Journal of Historical Political Economy > Vol 3 > Issue 2

De Tocqueville, Population Movements, and Revealed Institutional Preferences

Hoyt Bleakley, Department of Economics, University of Michigan, USA, , Paul W. Rhode, Department of Economics, University of Michigan, USA,
Suggested Citation
Hoyt Bleakley and Paul W. Rhode (2023), "De Tocqueville, Population Movements, and Revealed Institutional Preferences", Journal of Historical Political Economy: Vol. 3: No. 2, pp 179-210.

Publication Date: 25 Jul 2023
© 2023 H. Bleakley and P. W. Rhode
Comparative political economy,  Labor economics,  Law and economics,  Political history
Slaveryinstitution choicemigration


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In this article:
Creating the Free-Slave Boundary 
Details on de Tocqueville's Trip 
Other Travelers' Accounts and Emigrant's Guides 
Population Movements 


During their grand tour of the United States in 1831–1832, Alexis de Tocqueville and Gustave de Beaumont struggled to make sense of the regional differences, until they traveled down the Ohio River. There, they observed differences on opposite riverbanks, where the environment is similar but the institutions differ. They reported that the northern side attracted more free migrants than the southern side; and that this difference bolstered the regional disparities in population growth (with important consequences for the antebellum political economy). Following their analysis, we examine the emigrant guidebooks and travelers' accounts of the environmental and institutional attributes of the free and slave regions. We then use census data to analyze the behavior of migrants to the border region. We find that the revealed institutional preferences of free people are key to understanding the comparative development of the regions.



Journal of Historical Political Economy, Volume 3, Issue 2 Special Issue: Antebellum Political Economy: Articles Overview
See the other articles that are part of this special issue.