opposite
      contention, is necessarily conjectural. Certainly Pratt won his races for
      Prattville intendant during the Reconstruction years by overwhelming
      margins. Concerning Pratt's last legislative race, in 1861, I never found
      individual precinct records, but Pratt won 68 percent of the county vote,
      suggesting that he did well everywhere.

      Finally, Professor Miller faults _The Conquest of Labor_ for not
      sufficiently considering "other southern experiments in building factory
      towns and other southern experiences in developing manufactures." To some
      extent, context is the curse of biography and local history, though I must
      take responsibility for any failing here to the extent that I let space
      limitations result in my paring the book's introduction. Because I believed
      I was dealing with unusual and valuable material, I wanted to include as
      much significant detail about Pratt and Prattville as I could.

      With _The Conquest of Labor_, I attempted to help shape that "solid
      foundation of business histories of Southern industries upon which to build
      a synthesis" that Professor Miller called for in 1978. With _The Conquest
      of Labor_, we now know more "about how and by whom Southern manufacturing
      firms were organized, how they were capitalized, how and by whom they were
      managed, and what impact they had locally and regionally." We even now know
      more "about who manned the machinery." I continue to believe that the
      support Pratt enjoyed in Alabama, both in words and in the actions of the
      men, by no means all northern-born, who were involved significantly in the
      economic life of Prattville (which, I might add, was no company town, as
      several scholars have assumed), says something important and perhaps
      unexpected about the culture of antebellum and postbellum Alabama.

      I also believe that a synthesis is needed, but there is still much basic
      work that remains to be done. I urged in The Conquest of Labor that we
      needed more studies of villages/towns and the middle class in the
      antebellum South. I similarly would welcome additional works on Old South
      industrialists. To cite an obvious example, Broadus Mitchell's biography of
      William Gregg is now nearly 75 years old; why, with all the dissertations
      on southern history pouring forth over the years, has a modern biography
      not yet appeared? Still, the decade of the 1990s saw some significant
      progress being made. Old South industrialist Henry Merrell's fascinating
      autobiography was published just over a decade ago. Bess Beatty's and Mary
      A. DeCredico's recent works, _Alamance_ and _Patriotism for Profit_,
      provide analyses of industrialists in North Carolina and Georgia (Professor
      Miller of course was a significant pioneer in this field with his
      dissertation, which among other things, provides glimpses of some of the
      impressive activities of native southern mill men Robert Jemison and James
      Martin, figures who deserve more attention from scholars.). The emphasis of
      Charles Dew's _Bond of Iron_ is on industrial slavery, but there is much
      useful basic business history there as well. While not business history,
      John W. Quist's pathbreaking comparative study of reform efforts in the
      South and the North, _Restless Visionaries_, tells us a great deal about
      the extent and nature of southern distinctivness. And a growing number of
      scholars participate in the activities of the Southern Industrialization
      Project (SIP), which promotes the study of all aspects of southern
      industrial history.

      We may, indeed, be turning a page in southern history. I, for one, would
      find this a welcome development. Though I think that Daniel Pratt clearly
      was one of the most important southern industrialists, there were many
      aggressive, assertive figures like Pratt throughout the South who had an
      impact on their society. I would not want the Pratt I portray in _The
      Conquest of Labor_ to loom so large over his fellows that their activities
      fall into shadow. Rather, let us continue to learn and to tell the stories
      of these people, so that we may better understand the South.


      [1] Randall M. Miller, _The Cotton Mill Movement in Ante-Bellum Alabama_
      (New York: Arno Press, 1978): iii-iv.

      [2] Philip G. Davidson, "Industrialism in the Ante-Bellum South," _South
      Atlantic Quarterly_ 27 (October 1928): 419-20, 424; Fabian Linden,
      "Repercussions of Manufacturing in the Ante-Bellum South," _North Carolina
      Historical Review_ 17 (October 1940): 327.

      [3] Walter Licht, _Industrializing America: The Nineteenth Century_
      (Baltimore, MD and London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995), 36;
      Clement Eaton, _The Growth of Southern Civilization, 1790-1860_ (New York
      and London: Harper & Row, 1961), 182; Richard Stott, "Artisans and
      Capitalist Development," in _Wages of Independence: Capitalism in the Early
      American Republic_, ed. Paul A. Gilje (Madison, WI: Madison House, 1997),

      [4] Randall M. Miller, "The Fabric of Control: Slavery in Antebellum
      Southern Textile Mills," _Business History Review_ 55 (Winter 1981): 478.
      For an earlier, more positive statement, see Miller, _Cotton Mill
      Movement_, 191 (Antebellum Alabama textile manufacturer James Martin "need
      only have looked about his own county to show that cotton mills, using
      white workers drawn from the neighborhood, could succeed in the South.").

      [5] U. S. Census, Alabama, 1850, 1860, Manufactures Schedule; Miller,
      _Cotton Mill Movement_, 125.

      Curtis J. Evans
      Independent Scholar
    Your message has been successfully submitted and would be delivered to recipients shortly.