Lately, I have been thinking about the Civil War. I think that most of us have an ancestor or two who fought in the Civil War, possibly from both sides. This was a bloody war that really seems to have been a matter of who could hold out the longest. In the end both sides found themselves scavenging everything from food and water to ammunition from the people who lived in the area. But, the really bad part about the Civil War, was that because the South had succeeded from the Union, and had made their own money, they had a serious problem upon losing the war. After their loss, the South once again became a part of the Union, and their money became worthless.
These were people who had owned plantations and slaves. They were among the wealthiest people in the nation. Suddenly they found themselves broke…unless they happened to own gold, and I don’t think many of them did. People had loads of cash, but it wouldn’t buy anything. It might as well have been counterfeit. Not only that, but the entire banking system fell apart. The South found itself in the unique position of not only losing the war, but of losing itself. They were trying to become their own nation, but when they lost the war, they lost their nation. Then, to make matters worse, they lost the money they had too.
The whole financial system for them had to be rebuilt. Add to the fact that their side lost the war, the fact that these previously wealthy southern gentlemen and women were now broke, and were forced to work for a living. Their slaves were free, and if they wanted them to work for them, they had to pay them…but with what. The governments war debts were hard enough to deal with, but the individual was in much deeper trouble, because if they had no money, they had no food. There was no money to buy seeds to plant, or cattle to raise…or even ammunition to hunt with, if there was anything left to hunt after your neighbors hunted ahead of you.
In the end, I suppose that the only solution was time. Thankfully, the difference between being broke and having money is one paycheck. Debt is something people can learn to live with. There will always be bills to pay, and the family that can keep from borrowing money will do better than the one that must borrow to make ends meet. And the biggest problem they had was that there was no place to borrow from. The people of the south had to learn to work…and that was going to be something very new to most of them.