From the New York Times, October 31, 1860:
Who Threatened Disunion, and Why.
It is a well known fact that the Democrats of the South are not the only slaveholders. On the contrary, we believe that in proportion to numbers, the Opposition own more slaves than the Democracy. It is also a fact that the largest slaveholders among the Democrats are the most conservative, and least prone to indulge in threats of disunion. Why is it, then, that all Southern patriotism is monopolized by Democrats, as they choose to call themselves, and that all threats of resistance or secession, on the event of LINCOLN’s election, come from what party? Nearly or quite half the popular vote of the South will be given for Mr. BELL and Mr. DOUGLAS, yet not one of these voters or their political leaders avows disunion sentiments, although they are deeply interested in slavery. Is not this a strange state of things? Are these men destitute of the patriotism, the courage, and the intelligence which actuate the supporters of BRECKINRIDGE? If they be not wanting in these virtues, how comes it that they never menace the North with disunion, in the event of defeat?
There must be a reason for this singular state of things. There must be something else than pure, unbiased, and disinterested move for the South and her institutions, which moves one party in that section to be disloyal to the Union, while another party, which embraces an equal proportion of Slaveholders, are resolved to stand by it, no matter who shall be elected President by a constitutional majority of the country. The elements of which Southern parties are composed are the same. Each consists of slaveholders and non-slaveholders, of planters and small farmers, of merchants, mechanics and professional men. They reside on the same soil, follow the same occupations, and are blended into one social state. But there is one striking difference of position between them, to which, alone, we must attribute their wide diversity of sentiment as to the value of the Union. The Democratic Party has the control of the Federal Government, with its donors and offices, and patronage, which, from long possession, it has come to regard as a hereditary right, and for which its leaders cherish far more regard than for the Federal Union.
The “Opposition” party in the South was originally the Whigs; they later were absorbed by the nativist Know-nothings, and by 1860 were the Constitutional Union party, whose candidate was John Bell. Breckinridge voters were more likely to be secessionists, and to favor unilateral secession rather than cooperationism, than Bell voters. And wealthier, more established planters were Bell voters. Breckinridge voters, and ardent secessionists, skewed toward small slaveholders, recent entrants to the slaveholding class . It may be that the old money had less to lose; they had made their fortunes from slaves, and had no particular need to move into new land. As long as the Republicans were not threatening slavery in the existing states, their income was secure. New slaveholders needed to move into new land to establish plantations, and were thus interested in having slavery expand into the territories, protected by a slave code(Barney, Chapter 2).
The Times here presents another theory, that the Democrats were interested in protecting their patronage offices. Both factors may have been in play; it’s also apparent that many non-slaveholders were Breckinridge voters, and this may have been due to the populist image of the Democratic party.