Southern History Series: James D.B. DeBow on The Non-Slaveholders of the South

In the January 1861 edition of DeBow’s Review, Louisiana’s great fire eater James D. B. DeBow published a list of his top ten reasons why the interests of Southern slaveholders and non-slaveholders were identical in the secession crisis. As we have seen, DeBow was an urbanite, a statistician, a non-slaveholder and a Southern economic nationalist who became a Southern Nationalist after he became convinced that abolitionism posed a mortal threat to the Southern economy.

DeBow’s Review which was based in New Orleans was the Old South’s leading commercial journal. The magazine was also the preeminent organ of secessionist thought and published articles by many of the South’s leading fire eaters including George Fitzhugh and Edmund Ruffin. No one in the Old South had a better grasp of the Southern economy than James D.B. DeBow and he predicted the consequences of abolition and the adoption of the free labor system would be catastrophic:

My Dear Sir: While in Charleston recently I adverted, in conversation with you, to some considerations affecting the question of slavery in its application to the several classes of population at the South, and especially to the non-slaveholding class who, I maintained, were even more deeply interested than any other in the maintenance of our institutions, and in the success of the movement now inaugurated for the entire social, industrial, and political independence of the South. At your request, I promised to elaborate and commit to writing the points of that conversation, which I now proceed to do, in the hope that I may thus be enabled to give some feeble aid to a cause which is worthy of the Sidneys, Hampdens, and Patrick Henrys, of earlier times.

The fact being conceded, that there is a very large class of persons in the slaveholding States who have no direct ownership in slaves, it may be well asked, upon what principle a greater antagonism can be presumed between them and their fellow-citizens, than exists among the larger class of non-landholders in the free States and the landed interests there? If a conflict of interest exists in one instance, it does in the other; and if patriotism and public spirit are to be measured upon so low a standard, the social fabric at the North is in far greater danger of dissolution than it is here. …

3. The non-slaveholder is not subjected to that competition with foreign pauper labor which has degraded the free labor of the North, and demoralized it to an extent which perhaps can never be estimated. From whatever cause it has happened, whether from climate, the nature of our products, or of our labor, the South has been enabled to maintain a more homogeneous population, and show a less admixture of races, than the North. This the statistics show.

Eastern States…………………………………………………12.65 in every 100
Middle States……………………….………………….19.84 “
Southern States……………………………….…………..1.86 “
Southwestern States…………………………..…………5.34 “
Northwestern States……………………………………12.75 “

Our people partake of the true American character, and are mainly the descendants of those who fought the battles of the Revolution, and who understand and appreciate the nature and inestimable value of the liberty which it brought. Adhering to the simple truths of the Gospel, and the faith of their fathers, they have not run hither and thither in search of all the absurd and degrading isms which have sprung up in the rank soil of infidelity. They are not Mormons or Spiritualists; they are not Owenites, Fourierites, Agrarians, Socialists, Freelovers, or Millerites. They are not for breaking down all the forms of society and of religion, and of reconstructing them; but prefer law, order, and existing institutions, to the chaos which radicalism involves. The competition between native and foreign labor in the Northern States has already begotten rivalry, and heart-burning, and riots, and led to the formation of political parties, which have been marked by a degree of hostility and proscription to which the present age has not afforded another parallel. At the South we have known none of this, except in two or three of the larger cities, where the relations of slavery and freedom scarcely exist at all. The foreigners that are among us at the South are of a select class, and, from education and example, approximate very nearly to the native standard.

4. The non-slaveholder of the South preserves the status of the white man, and is not regarded as an inferior or a dependant. He is not told that the Declaration of Independence, when it says that all men are born free and equal, refers to the negro equally with himself. It is not proposed to him that the free negro’s vote shall weigh equally with his own at the ballot-box, and that the little children of both colors shall be mixed in the classes and benches of the schoolhouse, and embrace each other filially in its outside sports. It never occurs to him that a white man could be degraded enough to boast in a public assembly, as was recently done in New-York, of having actually slept with a negro. And his patriotic ire would crush with a blow the free negro who would dare, in his presence, as is done in the free States, to characterize the father of the country as a “scoundrel.” No white man at the South serves another as a body-servant, to clean his boots, wait on his table, and perform the menial services of his household! His blood revolts against this, and his necessities never drive him to it. He is a companion and an equal. When in the employ of the slaveholder, or in intercourse with him, he enters his hall, and has a seat at his table. If a distinction exists, it is only that which education and refinement may give, and this is so courteously exhibited as scarcely to strike attention. The poor white laborer at the North is at the bottom of the social ladder, while his brother here has ascended several steps, and can look down upon those who are beneath him at an infinite remove!”

As the subsequent history of Reconstruction and the New South revealed, pretty much everything that DeBow feared and said would happen to the Southern economy after abolition ended up coming true and more. It took over 75 years to claw our way out of the economic hole and we still haven’t completely overcome the legacy of the relative underdevelopment of those years.

Note: The non-slaveholders of Louisiana agreed with DeBow and voted for secession. Louisiana is entirely within the Gulf Coastal Plain and lacked a mountain population like Tennessee, Virginia and Alabama that was opposed to secession.

About Hunter Wallace 12366 Articles
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  1. Interestingly, the mountain population of the South who owned few, if any slaves, and, as the above map shows, voted against secession, turned out to be the backbone of the Confederate army that opposed the Northern invasion. Why they did so is probably more a testament to their love of individual liberty coupled with a fierce warrior ethos than a disdain for the prospect of Negro emancipation, although I may be wrong. Do you think the hostility to the freed slaves after the war would have lessened among the non-slaveholding classes if Reconstruction had been taken out of the hands of the Radicals and followed more along the lines proposed by Lincoln and his successor Andrew Johnson?

    • @John Ries

      “Interestingly, the mountain population of the South who owned few, if any slaves, and, as the above map shows, voted against secession, turned out to be the backbone of the Confederate army that opposed the Northern invasion. Why they did so is probably more a testament to their love of individual liberty coupled with a fierce warrior ethos than a disdain for the prospect of Negro emancipation-”

      The fact that the Yankees treated, and still treat, even in 2019, these people as subordinate subjects, lesser and inferior beings, and as being little better than animals, and not as “fellow Americans,” had great deal more to do with it, than and support, or lack thereof, for maintaining the racial order.

      The Yankees treated supposedly “Union” Kentucky, not as a fellow American state, but as a satellite or client state of Yankeedom. As in the case where a “Union” officer blew a little girl’s head off with his pistol, as she sat in a swing in her front yard in “Union” territory. This and numerous other outrages are why many Kentuckians joined the CSA during the war. And why Kentucky “seceded” afterwards.

      “West” Virginia was created by the state governments of Ohio and Pennsylvania, not the Federal Government, using combat forces from those states. Most of the “West” Virginians joined the Confederate Army. The locals fully supported Colonel Mosby and his 43rd Battalion. The “West Virginia Union regiments” were actually Ohio and Pennsylvania regiments that had been redesignated as “West Virginian.” The same was true of most “Kentucky”(Ohio, Indiana) regiments and “Missouri” regiments(Illinois, Iowa).

      A great many Northerners are fascinated by the Southrons who voted against Secession. But they don’t understand that voting against Secession wasn’t a vote for the North, or an indication of sympathy for the North. Far from it. The counties in the South that voted overwhelmingly against Secession, contributed their fair share of recruits to the CS Army, during the war. My own Grayson County, Tx, voting by a large majority against Secession, but contributing two infantry, and one cavalry regiments, to the Texas CS Army, for example.

      As an aside;

      Southrons don’t simply regard Northerners as fellow Americans with funny accents, from a different region of America. But as hostile, foreign nationals that can’t be trusted, ever. We don’t regard Yankeedom as being “American” or a part of “America,” because of its Leftist radicalism and its outright hostility towards us, and the West, and what we regard as America in the cultural and political sense.

      Average Northerners, who are generally people of goodwill, don’t realise any of this, and are often shocked by it. Especially when they encounter suspicion on the part of Southrons. The infamous “Why are you here?” question that we often ask of Northern visitors., comes to mind.

      • “Average Northerners, who are generally people of goodwill, don’t realise any of this, and are often shocked by it.”

        A week or so ago, James, on Jeopardy!, one of the questions–or “answers,” as the show styles them–was something like “This name of a Major League baseball team used to be a scornful term for Northerners.”

        A decade or so ago, before I began visiting Occidental Dissent regularly, that wouldn’t have sounded at all odd to me. Now, I was struck that knowledgeable persons of the kind that write questions for a national quiz show of such prominence had said “used to be.”

  2. James Owen… well said. As a native coastal MSian, and having lived in Mobile/NOLA/Cary, NC, and Collin Co, TX….and having often asked the same question of yankees, the response has always invariably been what amounts to carpetbagging.

    • Not to dredge up a marital spat, but my wife has many times heard me say something along the lines of “I won’t be a carpetbagger” whenever she suggests moving somewhere out of the Southeast for the “better opportunity” and “better education” for the kids we don’t even have yet. Beyond even moving somewhere else in the South, I don’t even want to leave my state, and beyond that I don’t want to live permanently anywhere except near the most of my whole family on both sides (and, to be fair, her folks as well). One of the worst damages inflicted on America thanks to the victory of the North in the Civil War was not to make it for many people a practical necessity to pack up and move your whole family just to get a decent job, but to make such modern-day carpetbagging the desirable as the first instinct of so many of our young people.

      • @Esoteric Du30ist

        If you haf to move, move here to Texas. The job opportunities and education are somewhat better. You’ll still be in Dixie, at least. When I was a kid, my best friend was a boy who’s family had moved here from Arkansas, because his dad had gotten a job at Texas Instruments.

        I didn’t start to experience the transplant invasion until 1978. That’s when I found out that there are people who are not like Southrons, but are supposedly ” the same people as us.” Even though they’re not.

  3. @kikz

    When I was a kid, we’d got down to the flea market in McKinney. In middle school, we took a field trip to the Herd Museum, there.

    • i’ve been to the McKinney flea mkt a couple of times, i’d rather make the trip down to Canton. i’ve been to Heard a few times in my 29yrs here. native plant sales, trips w/the kids, one or two school outings. i especially enjoyed the animatronic dinosaur ‘kid’ who does an installation there every so often. hubby and i came here w/NORTEL frm NC in 90……Collin Co has exploded in population, we just passed 1m. it’s horrible too. so many ‘Killafornnnnyinz’ (yankee accent). by ye Godz they are obnoxious. we’re overrun w/squats of every conceivable variation, and our crime increases daily. i live in very nice neighborhood, and the city keeps dropping giant apt complexes around, bringing in even more ‘transients’, which at some point, the influx of economically upwardly mobile, looking for homes, will peter out, and i’m sure, those will become Sec8’s. it’s going to get fun then. i hope to be able to relocate out as far as municipal services will allow, or better yet, move back somewhere along the Gulf Coast, the weather is so extreme here, i’ll gladly take an occasional ‘cane/tornado to a typical N TX spring wk, which might include tornadoes/snow/ice storm/80’degrees all w/in the span of 72hrs :P) funny that, most TX’s don’t consider TX to be Dixie or even Southern, but of course I do, consider it Southern to say the least.. of that excludes Dallas Co… uuugh. nice yapping ya, James. 🙂

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