Slavery, Reconstruction, and Bureaucratic Capacity in the American South

40 Pages Posted: 26 Jan 2019 Last revised: 16 Nov 2020

See all articles by Pavithra Suryanarayan

Pavithra Suryanarayan

London School of Economics & Political Science (LSE)

Steven White

Syracuse University

Date Written: January 14, 2019


Conventional political economy models predict taxation will increase when the franchise is expanded to include more low-income voters. We argue that in societies where social status is a cleavage, extensions of the franchise to low-status groups may lead to not only greater redistribution but also policies encouraging social integration. Therefore, elites can use the threat of desegregation to unite both wealthy and poor members of high-status groups against taxes, and weaken the bureaucratic capacity essential for tax collection. We demonstrate this argument by studying the effects of the extension of voting rights to African Americans in the United States at the end of the Civil War. We show that during Reconstruction, under an occupying North, per capita taxation was higher in counties with more former slaves and slaveholdings. After Reconstruction, per capita taxes fell and bureaucratic capacity was weaker where the legacy of slavery was stronger. We find  that higher intrawhite economic inequality was associated with lower taxes and lower bureaucratic quality in the post-Reconstruction era in counties with more enslaved people and slaveholdings. These results suggest that Southern elites could successfully build cross-class coalitions against taxation in places where whites were more threatened by desegregation and sought to protect their racial status.

Keywords: Bureaucratic Capacity, Social-Status, Reconstruction, American Institutions

Suggested Citation

Suryanarayan, Pavithra and White, Steven, Slavery, Reconstruction, and Bureaucratic Capacity in the American South (January 14, 2019). Available at SSRN: or

Pavithra Suryanarayan (Contact Author)

London School of Economics & Political Science (LSE) ( email )

Houghton Street
London, WC2A 2AE
United Kingdom

Steven White

Syracuse University ( email )

900 S. Crouse Avenue
Syracuse, NY 13244-2130
United States

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