The Political Legacy of American Slavery

60 Pages Posted: 16 Dec 2014

See all articles by Avidit Acharya

Avidit Acharya

University of Rochester

Matthew Blackwell

Department of Government, Harvard University

Maya Sen

Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS)

Date Written: December 1, 2014

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.

Keywords: slavery, institutions, norms, persistence, development

JEL Classification: N32, N91, O17

Suggested Citation

Acharya, Avidit and Blackwell, Matthew and Sen, Maya, The Political Legacy of American Slavery (December 1, 2014). HKS Working Paper No. RWP14-057. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2538616 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2538616

Avidit Acharya (Contact Author)

University of Rochester ( email )

300 Crittenden Blvd.
Rochester, NY 14627
United States

Matthew Blackwell

Department of Government, Harvard University ( email )

1737 Cambridge Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

HOME PAGE: http://gov.harvard.edu

Maya Sen

Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) ( email )

79 John F. Kennedy Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

HOME PAGE: http://scholar.harvard.edu/msen

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