Journal of Historical Political Economy > Vol 3 > Issue 1

Deeper Roots: Historical Causal Inference and the Political Legacy of Slavery

David A. Bateman, Department of Government, and the Jeb E. Brooks School of Public Policy, Cornell University, USA, , Eric Schickler, Travers Department of Political Science, University of California, Berkeley, USA,
Suggested Citation
David A. Bateman and Eric Schickler (2023), "Deeper Roots: Historical Causal Inference and the Political Legacy of Slavery", Journal of Historical Political Economy: Vol. 3: No. 1, pp 95-124.

Publication Date: 17 May 2023
© 2023 D. A. Bateman and E. Schickler
Econometric models,  American political development,  Political economy,  Political parties,  Public opinion,  Labor economics
Historical causal inferenceracismAmerican political developmentslavery


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In this article:
Emancipation as a Critical Juncture 
Reconsidering the Evidence 
Evidence on Free Black Americans 


The legacies of slavery have shaped nearly all aspects of American politics. Acharya, Blackwell, and Sen's Deep Roots: How Slavery Shapes Southern Politics deploys sophisticated methods of causal inference to empirically identify one of these legacies: the enduring impact that slavery has had on white southerners' racial attitudes. An important part of their causal argument is the role of the Civil War and Reconstruction, which they argue was the critical juncture when the distribution of white racial attitudes in the South began to diverge based on the prior pervasiveness of slavery. Before the secession crisis, they claim, white racial attitudes were unrelated to the level of enslavement within the South. We reconsider the evidence for this antebellum "homogeneity in racial attitudes" claim, which is critical to Acharya et al.'s strategy for identifying the causal effect of slavery and for their broader historical argument. Using multiple sources of data from different moments in southern history, we find that the pervasiveness of slavery was a systematically strong predictor of voting on slavery, secession, and the rights extended to free persons of color well-before the Civil War. Our findings suggest that there was no discrete moment at which the connection between the geographic pervasiveness of slavery and revealed commitments to white supremacy was established, raising questions about the causal identification strategies used by the authors. More generally, the findings point to some unappreciated limitations of design-based approaches when assignment to treatment is the product of a slow-moving complex historical process.