prevented them from suing or testifying in court. The Black Codes instituted “apprentice systems,” holding young black men in bondage to
white masters. 5
The Black Codes’ purpose was
nothing less than to return ex-slaves
to slavery.†† As one commentator
noted regarding a meeting of the
Louisiana legislature, “Their whole
thought and time will be given to
plans for getting things back as near
to slavery as possible.” 6
After the Civil War, the rebellious states were in legal limbo and
under the federal government’s control.
As time went on, Democrat “Redeemer” governments regained
control of Southern states by playing on racial caricatures and white
fear. The “Redeemers” fought to politically oust the Radical Republican coalition of black
freedmen and progressive whites by labeling them “
carpetbaggers.” These rich
landowners, businessmen, and professionals, dominated Southern politics from the
1870s to 1910.
targeted any progres-
sive voice, including “scala-
wags,” poorer non-slave-
holding whites. Redeemers
encouraged violence against
freedmen and Republicans
by supporting the semi-
secret Ku Klux Klan. Other
such as the White League in
Louisiana and Red Shirts in
Mississippi and North Caro-
lina used terrorism to under-
mine the Republican vote.
By the presidential
election of 1876
Southern Democrats had
redeemed all but three
Southern states – Louisiana, South Carolina, and
The South created
myths to justify itself.
African American men
all became Jim Crow,
lazy and shifty. The Civil War was not the resounding defeat of slavery but the mythologized Confederacy’s
“Lost Cause” as a heroic stand against great
odds and an honorable
struggle to save “the
Southern way of life”
and “states’ rights.” The myth
minimized or even denied slavery’s central role in that way of
Despite the South having a
disproportionate power in the
pre-war House of Representatives, equal
representation in the Senate, the Presidency most of the time, and, thus, more
Supreme Court justices, it re-created itself as a victim of Northern aggression.
The mythmaking included casting the
South as subject to Northern aggression
and opportunism. Carpetbaggers rode to
profit on the back of the South. Rather
than a Civil War, it became the “War of
Northern Aggression,” despite the fact
by firing on
The reality was terror for black
†† The Economics of the South, Slavery, and Jim Crow
Why so much resistance to the changed status of black people in the
South after the Civil War? Even accounting for deluded notions of
racial superiority, what was the engine driving the oppression?
The answer was money!
Both before and after the Civil War the South was agrarian, which
a white oligarchy of plantation owners dominated.
Slavery dominated the Southern interests at the Constitutional
Convention, but many believed the institution would die out on its own
as economically unviable. The cotton gin destroyed that hope (or delusion) after its invention in 1793.
Although the cotton gin was a labor-saving device, it increased the demand for labor. True, the gin
decreased the labor needed to clean seeds from the cotton, but this made cotton economically viable on a
large scale, leading to the plantation system with vast numbers of slaves. The total value of the U.S. cotton
crop rose from $150,000 to over $8 million in the first 10 years after the cotton gin.
Concurrently, the slave population nearly doubled from approximately 575,000 in 1781 to 900,000 in 1801. When Congress eliminated the importation of slaves in 1808, it did not decrease demand
for slaves but instead increased their price. In the next 30 years, the
slave population more than doubled to more than 2 million by 1830,
with cotton becoming America’s main cash crop fueled by the blood
of slaves. See O’Connor at 679-80 and accompanying citations.
After the Civil War, the economic realities of the southern agrarian
economy in general, and cotton production in particular, did not
change. Section 4 of the 14th Amendment seemed intended to break
the slavery system when it provided the United States would not pay
for an emancipated slave. What the framers did not contemplate was
the growth of the Jim Crow South, exploitative Black Codes, and a
sharecropper system that implemented the old system.
14th Amendment – Section 4. The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law,
including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or
rebellion, shall not be questioned. But neither the United States nor any State shall assume or pay any debt
or obligation incurred in aid of insurrection or rebellion against the United States, or any claim for the loss
or emancipation of any slave; but all such debts, obligations and claims shall be held illegal and void.
“Jump Jim Crow” was a song-and-dance carica-
ture of blacks performed by white actor Thomas D.
Rice in blackface starting in 1832. By 1838 it was
a pejorative expression meaning “Negro.”
† This myth that slavery was not the
cause of the Civil War flies in the face
of several Confederate state consti-
tutions protecting slavery and the
Confederate constitution providing,
“No bill of attainder, ex post facto
law, or law denying or impairing
the right to property in Negro
slaves, shall be passed.”