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A Saga of the New South: Race, Law, and Public Debt in Virginia by Brent Tarter


On March 16, Brent Tarter delivered a Banner Lecture entitled “A Saga of the New South: Race, Law, and Public Debt in Virginia.”

A Saga of the New South treats the political and legal controversies Virginia’s antebellum public debt created in post–Civil War Virginia. The debt controversy fundamentally altered the political landscape of Virginia twice. It created the conditions under which the Readjuster Party, a biracial coalition of radical reformers, seized control of the state government in 1879; then it gave rise to a counterrevolution that led the elitist Democratic Party to eighty years of dominance over the state’s politics and government. The Readjusters successfully refinanced the public debt and increased spending for the new public school system, but the debt controversy generated a long train of legal disputes. Through an in-depth analysis of the political and legal controversies about public debt, race, and education, A Saga of the New South sheds new light on the many obstacles reformers faced in Virginia and elsewhere in the South during the decades after the Civil War.

Brent Tarter is a founding editor of the Library of Virginia’s Dictionary of Virginia Biography and a cofounder of the annual Virginia Forum. He is the author of several books, including The Grandees of Government: The Origins and Persistence of Undemocratic Politics in VirginiaDaydreams and Nightmares: A Virginia Family Faces Secession and War, and A Saga of the New South: Race, Law, and Public Debt in Virginia.