Modernizing a Slave Economy: The Economic Vision of the Confederate Nation

John D. Majewski

Book cover

This book wasn’t entirely what I had expected. I had thought it would mostly be about the actual economic policies and planning of the Confederate government. The last chapter pretty much covers this, but I guess it makes sense that there’s not enough of that to fill an entire book, since the Confederacy was only around for a few years. The earlier chapters are mostly taken up with discussion of antebellum public debate over economic issues and state investments.

The main part I found interesting was an argument reminiscent of “Guns, Germs, and Steel,” basically explaining the South’s lagging economy as being largely due to a difference in soil composition between most regions of the South, and the Northeast and Midwest. Basically, the soil is such that you can’t continuously crop it without modern fertilizer, so rural population density was lower, which meant that the manufacturing base in the South’s cities could never really grow (add to that the fact that much of the population was enslaved and therefore not spending money). It is interesting to see this at the same time as learning about all of the arguments that both Southerners and Northerners were making at the time, which of course missed the scientific point.

A good reminder that economic history is really cool; too bad it’s such a small field!

My Goodreads rating: 3 stars