Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Eat the antebellum rich!!!

I've shared a meme over at http://www.facebook.com/peteschult/posts/10205994540155402 that I won't be taking down but that does need some extended discussion and criticism.

A kinda overly simplified meme on the Interwebz? Im shocked!!!
A kinda overly simplified meme on the Interwebz? I'm shocked!!!

Here's the data I found in the census report for 1860:

US population in 1860
People Families
Free states 19.2 million 3.63 million
Enslaving states 12.2 million 1.52 million
Total 31.4 million 5.15 million

Enslaved population: 3.95 million

Number of enslavers[1]: 0.385 million (= 385,000)

0.385 is

  • 3.16% of 12.2 (enslaving states)
  • 1.23% of 31.4 (total US)

The 1.6% figure in the meme is, thus, not far off, but it is a bit misleading. If I'm not mistaken, the 0.385 million would have basically been the number of households that enslaved, so the comparison should be with households. Moreover, it should only be with those in the enslaving states. 0.385 is 25.3% of 1.52 million.

Thus, we have around a quarter of the households of the enslaving states being active enslavers. This is still a minority, and it may be that many of the households with few slaves were not necessarily better off financially with enslaved workers than they would have been with free, so the meme's central claim that a definite minority of the population of the confederacy was able to get much of the rest of the white population to fight against its own interests stands, but the ratio of beneficiaries to pawns is more like 3:1 than 62:1.

  1. I couldn't find this figure in looking through the census report itself, but I was not thorough. I got it from the online copy of a print publication for state legislators (State legislatures, June 2008), and they claim to have gotten it from the 1860 census.