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The Political and Economic Geography of Southern Secession

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 March 2020

Mario L. Chacón
Assistant Professor, Division of Social Science, New York University Abu Dhabi, Saadiyat Island, Abu Dhabi, UAE. P.O. Box 129188. E-mail:
Jeffrey L. Jensen
Lecturer, Division of Social Science, New York University Abu Dhabi, Saadiyat Island, Abu Dhabi, UAE. P.O. Box 129188. E-mail:


We study the economic and political determinants of the Southern secession movement of 1860/61. While economic historians emphasize the importance of slavery to the South’s economy as the primary factor behind the movement, we demonstrate the important role that political inequality among whites played in facilitating secession. In particular, secession was decided in state conventions, which allowed secessionists to exploit biases to representation and may have been pivotal in Alabama and Georgia. Our results suggest that the region’s investment in slavery alone may not be sufficient to explain the electoral success of the movement in the largest Lower South states.

© The Economic History Association 2020

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We thank Howard Rosenthal, Scott Gates, Abdul Noury, Ana Arjona, James Alt, David Stasavage, William Collins, and two anonymous referees for their helpful comments and suggestions. We also benefited from the suggestions of seminar participants at the MPSA and EPSA meetings, Universidad del Rosario, and Northwestern University. Last, we also thank Sidak Yntiso, Andrew Udelsman, Dario Romero, Binod Paduel, and Mathew Sumner for their assistance.



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