W. J. Cash's The Mind of the South (1941) examines southern society and thought between colonial times and 1940. According to Cash, the role of the frontier is what influenced southern society and made the section different from other parts of the country. The South remained in the frontier stage for a large part of its ante-bellum history. The essence of the frontier is competition. This competitive spirit of the ruling class (which sought to tame the land and build plantations) and the nature of life on the frontier contributed to an intense individualism. The plantation system developed by the ruling class essentially perpetuated frontier conditions and individualism. The tradition of the old backcountry also contributed to an intense distrust of any exercise of authority.
Cash also develops the themes of the conflict with the Yankee and southern defensiveness on the issue of slavery. The will to victory over the Yankee led to the development of the southern passion for politics and rhetoric. The Civil War made southerners more self-conscious and unified than ever before. Cash asserts that during Reconstruction the South overcame the frontier that the Yankee tried to impose on the defeated Confederate states. To summarize, the role of the frontier, southern defensiveness, and the conflict with the Yankee are the dominant themes in The Mind of the South.
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