Poor white people. It's an interestingly good topic. It never gets brought up. About one-third of the cotton-belt’s white population did not own land or slaves. I guess this is why it’s important to understand more about how this particular selection of people in this particular region identified with their status and place in society.
The Panic of 1837 was a financial collapse reminiscent of Wall Street’s plunge in our more contemporary times. It utterly destroyed everything associated with finances, and the lower classes would take the brunt of the early-American financial collapse. Even small-time farmers and landholders found themselves quickly stripped of their earnings, and savings. Throughout the 1840’s, biting at the ankle of the recession, almost one million slaves spilled into the deep south. The economic displacement for unskilled and partly-skilled white laborers was overwhelming. Plantation slavery made any sort of white labor completely unnecessary—of course unless it was to fill a serious labor need—like during the planting and harvesting seasons specifically (kind of like Walmart at Christmas). Unemployment and underemployment was extremely high with long periods of time in between. Socioeconomic consequences for these poor whites were a certain part of the fallout of living in a slave society, although daily violence, mistreatment, and humiliations were behaviors they were not subjected too.
Even when these poor white’s increasingly shifted their labors towards work that did not involve agriculture, the deep south could not afford the full employment. Daily and seasonal labor was the only typical work available, and even then it left many people without work for most parts of the year. Many white laborer’s found work that had them traveling long distances—this would cause them to completely leave their families and belongings behind. This was just for short term work! In the South, the more available jobs to take were the most dangerous. Digging ditches for agricultural aqueducts, or mining—work labeled “too dangerous for Negro property.” I think the hardest thing for poor white laborer’s was the threats of constantly being told that there were thousands of blacks ready to take their place if they choose to ask for better wages or ask for a safer work environment.
In the latter years of the 1850’s that a white laborer by the name of Isaac Grimes wrote: “…awful scarce. Couldn’t hardly get work [and] wages [were] so low – I have worked that time for $5.00 a month and board. Worked with oxen’s, all [I] could get for work.” Another white laborer from Georgia mentioned: “…the slaveholders could get the slave for almost nothing and the poor young men like myself, could not get a job.” Not only did poor whites possess class awareness to their status in society, they became resentfully bitter of slave owners. These poor whites would see their labor made useless. Some of them would even choose to leave the southern antebellum altogether. Some would live off the land, and other would run from the law. Still, others would work the odd-job to make their own ends meet.
It was the heavy emphasis on hiring slaves throughout the 1840’s and 1850’s that compounded on class troubles. As poor whites moved into the large southern cities from rural areas, racial tensions continued to mount. It was to no surprise that poor class whites became upset, and even at times hostile, about their positioning in the southern economy. As a result of their class awareness, they would threaten to leave slave politics altogether. They would make their points heard about the viability of the institution of slavery and how necessary support from the working poor class citizens made that stability happen. Ultimately, they made their unhappiness to the upper classes known. A great example of this aforementioned issue: White laborers protested and made a call to action stating “the suppression of the abuses committed by the owners of negro mechanics in ‘permitting their slaves to go at large, trade as free men, [and] hire themselves out’…to the…direct injury of the mechanical classes in open violation of social right.”
Even R. H. Purdom would give a stark warning: “early, decided course for the speedy suppression of the intolerable abuses” taken on by white workers was absolutely necessary for the “permanent welfare of the institution of slavery itself.” Mr. Purdom was a master mechanic who stood up to address a meeting in Jackson, Mississippi gave a stark warning to the elite’s controlling the southern economy. It was by this point that even the poor working white class were ready to turn coat on their own institutions—and their own people. This event proves that the ancient institution of slavery, which had been broken by Moses and the Israelite's from Egypt as commanded by God, was an unstable and nonviable solution from the beginning of its contemporary conception. George Mason of Virginia, a representative who championed abolition mentioned, “Every master of slaves is born a petty tyrant. They bring the judgment of heaven upon a country. As nations cannot be rewarded or punished in the next world, they must be in this. By an inevitable chain of causes and effects, Providence punishes national sins by national calamities.”
As a historical researcher, I am convinced of this argument.
Further, I am also convinced that the poor whites of early-America were well aware of their "social status".
Daniel L. Smith,
 Richard M. Morris, “The Measure of Bondage in the Slave States,” The Mississippi Valley Historical Review 41, No. 2 (Sept. 1954): 223; 228.
 Colleen M. Elliot and Louise A. Moxley, eds. The Tennessee Civil War Veterans Questionnaires, Vols. 1-5. (Easley, SC: Southern Historical Press, Inc., 1985), Vol. 3, 966; Vol. 3, 1057.
 “Mechanical Association,” Mississippian State Gazette, Dec. 29, 1858, 3.
 Beliles, Mark A., and Stephen K. McDowell. "The War for the Union." In America's Providential History, 3rd ed., 227. Charlottesville: Providence Foundation, 1989.