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Betting on Secession: Quantifying Political Events Surrounding Slavery and the Civil War


  • Charles W. Calomiris
  • Jonathan Pritchett


Abraham Lincoln's election produced Southern secession, Civil War, and abolition. Using a new database of slave sales from New Orleans, we examine the connections between political news and the prices of slaves for 1856-1861. We find that slave prices declined by roughly a third from their 1860 peak, reflecting increased southern pessimism regarding the possibility of war and the war's possible outcome. The South's decision to secede reflected the beliefs that the North would not invade to oppose secession, and that emancipation of slaves without compensation was unlikely, both of which were subsequently dashed by Lincoln's actions.

Suggested Citation

  • Charles W. Calomiris & Jonathan Pritchett, 2013. "Betting on Secession: Quantifying Political Events Surrounding Slavery and the Civil War," NBER Working Papers 19625, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:19625
    Note: AP DAE POL

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Jonathan Pritchett & Jessica Hayes, 2011. "The Occupations of Slaves Sold in New Orleans: Missing Values, Cheap Talk, or Informative Advertising," Working Papers 1113, Tulane University, Department of Economics.
    2. Pritchett, Jonathan & Smith, Mallorie, 2013. "Sequential Sales as a Test of Adverse Selection in the Market for Slaves," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 73(02), pages 477-497, June.
    3. 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.
    4. Mark Yanochik & Bradley Ewing & Mark Thornton, 2001. "A new perspective on antebellum slavery: Public policy and slave prices," Atlantic Economic Journal, Springer;International Atlantic Economic Society, vol. 29(3), pages 330-340, September.
    5. Chenny, Shirley & St-Amour, Pascal & Vencatachellum, Desire, 2003. "Slave prices from succession and bankruptcy sales in Mauritius, 1825-1827," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 40(4), pages 419-442, October.
    6. Newland, Carlos & San segundo, María Jesús, 1996. "Human Capital and Other Determinants of the Price Life Cycle of a Slave: Peru and La Plata in the Eighteenth Century," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 56(03), pages 694-701, September.
    7. Calomiris, Charles W. & Pritchett, Jonathan B., 2009. "Preserving Slave Families for Profit: Traders' Incentives and Pricing in the New Orleans Slave Market," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 69(04), pages 986-1011, December.
    8. Olmstead, Alan L. & Rhode, Paul W., 2008. "Biological Innovation and Productivity Growth in the Antebellum Cotton Economy," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 68(04), pages 1123-1171, December.
    9. Choo, Eugene & Eid, Jean, 2008. "Interregional Price Difference in the New Orleans Auctions Market for Slaves," Journal of Business & Economic Statistics, American Statistical Association, vol. 26, pages 486-509.
    10. Calomiris, Charles W. & Schweikart, Larry, 1991. "The Panic of 1857: Origins, Transmission, and Containment," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 51(04), pages 807-834, December.
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    Cited by:

    1. Felipe González & Guillermo Marshall & Suresh Naidu, 2016. "Start-up Nation? Slave Wealth and Entrepreneurship in Civil War Maryland," NBER Working Papers 22483, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. Paul Hallwood, 2017. "Comment: Betting on Secession: Quantifying Political Events Surrounding Slavery and the Civil War," Working papers 2017-07, University of Connecticut, Department of Economics.
    3. Erik O. Kimbrough & Kevin Laughren & Roman Sheremeta, 2017. "War and Conflict in Economics: Theories, Applications, and Recent Trends," Discussion Papers dp17-10, Department of Economics, Simon Fraser University.
    4. repec:cup:jechis:v:77:y:2017:i:02:p:373-405_00 is not listed on IDEAS
    5. Trevon D. Logan, 2018. "Do Black Politicians Matter?," NBER Working Papers 24190, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    6. Laurie Binge & Willem H Boshoff, 2016. "Modelling South African Art Prices: An analysis of post-2000 price behaviour," Working Papers 18/2016, Stellenbosch University, Department of Economics.
    7. Conor Lennon, 2016. "Slave Escape, Prices, and the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 59(3), pages 669-695.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • G18 - Financial Economics - - General Financial Markets - - - Government Policy and Regulation
    • N31 - Economic History - - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy - - - U.S.; Canada: Pre-1913
    • N41 - Economic History - - Government, War, Law, International Relations, and Regulation - - - U.S.; Canada: Pre-1913
    • P16 - Economic Systems - - Capitalist Systems - - - Political Economy of Capitalism

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