Masterless Men: Poor Whites and Slavery in the Antebellum South

The Baton Foundation, Inc., in partnership with the Auburn Avenue Research Library on African American Culture and History, will host a lecture and book signing about poor Whites and slavery in Antebellum America. This program is free and open to the public. Read more, and Reserve seats here.

About the Book

In Masterless Men: Poor Whites and Slavery in the Antebellum South, Keri Leigh Merritt analyzes land policy, labor, and legal history to reveal what happens to excess workers when a capitalist system is predicated on free labor. With the rising global demand for cotton – and thus, enslaved Blacks – in the 1840s and 1850s, the need for White laborers in the American South was drastically reduced, creating a large underclass of people who were unemployed or underemployed. These poor Whites could not compete – for jobs or living wages – with the profitable labor of enslaved women, men, and children. 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.