Front Porch: Winter 2007

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Front Porch: Winter 2007

by Harry L. Watson
Southern Cultures, Vol. 13, No. 4: Global South (2007)

"The changes of recent decades have now brought America's most isolated region into closer contact with global influences than at any time in memory."

The American South has depended on foreign contacts for centuries, ever since Jamestown started down Tobacco Road. From the earliest colonial days, foreign exports propped up the southern economy, as rice, indigo, deerskins, and finally cotton followed tobacco hogsheads into the holds of trans-Atlantic vessels. The Peculiar Institution itself was a product of the global economy, for what else provided the demand for all those exports, or supplied the labor to grow them? The Confederacy learned a hard lesson in the importance of global connections when federal blockaders proved that cotton could not be king without customers. The lesson sank in again after Reconstruction, when sagging world demand for cotton caused more southern poverty than carpetbaggers ever had. Exports were so important that free trade and low tariffs found a permanent place on the South’s agenda in Washington—at least until southern factories started losing their trade wars with China.