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.
|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 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.