Southern congressmen and agricultural reform: 1913-1917

Mitchell, Alastair Ross (1981) Southern congressmen and agricultural reform: 1913-1917. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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Between 1913 and 1917 the Democratic party enacted an agricultural reform programme that provided federal funds for agricultural education and highway improvement, established a fiscal structure for agricultural credit, licensed warehouses, and regulated speculative dealings on cotton exchanges. These formed a major landmark in American agricultural policy, influencing later legislation. As the first major implementation of matching funds legislation between the federal and state governments they determined the nature of future central government intervention in the economy. Southern initiative and support secured the passage of these measures. Southern congressmen came from the class that traditionally dominated Southern politics, being lawyers from agricultural areas. Despite industrial growth, agriculture continued to provide the bulk of Southern wealth and to dominate Southern politics, As a consequence of the Populists defeat and the passage of the disfranchisement laws Black Belt landowners found their authority unchallenged. While generally profitable, Southern agriculture ran below its full potential and serious structural problems existed such as the spread of tenancy. Only federal legislation provided a realistic solution, the state legislatures being too inactive or impoverished to face the challenge. The Democratic victory of 1912 provided Southern congressmen with the opportunity to aid Southern agriculture. The The South dominated the government as no region has since: the President and most of his cabinet had Southern connections; Southern congressmen controlled the major congressional committees and formed the Democratic leadership. While influenced by the activities of lobbyists, these congressmen retained a degree of independence, voting according to their convictions, and not solely on the command of an interest group. More experienced than most congressmen Southern leaders ensured that the many novel and controversial aspects of the reform legislation passed with the minimum of amendment. They managed debate in a sympathetic and professional manner, defeating the efforts of New England and Midwestern Republicans to pass damaging amendments. As Woodrow Wilson took little interest in agricultural reform this required considerable skills on the part of Southern leaders. In addition to shepherding the reforms through Congress they had to initiate and draft the legislation. The agricultural reforms demonstrate Congress's ability to initiate and enact reform despite the presence of a charismatic President. While eager to extend the functions of federal government, most Southerners distrusted the extension of federal power, due to their perceived experience of the Civil War and Reconstruction. For federal legislation to be acceptable to Southerners, it had to incorporate checks upon the federal power. In the agricultural reforms this was achieved by involving state governments on a matching funds basis o Southern leaders ensured that the state governments retained financial and initiatory powers thus preserving local/ local autonomy. Although no funds were involved in the financial legislation the fiscal system operated in a decentralised fashion, achieving the desired aim. This accorded with the Southern interpretation of federal government, as taught by legal education, political experience, and historical circumstance. The states rights argument provided legal and constitutional solutions to economic and social problems that the Southern elite found acceptable. States rights could advance as well as defend the interests of the Southern elite, and this explains its attraction and survival after military defeat in 1865. This reform legislation operated throughout the 1920s and while guaranteeing that Southern agricultural life improved, it ensured that landowners were the only direct beneficiaries; tenants however received indirect benefits.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Additional Information: Adviser: William R Brock
Keywords: American history, Agriculture
Date of Award: 1981
Depositing User: Enlighten Team
Unique ID: glathesis:1981-72569
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 11 Jun 2019 11:06
Last Modified: 11 Jun 2019 11:06

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