The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

Ben Hill and the New South

Posted on | May 20, 2019 | Comments Off on Ben Hill and the New South


As a boy growing up in Douglas County, Georgia, I did not realize that Ben Hill Road, which ran by our family’s house, was named for a historic figure. Benjamin Harvey Hill was a brilliant statesman, hailed as a “peerless orator,” who was so widely admired in Georgia that, although he had eloquently spoken in opposition secession in the crisis of 1860-61, he was nevertheless elected to the Confederate Senate. After the war, he spoke out against radical Reconstruction, and was subsequently elected first to the U.S. House and then to the Senate.

Of all he accomplished in his long career, however, perhaps Ben Hill’s most lasting achievement was his role in inspiring the New South. In a commencement speech at the University of Georgia in 1871, Hill bemoaned the lack of industrial development in the state, and encouraged Georgians to embark on a program to educate their sons to undertake this work. The question, Hill said, was not whether the abundant resources of the South would be developed, but instead by whom these resources would be developed. Would this work be done (and the rewards be reaped) by Georgians, or would her native sons be replaced by others who were more willing and able to take up the mechanical and commercial trades necessary to industrial development?

We must establish schools of science and educate our children. Others will come in and supplant us, and we shall perish truly from slavery. Our own sons must be taught to build and operate all machinery. We must build up schools of science. Our duty towards the negro is plain — we must educate and elevate him.
We must have educated labor, acquire a knowledge of mining operations, and skill in the manipulation of all metals . . . and the prosecution of every craft that will tend to contribute to the material interests of the country, or to develop its wonderful resources. Our children must take the lead and point the way.

This speech proved a pivotal turn in Georgia’s history, because one of those who heard Ben Hill speak that day was a young alumnus of the university named Henry Grady, who as a journalist became the most famous proponent of the “New South.” Grady made his case to the North, urging Yankees to invest in Southern industries, and the result was that soon every good-sized town in the South had a textile mill, and a pro-business attitude came to define the region’s leading cities, most particularly my hometown of Atlanta. My father, who grew up on a farm in Alabama, left home at 16 to work in a textile mill in West Point, Georgia, then after the war attended the University of Alabama on the G.I. Bill. After graduation, he moved to Atlanta, where he first worked a year for the Southern Railroad before hiring on at the Lockheed Aircraft plant in Marietta, where he worked the next 37 years. Growing up in the suburbs of Atlanta, I witnessed the booming prosperity of “The City Too Busy to Hate,” and as a young journalist saw how communities competed to attract business and encourage economic growth. And what remarkable success! In 1970, when I was in fifth grade, the population of Georgia was 4.6 million; by 2010, the population was 9.7 million — more than doubled. By comparison, during the same 40-year span when Georgia’s population increased by more than 5 million (110% growth), the state of New York’s population increased by just 1.1. million (6%). The result has been that Georgia has increased its influence in national affairs, while New York has waned. Whereas in the 1940s, New York had 45 House seats and Georgia had 10, now New York’s representation has dwindled to 27 House seats, while Georgia has increased to 14.

This historical background is necessary to understanding my indignation at a Yankee journalist’s recent display of ignorance. Ginia Bellafante of the New York Times wrote an article with the headline “Abortion and the Future of the New South,” implying that the recent passage of legislation restricting abortion in Alabama, Georgia and other states was somehow a threat to the region’s progress. The problem, of course, is that Ms. Bellafante considers liberalism as a synonym for progress, and misinterprets contrary evidence:

At the end of last year, LinkedIn, which regularly mines its database of 150 million worker profiles to analyze patterns in American employment and migration, reported that Atlanta had received more workers from New York City than any other place in the country during the preceding 12 months. That development has continued for most of this year.

Ms. Bellafante cites this data after invoking “the system of afflictions that places like New York and San Francisco impose on their young” — i.e., the heavily regulated social-welfare nightmares that degrade the quality of life. It does not seem to occur to her that this “system of afflictions” is yoked to the pro-abortion politics of the Left, for in turning their cities into places where no sane person would want to raise a child, Democrats thereby incentivize abortion. Rod Dreher has taken Ms. Bellafante to the woodshed, but I thought it important to point out how her concept of the New South was at odds with its historic origins. Certainly, we cannot imagine Ben Hill advocating abortion, because his vision of the New South was rooted in a spirit of pragmatic optimism, a hopeful promise that Southerners could adapt to the challenges of an industrial future, so that their descendants might inherit a better life. The advocates of abortion, by contrast, are possessed by an evil spirit, telling young women that there is no such hope for the future, that children are a curse, and that the life of their offspring is without value.

Not only Southerners, but all Americans with a sense of pride in our nation’s history, must reject these wicked voices of the Culture of Death.

If the godless liberals of New York wish to abort themselves into oblivion, I am powerless to stop them, but I hope Southerners will not be persuaded to follow the foolish example of Yankees. The future belongs to those who show up for it, as Mark Stein has observed. Let us do all we can to make America great again for our descendants. Selah.

(Hat-tip: Ed Driscoll at Instapundit.)



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