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The Political Legacy of American Slavery

Author

Listed:
  • Acharya, Avidit

    (Stanford University)

  • Blackwell, Matthew

    (Harvard University)

  • Sen, Maya

    (Harvard University)

Abstract

We show that contemporary differences in political attitudes across counties in the American South trace their origins to slavery's prevalence more than 150 years ago. Whites who currently live in Southern counties that had high shares of slaves in 1860 are more likely to identify as a Republican, oppose affirmative action policies, and express racial resentment and colder feelings toward blacks. These results cannot be explained by existing theories, including the theory of racial threat. To explain these results, we offer evidence for a new theory involving the historical persistence of racial attitudes. We argue that, following the Civil War, Southern whites faced political and economic incentives to reinforce racist norms and institutions. This produced racially conservative political attitudes, which in turn have been passed down locally across generations. Our results challenge the interpretation of a vast literature on racial attitudes in the American South.

Suggested Citation

  • Acharya, Avidit & Blackwell, Matthew & Sen, Maya, 2014. "The Political Legacy of American Slavery," Working Paper Series rwp14-057, Harvard University, John F. Kennedy School of Government.
  • Handle: RePEc:ecl:harjfk:rwp14-057
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    Cited by:

    1. Graziella Bertocchi, 2016. "The legacies of slavery in and out of Africa," IZA Journal of Migration, Springer;Forschungsinstitut zur Zukunft der Arbeit GmbH (IZA), vol. 5(1), pages 1-19, December.
    2. Pavithra Suryanarayan, 2017. "When do the poor vote for the right-wing and why: Status inequality and vote choice in the Indian states," WIDER Working Paper Series 020, World Institute for Development Economic Research (UNU-WIDER).
    3. Acharya, Avidit & Blackwell, Matthew & Sen, Maya, 2015. "Explaining Attitudes from Behavior: A Cognitive Dissonance Approach," Working Paper Series rwp15-026, Harvard University, John F. Kennedy School of Government.
    4. Trevon D. Logan, 2018. "Do Black Politicians Matter?," NBER Working Papers 24190, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    5. Graziella Bertocchi, 2016. "The Legacies of Slavery in and out of Africa," Department of Economics 0096, University of Modena and Reggio E., Faculty of Economics "Marco Biagi".

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • N32 - Economic History - - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy - - - U.S.; Canada: 1913-
    • N91 - Economic History - - Regional and Urban History - - - U.S.; Canada: Pre-1913
    • O17 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - Formal and Informal Sectors; Shadow Economy; Institutional Arrangements

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