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The economic origins of the postwar southern elite

Brandon Dupont () and Joshua Rosenbloom ()

Explorations in Economic History, 2018, vol. 68, issue C, 119-131

Abstract: The U.S. Civil War destroyed a substantial fraction of southern wealth and emancipation transferred human capital to the formerly enslaved. The prevailing view of most economic historians is that the southern planter elite was able to retain its relative status despite these shocks. Previous studies have been hampered, however, by limits on the ability to link individuals between census years, and scholars have been forced to focus on persistence within one or a few counties. Recent advances in electronic access to the Federal Census manuscripts now make it possible to link individuals without these constraints. In this paper, we exploit the ability to search the full manuscript census to construct a sample that links top wealth holders in 1870 to their 1860 census records. Although there was an entrenched southern planter elite that retained their economic status, we find evidence that the turmoil of the 1860s opened greater opportunities for mobility in the South than was the case in the North, resulting in much greater turnover among wealthy southerners than among comparably wealthy northerners.

Keywords: Civil war; Wealth inequality (search for similar items in EconPapers)
JEL-codes: N3 N31 N4 (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2018
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DOI: 10.1016/j.eeh.2017.09.002

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