WASHINGTON, D.C. - Exactly 150 years ago Thursday, the Civil War ended with what historian Bruce Catton would later describe as “A Stillness At Appomattox.”
Robert E. Lee’s surrender to Ulysses S. Grant at the Appomattox, Va., courthouse concluded a four-year bloodletting between the North and the South that left hundreds of thousands dead, ended slavery, began Reconstruction and redefined the country.
But one of the interesting legacies of the war is how similar the former Confederate states have remained. A recent article in the Economist notes that where Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia stand on a number of issues is predictable – and very much to the right. These states are “distinct,” to use a word from the Economist.
The article found, for example, that one of the best predictors of whether a state would vote red or blue in the last midterms was how the state voted in the presidential election of 1860 between anti-slavery candidate Abraham Lincoln and pro-slavery candidate John Breckinridge.
According to the magazine’s analysis, almost all the states that voted for Breckinridge and later joined the Confederacy also sent conservative candidates to the Senate in 2014. In fact, nine of the 11 former Confederate states sent Republicans to the Senate. Virginia was the only one that went blue, and Florida did not have a Senate election last year.
The Economist’s research also found that today all five of the states – Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee and South Carolina -- that don’t have a minimum wage law were in the Confederacy. Also, seven of the 10 states with the highest prison populations – Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Texas, Florida, Arkansas and South Carolina – were Confederates. A Gallup poll from 2013 also found that many Southern states have similar conservative positions on abortion. In fact, there are 12 states where the majority of residents believe abortions should be illegal in almost every instance and five of those – Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, North Carolina and Texas -- were part of the Confederacy.
The reason Confederate coherence continues after 150 years has more to do with religion than with politics or race, according to the Economist, and the religion that dominates the region is Southern Baptist.
Many Protestant denominations split before or during the war between anti-slavery sects that moved North and pro-slavery sects that stayed in the South. After the war, the number of non-Christian and non-Southern-born residents in former Confederate states remained small or decreased, so Protestant groups in the South, especially the Southern Baptists, were free to focus on strengthening the beliefs of those who lived there and not have to accommodate newcomer converts. And those beliefs tended to be very conservative – beliefs that had been supportive of slavery not too many years earlier. While the Baptist church’s view on race has long since changed, many of the group’s conservative social beliefs continue to hold sway and register in the ballot boxes.