The Real Wages of Whiteness: Non-Slaveowners in the Slave South

John Clegg, University of Chicago

Historians and social scientists have typically assumed that “poor whites” in the Antebellum South suffered from competition with slave labor. Using real and nominal wage and wealth data from newly digitized 1850 and 1860 census schedules, I show that non-slaveowning white Southerners actually garnered significant economic benefits from their interactions with the slave economy. Unskilled wages in areas with the most slaves were not only higher than in the rest of the South, they were typically higher (in both real and nominal terms) than the average for the North. In this talk I will examine possible explanations for the wage premium in plantation counties, before exploring their legacy for regional politics.

See paper

 Presented in Session 146. Slavery and Its Economic Legacy