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The Quandaries of Slavery and Civil War in the United States


  • Norman Schofield

    () (Center in Political Economy, Washington University, St. Louis, USA)


The key theoretical idea underlying this paper is that an institutional equilibrium can be destroyed or transformed by rapid belief changes in the population. The changes in electoral beliefs in the period prior to the election of Lincoln in 1860 and the commencement of the Civil War are examined in an attempt to understand the political transformation that occurred at that time, as well as its rami?cations until the present. I argue that Lincoln made the case to the Northern electorate that the South posed a threat to free labor. The Dred Scott Opinion of the Supreme court in 1857 made credible a belief that the South did intend to force the extension of slavery to the free Northern States, and to the Territories. Slavery would then cover the Republic as far as the Paci?c. Lincoln thus created a belief cascade in the North, which destroyed the intersectional political equilibrium or balance between land and capital that had persisted in the US since the election of Je?erson in 1800. The equilibrium had depended on the suppression of the issue of slavery. LincolnÆs election in turn created a belief cascade in the South that induced secession. I then relate the events of 1860 to MadisonÆs argument in ôFederalist Xö on the ôprobability of a ?t choiceö in the extended Republic. I argue that Madison was in?uenced by both Condorcet and Montesquieu, and that the US Constitution was designed to facilitate the election of a risk taking President, at a time of social quandary.

Suggested Citation

  • Norman Schofield, 2004. "The Quandaries of Slavery and Civil War in the United States," Homo Oeconomicus, Institute of SocioEconomics, vol. 21, pages 315-354.
  • Handle: RePEc:hom:homoec:v:21:y:2004:p:315-354

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