Policy Market Blog

Southern, Rural, and White

Martin Kennedy - Friday, September 27, 2019


Southern, rural whites are Scots-Irish (descended from the Ulster Scots in Ireland).  These were Scottish Presbyterians who settled in Northern Ireland then (many) came to America, mostly between 1720 and 1775. 

They arrived poor.  Industrialization had not yet taken hold.  The big landowners had slave labor, so the Scots-Irish moved west and south… Appalachia, the Carolinas, Tennessee, Georgia, and Kentucky etc.    
They became frontiersmen, Indian-fighters, mountain-men… Hillbilly’s.

American Revolution: They were patriots, eager to break free from England. A Hessian officer said… Call this war by whatever name you may, only call it not an American rebellion; it is a Scotch Irish Presbyterian rebellion.

Whiskey Tax / Rebellion: After the Revolution, the federal government imposed a tax on Whiskey (higher tax on smaller distilleries).  The hillbillies harassed the tax collectors (aka revenuers).  Violence erupted.  President Washington himself led 13,000 troops to suppress the violence.    

Dem Sen. Jim Webb (a personal hero) wrote ‘Born Fighting’(2004), the story of the Scots-Irish: Their traits -- loyalty to kin, mistrust of government, and a propensity to bear arms and use them – both shaped American identity and remain misunderstood.
Slavery:  In the 1840s and 1850s, global demand for cotton surged.  Nearly a million slaves were sold to the lower southern states (sold downriver) to work large plantations.   

Yet, a third of the white population didn’t own land.  They were poor and illiterate. 
The lords of the lash are not only absolute masters of the blacks, but they are also the oracle and arbiters of non-slaveholding whites, whose freedom is merely nominal, and whose unparalleled illiteracy and degradation is purposely and fiendishly perpetuated.
-- Hinton Helper 1857

Hinton Helper’s book The Impending Crisis of the South (1857) rocked the south.  His argument: The South's economic growth, prosperity, and development were being held back by slavery.  He was right.  His key insight:  The slave-holding aristocracy oppressed not only the slaves but also poor whites.  Their degradation was ‘purposefully and fiendishly perpetuated.’ 

Possession and distribution of the book was banned in the south.

The black slaves and poor whites always had much in common.  You saw it in Ken Burns’ documentary, Country Music.  But the slave-holding aristocracy was ever keen to keep them divided.  They didn’t need the poor whites finding common cause with the black slaves.

Johnny Reb was a poor white.  He, and tens of thousands like him, bled and died in defense of their states (driven to it by the slave-holding aristocracy). 

Those who returned were still poor.  In 1900, 36% of white farmers in Mississippi were either tenant farmers or sharecroppers (nearly all black farmers were). 

Pick any of the poorest counties in TN – Hancock, Grundy, Bledsoe – they’re all 95%+ white. 

Dividing People: It’s always proved too tempting for the unscrupulous.  The current iteration is the race hustler from NYC (who also divides on religion and ethnicity).  He is a loudmouth and a lout.  He trades in wives like used cars... upgrading to the latest model. 

We who are Christians have no excuse.  We know the ways of Satan.  Our savior himself told us while he walked this earth… He is a liar and the father of all lies (John 8:44).   

What Christian worthy of his calling can fail to sound the alarm? 

How do those who preach Christ crucified stay quiet when the lies multiply and tumble and overwhelm?

Our GOP in Tennessee?  They won’t lead. 

Sen. Marsha Blackburn is a wind-up doll.  She babbles her few phrases. 

Reps Mark Green and Tim Burchett?  They play Tweedle-dee and Tweedledum.   

The senate candidates, Sethi and Hagerty?  They fight to see who can become Trump's shoe-shine boy. 

Caucus chair, Jeremy Faison?  He whines like a baby about something a second-tier Democratic candidate said. 

They are our modern-day Pharisees.  Their Christianity is for show, to be seen and paraded.  They sing nice songs about loving Jesus but wilt when things get uncomfortable, when it’s time to say the king has no clothes. 

They rationalize… yes, they’re lies, but I’m doing important work.  Surely, God understands.

They equivocate… yes, he tells lies, but the other side does too.      

They are hypocrites and blind guides.   

We’re not called to do great things but rather small things with great love.  We all stumble.  Peter denied Christ thrice… but repented and found mercy.  Oceans of mercy await any of us. 

Is our faith so weak that we need the unscrupulous?  That we depend on fair-weather Christians?


What St. Paul wrote two millennia ago still holds… if God is for us, who can be against us? 

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