Theses and Dissertations

Issuing Body

Mississippi State University


Phillips, Jason

Committee Member

Marshall, Anne

Committee Member

Williams, Michael

Committee Member

Messer, Peter

Date of Degree


Document Type

Dissertation - Open Access



Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


College of Arts and Sciences


Department of History


The following study traces the transformation of an American identity from the sectional conflict through the end of the nineteenth century in an effort to understand how that identity eventually changed into something regarded and defined as distinctly southern. Mississippi offers fertile ground for such a study since the state so closely mirrored the American experience prior to the Civil War with episodes such as Indian removal, frontier living, the incorporation of racial slavery, and the creation of a social order based on independent landownership. Mississippi also aptly represented the traditional southern experience beginning with the Civil War due to the state’s participation in the formation of the Confederacy, staunch opposition to Reconstruction, the overthrow of Republican rule within the state in 1875, the codification of segregation and a white-supremacist social order, and the social, political, and economic oppression of the state’s African American population. Understanding the nuances of social identity formation requires a ground-level analysis to uncover how individuals created and reshaped their social identity in the wake of significant challenges to the established social structure. Diaries, personal correspondences, newspaper editorials, and reminiscences provide a wealth of information in revealing how Mississippians thought of themselves and others, how various groups (Unionists, Confederates, conservatives, and African Americans) fashioned competing social identities, and how those groups vied for legitimacy and control of the state through their interaction with one another. The transformation of a group or collective identity during a series of crises from the sectional conflict through the end of the nineteenth century not only reveals how Mississippians made sense of their surroundings and place within it but informed the parameters and outcomes by which the contest for social control of the state would be fought and won. The struggle for social control culminated in the establishment of a strict, whitesupremacist social order which lauded the exploits of the white inhabitants, vilified the actions of blacks, and ultimately defined the basic tenets of a southern identity for the next one hundred years.