DeBow's Review on the Views of Non-slaveholders

 

James Dunwoody Brownson DeBow was the founder and editor of the highly influential DeBow's Review, which he published on and off from 1846 until his death in 1867. A secessionist, and an advocate of Southern development and industrialization, DeBow favored Breckinridge in the 1860 election and was an ardent supporter of the Davis administration during the war.

This article appeared in the January, 1861, issue of the Review (pages 67-77), and was sent to me by Bob Huddleston of Denver. The format of some of the tables was slightly altered from the original to conform to the restrictions imposed by HTML. The entire set of DeBow's Review is available online at the Making of America site at the University of Michigan.

ART. VI.-THE NON-SLAVEHOLDERS OF THE SOUTH:

THEIR INTEREST IN THE PRESENT SECTIONAL CONTROVERSY

IDENTICAL, WITH THAT OF THE SLAVEHOLDERS.

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.

When in charge of the national census office, several years since, I found that it had been stated by an abolition senator from his seat, that the number of slaveholders at the South did not exceed 150,000. Convinced that, it was a gross misrepresentation of facts, I caused a careful examination of the returns to be made, which fixed the actual number at 347,255, and communicated the information, by note, to Senator Cass, who read it in the Senate. I first called attention to the fact that the number embraced slaveholding families, and that to arrive at the actual number of slaveholders, it would be necessary to multiply by the proportion of persons which the census showed to a family. When this was done, the number was swelled to about two millions.

Since these results were made public, I have had reason to think that the separation of the schedules of the slave and the free was calculated to lead to omissions of the single properties, and that on this account, it would be safe to put the number of families at 375,000, and the number of actual slaveholders at about two millions and a quarter.

Assuming the published returns, however, to be correct, it will appear that one half of the population of South Carolina, Mississippi, and Louisiana, excluding the cities, are slaveholders, and that one third of the population of the entire South are similarly circumstanced. The average number of slaves is nine to each slaveholding family, and one half of the whole number of such holders are in possession of less than five slaves.

It will thus appear that the slaveholders of the South, so far from constituting, numerically, an insignificant portion of its people, as has been malignantly alleged, make up an aggregate greater in relative proportion than the holders of any other species of property whatever, in any part of the world; and that of no other property can it be said, with equal truthfulness, that it is an interest of the whole community. While every other family in the States I have specially referred to are slaveholders, but one family in every three and a half families in Maine, New-Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Connecticut, are holders of agricultural land; and in European states the proportion is almost indefinitely less. The proportion which the slaveholders of the South bear to the entire population is greater than that of the owners of land or houses, agricultural stock, State, bank, or other corporation securities anywhere else. No political economist will deny this. Nor is that all. Even in the States which are among the largest slaveholding, South Carolina, Georgia, and Tennessee, the land proprietors outnumber nearly two to one, in relative proportion, the owners of the same property in Maine, Massachusetts, and Connecticut; and if the average number of slaves held by each family throughout the South be but nine, and if one half of the whole number of slaveholders own under five slaves, it will be seen how preposterous is the allegation of our enemies, that the slaveholding class is an organized wealthy aristocracy. The poor men of the South are the holders of one to five slaves, and it would be equally consistent with truth and justice to say that they represent, in reality, its slaveholding interest.

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.

Though I protest against the false and degrading standard to which Northern orators and statesmen have reduced the measure of patriotism, which is to be expected from a free and enlightened people, and in the name of the non-slaveholders of the South, fling back the insolent charge that they are only bound to their country by the consideration of its "loaves and fishes," and would be found derelict in honor and principle, and public virtue, in proportion as they were needy in circumstances, I think it but easy to show that the interest of the poorest non-slaveholder among us is to make common cause with, and die in the last trenches, in defence of the slave property of his more favored neighbor.

The non-slaveholders of the South may be classed as either such as desire and are incapable of purchasing slaves, or such as have the means to purchase and do not, because of the absence of the motive-preferring to hire or employ cheaper white labor. A class conscientiously objecting to the ownership of slave property does not exist at the South: for all such scruples have long since been silenced by the profound and unanswerable arguments to which Yankee controversy has driven our statesmen, popular orators, and clergy. Upon the sure testimony of God’s Holy Book, and upon the principles of universal polity, they have defended and justified the institution! The exceptions, which embrace recent importations in Virginia, and in some of the Southern cities, from the free States of the North, and some of the crazy, socialistic Germans in Texas, are too unimportant to affect the truth of the proposition.

The non-slaveholders are either urban or rural, including among the former the merchants, traders, mechanics, laborers, and other classes in the towns and cities; and among the latter, the tillers of the soil, in sections where slave property either could or could not be profitably employed.

As the competition of free labor with slave labor is the gist of the argument used by the opponents of slavery, and as it is upon this that they rely in support of a future social conflict in our midst, it is clear that in cases where the competition cannot possibly exist, the argument, whatever weight it might otherwise have, must fall to the ground.

Now, from what can such competition be argued in our cities? Are not all the interests of the merchant, and those whom he employs, of necessity upon the side of the slaveholder? The products which he buys, the commodities which he sells, the profits which he realizes, the hopes which sustain him of future fortune, all spring from this source, and from no other. The cities, towns, and villages of the South, are but so many agencies for converting the products of slave labor into the products of other labor obtained from abroad, and, as in every other agency, the interest of the agent is, that the principal shall have as much as possible to sell, and be enabled as much as possible to buy. In the absence of every other source of wealth at the South, its mercantile interests are so interwoven with those of slave labor as almost to be identical.

What is true of the merchant, is true of the clerk, the drayman, or the laborer, whom he employs-the mechanic who builds his houses, the lawyer who argues his causes, the physician who heals, the teacher, the preacher, etc., etc. If the poor mechanic could have ever complained of the competition in the cities, of slave labor with his, the cause of that complaint, in the enormous increase of value of slave property, has failed, since such increase has been exhausting the cities and towns of slave labor, or making it so valuable that he can work in competition with it, and receive a rate of remuneration greatly higher than in any of the non-slaveholding towns or cities at the North! In proof of the truth of this, it is only necessary to advert to the example of the city of Charleston, which has a larger proportion of slaves than any other at the South-where the first flag of Southern independence was unfurled, and where the entire people, with one voice, rich and poor, merchant, mechanic, and laborer, stand nobly together. Another illustration may be found in the city of New-York, almost as dependent upon Southern slavery as Charleston itself, which records a majority of nearly 30,000 votes against the further progress of abolitionism.

As the competition does not exist in the cities, it is equally certain that it does not exist in those sections of the South which are employed upon the cultivation of commodities, in which slave labor could not be used, and that there exists no conflict there except in the before stated cases of Virginia and Texas, and some of the counties of Missouri, Maryland, and Kentucky. These exceptions are, however, too unimportant to affect the great question of slavery in fifteen States of the South, and are so kept in check as to be incapable of effecting any mischief even in the communities referred to. It would be the baldest absurdity to suppose that the poor farmers of South Carolina, North Carolina, and Tennessee, who grew corn, wheat, bacon, and hogs and horses, are brought into any sort of competition with the slaves of these or other States, who, while they consume these commodities, produce but little or none of them.

The competition and conflict, if such exist at the South, between slave labor and free labor, is reduced to the single case of such labor being employed, side by side, in the production of the same commodities, and could be felt only in the cane, cotton, tobacco, and rice fields, where almost the entire agricultural slave labor is exhausted. Now, any one cognisant of the actual facts, will admit that the free labor which is employed upon these crops, disconnected with, and in actual independence of, the slaveholder, is a very significant item in the account, and whether in accord or in conflict, would affect nothing, the permanency and security of the institution. It is a competition from which the non-slaveholder cheerfully retires when the occasion offers, his physical organization refusing to endure that exposure to tropical suns and fatal miasmas which are alone the condition of profitable culture, and any attempt to reverse the laws which God has ordained, is attended with disease and death. This the poor white foreign laborer upon our river-swamps and in our Southern cities, especially in Mobile and New-Orleans, and upon the public works of the South, is a daily witness of.

Having thus followed out, step by step, and seen to what it amounts, the so much paraded competition and conflict existing between the non-slaveholding and slaveholding interests of the South, I will proceed to present several general considerations, which must be found powerful enough to influence the non-slaveholders, if the claims of patriotism were inadequate to resist any attempt to overthrow the institutions and industry of the section to which they belong.

1. The non-slaveholder of the South is assured that the remuneration afforded by his labor, over and above the expense of living, is larger than that which is afforded by the same labor in the free States. To be convinced of this, he has only to compare the value of labor in the Southern cities with those of the North, and to take note annually of the large number of laborers who are represented to be out of employment there, and who migrate to our shores, as well as to other sections. No white laborer, in return, has been forced to leave our midst, or remain without employment. Such as have left, emigrated from States where slavery was least productive. Those who come among us are enabled soon to retire to their homes with a handsome competency. The statement is nearly as true for the agricultural as for other interests, as the statistics will show.

The following table was recently compiled by Senator Johnson, of Tennessee, from information received in reply to a circular letter sent to the points indicated.

  Bricklayers. Carpenters. Laborers.
Daily wages in New-Orleans, Charleston, and Nashville. $2 to 3 $2 to 2 $1 to 1
Daily wages in Chicago, Pittsburg, and Toronto. $1 to $2 $ 1 to 1 $ 75c to $1

The rates of board, weekly, for laborers, as given in the census of 1850, were: in Louisiana, $2 70; South Carolina, $1 75; Tennessee, $1 32; in Illinois, $1 49; Pennsylvania, $1 72; Massachusetts, $2 12. The wages of the agricultural classes, as given in Parliamentary reports, are, in France, $20 to $30 per annum with board; in Italy, $12 to $20 per annum. In the United States agricultural labor is highest in the Southwest, and lowest in the Northwest, the South and North differing very little by the official returns.

2. The non-slaveholders, as a class, are not reduced by the necessity of our condition, as is the case in the free States, to find employment in crowded cities, and come into competition in close and sickly workshops and factories, with remorseless and untiring machinery. They have but to compare their condition, in this particular, with the mining and manufacturing operatives of the North and Europe, to be thankful that God has reserved them for a better fate. Tender women, aged men, delicate children, toil and labor there from early dawn until after candle-light, from one year to another, for a miserable pittance, scarcely above the starvation point, and without hope of amelioration. The records of British free labor have long exhibited this, and those of our own manufacturing States are rapidly reaching it, and would have reached it long ago, but for the excessive bounties which, in the way of tariffs, have been paid to it, without an equivalent by the slaveholding and non-slaveholding laborer of the South. Let this tariff cease to be paid for a single year, and the truth of what is stated will be abundantly shown.

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.

RATIO OF FOREIGN TO NATIVE POPULATION.
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 ntot 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!

5. The non-slaveholder knows that as soon as his savings will admit, he can become a slaveholder, and thus relieve his wife from the necessities of the kitchen and the laundry, and his children from the labors of the field. This, with ordinary frugality, can in general be accomplished in a few years, and is a process continually going on. Perhaps twice the number of poor men at the South own a slave, to what owned a slave ten years ago. The universal disposition is to purchase. It is the first use for savings, and the negro purchased is the last possession to be parted with. If a woman, her children become heirlooms, and make the nucleus of an estate. It is within the knowledge of the writer that a plantation of fifty or sixty persons has been established from the descendants of a single female, in the course of the lifetime of the original purchaser.

6. The large slaveholders and proprietors of the South begin life in great part as non-slaveholders. It is the nature of property to change hands. Luxury, liberality, extravagance, depreciated land, low prices, debt, distribution among children, are continually breaking up estates. All over the new States of the Southwest enormous estates are in the hands of men who began life as overseers or city clerks, traders and merchants. Often the overseer marries the widow. Cheap lands, abundant harvests, high prices, give the poor man soon a negro. His ten bales of cotton bring him another, a second crop increases his purchases, and so he goes on, opening land and adding labor, until in a few years his draft for $20,000 upon his merchant becomes a very marketable commodity.

7. But, should such fortune not be in reserve for the non-slaveholder, he will understand that by honesty and industry it may be realized to his children. More than one generation of poverty in a family is scarcely to be expected at the South, and is against the general experience. It is more unusual here for poverty than wealth to be preserved through several generations in the same family.

8. The sons of the non-slaveholder are and have always been among the leading and ruling spirits of the South, in industry as well as in politics. Every man’s experience in his own neighborhood will evince this. He has but to task his memory. In this class are the McDuffies, Langdon Cheeves, Andrew Jacksons, Henry Clays, and Rusks, of the past; the Hammonds, Yanceys, Orrs, Memmingers, Benjamins, Stephens, Soules, Browns of Mississippi, Simms, Porters, Magraths, Aikens, Maunsel Whites, and an innumerable host of the present, and what is to be noted, these men have not been made demagogues for that reason, as in other quarters, but are among the most conservative among us. Nowhere else have intelligence and virtue, disconnected from ancestral estates, the same opportunities for advancement, and nowhere else is their triumph more speedy and signal.

9. Without the institution of slavery the great staple products of the South would cease to be grown, and the immense annual results which are distributed among every class of the community, and which give life to every branch of industry, would cease. The world furnishes no instances of these products being grown upon a large scale by free labor. The English now acknowledge their failure in the East Indies. Brazil, whose slave population nearly equals our own, is the only South American state which has prospered. Cuba, by her slave labor, showers wealth upon old Spain, while the British West India colonies have now ceased to be a source of revenue, and from opulence have been, by emancipation, reduced to beggary. St. Domingo shared the same fate, and the poor whites have been massacred equally with the rich.

EXPORTS.

Hayti...........................……………. 1789. 1860.
  $27,829,000 $5,000,000 to 6, 000,000
Sugar is no longer exported, and the quantity of coffee scarcely exceeds one third, and of cotton one tenth of the exports of 1789. This I give upon Northern authority.
Jamaica. 1805. 1857.

Sugar...............................……….

150,352 hhds. 30,459 hhds.

Rum..............……………………

93,950 " 15,994 "

Coffee.................................……..

24,137,393 lbs. 7,095,623 lbs.

The value of the present slave production of the South is thus given:

United States Exports For 1859.
Of Southern Origin 1859  
Cotton.................................................………………………………….. $161,434,923
Tobacco...........................................……………………………………. 21,074,038
Rice...............................................……………………………………… 2,207,148
Naval stores.............................................………………………………. 3,694,474
Sugar...................................…………………………………………….. 196,735
Molasses...............................................………………………………… 75,699
Hemp..................................................………………………………….. 9,227
Total..................................................…………………………… $188,693,735
Other from the South.....................................…………………………… 8,108,632
Cotton manufactures.................................……………………………… 4,989,733
Total from the South.............. ………………………………………….. 198,389,632
From the North.............................……………………………………… 78,217,202
Total merchandise.......................................……………………………. 278,392,080
Specie..............................................…………………………………… 57,502,305
To the Southern credit, however, must be given –  
Sixty per cent. of the cotton manufacture, being for raw materials. 3,669,106
Breadstuffs (the North having received from the South a value as large

in these as the whole foreign export)...................

 
Add................................................……………………………………. 198,389,351
Southern.................................................. …………………………….. 242,105,457
Northern contribution...................................…………………………. 34,501 096

10. If emancipation be brought about, as will, undoubtedly be the case, unless the encroachments of the fanatical majorities of the North are resisted now, the slaveholders, in the main, will escape the degrading equality which must result, by emigration, for which they have the means, by disposing of their personal chattels, while the non-slaveholders, without these resources, would be compelled to remain and endure the degradation. This is a startling consideration. In Northern communities, where the free negro is one in a hundred of the total population, he is recognized and acknowledged often as a pest, and in many cases even his presence is prohibited by law. What would be the case in many of our States, where every other inhabitant is a negro, or in many of our communities, as, for example, the parishes around and about Charleston, and in the vicinity of New-Orleans, where there are from twenty to one hundred negroes to each white inhabitant? Low as would this class of people sink by emancipation in idleness, superstition, and vice, the white man compelled to live among them would, by the power exerted over him, sink even lower, unless, as is to be supposed, he would prefer to suffer death instead.

In conclusion, my dear sir, I must apologize to the nonslaveholders of the South, of which class I was myself until very recently a member, for having deigned to notice at all the infamous libels which the common enemies of the South have circulated against them, and which our every-day experience refutes, but the occasion seemed a fitting one to place them truly and rightly before the world. This I have endeavored faithfully to do. They fully understand the momentous questions which now agitate the land in all their relations. They perceive the inevitable drift of Northern aggression, and know that if necessity impel to it, as I verily believe it does at this moment, the establishment of a Southern confederation will be a sure refuge from the storm. In such a confederation our rights and possessions would be secure, and the wealth being retained at home, to build up our towns and cities, to extend our railroads, and increase our shipping, which now goes in tariffs or other involuntary or voluntary tributes* to other sections, opulence would be diffused throughout all classes, and we should become the freest, the happiest, and the most prosperous and powerful nation upon earth.

Your obedient servant,

J.D.B.DE Bow.

To R. N. GOURDIN, Esq., Charleston, S. C.

______________________________________________________________________________

*The annual drain in profits which is going on from the South to the North is thus set down by Mr. Kettell, of New-York:
Bounties to fisheries, per annum......................................…………………………………………. $1,500,000
Customs, per annum, disbursed at the North...........................…………………………………… 40,000,000
Profits of manufacturers.............................................. ……………………………………………… 30,000,000
Profits of importers.................................................. …………………………………………………. 16,000,000
Profits of shipping, imports and exports................................……………………………………… 40,000,000
Profits of travellers...............................................……………………………………………………. 60,000,000
Profits of teachers and others at the South, sent North...............……………………………….. 5,000,000
Profits of agents, brokers, commissions, etc...........................…………………………………….. 10,000,000
Profits of capital drawn from the South.....................………………………………………………. 30,000,000
Total from these sources.................................………………………………………………………... $231,500,000
This, from the beginning of the government, making all proper deduction from year to year, has given to the North over $2,500,000,000 of Southern wealth. Are her accumulations, then, surprising, and can one be surprised if accumulation should appear to be less in the South?