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Modernizing a Slave Economy: The Economic Vision of the Confederate Nation (Civil War America) Hardcover – April 30, 2009

ISBN-13: 978-0807832516 ISBN-10: 0807832510 Edition: 1st Ed.
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Editorial Reviews


Has much to offer scholars of the Old South. . . . An important marker in the recent shift in southern scholarship. . . . Will prompt historians to rethink many of the commonly held assumptions about states' rights and secession.--Civil War History

[Majewski] uses an impressive blend of quantitative and qualitative analysis to shed light on Americans' efforts during the antebellum era to achieve regional economic growth. . . . [Makes] many valuable contributions."

[Majewski] is particularly skilled at bringing statistical analysis to bear on the subject, and the book includes a statistical appendix, happily written in plain English for the uninitiated. . . . Should be of interest to all students of the nineteenth-century American economy.--Georgia Historical Quarterly

Will generate a lot of new discussions around the economics of the antebellum South and the Confederacy. For that his work has to be welcomed and read by all of those interested in the region and the origins of its 'nation.'--American Nineteenth Century History

A tightly knit, well-written and cogently argued narrative. . . . Offers an outstanding example of how modern political economy can be interdisciplinary, empirically rigorous, and accessible.--H-Net Reviews

[A] compelling and surprising perspective on the motives of the secessionists.--Journal of Regional Science

[An] impressively argued book. . . . Builds a bridge between the Old South and the New South and adds to the findings of scholars interested in the construction of mythic Souths both Old and New.--Alpata

Modernizing a Slave Economy offers a lively and insightful summation of southern economic thought in the antebellum decades, as well as of the difficulties encountered when reformers' visions confronted economic realities.--Register of the Kentucky Historical Society

A stimulating and original analysis.--Enterprise & Society

Majewski presents a bold, revisionist argument that should inspire continued study and debate.--The Alabama Review

A refreshingly well-written, concise treatment of a complex subject that helps us better define southern nationalism.--The Alabama Review

Majewski makes a compelling case that secession and the creation of the Confederacy gave Southerners an opportunity to initiate statist policies that had been germinating well before the war. . . . Brings a fresh approach, particularly in his statistical analysis of agricultural data, to several nagging historical questions.--The Journal of American History

Interesting, well written, and well organized. . . . Recommended.--Choice

[A] bracing, sophisticated, and persuasive revisionist account. . . . Will be read with enormous profit by scholars of the Civil War and the Old South.--American Historical Review

The key to this book's value is its portrayal of secessionists not as a group of free-trade, states' rights libertarians, but rather as leaders who often had conditional views about free trade and states' rights.--The Independent Review

Compelling. . . . Majewski makes a stimulating argument that calls into question many comfortable assumptions about the development of secessionist thought. . . . Makes exciting contributions to the history of political economy of the United States before the Civil War.--H-Net Reviews

[A] finely written and astutely argued book. . . . The book's strong interdisciplinary focus will appeal to all historians of the Civil War and the south. . . . This book should have an impact not only on debates about slavery and economic development but also on the coming of secession and southern political ideology.--Journal of Interdisciplinary History

[Majewski's] analysis [is] well articulated and sophisticated at every turn….[He] opens important directions in historical investigation and sets a new standard in the scholarly debate.--EH.Net

Majewski's book asks important questions about the rise and fall of Confederate economic nationalism and sounds a clarion call for future state studies.--Louisiana History


Majewski makes an argument that is quite novel for antebellum history in its consideration of the possible economic role to be played by government in the South. Well researched and clearly presented, Majewski's analysis merits attention and discussion.--Stanley Engerman, University of Rochester|A well-crafted and insightful analysis of the arguments favoring economic development in the antebellum South and their connection to the creation of a southern nation. Writing with clarity and grace about important economic questions, Majewski offers a fresh approach to the old problem of assessing the strengths and weaknesses of Confederate nationalism.--George C. Rable, Charles Summersell Chair in Southern History, University of Alabama, author of Fredericksburg! Fredericksburg!

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press; 1st Ed. edition (April 30, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0807832510
  • ISBN-13: 978-0807832516
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.1 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,557,178 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Excerpt from on June 9, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Given slavery's worldwide extinction, the topic of modernizing a slave economy seems irrelevant. Nevertheless, in his new book MODERNIZING A SLAVE ECONOMY, John Majewski answers some important questions, such as: Why did the Southern states secede, and why did the Confederacy fail? He presents a picture of some antebellum Southerners that many readers will find surprising. Although I have done a great deal of research on antebellum slavery and the Civil War, Majewski's book illuminates some key questions for me.

The key to the book's value is its portrayal of secessionists not as a group of free-trade, states' rights libertarians, but rather as leaders who often had conditional views about free trade and states' rights. Many, for example, did not want free trade; they wanted lower tariff rates in order to build Southern industry. To make matters even worse, some even wanted the tariff revenues to pay for publicworks projects, such as railroads. They did support states' rights, but they also wanted a fugitive slave law in order to have the federal government capture runaway slaves.

The South's ideology was therefore much more Hamiltonian, as opposed to Jeffersonian, than I had previously thought. Thomas Jefferson himself promoted building a state university, made the Louisiana Purchase, and imposed a comprehensive embargo on the economy. The secessionists that Majewski focuses on would have cheered all of these nonlibertarian actions. He examines select secessionist leaders from South Carolina and Virginia. This sample may be biased because these two states supposedly had much to gain in an independent Confederacy. Virginia was poised to become the Confederacy's industrial base, and Charleston, South Carolina, aspired to become the leading port for European trade....
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Stephen M. St Onge on June 19, 2010
Format: Hardcover
John Majewski believes almost all historians have gotten a major piece of Southern economic history wrong.

Historians have long noted that Southern agriculture resulted in worn-out soil, and frequent moves to new land. This has been attributed to slavery, directly and indirectly. Majewski argues that this idea is false. He gives a lot of evidence that the problem was geographic: the South was cursed with nutrient poor, acidic soil, a climate that caused legumes then known to grow poorly, livestock diseases, and rain patterns that led to erosion. These things combined to make slash-and-burn agriculture the only real economic option for most of the South (the practice continued well into the 20th Century).

The fact that there was little good soil, and that badly located, led in turn to low populations densities. As a result, roads and railroads were more expensive (fewer customers per mile), and manufacturers had fewer local customers. These factors in turn influenced the whole of Southern economic development. Majewski sees slavery as having harmful economic effects, but principally from the fact that slaves, with little or no cash, couldn't buy much of anything. Lack of demand further depressed the Southern economy, he thinks.

There's also interesting material on various attempts to invigorate the pre-war economy, why they failed, and the part played by those failures in making secession seem more attractive.

Altogether, a very thought-provoking little book. Recommended for all Civil War buffs.
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