If you’re a current subscriber, log in below. If you would like to subscribe, please click the subscribe tab above.
Username and Password Help
Grocery shopping hurts. Always has, always will for most of us. It’s hard to make sure that we have enough to get what we need, let alone what we want, even within reason.
As our system battles with low-wage employment, systemic recovery from the COVID-19 epidemic and the greed of those who milk our capitalist economy for all they can bleed out of it, the pennies falling out of our pockets are becoming quarters. It doesn’t seem like much, but when the cost of everything goes up by a few dollars, we’ve only a few dollars left at the end of the month.
Imagine, though, if things were worse. Imagine a burgeoning Southern economy bled dry from the Civil War. The Industrial Revolution has come and gone, but has barely even arrived in the South, which was overly reliant on slavery subsidized agriculture.
On top of typical price inflation woes, there were refugees and soldiers to feed, as well. Farmers were withholding shipments of food because of Confederate misuse of supplies. Blockades prevented basics like salt from being widely available – and of course when the supply is low and the demand is high, prices are due to rise.
There is academic research that suggests that sudden increases in price have a strong correlation to civil unrest. Todd Smith’s article in a 2014 edition of “The Journal of Peace Research” sheds some light on this matter.
This publication originating from the University of Texas finds that regardless of the cause of price increases that following a month of sudden price increases one can reliably predict urban unrest. In fact, you can even zoom out and see a linear relationship between the cost of grain and the probability of rioting.
This sociopolitical outcome is referred to as a “bread riot.” They’re common throughout international history, though they can come from a wide variety of causes. A quick google will take you from the South all the way to France, Tunisia, the Middle East, and many other places. As a people, we can weather many hardships. However, when we see someone taking food from our mouths, we get hangry.
The Southern Bread Riots of 1863 are particularly fascinating because they were almost entirely led by women. You see, most men were off soldiering about the country because of the Civil War. This left mostly women behind to keep the homesteads running.
With fewer hands to keep farms running and first dibs of the limited food supply being taken by the military, food became more and more expensive back home. The riots began on March 16 in Atlanta, Georgia.
Protesters, believing themselves to be victims of negligent government practices, turned to violence. Stores were looted of more than just food, too. Clothing, home supplies, jewelry, anything the rioters could get their hands on were stolen. The limited local militia managed to quell this unrest.
The Confederate government attempted to quell journalistic coverage of these events in order to prevent spreading the idea, but spread the idea did. Salisbury, North Carolina, experienced a riot just two days later on March 18. Next came Mobile, Alabama, and High Point, North Carolina, on the twenty-fifth, then Petersburg, North Carolina, on April 1.
April 2, 1863, exhibited a frightening culmination to these riots; 5,500 people rioted in Richmond, Virginia. Tens of thousands of 1863 dollars’ worth of items were stolen by these disaffected citizens.
No one died in these riots, and luckily few people were injured. President Jefferson Davis himself attempted to quell this riot, emptying his pockets and hurling money at the rioters, insisting, “You say you are hungry and have no money; here, this is all I have!”
Again, the militia quelled this riot, and many of the women involved in this riot were arrested. Mary Jackson, the organizer of the Richmond Bread Riot, was arrested and incarcerated without bail. However, it could not be proven that she had actually stolen anything herself, and her charges were reduced to misdemeanor offenses.
There are versions of this story perpetuated by the Confederate government that these rioters were primarily Yankees and lower-class individuals rather than everyday common folk. This is wildly untrue, and the rioters at the time were embittered by these assertions. The sentiment as a result of these lies were that the Civil War was “A rich man’s war, but a poor man’s fight.”
There are so many ways that these bread riots tie to things we’ve experienced over the years. The thing that stands out most to me is that there are false assertions that today’s rising prices are the result of “people just not wanting to work anymore” and “spoiled millennials” who’ve grown accustomed to staying home.
This isn’t to say it’s entirely untrue – paint with a broad enough brush and I’m sure you’ll accidentally get some paint on the canvas. However, I encourage you to consider not just the source of these stories, but that source’s source, then that source’s source’s source.
Someone always wants you to think the fault lies in your fellow man.
Is someone benefiting from you blaming your neighbor?