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Gunboats, Reputation, and Sovereign Repayment: Lessons from the Southern Confederacy

  • Marc Weidenmier

Many states that formed the Southern Confederacy defaulted on sovereign debt sold in international capital markets during the 1840s. The Confederacy also elected President Jefferson Davis, who openly advocated the repudiation of U.S. states' debts while a member of Congress. Despite its poor credit record, the Confederate government managed to float cotton bonds in England that constituted under two percent of its expenditures. The bonds were largely issued to settle overdue debts with gun contractors who had cut off trade credit. The South serviced the bonds as late as March 1865, a time of domestic hyperinflation and weeks before the fall of Richmond. Although the Confederate experience shows that trade sanctions can promote debt repayment, the gunboat model can only account for a small amount of lending. A reputation or another type of sanction would be necessary to support higher levels of lending in international capital markets.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 10960.

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Date of creation: Dec 2004
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Publication status: published as Weidenmier, Marc D. "Gunboats, Reputation, And Sovereign Repayment: Lessons From The Southern Confederacy," Journal of International Economics, 2005, v66(2,Jul), 407-422.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:10960
Note: DAE
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  1. Jeremy A.Rogoff Bulow & Kenneth, 1986. "A Constant Recontracting Model of Sovereign Debt," University of Chicago - George G. Stigler Center for Study of Economy and State 43, Chicago - Center for Study of Economy and State.
  2. Richard C. K. Burdekin & Marc D. Weidenmier, 2001. "Inflation Is Always and Everywhere a Monetary Phenomenon: Richmond vs. Houston in 1864," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 91(5), pages 1621-1630, December.
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  9. Brown, William O. & Burdekin, Richard C. K., 2000. "Turning Points in the U.S. Civil War: A British Perspective," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 60(01), pages 216-231, March.
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  12. Ozler, Sule, 1993. "Have Commercial Banks Ignored History?," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 83(3), pages 608-20, June.
  13. Bulow, Jeremy & Rogoff, Kenneth, 1989. "Sovereign Debt: Is to Forgive to Forget?," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 79(1), pages 43-50, March.
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  15. Grossman, Herschel I & Han, Taejoon, 1996. "War Debt, Moral Hazard, and the Financing of the Confederacy," Journal of Money, Credit and Banking, Blackwell Publishing, vol. 28(2), pages 200-215, May.
  16. Marc D. Weidenmier, . "Turning Points during the U.S. Civil War: Views from the Grayback Market," Claremont Colleges Working Papers 1999-24, Claremont Colleges.
  17. Eaton, Jonathan & Gersovitz, Mark, 1981. "Debt with Potential Repudiation: Theoretical and Empirical Analysis," Review of Economic Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 48(2), pages 289-309, April.
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