Public Choice

, Volume 159, Issue 3–4, pp 341–361 | Cite as

Did southerners favor slavery? Inferences from an analysis of prices in New Orleans, 1805–1860



During the years immediately following the American Revolution, it was common for Southern elites to express concerns about the morality or long-term viability of slavery. It is unclear, however, whether such expressions of anti-slavery sentiment were genuine, especially given the failure of so many slave owners to emancipate their slaves. In this paper, we show that there was a change in elite rhetoric about slavery, initiated by Whig politicians in the mid-1830s seeking a campaign issue in the South, in which anti-slavery rhetoric became linked to attempts by abolitionists to foment slave unrest, making anti-slavery an unsustainable position for the region’s politicians. Before that development, we contend that some planters believed that slavery might some day be abolished. After it, those concerns largely went away. We argue that the change in slave owners’ beliefs about the probability of abolition in the mid-1830s should have been reflected in slave prices at auction and test that claim using evidence from the New Orleans auction market.


Slavery Ideology Economic history 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Political ScienceWayne State UniversityDetroitUSA
  2. 2.Department of Political ScienceDuke UniversityDurhamUSA

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