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Excerpt from Ben Hill’s “New South” Address to University of Georgia graduates, July 31, 1871


On July 31, 1871, former Confederate senator Benjamin H. Hill delivered the commencement address for the University of Georgia Alumni Society in Athens. In his hour-long speech, Hill sounded the first major call for a New South. The following excerpt appeared in the Aug. 2, 1871 Atlanta Constitution:

  “I congratulate you on this assemblage today. I congratulate our dear but unfortunate old State. I congratulate you on the work that will will this day inaugurate. There are representatives here in all the professions and departments of life. All sufferers, yet all will show the future glories of our country which will be the peer of any in this progressive world in science, letters, and art. We have the element, whether we look to war or peace. The present is far in advance of any preceding age. If we stand still, we will be overwhelmed: the world must be up and doing. The question is not what a nation has been, but what she shall be permitted to be. In 1787, when the State by their delegates were engaged for the common Union, wise men predicted that the Southern States would excel in wealth and power. These opinions were predicted upon the favorable soil and climate and productions of the country. These hopeful anticipations have not been realized. Mines in other countries have been developed, while the rich abundant ores and mineral wealth of our Southern land, have been undisturbed by the hand of enterprise. The sales of the crafts of other nations whiten the seas, while our magnificent harbors are destitute of the ships that bring commercial thrift to other more enterprising countries.

  “Why this failure? Charge it not upon the Almighty, for he has done for no people as he has for us. Other states have advanced in wealth, population, and power, the lands of, which were not more fertile than ours—the fault is in man. The causes of this failure is due to slaves and negro slaves. The Southern States have been outstriped [sic]. They have made no progress in government or law. How much have they contributed towards the development of the sciences—for instance, for the discovery of the wonderful application of electricity in the transmission of intelligence, nothing is due the South, it was a Northern invention. And where comes the engineers and machinists that construct and put in motion all the products of the mechanic arts are they not from abroad? In the Southern States, it was a penal offense to educate the slave, and yet there was no greater curse than to keep cheap laborers by keeping them in ignorance, for thus labor became degraded to the laborer, and the whites that engaged in manual pursuits, were assigned a position half way between the whites and the negro.

  “Another result of this system was that the educated sought the learned professions. Even the business of teachers consigned its followers to a class of laborers, and labor was considered the badge of a slave, and idleness the badge of ease.

  “What real progress have we made in the science of government—where are our Bacons and Blackstones, and even Burkes, our Storys, Bancrofts and Noah Webster. Where do we find our trophies? What have we done even in agriculture.

  “Why has God filled the earth with iron and coal, if he did not intend us for a mechanical people? Why did he confer upon us such water power and construct such splendid harbors, if he did not design that we should be a commercial people. If we do not avail ourselves of the advantage of these indications, others will come and cast their lots among us and enjoy the advantages that we have ignored. So deficient were we in manual labor, that during our late struggle with the Northern States, that we had to rely upon our enemies even for the clothing to hid the nakedness of our troops, and that the camps of our adversaries were often captured, not so much for the sake of victory as to secure their arms. They threw away their inferior weapons, and fought with the improved Yankee arms. If our people had been so skilled in the manufacture of the implements of warfare as those they had to confront, they would have been invincible by any force.

  “We were not deficient in the courage and qualifications of our Generals—not wanting in cultivated intellect and capacity—but were were deficient in educated labor. We failed as a people, because we leaned on the negro; everything was in bondage to him, and whether by fate or folly ‘tis [?], and thank God for it. We must establish schools of science and educate our children. Others will come in and supplant us, and we shall perish truly from slavery. Our own sons must be taught to build and operate all machinery. We must build up schools of science. Our duty towards the negro is plain—we must educate and elevate him.

  “We must have educated labor, acquire a knowledge of mining operations, and skill in the manipulation of all metals, in the [operation?] of all cunning devices in wood, and the prosecution of every [nit?] that will tend to contribute to material interests of the country, or to develop its wonderful resources. Our children must take the lead and point the way. Georgia, in the extent of its coal and iron and other metals, exceeds Pennsylvania. We have [?] the social brand on labor. This process carries with it elements of its own destruction. It cannot continue: foreign laborers will be introduced, and they will operate our mines, and secure the timbers in our magnificent forest. And then the [ores?] will leap from their beds, and the water falls will turn the busy spindle of the factory. They who work these results will govern in the country, and will fix the character of our country. The highest and [honored?] duty is to build up this University: this is our [?][:?] constitute universal scholarship for experts; make tuition in every department in the University free; tear down the toll gates; let every son realize that he has a patrimony in the University of Georgia. There is nothing so costly as ignorance and nothing as cheap as knowledge. Power is leaving thrones and taking up its abode in the intelligence of the people; all resides in the intelligence of the people. Cambridge and Oxford illustrate this. Two millions per annum appropriated to foster these famous Universities serves to give intelligent direction to thought and action in that small but powerful kingdom. The marvelous victories achieved by the Prussians at Sedan, Metz and other memorable fields on French soil, attest the wisdom of Prussia in providing for the general culture of her subjects, not only in the liberal arts, but to become experts in all departments of mechanism and skilled labor. Massachusetts has endowed her Universities with a sum exceeding two millions dollars; Connecticut one million dollars, and New York four millions of dollars, whilst the University of Georgia has existed three quarters of a century, and has been the recipient of $20,000 from a single citizen of Georgia.”

Atlanta Constitution, Aug. 2, 1871