Henry Grady, Atlanta & the ‘New South’
August 12, 2012
As we have recently covered, the so-called ‘New South’ is best represented and led by the sprawling and now decidedly non-Southern city of Atlanta. One of the leading voices for the values, economy and politics of the New South has long been the Atlanta Constitution (today, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution). The name Henry Grady, who as a very young man lost his father in the United States’ invasion of Georgia, is closely associated with that newspaper and the concept of the New South. Frank Connor, on pages 224-226 of his book The South Under Siege: 1830-2000, describes Grady’s enormous influence in the post-Reconstruction era, the origins of the New South, the economic and political agenda behind this movement and its impact on the traditional South:
One of the major goals of the ideological liberals in the Republican party remained that of transforming Southerners into colonial (smudged) copies of Northerners. Thaddeus Stevens had said, “It is intended to revolutionize their principles and feelings… (to) work a radical reorganization in Southern institutions, habits, and manners.’ But that remained a difficult task. For example, in 1880 Whitelaw Reid, editor of the New York Tribune, bemoaned in print the stubborn resistance of the South: “(N)o facts, no statistics, no arguments, can make them comprehend that the Northern masses are their superiors, intellectually, physically, numerically, and financially.” That was a common theme in the Northern publications of those times.
Yet while the Southerners universally scorned the preachments of the Northern liberals, many of them read avidly the articles by Northern bankers and industrialists published in those Southern newspapers and magazines which extolled the New South. Thus did the North truly begin to subvert the traditional Southern values.
Accordingly, a new upper class and middle class arose in the South, attached to industrialism and commerce. This new breed didn’t think like the old planter class. The Old Order had bred statesmen, orators, and warriors; the New Order wanted businessmen at the helm. In 1877, the Louisville Courier-Journal editorialized, “If proselytism be the supreme joy of mankind, New England must be preeminently happy, for the ambition of the South is to out-Yankee the Yankee.” By 1880, that had become the goal of the leading businessmen and politicians in the South.
The concept of the “New South” was invented and promoted by six powerful newspaper editors in Southern cities, led by Henry Watterson of the Louisville Courier-Journal (who had served in the Confederate Army). Thus, a Border State was now telling the Deep South how to think. Around those editors coalesced politicians, promoters, manufacturers, and merchants – to form a businessmen’s wing of the Southern Democrats (who were mostly Cotton Whigs, of course).
Henry Grady: New South promoter & editor of the Atlanta Constitution
Typical of the proponents of the New South was the new leadership in Georgia, consisting of: Henry Grady, a native Georgian who was the managing editor and part-owner of the Atlanta Constitution (his father-in-law owned a cotton mill); and the Bourbon Triumvirate – Governor (ex-Confederate-General) Alfred H. Colquitt, Ex-Confederate -Governor Joseph E. Brown, and ex-Confederate-General John B. Gordon. They were the key New South players in Georgia – business’ movers-and-shakers; and they were known throughout the state as the Atlanta Ring.
Henry Gray tirelessly promoted Atlanta to the Northern capitalists as the logical site for industry and commerce; and he promoted Northern capitalists to the South. By 1888 his newspaper had the largest subscription-list of any paper of its kind.
Under Gray, the Atlanta Constitution pushed the New South (i.e., Whig) doctrines to the hilt. The railroads and industry were all-important; everything else paled in their shadows. High tariff-rates were good for business, therefore good for the South. The federal government’s economic policies were great for the farmers; and farmers were going broke only because they were lazy, not because farm-commodity prices were in constant decline: that wasn’t happening. There was no such thing as the agrarian movement, until very late in the game, when Grady the kingmaker wanted the farm vote – but even then, he was careful not to denounce any of the farmers’ real enemies, because most of them were Grady’s cohorts.
The Atlanta Constitution could have championed the interests of the vast majority of Georgians – focusing upon their desperate needs and pushing hard for political leaders who would address those needs. Instead, Grady and his newspaper saw fit to work against the economic survival of most Georgians, and promote the business and political careers of a handful of men who had once served their fellow men honorably, but were now indistinguishable from the Northern industrialists whose greed-driven actions they were aping so faithfully. (Much later the Constitution was bought by a dedicated Northern liberal – Senator Cox of Ohio; thereafter it continued to embrace without restraint the values of the Northern liberals dedicated to the destruction of the traditional Southern culture; and it pursues that agenda singlemindedly today.)
Given that the newspaper was the primary mass-communications medium in the South of that era, and that six of the South’s largest and most influential newspapers were bent upon sacrificing the region’s economy-in-being pitiful though it was) to further the fortunes of a few industrialist wheelers-and-dealers, the post-Reconstruction South didn’t stand much of a chance.