How was North Alabama different from Maycomb County, according to Scout in Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird?

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Tamara K. H. eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Chapter 2 of Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, we learn that Scout's new first-grade teacher, Miss Caroline Fisher, has recently moved to Maycomb from Winston County in North Alabama. Scout notes that, upon hearing this, the children whispered among themselves for fear she may "prove to harbor her share of the peculiarities indigenous to that region."

Scout continues to explain that Winston County considers itself to be so different from the rest of Alabama that it seceded from the state of Alabama when Alabama seceded from the Union in 1861. Scout gives the following reasons for the differences between Winston County and the rest of Alabama:

North Alabama was full of Liquor Interests, Big Mules, steel companies, Republicans, professors, and other persons of no background. (Ch. 2)

Not all of Scout's comments about North Alabama can be historically supported, which shows she is probably reciting what she learned as young Scout through gossip and not speaking as the adult Jean Louise.

Historically, Winston County did not actually secede from Alabama though it proclaimed its right to and its desire to. Winston County has a very different climate and environment from the rest of Alabama, which made it difficult for cotton production in the area. Instead, the economy relied on subsistence farming (McRae, D., "Free State of Winston," Encyclopedia of Alabama). Since there were no cotton planters in Winston County, there were very few slave owners. Since slavery was not an issue in Winston County, many of its residents were Unionists. Though an overwhelming majority of Winston County residents voted for Democrat John C. Brekinridge when he ran for U.S. President, they also voted for Unionist Christopher Sheats to represent Winston County at Alabama's secession convention (McRae). Sheats "refused to sign the secession ordinance" and called for neutrality in the county (McRae). After the Civil War, Winston County's Unionists formed a strong Republican base, in contrast to the rest of Alabama's citizens, who were Democrats. The formation of the strong Republican base can account for Scout saying that the people of Winston County were Republicans.

It was at an unofficial gathering at Looney's Tavern that Unionists in Winston County proclaimed Alabama had no constitutional right to secede and declared that, if Alabama did have the right to secede, then Winston County equally had the right to secede from Alabama (McRae). Scout's reference to "Liquor Interests" may refer to the historical gathering at Looney's Tavern. However, though many Unionists in Winston County vehemently opposed the Confederates, no documentation was ever signed officially seceding the county from Alabama. 

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To Kill a Mockingbird

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