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Sat Feb 27, 2021, 08:27 PM

Why Poor, Non-Slaveholding White Southerners Fought In The Civil War

Most confederate soldiers in the civil war did not personally own slaves. Indeed, the existence of slavery helped to depress the wages of poor whites in the pre-Civil War South. With low wages and few schools, southern whites suffered a much lower land ownership rate and a far lower literacy rate than northern whites. So, why did poor Southern whites support secession from the United States prior to the civil war?

As the article below and quoted source material illustrates, racism not only oppresses the objects of racism, but it oppresses working class whites as well. With the funding and proliferation of racist, right wing media outlets like OANN, Newsmax and Fox News, we continue to see the use of racism as the ultimate con job on the working class.

Trump represents a modern example of this con job, a rich white male who literally lives in a country club whose biggest accomplishment is a tax cut to folks likes himself, yet he draws much of his support from working class whites whose benefits and health care he has repeatedly sought to cut.

https://www.battlefields.org/learn/articles/why-non-slaveholding-southerners-fought

As a Southerner with ancestors who fought for the Confederacy, I have been intrigued with the question of why my ancestors felt compelled to leave the United States and set up their own country. What brought the American experiment to that extreme juncture?

The short answer, of course, is Abraham Lincoln’s election as president of the United States. What concerned Southerners most about Lincoln’s election was his opposition to the expansion of slavery into the territories; Southern politicians were clear about that. If new states could not be slave states, went the argument, then it was only a matter of time before the South’s clout in Congress would fade, abolitionists would be ascendant, and the South’s “peculiar institution” – the right to own human beings as property – would be in peril.

It is easy to understand why slave owners would be concerned about the threat, real or imagined, that Lincoln posed to slavery. But what about those Southerners who did not own slaves? Why would they risk their livelihoods by leaving the United States and pledging allegiance to a new nation grounded in the proposition that all men are not created equal, a nation established to preserve a type of property that they did not own?

* * *
Non-slaveholders, a plantation owner predicted, were also in danger. “It will be to the non-slaveholder, equally with the largest slaveholder, the obliteration of caste and the deprivation of important privileges,” he cautioned. “The color of the white man is now, in the South, a title of nobility in his relations as to the negro,” he reminded his readers. “In the Southern slaveholding States, where menial and degrading offices are turned over to be per formed exclusively by the Negro slave, the status and color of the black race becomes the badge of inferiority, and the poorest non-slaveholder may rejoice with the richest of his brethren of the white race, in the distinction of his color. He may be poor, it is true; but there is no point upon which he is so justly proud and sensitive as his privilege of caste; and there is nothing which he would resent with more fierce indignation than the attempt of the Abolitionist to emancipate the slaves and elevate the Negroes to an equality with himself and his family.

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Reply Why Poor, Non-Slaveholding White Southerners Fought In The Civil War (Original post)
TomCADem Feb 27 OP
Ocelot II Feb 27 #1
TomCADem Feb 27 #4
Xolodno Feb 27 #6
JI7 Feb 27 #10
BobTheSubgenius Feb 27 #17
patricia92243 Feb 27 #2
TomCADem Feb 27 #5
ananda Feb 27 #3
LeftInTX Feb 27 #7
ananda Feb 28 #22
LeftInTX Feb 28 #24
mitch96 Feb 27 #8
moondust Feb 27 #9
BobTheSubgenius Feb 28 #18
keithbvadu2 Feb 27 #11
Hoyt Feb 27 #12
summer_in_TX Feb 27 #13
UGADawg Feb 27 #14
AverageOldGuy Feb 27 #15
TomCADem Feb 28 #19
mitch96 Feb 28 #21
czarjak Feb 27 #16
Hermit-The-Prog Feb 28 #20
ThoughtCriminal Feb 28 #23
SweetieD Feb 28 #25
TomCADem Mar 1 #26
ThoughtCriminal Mar 1 #27
TomCADem Mar 2 #28
raccoon Mar 2 #29
TomCADem Mar 2 #30

Response to TomCADem (Original post)

Sat Feb 27, 2021, 08:30 PM

1. Or, as LBJ said about 100 years later:

"If you can convince the lowest white man he's better than the best colored man, he won't notice you're picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he'll empty his pockets for you."

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Response to Ocelot II (Reply #1)

Sat Feb 27, 2021, 08:42 PM

4. Yup, LBJ, a Southerner, Would Definitely Know. MLK Made The Same Observation...

...noting how racism was used to distract poor whites from their oppression by the rich. In other words, by oppressing minorities, they could feel better about their situation even thought their own economic situation may have deteriorated:


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Response to Ocelot II (Reply #1)

Sat Feb 27, 2021, 08:51 PM

6. The economic irony..

...they were slaves to poverty wages. It never did occur to them that the wealthy weren't just trying to keep anyone who was of color down, but them as well.

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Response to Xolodno (Reply #6)

Sat Feb 27, 2021, 09:27 PM

10. They kept themselves down by hating black people more than

they loved anything.

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Response to Ocelot II (Reply #1)

Sat Feb 27, 2021, 11:54 PM

17. That one quote made me like LBJ a whole lot more than I had.

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Response to TomCADem (Original post)

Sat Feb 27, 2021, 08:37 PM

2. They were drafted and would be tried for treason if they deserted.

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Response to patricia92243 (Reply #2)

Sat Feb 27, 2021, 08:50 PM

5. Incorrect.

At the outset, the South had more volunteers than it could arm and equip, forcing the army to turn away some 200,000 volunteers initially. The draft only came later with less than a fifth of the confederate army consisting of draftees.

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Response to TomCADem (Original post)

Sat Feb 27, 2021, 08:38 PM

3. I have both...

I have a direct ancestor who fought for the Confederacy
in the Civil war, probably in Texas by then though might
have been in Tennessee.

My aunt found slave ownership papers for our farming
ancestor in Tennessee, about two or three slaves I
think.

It was on my dad's side of the family. All of my relatives
on his side of the family are very racist, and some of them
are bible thumpers too. The ones with money are so
Republican it's unreal, considering I used to think they were
the good, halfway sane ones... though they were always
very racist.

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Response to ananda (Reply #3)

Sat Feb 27, 2021, 08:58 PM

7. My mom is from the south..

When I asked if they owned slaves, she said, "They were too poor"...

Well, fast forward to 2018, I find all these relatives via DNA and do family trees. They all owned slaves...The poor part came after the Civil War!

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Response to LeftInTX (Reply #7)

Sun Feb 28, 2021, 05:51 PM

22. Yes, slavery was certainly not confined to the rich.

My slave owning ancestors in Tennessee were
poor farmers.

Fast forward to the 1920's and 30's when my
grandparents farmed in Texas. They were dirt
poor and still had to hire labor to help them
with crops.

My grandfather went bust in the Great Depression
because he had gone to the panhandle to get rich
on wheat... the dust got him and he had to move
back to his original farm in Hill County.

They were always rather poor but managed to get
by because of the New Deal. Roosevelt was god
to them.

Fast forward to the 70's and 80's and they all became
rightwing Reeps because of Civil Rights and white
privilege... and still are. No words.

That's about it.

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Response to ananda (Reply #22)

Sun Feb 28, 2021, 06:15 PM

24. One of my great grandfathers was born in 1860

I think the family was actually well off because of various other documents I found.
However, my great grandfather left North Carolina. He eventually ended up in Georgia, where he got married. He died in Florida in 1924. His profession on the death certificate: Orange grove worker

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Response to TomCADem (Original post)

Sat Feb 27, 2021, 08:58 PM

8. "What concerned Southerners most about Lincoln's election was his opposition"

" to the expansion of slavery into the territories"

I've read that this was because of the farming practice of cotton, their money crop. The use of fertilizer was not as prevelant in the 1850's-'60s. So when the soil could not produce a good yield, the plantation owner would acquire more fertile land to grow more cotton and make more money. If there was no expansion into the new territories with slave labor their INCOME would go down b/c the cotton yield would go down in the poor soil they had.

As usual it's all about aquiring money and power... And the poor whites fought and died so the rich plantation owners could make more money. I've also read if you had "x" amount of slaves you did not have to fight.. Now that's the trick, Have someone fight and die so you can make more money.......jeeze.....
YMMV
m

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Response to mitch96 (Reply #8)

Sat Feb 27, 2021, 09:24 PM

9. Predatory capitalism

is still very much with us.

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Response to moondust (Reply #9)

Sun Feb 28, 2021, 12:02 AM

18. True enough.

But it hardly even touches the predatory nature of slavery.

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Response to TomCADem (Original post)

Sat Feb 27, 2021, 09:38 PM

11. Trump, a NY Yankee, calls Sessions a 'dumb southerner' and they love him down there.

Trump, a NY Yankee, calls Sessions a 'dumb southerner' and they love him down there.

After all, Trump 'tells it like it is'.

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Response to TomCADem (Original post)

Sat Feb 27, 2021, 10:50 PM

12. Randi Rhodes explained it best years ago on Air America.

Some rubes were calling in asking why poor, nonslave owners would fight to support slavery? She said:

Two poor dirt farmers were trying to decide if they wouldn join the confederate effort. One said, “You know, ole Mr. Beauregard ain’t gonna pick his own cotton.”

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Response to TomCADem (Original post)

Sat Feb 27, 2021, 11:33 PM

13. We've been pretty judgy about the caste system in India.

Turns out we have our own but have been in a state of denial about it.

The caste system is not just landowners (rich people), the poor white people, and black people. The caste system has perpetuated layers of hierarchy between blacks of different skin tones.

That system has to go.

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King was so right when he said that civil rights was important to liberate the oppressor as well as those who were oppressed. Oppression afflicts the soul of the oppressor.

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Response to TomCADem (Original post)

Sat Feb 27, 2021, 11:34 PM

14. The Yankee Army is coming to rape your mother and......

your sister and burn your crops and home. They are going to torture your grandfather. You need to fight for your family.

The Yankees did that and poor Southerners did that too.

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Response to TomCADem (Original post)

Sat Feb 27, 2021, 11:44 PM

15. How my granddaddy explained it . . .

I was born (1944) and reared in Wilkinson County MS. I never knew my paternal grandfather who died well before I was born. My maternal grandfather and I were very close -- some of my earliest memories are following behind him as he managed his small grocery store, big country general store, and cotton gin.

My g-g-granddaddy and his generation all were slave owners as attested to in the 1850 and 1860 slave censuses that show them owning a total of over 230 slaves.

My granddaddy was born in 1896, thus, his lifetime spanned the period of Southern Redemption, enactment of the Jim Crow Black Codes, rise of the Klan, and the civil rights movement of the 1960's -- he died in 1972.

I don't recall the exact circumstances but, when I was college age, we were talking about the complex relationships in Southern culture between and among rich white, poor whites, blacks with some degree of social standing, and blacks who were worse off than poor whites.

One of his comments is reminiscent of LBJ's comment, quoted above -- he said something like: "Everybody wants to feel superior to somebody and for the white trash, it's the n____r -- no matter how low they may be, they are always better than a n____r."

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Response to AverageOldGuy (Reply #15)

Sun Feb 28, 2021, 12:50 AM

19. That Is Why Racism Is The Greatest Con. Instead of Fighting for Healthcare or Workers' Rights

You can have working class and poor whites invested in oppressing and scapegoating minorities and immigrants. So, instead of seeking upward mobility, Republicans have convinced their constituents to hate and oppress the groups with whom they should be in solidarity in seeking a greater cut from the 1 percent.

This is why I think some progressives get it wrong when they say we need to ignore racism, because that is just "identity politics." While Republicans accuse Democrats of throwing the "race card," it should be clear by now that the modern Republican party is built on stoking white resentment. Rather than ignore racism and just focus on economic issues, Democrats need to acknowledge the connection between racism and oppression not just of the subjects of the hate, but of the racists who drink the Kool-Aid who are also being taken advantage of just like the folks who stormed the capital only to be thrown under the bus by Trump.

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Response to AverageOldGuy (Reply #15)

Sun Feb 28, 2021, 10:37 AM

21. ""Everybody wants to feel superior to somebody and for the white trash, it's the..... "

Years ago I was talking to a patient that was having a long procedure. She was a very old black woman but spry for her age. We talked about everything and the topic of race relations came up. She told me when she was a child her Daddy told her about "The Ladder" It was to explain social standing in the community. She said Whites and Blacks are on a ladder of sorts.
On the top rung was the white man. Then the white woman, then the black man and at the bottom was the black woman.. To me, a young white guy I have never heard of this and growing up in a liberal household it kinda shocked me... How could this be? Back in her younger years that was just the way it was... uff........ Will this shit ever stop? Or is it part of our DNA to oppress people...... I hope not..
m

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Response to TomCADem (Original post)

Sat Feb 27, 2021, 11:44 PM

16. Nary a single heart or mind was changed in the South after "The War of Northern Aggression"...

I have the ancestry to prove it.

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Response to czarjak (Reply #16)

Sun Feb 28, 2021, 06:37 AM

20. That brush is too broad and lacks the paint to prove it.

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Response to TomCADem (Original post)

Sun Feb 28, 2021, 05:52 PM

23. But also, slave ownership was more common than most people realize

It is misleading to say very few southerners own slaves. Very often apologists for the Confederacy count "Slave owners" and then divide that into the total population - including children. However, this ignores that only the head of a household was counted as a slave owner. The reality is that on average almost one-third of families in the Confederacy owned slaves and in a few states (South Carolina, Missississippi) almost half owned slaves.



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Response to ThoughtCriminal (Reply #23)

Sun Feb 28, 2021, 06:16 PM

25. I agree and the slave censuses often did not include owners who owned 1 or 2 slaves which were

a lot of people too. Everyone thinks of the big plantation mills but a lot of slave owners might have owned a couple of slaves who worked their land or in the house or who they rented out to big plantations.

The census records tell part of the story but not everything. And for anyone who wants to find that out look at will records which sometimes mention slaves under property, often times those owners may have never appeared on the 1850 and 1860 slave census.

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Response to ThoughtCriminal (Reply #23)

Mon Mar 1, 2021, 01:12 PM

26. The highest estimate I have seen is 1/3

Which is far from a majority of whites in the South who owned slaves.

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Response to TomCADem (Reply #26)

Mon Mar 1, 2021, 04:34 PM

27. 1/3 is substantial

Remember that the wealthiest southerners had a disproportionate influence on policy, the press, the economy, and even churches that defended and endorsed slavery as approved by God. Men from slave-owning families were also more likely to volunteer (42% more likely in 1861).


https://www.history.com/news/5-myths-about-slavery

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Response to ThoughtCriminal (Reply #27)

Tue Mar 2, 2021, 12:49 PM

28. But That Is a Very High Estimate. Duke's Estimate of 20 Percent Seems More Reasonable

In any event, you still have a large majority of the confederate army being comprised of non-slave owning whites fighting to defend slavery. Now some folks argue that this means that the civil war was not about slavery, but this is not true. Even though most of the confederate army did not include slaveowners, they were still fighting based on racism and the opportunity to own slaves.

So, even though much of Southern wealth was held in the hands of the few based on slave labor, which also depressed the wages of poor non-slave owning whites, racism helped convince non-slaveholders to fight a war that would mostly benefit a small number of wealthy owners of large plantations. Census data from 1860 showed that the median wealth of the richest 1% of Southerners was more than three times higher than for the richest 1% of Northerners.

This is the analog you have today with the Republican party using racism to effectively oppress the white working class as well as minorities.

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Response to TomCADem (Original post)

Tue Mar 2, 2021, 01:52 PM

29. The Confederate states had a draft, for one thing. Nt

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Response to raccoon (Reply #29)

Tue Mar 2, 2021, 02:36 PM

30. Only a 1/5 of Confederate Soldiers Were Drafted

At the outset, the South had more volunteers than it could arm and equip, forcing the army to turn away some 200,000 volunteers initially. The draft only came later with less than a fifth of the confederate army consisting of draftees.

It seems like a lot of folks are trying to push the idea that the bulk of the Confederate Army consisted of slaveowners (not true) or that rich plantation owners were forcing poor, non-slave owning whites to fight on their behalf (also not true).

What was true then is true now regarding how the 1 percent can use hate and appeals to racism to oppress not only minorities, but poor whites as well.

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