Review: The Palmetto State: The Making of Modern South Carolina

By Hunter Wallace

This isn’t a good book.

If you are looking to learn more about South Carolina’s history, you are better off reading the Wikipedia page than Jack Bass and W. Scott Poole’s The Palmetto State: The Making of Modern South Carolina. Take my word for it: do yourself a favor and go straight to Walter B. Edgar’s South Carolina: A History.

Normally, I don’t even bother to mention liberal bias in these book reviews. I’ve learned a great deal from Wayne Flynt and James C. Cobb who are both raging liberals. I have a very high tolerance for liberal bias so long as I am reading something that is either informative or thought provoking, but this book is a disservice to South Carolina. Basically, the reader is left with the impression that nothing much of significance happened in South Carolina before the Civil Rights Movement.

After I put this book down, I was left with far more questions than answers. This is only a sketch of the history of South Carolina which is 150 years older than Alabama. In spite of the authors, I believe that I know enough about these two states to start comparing and contrasting their historical development:

– South Carolina is the older, parent state. It was founded in 1670 whereas Alabama was admitted to the Union in 1819. Bass and Poole acknowledge the Golden Circle thesis.

– As the older, parent state, South Carolina had an extended colonial period and was embroiled in and devastated by the American Revolution. Whereas large scale plantation slavery only lasted in Alabama for two generations (in my area, less than 30 years), slavery lasted in South Carolina for nearly two centuries.

– The South Carolina Lowcountry was dominated by rice and indigo plantations which were never significant crops in Alabama. A different type of slave society – one that was more aristocratic – evolved in the Lowcountry which was never reproduced in Alabama. From the beginning, all White men had the right to vote in Alabama whereas democracy was much more limited in South Carolina until 1865.

– Until Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin after the American Revolution, the South Carolina Upcountry had been dominated by Scots-Irish small farmers. In fact, over half the population of South Carolina was non-English, mostly Scot-Irish, Irish, French Huguenot or German.

– South Carolina and Alabama had similar experiences with Indian wars: the Yamassee War and warfare with the Cherokee in South Carolina and the Creek War in Alabama. The Indians were ultimately driven out of both states.

– Most of the founding settlers of Alabama came from the Piedmont region of Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia, although much of North Alabama was settled by Tennesseans.

– The style and form of slavery in Alabama was influenced the most by Georgia and the South Carolina Upcountry.

– Unlike Alabama, South Carolina has been majority black through most of its history. It was majority black from the early 1700s to the early 1800s – the Scots-Irish settled the Upcountry and temporarily changed the racial demographics – and again from the early 1800s to the early 1900s. Many of the Scots-Irish settlers of the Upcountry moved west to states like Alabama. In the early 20th century, the Great Migration made South Carolina a majority White state, which was almost 70 percent White in 1970.

– In the antebellum era, South Carolina was more heavily enslaved than the rest of the South. Compared to Alabama, it had an insignificant mountain region and population. Basically, South Carolina was one big plantation while over half of Alabama wasn’t dominated by the plantation complex.

– Support for secession and the Confederacy was much more unanimous in South Carolina due to the lack of an Appalachian region.

– In the antebellum era, the Southwest (Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana) was booming while the Southeast (South Carolina and Georgia) was more economically distressed. Soil exhaustion and westward migration meant that South Carolina’s loss was Alabama’s gain. At least until soil exhaustion and westward migration began to drain Alabama’s population off to Texas.

– Compared to South Carolina, Alabama emerged from the War Between the States in much better shape. Montgomery and Mobile were barely scathed by the war whereas Charleston and Columbia had been destroyed. Birmingham was created after the war.

– Because of its black majority, South Carolina had a longer and much worse experience during Reconstruction than Alabama.

– After the war, Alabama developed its mineral district and the rise of the iron, steel, and coal industries in Birmingham dominated the state in the late 19th/early 20th century. There was no parallel to this development in South Carolina which also industrialized during this period, but lacked Alabama’s heavy industry.

– The rice economy of the South Carolina Lowcountry never recovered from the war. Again, there was no parallel to this in Alabama.

– Both Alabama and South Carolina developed a large-scale, non-unionized textile industry after the 1880s.

– In South Carolina, there was no equivalent to the rise of the Big Mules in the Birmingham District. In Alabama, the Bourbon-Big Mules alliance thwarted the Populists, but in South Carolina the Bourbons were much weaker and lost power to Ben Tillman and Coleman Blease.

– Both Alabama and South Carolina shared the gradual immiseration of the cotton economy into sharecropping and farm tenancy. The boll weevil arrived earlier in Alabama though.

– Both Alabama and South Carolina began their economic turnaround in the FDR years during the Great Depression and Second World War.

– In South Carolina, Santee-Cooper (South Carolina Public Service Authority) was the equivalent of the TVA in Alabama. Like Alabama, South Carolina supported FDR and the New Deal. James Byrnes was a close associate of FDR.

– In South Carolina, Strom Thurmond led the Great White Backlash into the Republican Party. In Alabama, George Wallace led the Great White Backlash and kept Whites in the Democratic Party until the 1990s. Thurmond played a major role in thwarting Wallace’s presidential ambitions by helping Nixon win in the South.

– South Carolina and Alabama took opposite courses during the Civil Rights Movement. The former chose accommodation. The latter chose confrontation.

– In both states, the demise of cotton was followed by the rise of the forestry industry.

– In both states, deindustrialization has been going on since the 1970s coupled with the rise of the foreign auto industry in the 1990s.

– Both states eventually succumbed to one party rule by the Republicans although this happened more slowly in Alabama.

– In the late 20th century, South Carolina elected a series of “New South” governors who broke with racial politics and emphasized education reform, but this did not happen in Alabama which still doesn’t have a state lottery.

– South Carolina is more liberal than Alabama because of the huge influx of Northern transplants into Aiken County and the coastal region from Myrtle Beach to Charleston to Hilton Head Island. Pretty much the same thing is going on with retirees in the Florida Panhandle which isn’t part of Alabama.

On a final note, Bass and Poole bring up the fact that 0.5 percent of South Carolinians worked in agriculture in 1999, which accounted for only 0.4 percent of state income, and that “the once-dominant farm economy has eroded almost to memory and imagination.” Clearly, South Carolina has come a long way from the Golden Circle. I hope to learn more about this after I acquire Walter Edgar’s South Carolina: A History.

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  1. Edgar’s book is what I studied in college. He has a public radio show here which is very good, though he is a liberal. And he is originally from Alabama, interestingly enough. He strongly identifies as Southern though. I cited his book in my own book. He is a strong advocate of the Golden Circle thesis.

  2. Since Barbados has come up, I’ll mention that Philadelphia’s Kensington neighborhood, of “Rocky” fame, descends from a suburb founded by an English merchant from Barbados. When Anthony Palmer created “Kensington,” circa 1732, it was to the north of Philadelphia, which, at that time, consisted only of what is now downtown Philadelphia. By the early 1800s, Palmer’s creation had expanded, from a suburb along the Delaware to a fairly-large, self-governing district within Philadelphia county. In 1854, it and the rest of Philadelphia County outside the city were consolidated with the city to from the present, county-wide city. My own great-grandfather, from Ireland, was a teamster raising his family in Kensington circa 1900, when Philadelphia was an industrial town filled with textile mills—a sort of American Manchester. The John B. Stetson Hat Company, no less, was in Kensington.

    Fishtown, a neighborhood that has become a hipster clime, corresponds roughly, in its boundaries, to the original suburb that was Kensington. Palmer chose the name to give his suburb the cachet of the royal residence in England.

    Here’s a Wikipedia link:,_Pennsylvania

  3. I thought Sea Island cotton was the big cash crop that made the low country?

    The Rice Kings more in North Carolina.

  4. PPS One of Philadelphia’s “Nativist Riots,” between Protestants and Catholics, in 1844, took place in Kensington. If I’m correctly recalling something I read, the “Protestant” speechmaker who triggered the Kensington riot was a convert, a Southern Jew, who, supposedly, had once been second, in a duel, to Jefferson Davis.

  5. @Mr. Griffin…

    Sir, I have found, in my research as a novelist of the Southern Gothick genre, that my research is best answered by reading about The South, by Southerners, publisht before 1950.

    After that date, the accounts become more more and more scalawagged.

    It’s a big reason why I enjoy what you and Mr. Cushman write – I neither have wear a dust mask nor medicine to repress nausea, vomiting, & Diarrhea, in order to take it in.

  6. There is a section in this book where the author talks about the ruins of rice plantations in the Lowcountry in the 1920s being reminiscent of the ruins of the Roman Empire in the Middle Ages.

  7. Yes, Earl, though I’d say Catholic Philadelphia is all but gone now, the Pope’s recent visit here notwithstanding. In my amateur view, the history of the city is in three parts: Quaker Philadelphia, Catholic Philadelphia, black Philadelphia. Catholic Philadelphia becomes conspicuous in the 1840s, as you say, and comes into its own in, say, 1890, with the opening of Roman Catholic High School. By, say, 1934, Catholic Philadelphia is almost defining America, as Roman alumnus Joseph Breen becomes head of the motion-picture code. With the North Philadelphia race riot, exactly thirty years after that, the long, slow Catholic retreat–or flight–is semi-officially underway, as black Philadelphia begins to rise. Though the cathedral, downtown, is still the seat of the archdiocese, I’d guess most of the vital Catholic parishes that remain are now in the four surrounding counties that make up, with Philadelphia itself, the archdiocese.

    You might be interested in “The Border City in Civil War, 1854-1865,” which is a chapter in “Philadelphia: A 300-Year History.” It’s at

  8. Hunter it is quite surprising when you think about the fact that South Carolina was the Birthplace of the Confederacy (1833) that even before the snowbird influx of the 1980’s that it had already begun to trend liberal. I dont quite understand it, South Carolina was the home of Pitchfork Tillman yet except for the so-called Orangeburg Massacre, little happened there of consequence in the 1960s. It was as if the state rolled over and played dead.

    If memory serves me correctly, George Wallace once gave a speech on how Atlanta was destroying Georgia, as the more concilitaory politicians in the city without hate were rolling over and playing dead. Virginia’s an odd duck as well, I mean the state closed its schools yet it supported Truman in 1948 and Nixon in 1960 and 1968. I wonder what accounts for these political differences?

  9. Call your Jack person off. It just blows my mind how so many of your pro-Whites are obsessed with image. Idiots.

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