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Title: "The state of society is awful" : poor whites, class, mobility, and the mixed-labour economy of New Orleans, 1820-1835
Author: Stallard, Matthew
ISNI:       0000 0004 6351 6098
Awarding Body: University of Manchester
Current Institution: University of Manchester
Date of Award: 2017
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The rapid economic development of the South Western United States transformed the city of New Orleans into a thriving commercial centre and led to unprecedented demographic growth. Highly innovative digital techniques are pioneered in this thesis and combined with a plethora of legal and governmental records and traditional qualitative primary sources to investigate for the first time the development of a white working class in 1820s and 1830s New Orleans. South and North, the antebellum period was defined by the increasing penetration of the global and national capitalistic market system into everyday life and economic activity, which created a large white waged labouring population who were unable to attain the markers of independence and mastery, such as slave ownership, property ownership, heading a household, mastering a trade, directing and controlling dependents, and exercising democratic political rights, which supposedly bound all adult white men together as equal citizens in the age of white supremacist Jacksonian Democracy. By transcribing every entry from the 1820 and 1830s censuses of the city and combining them in a unique linked database with transcriptions from the 1822 and 1832 city directories, this thesis is able to show that poor whites were decreasingly likely to exercise these rights in 1830 than in 1820, were unlikely to remain resident in New Orleans over an extended period of time, and were far more likely to perish in the city's pestilential disease environment than the more affluent classes of society. The increasing reach of the capitalist market across continents and oceans facilitated the migration of thousands of poor whites from their economically disadvantaged homes to the sites where labour was required. Mobile networks of working class migration which spanned the Atlantic, the Caribbean, the Mississippi Valley, and the eastern United States overlapped at New Orleans, which became a major transport hub for itinerant and indigent arrivals. The alienation of poor whites from basic markers of manhood was compounded by having to acquire the necessities and pleasures of domestic life in the marketplace, denying them the private and familial life which was the cultural norm for republican men. On top of the detrimental impacts of class amongst the white population, the use of a mixed-labour system which combined various slavery arrangements with waged and indentured free black and white labour led to a situation where poor whites were forced to compete with both enslaved and free blacks for jobs, and at times be requested to work in subordination to free black workers. The use of the mixed-labour system was promoted by the property owning and slaveholding elite as it maximised their returns on profit but it simultaneously drove down remuneration for white workers. In a city with a large, affluent, and confident free black population, which included many master craftsmen, slaveholders, and property owners, poor whites found themselves in a position in which the dominant social ideologies of race were undermined. Poor whites reacted to this with violence and protest, whilst elite whites also recognised the anomalous position of the poorest and responded by doubting their commitment to racial solidarity in the summer of 1835 when southern society was tested by insurrectionary panic.
Supervisor: Zacek, Natalie Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available