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Masterless Men
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    Masterless Men
    • Online ISBN: 9781316875568
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Book description

Analyzing land policy, labor, and legal history, Keri Leigh Merritt reveals what happens to excess workers when a capitalist system is predicated on slave labor. With the rising global demand for cotton - and thus, slaves - in the 1840s and 1850s, the need for white laborers in the American South was drastically reduced, creating a large underclass who were unemployed or underemployed. These poor whites could not compete - for jobs or living wages - with profitable slave labor. Though impoverished whites were never subjected to the daily violence and degrading humiliations of racial slavery, they did suffer tangible socio-economic consequences as a result of living in a slave society. Merritt examines how these 'masterless' men and women threatened the existing Southern hierarchy and ultimately helped push Southern slaveholders toward secession and civil war.


‘In Masterless Men, Keri Leigh Merritt offers a sweeping analysis of how we should understand the place of poor whites in the larger narrative of the Old South. Her detailed examination of the Deep South's impoverished white class will deepen our understanding about the human and economic costs of America's system of black slavery.'

Charles Bolton - University of North Carolina, Greensboro

‘Merritt moves class front and center as she documents the brutal, unfair realities of life for poor whites struggling to survive in a society structured against them. Her work holds tremendous implications for our understanding of social relations, the economy, politics, and the law in the Old South.'

Jeff Forret - Author of Race Relations at the Margins: Slaves and Poor Whites in the Antebellum Southern Countryside

‘Keri Leigh Merritt reveals the parallel roots of white poverty and slavery in the antebellum South. With precision and conviction, she demonstrates that landlessness, low wages, and illiteracy, accompanied by legal and extra-legal harassment by the state, were not mere by-products of slavery, but the result of policies that enriched slaveholders while muting dissent by poor whites.'

Victoria Bynum - Texas State University, San Marcos

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This list contains references from the content that can be linked to their source. For a full set of references and notes please see the PDF or HTML where available.

David Brown , Southern Outcast: Hinton Rowan Helper and the Impending Crisis of the South (Baton Rouge: Louisiana University Press, 2006)

Albert W. Niemi Jr., “Inequality in the Distribution of Slave Wealth: The Cotton South and Other Southern Agricultural Regions,” Journal of Economic History 37, No. 3 (Sept. 1977): 747; 750

Rodrigo R. Soares et al., “A Note on Slavery and the Roots of Inequality,” Journal of Comparative Economics 40, (2012): 578

Richard M. Morris , “The Measure of Bondage in the Slave States,” The Mississippi Valley Historical Review 41, No. 2 (Sept. 1954): 240

W.O. Brown , “Role of Poor Whites in Race Contracts of the South,” Social Forces 19, No. 2 (Dec. 1940): 258–68

Paul H. Buck , “The Poor Whites of the Ante-Bellum South,” The American Historical Review 31, No. 1 (Oct. 1925): 4154

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Elizabeth Fox-Genovese and Eugene D. Genovese , Slavery in White and Black: Class and Race in the Southern Slaveholders’ New World Order (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 1; 24–5; 69

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Ira Berlin and Herbert G. Gutman , “Natives and Immigrants, Free Men and Slaves: Urban Workingmen in the antebellum American South,” The American Historical Review, 88, No. 5 (Dec. 1983): 1187

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Harvey Wish , “The Revival of the African Slave Trade in the United States, 1856–1860,” The Mississippi Valley Historical Review 27, No. 4 (Mar. 1941): 570; 571–2

Elliot J. Gorn , “‘Gouge and Bite, Pull Hair and Scratch’: The Social Significance of Fighting in the Southern Backcountry,” American Historical Review 90, Supplement to Vol. 90 (Feb. 1985): 40; 32; 41; 20; 42

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Arthur H. Sherry , “Vagrants, Rogues and Vagabonds – Old Concepts in Need of Revision,” California Law Review 48, No. 4 (Oct. 1960): 559; 564

Walter Johnson , “The Slave Trader, the White Slave, and the Politics of Racial Determination in the 1850s,” Journal of American History 87, No. 1 (June 2000): 13; 14; 21; 20; 21; 23

Ariela J. Gross , “Litigating Whiteness: Trials of Racial Determination in the 1850s,” Yale Law Journal 108 (Oct. 1998): 188

Hugh C. Bailey , “Disloyalty in Early Confederate Alabama,” Journal of Southern History 23, No. 4 (Nov. 1957): 522; 523

Scott A. MacKenzie , “The Slaveholders’ War: The Secession Crisis in Kanawha County, Western Virginia, 1860–1861,” West Virginia History, New Series, Vol. 4, No. 1 (Spring 2010): 3357

William M. Brewer , “Poor Whites and Negroes in the South since the Civil War,” Journal of Negro History 15, No. 1 (Jan. 1930): 32

J. David Hacker , “New Estimates of Census Coverage in the United States, 1850–1930,” Social Science History 37, No. 1 (Spring 2013): 76

Donald A. DeBats , “Hide and Seek: The Historian and Nineteenth-Century Social Accounting,” Social Science History 15, No.4 (Winter 1991): 545; 546; 560; 557; 561; 548; 547

Peter R. Knights , “Potholes in the Road of Improvement? Estimating Census Underenumeration by Longitudinal Tracing: U.S. Censuses, 1850–1880,” Social Science History 15, No. 4 (Winter 1991): 521


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