Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature: An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891. Vols. VIVIII: Literature of the Republic, Part III., 18351860
The Basis of Prosperity for the New South
By Edward Atkinson (18271905)
[Born in Brookline, Mass., 1827. Died there, 1905. Conclusion of an Address before the leading men of Georgia, in anticipation of the Cotton Exposition of 1881.Senate Chamber, Atlanta, Ga., 1880.]
I HAVE claimed to be a Republican of Republicans, because, from the time I came to mans estate, and even before, I had opposed slaverynot only because I thought it morally and politically wrong, but even more because I considered it the greatest economic blunder under which a State could suffer.
During one of the last months of the civil war I happened to visit the camp near Washington, in which the deserters from Petersburg and Richmond were daily collecting in increasing numbers. I talked with many of them, and found them to be mostly veteran soldiers who had fought on the Confederate side from the beginning. At last I asked a soldier from Louisianaa vigorous, intelligent-looking manwhy he had surrendered. His black eyes gleamed with subdued passion, as he replied: I have just found out what we have been fighting for.What was it? said I. Fighting for rich mens niggers, d em! I wont fight for them any longer.
When I heard these words, gentlemen, I saw before me a vision of the prosperity on which you have just entered in the land of the sunny South. I knew then that no longer would white and black alike be kept in the bonds of poverty and ignorance in order that the few might live in luxury on what they had not earned. It was that mans insight into the cause of the war that marked its end.
That time of prosperity has come; and you, gentlemen, are my witnesses that never has the general welfare of the people of Georgia been as great as in this last year of abundance, and that never before has there been open to you such an opportunity to accumulate wealth as now appears in your near future: but this new wealth will be of that highest type gained by rightful methods, in which each dollar that any man passes to his own credit on his business ledger will mark a dollars worth of service that he has rendered to his fellow-men.
I have claimed also to be a Democrat of Democrats upon the ground that only those are entitled to the name who fully accept the rule that every man, be he rich or poor, black or white, has an equal stake in righteous government. The rich man has no greater claim to influence merely because he possesses wealth, than the poor man because he desires to attain it, except so far as in the attainment of his property he has gained an honest influence over others. The best reason that could have been assigned for the change of the government of the State of South Carolina when Wade Hampton was chosen was given me by an old negro whom I met at the Capitol in Columbia a few months after the change, of which I asked him the reason: De reason, boss, said he, de reason is dat you cant put ignance ober intelligence, and make it stay.
Gentlemen, when you trust fully in the democratic principle that every man is entitled to one vote, and when no man fears to have that vote counted, there will be less danger of the continued control of ignorance over intelligence than there is when resort is had to any other method; and only when such is the rule will free institutions be fully established .
In fact, what is needed now, and what is growing fast, is the sense of national existence. Where is the leader at whose trumpet-call the great party of the nation will arise? Look for your analogy in the very art to which our attention has been devoted. In the kingdom of cotton there is no solid South, no solid North; but each member of the kingdom is dependent upon all the rest. The art begins with the field-hand who first stirs the soil and plants the seed, and ends only when the finished goods are placed upon the shelves of those who distribute them. Each member of the craft depends upon all, and the whole structure of society, North and South, is twisted into the strand and interwoven in the web that constitutes the product of the cotton-field and of the cotton-mill.
So, also, in the art of government, all interests are harmonious. In the question of good money; in that of equal and just taxation, whether under an excise law or a tariff act; in assuring integrity and efficiency in office; in peace, order, and industry,there is no North, no South, no East, no West: but in both existing parties, and in all sections, there are different minds, different motives, and different methods proposed to attain these ends. These are the great questions of the future, on which the welfare of all depends, without distinction of section, race, or party, as parties now exist .
It is one of the plainest facts to one who comes among you simply as a student of events, and who addresses you with no reference to the pending election, that your solid South is being rent by forces that will bring right-minded men of the South into zealous coöperation with like-minded men of the North; that your future leaders will be those whose interests are in the living present, and that your own dead past will bury its dead. We can see more clearly than you can yourselves that the color line is fading away; that if any city, county, or State attempts to deny to any man, black or white, the right to speak, act, and vote as he pleases, that section is becoming poor. Emigrants shun it, self-respecting white laborers leave it, and its colored laborers remain only until they can get means to move away.
We see other sections of your Southern land that are more wise, where the black man is permitted to have the white mans chance; where schools are maintained and justice is assured; and these sections are becoming rich and prosperous. For such examples one need not go beyond Atlanta and Chattanooga. One need only to illustrate the process to which I have referred by one of many cases that I could cite where the negro farmer who had migrated from one State where he was abused to another where he was trusted, and, in the second year from that time, received from a banker an advance of one thousand dollars on the cotton crop that he and his children had made, and used the money to pay for the land that he had hired.
More potent than prejudice or passion these great forces slowly but surely work. They may be retarded, but cannot be stopped. Liberty and justice shall surely govern this fair land.
Steadfast in truth and right
This Nation yet shall be;
Good, great, and joyous, beautiful and free:
This is alone life, joy, empire, and victory.
Such is always the imperative law: no mans property is safe, and no mans welfare is assured, where justice is denied to the poor, or where crime goes unpunished; no State can prosper, however rich the land or varied the resources, where human rights are not respected. If States cannot or do not govern themselves justly, and accord an equal chance to all their citizens, their influence in the councils of the nation must be small indeed. But wherever I have been I find great changes have been made, and these great forces working,on all your lines of railroad new enterprise, thrift, and energy, towns increasing and cities growing; and, as I have said, the color line is fading in these places, whatever may be the case in the interior. I trust the progress I have noted where I have been may be but the symbol of other districts and other States. If it is not, none know the facts as well as you yourselves, and none can assure the remedy except yourselves. By your own acts you shall be justified; and, when the end is reached, what grander chapter in history will ever have been recorded than that which is being now written?
I had read the Scripture where it is written that men should convert their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning-hooks; but in your neighboring city of Chattanooga I also saw the battery that had belched forth fire and death converted into a fountain of living water to nourish the new industry of the new South.