Saturday, August 30, 2014

Martin Ruef's "Between Slavery and Capitalism"

Martin Ruef is the Egan Family Professor of Sociology and director of Markets and Management Studies at Duke University. He is the author of The Entrepreneurial Group and the coauthor of Organizations Evolving and Institutional Change and Healthcare Organizations.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Between Slavery and Capitalism: The Legacy of Emancipation in the American South, and reported the following:
One of the enduring questions about the end of slavery in America is what happened to the South’s planter aristocracy. In Origins of the New South, the historian C. Vann Woodward argued that there were only a “few survivors of the old planter class” who were able to prosper within the new economic order. Others, such as the late John Hope Franklin, have debated Woodward’s conclusion, offering a thesis of planter persistence in which the South’s planter class maintained its power or reinvented itself after the Civil War. Both perspectives tap into the roots of broader scholarly inquiry into the survival of conservative, pre-capitalist elites amid processes of economic reform and industrialization.

The Page 99 test brings Between Slavery and Capitalism to the heart of this issue. While earlier historiography relies heavily on surviving biographical materials from planters themselves, this part of the book assembles Census data on the top one percent of wealth holders in the U.S. Lower South in 1860 and 1870. On the whole, the evidence weighs against the intuition that the wealth of the Southern planter class was rapidly disrupted by the war and the end of chattel slavery. In 1870, 72 percent of the wealthiest residents in the South had been born in the Confederacy. Even during Radical Reconstruction, there was little indication that Yankee carpetbaggers migrating from the North had come to dominate the pinnacle of the Southern wealth distribution. Moreover, the occupations of wealthy Southerners continued to tilt strongly toward landownership and agrarian pursuits. In 1870, two-thirds of the wealthiest Southerners were either planters or rentiers (that is, individuals with substantial landholdings who were not working the land themselves). The largest transformation in the postbellum South’s elite was not a shift away from native-born Southern whites or plantation owners, but from individuals who were actively involved in managing plantations to rentier capitalists, who preferred farm leasing or tenancy.

The discussion on page 99 faithfully represents one of the central tenets of the book – that the institutional transformation after slavery did not produce predictable shifts in class structure, but lingering uncertainty about the status hierarchy of the New South.
Learn more about Between Slavery and Capitalism at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue