Suffrage, Labour Markets and Coalitions in Colonial Virginia

36 Pages Posted: 1 Oct 2016

See all articles by Elena Nikolova

Elena Nikolova

Central European Labour Studies Institute (CELSI); University College London - School of Slavonic and East European Studies; IOS Regensburg

Milena Nikolova



We study Virginia's suffrage from the early 17th century until the American Revolution using an analytical narrative and econometric analysis of unique data on franchise restrictions. First, we hold that suffrage changes reflected labour market dynamics. Indeed, Virginia’s liberal institutions initially served to attract indentured servants from England needed in the labour-intensive tobacco farming but deteriorated once worker demand subsided and planters replaced white workers with slaves.Second, we argue that Virginia's suffrage was also the result of political bargaining influenced by shifting societal coalitions. We show that new politically influential coalitions of freemen and then of small and large slave-holding farmers emerged in the second half of the 17th and early 18th centuries, respectively. These coalitions were instrumental in reversing the earlier democratic institutions. Our main contribution stems from integrating the labour markets and bargaining/coalitions arguments, thus proving a novel theoretical and empirical explanation for institutional change.

Keywords: democracy, suffrage, colonialism, bargaining, coalitions, Virginia

JEL Classification: D02, N31, N41, P16

Suggested Citation

Nikolova, Elena and Nikolova, Elena and Nikolova, Milena, Suffrage, Labour Markets and Coalitions in Colonial Virginia. IZA Discussion Paper No. 10226, Available at SSRN: or

Elena Nikolova (Contact Author)

Central European Labour Studies Institute (CELSI) ( email )

Zvolenská 29
Bratislava, 82109

University College London - School of Slavonic and East European Studies ( email )

Malet Street
London WC1E 7HU
United Kingdom

IOS Regensburg ( email )

Landshuter Str. 4
Regensburg, 93047

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