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Did southerners favor slavery? Inferences from an analysis of prices in New Orleans, 1805–1860


  • Jeffrey Grynaviski


  • Michael Munger



During the years immediately following the American Revolution, it was common for Southern elites to express concerns about the morality or long-term viability of slavery. It is unclear, however, whether such expressions of anti-slavery sentiment were genuine, especially given the failure of so many slave owners to emancipate their slaves. In this paper, we show that there was a change in elite rhetoric about slavery, initiated by Whig politicians in the mid-1830s seeking a campaign issue in the South, in which anti-slavery rhetoric became linked to attempts by abolitionists to foment slave unrest, making anti-slavery an unsustainable position for the region’s politicians. Before that development, we contend that some planters believed that slavery might some day be abolished. After it, those concerns largely went away. We argue that the change in slave owners’ beliefs about the probability of abolition in the mid-1830s should have been reflected in slave prices at auction and test that claim using evidence from the New Orleans auction market. Copyright Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Suggested Citation

  • Jeffrey Grynaviski & Michael Munger, 2014. "Did southerners favor slavery? Inferences from an analysis of prices in New Orleans, 1805–1860," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 159(3), pages 341-361, June.
  • Handle: RePEc:kap:pubcho:v:159:y:2014:i:3:p:341-361
    DOI: 10.1007/s11127-013-0150-2

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Kotlikoff, Laurence J, 1979. "The Structure of Slave Prices in New Orleans, 1804 to 1862," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 17(4), pages 496-518, October.
    2. Dienstag, Joshua Foa, 1996. "Serving God and Mammon: The Lockean Sympathy in Early American Political Thought," American Political Science Review, Cambridge University Press, vol. 90(3), pages 497-511, September.
    3. Michael Reksulak & Gökhan Karahan & William Shughart, 2007. "Flags of our fathers: Voting on Confederate symbols in the State of Georgia," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 131(1), pages 83-99, April.
    4. G–khan R. Karahan & William F. Shughart II, 2004. "Under Two Flags: Symbolic Voting in the State of Mississippi," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 118(1_2), pages 105-124, January.
    5. Robert H. Bates & Avner Greif & Margaret Levi & Jean-Laurent Rosenthal, 1998. "Analytic Narratives," Economics Books, Princeton University Press, edition 1, number 6355.
    6. Keith Dougherty & Jac Heckelman, 2008. "Voting on slavery at the Constitutional Convention," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 136(3), pages 293-313, September.
    7. Ron Rogowski, 2013. "Slavery: a dual-equilibrium model with some historical examples," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 155(3), pages 189-209, June.
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    Slavery; Ideology; Economic history;


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