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Engines of Redemption

Railroads and the Reconstruction of Capitalism in the New South

R. Scott Huffard Jr.

Publisher: University of North Carolina Press
Imprint: The University of North Carolina Press
Published: 10/2019
Pages: 324
Subject: History
Print ISBN: 9781469652818
eBook ISBN: 9781469652825


After the upheavals of the Civil War and Reconstruction shattered the plantation economy of the Old South, white southerners turned to the railroad to reconstruct capitalism in the region. Examining the rapid growth, systemization, and consolidation of the southern railroad network, R. Scott Huffard Jr. demonstrates how economic and political elites used the symbolic power of the railroad to proclaim a New South had risen. The railroad was more than just an economic engine of growth; it was a powerful symbol of capitalism's advance.

However, as the railroad spread across the region, it also introduced new dangers and anxieties. White southerners came to fear the railroad would speed an upending of the racial order, epidemics of yellow fever, train wrecks, violent robberies, and domination by corporate monopolies. To complete the reconstruction of capitalism, railroad corporations and their allies had to sever the negative aspects of railroading from capitalism's powers and deny the railroad's transformative powers to black southerners. This study of the New South's experience with the growing railroad network provides valuable insights into the history of capitalism--how it evolves, expands, and overcomes resistance.