Many of us are familiar with the logic that argues that since a majority of white southerners did not own slaves, secession (and the Confederacy) must have been about something other than slavery. After all, why would a non-slaveholder fight to preserve slavery?
Gordon Rhea offers one answer worth considering. And, as he reminds us:
As a Southerner, a historian, and a descendant of former slave-owners, I sincerely hope that we use the opportunity of the Sesquicentennial to open a frank and civil dialogue about what happened 150 years ago. Our ancestors were unapologetic about why they wanted to secede; it is up to us to take them at their word and to dispassionately form our own judgments about their actions. It is time for Southerners to squarely face this era in our history so that we can finally understand it for what it was and move on.
Georgia governor Joseph E. Brown made his own case to non-slaveholders on December 7, 1860. You can read it here. As he said:
I know that some contemptible demagogues have attempted to deceive them by appealing to their prejudices, and asking them what interest they have in maintaining the rights of the wealthy slaveholder. They cannot be deceived in this way. They know that the government of our State protects their lives, their families and their property; and that every dollar the wealthy slaveholder has, may be taken by the government of the State, if need be, to protect the rights and liberties of all. One man, in a large neighborhood, has a mill. Not one in fifty has a mill. What would be thought of the public speaker who would appeal to the fifty, and ask them what interest they have in defending their neighbor’s mill, if an abolition mob were trying to burn it down? Another has a store. Not one in fifty has a store. Who would say the fifty should not help the one if an invader is about to burn his store? Another has a blacksmith shop. Not one in fifty has a blacksmith shop. Shall the shop be destroyed by the common enemy and no one protect the owner because no one near, has the same peculiar kind of property? It may be that I have no horse, and you have a horse; or that I have a cow, and you have no cow. In such case, if our rights of property are assailed by a common enemy, shall we not help each other? Or I have a wife and children, and a house, and another has neither wife and children, nor house. Will he, therefore, stand by and see my house burned and my wife and children butchered, because he has none? The slaveholder has honestly invested the money, which it has cost him years of toil to make, in slaves, which are guaranteed to him by the laws of our State. The common enemy of the South seeks to take the property from him. Shall all who do not own slaves, stand by and permit it to be done? If so, they have no right to call on the slaveholder, by taxation, or otherwise, to help protect their property or their liberties. Such a doctrine is monstrous; and he who would advocate it, deserves to be rode upon the sharpest edge of one of Lincoln’s rails. The doctrine strikes at the very foundation of society, and if carried out, would destroy all property, and all protection to life, liberty and happiness.
Somehow I suspect that Thomas DiLorenzo never read this speech.