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Wealth, Slaveownership, and Fighting for the Confederacy: An Empirical Study of the American Civil War



How did personal wealth and slaveownership affect the likelihood Southerners fought for the Confederate Army in the American Civil War? On the one hand, wealthy Southerners had incentives to free-ride on poorer Southerners and avoid fighting; on the other hand, wealthy Southerners were disproportionately slaveowners, and thus had more at stake in the outcome of the war. We assemble a dataset on roughly 3.9 million free citizens in the Confederacy and show that slaveowners were more likely to fight than non-slaveowners. We then exploit a randomized land lottery held in 1832 in Georgia. Households of lottery winners owned more slaves in 1850 and were more likely to have sons who fought in the Confederate Army. We conclude that slaveownership, in contrast to some other kinds of wealth, compelled Southerners to fight despite free-rider incentives because it raised their stakes in the war’s outcome.

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This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence (, which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

Corresponding author

*Andrew B. Hall, Associate Professor, Department of Political Science, Stanford University,,
Connor Huff, PhD Candidate, Department of Government, Harvard University,,
Shiro Kuriwaki, PhD Candidate, Department of Government, Harvard University,,


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Authors contributed equally and are listed in alphabetical order. For research assistance, we thank Nishant Karandikar, Mikhail Kolganov, and Judy Pintor. We are grateful to Ran Abramitzky, Matt Blackwell, Lisa Blaydes, David Broockman, Jennifer Eggert, James Feigenbaum, Jeffry Frieden, Vicky Fouka, Steve Haber, Federica Izzo, Tyler Jost, Sergiy Kudelia, Christopher Lucas, Shom Mazumder, Christoph Mikulaschek, Ian Morris, Jon Rogowski, Robert Schub, Jaume Sempere, Ken Shotts, David Stasavage, Pavi Suri, Monica Duffy Toft, Gavin Wright, participants at the Harvard Experimental Political Science Graduate Student Conference, MPSA 2017, the Political Violence Workshop at Harvard University, the Harvard-MIT-Tufts-Yale Political Violence Conference, the Stanford, CIDE, and Colmex joint conference in Mexico City, the NYU Politics and History conference, and the LSE Historical Political Economy conference for helpful comments and suggestions. Replication files are available at the American Political Science Review Dataverse:



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