Saving the South: Agricultural Reform in the Southern United States, 1819-1861
Beamish, Ian William
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This dissertation re-assesses how the popular national agricultural reform movement operated in the southern states and how it interacted with the economy of slavery and short-staple cotton. The central question that my dissertation explores is how the agricultural reform movement was used and interpreted by reformers and other planters, including how it changed the daily lives of slaves on cotton plantations. Drawing on print sources from the agricultural press, plantation journals and work logs, and slave narratives, this study explores how planter elites used agricultural reform to articulate their goals for and anxieties about the future of their plantation society, as well as the unexpected legacy of reform on the plantation. By moving away from previous scholarship’s singular focus on agricultural literature and societies, this dissertation shows how the ideas of agricultural reform filtered out to planters across the cotton South. Only by considering all three elements of agricultural reform—the public world of reformers, agricultural labor on cotton plantations, and the work of slaves on those same plantations—is it possible to offer a full picture of agricultural reform in the South. This study shows the reach of agricultural reform by combining studies of the print and social worlds of reformers, the account books and non-literary print that popularized reform in the Southwest, cotton work, and plantation case studies. This dissertation traces the intellectual history of southern elites to fundamental changes in the lives of planters, overseers, and slaves in the cotton South.