Southern History Series: Herrenvolk Democracy

We’re continuing with the theme tonight of what American Nationalism was like when it was controlled by the South before the War Between the States. Interestingly enough, the original ideology of the Democratic Party was illiberal democracy.

The following excerpt comes from William A. Link’s book Southern Crucible: The Making of an American Region:

“Between the 1820s and the Civil War, mass democratic politics arrived in the United States. For the first time in the history of the republic, the franchise was expanded significantly and requirements for officeholding were lessened. Elections involving a statewide and national electorate became commonplace. The routine of elections attracted vigorous competition among candidates and new political parties. Rituals of popular politics – barbecues, parades, and pageantry – became hallmarks of this new mass democratic system. The partisan press grew significantly, carrying the message of political debate to a loyal audience. At the same time, especially in the South, this was limited democracy: women could not vote, and non-whites were barred from the franchise. The emerging, Jacksonian political system was what sociologist Pierre L. van den Berghe calls “herrenvolk democracy,” a democracy composed only of white male participants.

An expansionist, aggressive racism – seeking to establish white supremacy as a governing political value – drove the democratic impulses evident in the antebellum South. The American political system, said Alabamian William Lowndes Yancey in 1860, was built on two ideas: “The first is that the white race is the citizen, and the master race, and the white man the equal of every other white man. The second idea is that the Negro is the inferior race.” As politics became a more democratized cultural event, paradoxically white supremacy dominated the political culture. Herrenvolk democracy became hostile to nonwhites, manifesting itself in phenomenon as diverse as Indian removal, treatment of free people of color, and effort to solidify the racial bases of the slave system.”

Herrenvolk Democracy was the ideology of the Old Southwest (Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana). South Carolina was more conservative and aristocratic.

It is important to remember that American citizenship used to be derived from state citizenship. Birthright citizenship was established during Reconstruction. The Bill of Rights also originally didn’t apply to the states. We’re so accustomed to thinking in terms of a consolidated unitary liberal state with a federal government that enforces equal rights that it is easy to forget that the current system did not exist before the War Between the States.

The following excerpt comes from Michael O’Brien’s book Intellectual Life and the American South, 1810-1860: An Abridged Edition of Conjectures of Order:

“Among self-descriptions, the sense of coming from a locality loomed large. When Henry Augustine Washington looked at the Virginian world inherited from the colonial period, he saw localism as its characteristic. Virginia was but “a number of little societies scattered through the country, each with a distinct organization,” a colony which “proceeded upon the principle of leaving each of these little societies all the power which could abide there, and carrying to the great central society only so much as was absolutely necessary to the ends of social order.” A decade earlier, John C. Calhoun had said of Daniel Webster: “I do not censure him for his local feelings. The Author of our being never intended that creatures of our limited faculties should embrace with equal intensiveness of affection the remote and the near.”

Locality took many forms. There were states, regions, counties, and cities. Of these, most important was loyalty to a state, because it was in states that law, culture, and manners most powerfully intermingled. States had widely different origins, and all were idiosyncratic, something of which their residents were acutely aware. The Marylander was conscious of Catholic toleration, the Virginian of Jamestown and George Washington, the South Carolinian of Francis Marion and Charles II; each state had its peculiar mix, an awareness of which the antebellum years enriched.

Whatever else a state was, it was a legal fact. It had a constitution and laws which defined rights and obligations, controlled property, including that of slaves, possessed a politics, structured marriage and divorce (or the lack of it), monitored many of the rules of finance and trade, provided higher education, and represents its citizens to the nation and the world. As between state and nation, the state was imcomparably the more influential upon the life of citizen and noncitizen alike. As Abel P. Upshur put it, “In the daily business of life, we act under the protection and guidance of the State governments … There is nothing dear to our feelings or valuable in our social condition, for which we are not indebted to their protecting and benignant action.”

Abraham Lincoln and the Union Army fought for the “new birth of freedom.”

The Confederacy fought to preserve the old America of state sovereignty, limited government and Herrenvolk Democracy. The liberal state was created in the Reconstruction era.

About Hunter Wallace 12366 Articles
Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Occidental Dissent


  1. “The Confederacy fought to preserve the old America of state sovereignty, limited government”

    Confederates did not much care about state sovereignty. They bullied state governments into submission in matters like conscription, cotton impressment etc. And there was certainly no “limited government”. Confederate authorities often confiscated private property of their own people for public use with the approval of Confederate government.

  2. A good read on soldiers motivations, if you haven’t already, is For Cause and Comrades.

    Southern soldiers ideas of herrenvolk are expressed.

  3. “Rituals of popular politics – barbecues, parades, and pageantry – became hallmarks of this new mass democratic system. ”

    Even George Washington put out spreads with BBQ, pecan pie, cobblers and whiskey and cigars, when he ran for public office in the 1760’s.

    It’s difficult to think of political activities without good eats and smokes and drinks afterward.

    Hell, even the Democrats supply whiskey and BBQ when they round up the Niggers to go vote five or six times at different poles across whatever city.

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