Lawrence Velvel interviews James McPherson in 2009. Here’s part one …
… and part two …
Tape 1 at 40 minutes. I like McPherson’s very clear response to the person who asked, why did the South secede when the vast majority of those people were yeoman farmers who did not own slaves. McPherson points out that 40 percent were from slave-owning families, and even more had relatives outside the nuclear family who owned slaves.
But, what about the rest, why did they go along with secession? This part McPherson answers very clearly, saying that in fact, they may have felt — if anything — that they had even a greater stake in slavery than the actual slave holders, because the institution of slavery with its foundation on white supremacy, was the one thing that elevated their status at least above that segment of the population. From their perception, they had a lot to lose if slavery were abolished. (Plus the fact that many of them aspired to become slave holders themselves, but McPherson seems to give that lesser importance.)
Whereas — from this particular perspective, at least — the wealthy planter class actually had less of a stake in the institution of slavery, because their social class remained pretty well assured — no matter whether the people who worked for them were slaves or free.
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