Dixie: Name For The South
What about Dixie? Different dictionaries give different explanations of the origin of this name for the South. Did it come from the French dix, ten, on a bank note? Although prior to the Civil War at least one bank, the Citizens Bank of Louisiana, issued notes that had dix on them. The difficulty in deriving Dixie from dix is that as far as anybody knows, the word on the notes was never used to refer specifically to Louisiana, or to New Orleans, or even to money itself.
As it happens, the earliest example of Dixie that anybody has been able to find is in the name of the song, originally entitled "Dixie's Land." Dan Emmett, the minstrel showman who composed it in 1859, said that he'd heard show people refer to the South as Dixie when he was performing in the 1850s or before.
Of all the theories that have been proposed, the most likely one is that Dixie has something to do with the Mason-Dixon Line - that "Dixie's Land" was south of the line. But Dixon and Dixie may be just a coincidental resemblance. We're simply not sure where Dixie comes from, and that, of course, makes it another example of a word that started out as slang of anonymous origin but is pretty much Standard English now.
While you may not live there now a Yankee is anyone not from Kentucky, Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, Texas, parts of Missouri... and possibly Oklahoma and West-by-God-Virginia. A Southerner, of course, is from one of those states. A Yankee may become an Honorary Southerner, but a Southerner can't become a Yankee, assuming any Southerner wanted to.
Lines on maps may be drawn by engineers, but they are interpreted by political events. Seldom has history recorded an amicable and abiding acceptance of such demarcations when they involve restless dynastic movements, whether the example be Pope Alexander VI's division of the New World in 1493 between Spain and Portugal, or the twentieth century's unhappy establishment of the border between East and West Berlin after World War II. The surveyor's work becomes a symbol, and his name may become a catch phrase for a congeries of political and social issues of which he never dreamed.
The prime illustration of such an event in the United States is the line laid out for a total of about 332 miles by two English astronomer-surveyors between 1763 and 1767, to settle a dispute between the Penns and the Baltimores. For more than eighty years these powerful proprietaries had contended over the precise location of their common border. When they finally settled upon these two scientists to direct an impersonal, mathematically dependable survey, they set the stage for an engineering feat of impressive dimensions for that time.
But Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon were destined to be remembered for their substantial engineering and scientific accomplishments only in the annals of specialists. Mason, among other things, later completed a catalogue of 387 stars, which, when incorporated into a nautical almanac published in 1787, became the standard authority on the subject for a number of years. Dixon, a county surveyor and amateur astronomer, was considered sufficiently adept in his field to be elected to the Royal Society. He took part in several overseas scientific expeditions for the Society."
For considerably more than a century, however, what the average American has understood by the Mason-Dixon survey has been a figurative division between two frames of reference in national life. Just as the South-and, for that matter, the North-tended to become a state of mind, so the Mason-Dixon Line has come to be viewed only incidentally as a real border and more as a line of transition between these two states of mind. In the national psychology it is thought of as a jagged extension of the border between Pennsylvania and Maryland to some vaguely defined point on the Missouri-Kansas border.
Just when this popular concept first took shape is not easy to say. Obviously, as sectional consciousness in the matter of slavery increased in the first half of the nineteenth century, the fact that Maryland, the most northerly slave state, was divided from Pennsylvania's free soil by the Mason-Dixon survey impressed itself upon the public mind. The Ohio River, as the border between the southern state of Kentucky and the Northwest Territory, where slavery was prohibited, was a natural landmark extending the symbolism of the Mason-Dixon Line, the western terminus of which lay close to that great waterway to the West. Finally, the Missouri Compromise, fixing the northern limit of slave territory at latitude 36 degrees 30 minutes north, westward from the Ohio's juncture with the Mississippi, completed the popular image.
The issues which thus developed in the nineteenth century around Mason and Dixon's survey, and made their names a household phrase, have largely obscured the significant political and scientific results of the original project. That project-a border settlement of the eighteenth century-in turn traced its beginnings to issues which arose in the seventeenth century, and even earlier. The problem really started with England's belated decision to launch her own colonizing efforts in the New World, where Spain and Portugal had long preceded her and where she now found the Netherlands, Sweden, and France in close competition.
The stereotype of the South is as tenacious as it is familiar: a traditionally rebellious region which has made a dogma of states' rights and a religious order of the Democratic party. Here indeed is a monotonous and unchanging tapestry, with a pattern of magnolia blossoms, Spanish moss, and the inevitable old plantations running ceaselessly from border to border.
Such is the mythical image, and a highly inaccurate one it is, for the South is a region of immense variety. Its sprawling landscape ranges from the startlingly red soil of Virginia and North Carolina to the black, sticky clay of the Delta; from the wild and primitive mountain forests of eastern Kentucky to the lush, jungle-like swamps of southern Louisiana; from the high, dry, wind-swept plains of the Texas Panhandle to the humid tidelands of the South Carolina coast. An environment so diverse can be expected to produce social and political differences to match, and in fact, it always has.
Today we have come to recognize increasingly the wide variety of attitudes that exist in the region. But this denial of the southern stereotype is a relatively new development, even among historians. For too long the history of the region has been regarded as a kind of unbroken plain of uniform opinion. This is especially true of what has been written about the years before the Civil War; a belief in states' rights, the legality of secession, and the rightfulness of slavery has been accepted almost without question as typical of southern thought. In a sense, such catch phrases do represent what many southerners have believed; but at the same time there were many others who both denied the legality of secession and denounced slavery. It is time this "other South" was better known.
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