Southern United States

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The Southern United States—commonly referred to as the American South, Dixie, or simply the South—constitutes a large distinctive region in the southeastern and south-central United States. The region has a unique cultural and historic heritage, based upon its early European colonial settlements, the doctrine of states' rights, and the legacy of the Confederacy during the American Civil War.


As defined by the United States Census Bureau,[1] the Southern region of the United States includes 16 states (with a total 2006 estimated population of 109,083,752, and 36% of all U.S. residents lived in the South, the nation's most populous region) and is split into three smaller units, or divisions:

Other definitions include:

The popular definition of the "South" is more informal and is generally associated with those states that seceded during the Civil War to form the Confederate States of America. Those states share commonalities of history and culture that carry on to the present day. The "border states" of the Civil War- specifically Missouri, Kentucky, Maryland, and Delaware roughly form the northern boundary of the "South". These states have a history of straddling the North-South divide, which was made clear when they did not secede during the Civil War even though they allowed slavery. Depending on the context, these states may or may not be considered part of the South. West Virginia is a unique case. Although West Virginia gave half its soldiers [3] and nearly two-thirds of its territory[4] to the Confederacy, early Union victories in the state and Union victory in the war insured that the history of the state would be written from the perspective of Wheeling rather than Richmond. This perspective is often responsible for the exclusion of West Virginia from many things Southern. Whether it is culturally part of the South again depends on context and on what distinction is drawn between Appalachian and Southern culture and an understanding of West Virginia's history.


The predominant culture of the South has its origins with the settlement of the region by British colonists. In the 17th century, most were of English origins who settled mostly on the coastal regions of the South, but in the 18th century, large groups of Scots and Ulster-Scots (later called the Scots-Irish) settled in Appalachia and the Piedmont. In a census taken in 2000 of Americans and their self-reported ancestries, areas where people reported 'American' ancestry were the places where, historically, many Scottish and Scots-Irish Protestants as well as many English settlers settled in America: the interior as well as some of the coastal areas of the South, and the Appalachian region. It is believed the number of Scottish Americans could be in the region of 20 million and Scots-Irish Americans at 27 million. These people engaged in warfare, trade, and cultural exchanges with American Indians already in the region (such as the Creek Indians and Cherokees). After 1700, large groups of African slaves were brought in to work on the large plantations that dominated export agriculture, growing tobacco, rice, and indigo. Cotton became dominant after 1800. The explosion of cotton cultivation[5] made the "peculiar institution" of slavery an integral part of the South's early 19th century economy.

The oldest university in the South, the College of William and Mary, was founded in 1693 in Virginia; it pioneered in the teaching of political economy and educated future U.S. Presidents Jefferson, Monroe and Tyler, all from Virginia. Indeed, the entire region dominated politics in the First Party System era: for example, four of the first five PresidentsWashington, Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe—were from Virginia. The two oldest public universities to open their doors to students are in the South - the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the University of Georgia, respectively.

Two major political issues that festered in the first half of the 19th century caused political alignment along sectional lines, strengthened the identities of North and South as distinct regions with certain strongly opposed interests and fed the arguments over states' rights that culminated in secession and the Civil War. One of these issues concerned the protective tariffs enacted to assist the growth of the manufacturing sector, primarily in the North. In 1832, in resistance to federal legislation increasing tariffs, South Carolina passed an ordinance of nullification, a procedure in which a state would in effect repeal a Federal law. Soon a naval flotilla was sent to Charleston harbor, and the threat of landing ground troops was used to compel the collection of tariffs. A compromise was reached by which the tariffs would be gradually reduced, but the underlying argument over states' rights continued to escalate in the following decades.

The second issue concerned slavery, primarily the question of whether slavery would be permitted in newly admitted states. The issue was initially finessed by political compromises designed to balance the number of "free" and "slave" states. The issue resurfaced in more virulent form, however, around the time of the Mexican War, which raised the stakes by adding new territories primarily on the Southern side of the imaginary geographic divide.

Civil War

By 1855, the South was losing political power to the more populous North and was locked in a series of constitutional and political battles with the North regarding states' rights and the status of slavery in the territories. President James K. Polk imposed a low-tariff regime on the country (Walker Tariff of 1846), which angered Pennsylvania industrialists, and blocked proposed federal funding of national roads and port improvements. Once the North came to power in 1861, many Southerners felt it was time to secede from the union.

Seven cotton states decided on secession after the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860. They formed the Confederate States of America. In 1861, they were joined by four more states. The United States government refused to recognize the seceding states as a new country and kept in operation its second to last fort in the South, which the Confederacy captured in April 1861 at the Battle of Fort Sumter, in the port of Charleston, triggering the Civil War. In the four years of war which followed, the South found itself as the primary battleground, with all but two of the main battles taking place on Southern soil. The Confederacy retained a low tariff regime for European imports but imposed a new tax on all imports from the North. The Union blockade stopped most commerce from entering the South, so the Confederate taxes hardly mattered. The Southern transportation system depended primarily on river and coastal traffic by boat; both were shut down by the Union Navy. The small railroad system virtually collapsed, so that by 1864 internal travel was so difficult that the Confederate economy was crippled.

The Union (so-called because they fought for the United States of America) eventually defeated the Confederate States of America (the formal name of the southern American states during the Civil War). The South suffered much more than the North, primarily because the war was fought almost entirely in the South. Overall, the Confederacy suffered 95,000 killed in action and 165,000 who died of disease, for a total of 260,000,[6] out of a total white Southern population at the time of around 5.5 million.[7] Based on 1860 census figures, 8% of all white males aged 13 to 43 died in the war, including 6% in the North and an extraordinary 18% in the South.[8] Northern casualties exceeded Southern casualties, however.


Main article: Reconstruction

After the Civil War, the South was largely devastated in terms of its population, infrastructure and economy. The republic also found itself under Reconstruction, with military troops in direct political control of the South. Many white Southerners who had actively supported the Confederacy lost many of the basic rights of citizenship (such as the ability to vote) while with the passage of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States (which outlawed slavery), the 14th Amendment (which granted full U.S. citizenship to African Americans) and the 15th amendment (which extended the right to vote to African American males), African Americans in the South began to enjoy more rights than they had ever had in the region.

Northern Carpetbaggers came south to participate in politics and business. Some were representatives of the Freedmen's Bureau and other agencies of Reconstruction; some were humanitarians with the intent to help black people; yet some were adventurers who hoped to benefit themselves by questionable methods.[2]

By the 1890s, though, a political backlash against these rights had developed in the South. Organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan—a clandestine organization sworn to perpetuate white supremacy.

20th century

The first major oil well in the South was drilled at Spindletop near Beaumont, Texas, on the morning of January 10, 1901. Other oil fields were later discovered nearby in Arkansas, Oklahoma, and under the Gulf of Mexico. The resulting “Oil Boom” permanently transformed the economy of the West South Central states and led to the first significant economic expansion after the Civil War.

The economy, which for the most part had still not recovered from the Civil War, was dealt a double blow by the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl. After the Wall Street Crash of 1929, the economy suffered significant reversals and millions were left unemployed. Beginning in 1934 and lasting until 1939, an ecological disaster of severe wind and drought caused an exodus from Texas and Arkansas, the Oklahoma Panhandle region and the surrounding plains, in which over 500,000 Americans were homeless, hungry and jobless.[9] Thousands left the region forever to seek economic opportunities along the West Coast.

Nearly all southerners, black and white, suffered as a result of the Civil War. With the region devastated by its loss and the destruction of its civil infrastructure, much of the South was generally unable to recover economically until after World War II. The South was noted by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt as the "number one priority" in terms of need of assistance during the Great Depression, instituting programs such as the Tennessee Valley Authority in 1933. Locked into low productivity agriculture, the region's growth was slowed by limited industrial development, low levels of entrepreneurship, and the lack of capital investment.

World War II marked a time of change in the South as new industries and military bases sprang up across many areas of the region providing badly need capital and infrastructure. People from all parts of the US came to the South for military training and work in the regions many bases and new industries. Farming shifted from cotton and tobacco to include soybeans, corn, and other foods. This growth increased in the 1960 and greatly accelerated into the 80's and 90's. Large urban areas with over 4 million people rose in Texas, Georgia, and Florida. Rapid expansion in industries such as autos, telecommunications, textiles, technology, banking, and aviation gave some states in the South an industrial strength to rival large states elsewhere in the country. By the 2000 census, The South (along with the West) was leading the nation in population growth. However, with this growth came long commute times and serious air pollution problems in cities such as Dallas, Houston, Atlanta, Miami, Austin, Charlotte, and other cities.


  1. US Census Bureau's official map
  2. Mary Johnston. Pioneers of the Old South, A Chronicle of English Colonial Beginnings. Retrieved on 19 May, 2007.
  3. "Although early estimates noted that Union soldiers from the region outnumbered Confederates by more than three to one, more recent and detailed studies have concluded that there were nearly equal numbers of Union and Confederate soldiers."
  4. Richard O. Curry "A House Divided", Univ. of Pittsburgh, 1964, pg. 49, map of Secessionist counties from vote of May 23, 1861
  5. The Peculiar Institution of American Slavery. Retrieved on 22 Aug, 2006.
  6. Nineteenth Century Death Tolls: American Civil War. Retrieved on 22 Aug, 2006.
  7. American Civil War, Those Confederate States
  8. The Deadliest War
  9. First Measured Century: Interview: James Gregory. Retrieved on 22 Aug, 2006.
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