The question of why so many Southerners are distrustful of Northerners has always been a baffling one to me in one sense. I was born in East Tennessee and lived there till age 22, so I witnessed this distrust firsthand for most of my developmental years. It’s more difficult to see this distrust in the wealthier and more urbane parts of the South, such as Atlanta, Raleigh, and Nashville; but you can see it in small towns and rural areas; especially in areas dominated by lower income and working class individuals.
It’s hard to believe that 147 years after the U.S. Civil War, this is still an issue. If you want to see evidence of this, look no further than the recent GOP primary in South Carolina, where Newt Gingrich brought the trick out of the bag once again. Newt made sure to channel these historical Southern prejudices and reminded South Carolinians that his challenger, Mitt Romney was, in fact, a Northerner. Presumably, most South Carolinians that voted in favor of Gingrich did so for more substantive reasons, but the mere fact that the Gingrich organization viewed this as a potentially effective tactic says a lot about the lasting power of this Northern distrust.
It made me ponder the issue. Why is this phenomenon so powerful? Once animosity develops, it can linger for generations, but why did Southerners come to distrust Northerners so much in the first place? The knee-jerk response is, of course, slavery and the Civil War. Yet, these explanation seem insufficient to me for a variety of reasons.
First off, slavery was legal in all the Northern states at the time the US declared independence from Britain. Moreover, it remained legal in some Northern states, such as New York, until the 1820’s. Could there really be that much bad blood because the North eventually forced the South to abolish slavery; something that would have almost certainly happened at some point, regardless?
Something else must be afoot. When did Southerners start distrusting Northerners? Did it start in the 17th Century, when the states were all British colonies? There were, of course, some differences back then, and different interest groups disliked or disagree with one another, but I’ve never seen overwhelming evidence of a deep-seated historical animosity that predates the formation of the United States.
The best theory I can come up revolves around the biggest issue that divided the North and South in the early years of the American Republic. No, it wasn’t slavery; it was free trade.