A Far Deadlier Instrument of Oppression
The labor system of the antebellum American South was doomed because of the Northern wage system which was relentlessly creeping southward. That wage system, more cruel but more efficient and cost-effective, would have eventually replaced the more responsible and moral plantation socialism which cared for the workers from cradle to grave. It must be remembered that African slavery in the South was the lingering residue of British colonialism and New England slave traders, and the latter’s descendants were reaping vast profits in the Massachusetts mills which needed cheap raw cotton.
Bernhard Thuersam, Director
Cape Fear Historical Institute
A Far Deadlier Instrument of Oppression:
“It was not until fanatics, like William Lloyd Garrison, began to burn the Constitution, preach secession and denounce as fiends all Southern slaveholders that the South began to defend slavery and stand on their rights under organic law. To stand by their dignity as men and repel insults by force of arms if need be. My father believed that slavery would die of its own weakness in the South, as it had died in the North, unless meddling fools should provoke a war over it. As they did.
He held no illusions of the moral superiority of the Northern wage system. It had been introduced into the mills of the south and he had studied it at close range. He knew that slavery was doomed because of the superior cruel efficiency of the wage system, a far deadlier instrument of oppression if used without conscience. The Yankee had discovered this tremendous fact and applied it to his whole economic system.
They could hire an able bodied white man to work in the mills for 80
My father knew that no human being could live on this earth and reproduce his kind on 80 [cents] a day. And for this reason he never believed in the moral superiority of this new master who used the wage system. In the South they called a slave a slave. In the North they called him a wage earner. He knew that ethics had nothing to do with the abolition of slavery in the North. It was abolished by the Captain of Industry, not the preacher or the agitator.
The Captain established the wage system because it became a mightier weapon in his hand for producing riches and paying dividends. It was subject to but one law…the iron law of wage…of supply and demand. The system was scientific, soulless. The wage earner, driven by hunger and cold, by the fear of loss of life itself, was always more efficient in his toil than the care-free Negro in the South, who was assured bread, clothes, fuel, shelter and the doctor’s care.”
(Southern Horizons, The Autobiography of Thomas Dixon, IWV Publishing, 1984, pp. 5-6)