Toward a New Synthesis on the Role of Economic Issues in the Political Realignment of the 1850s

Robert William Fogel

NBER Historical Working Paper No. 34
Issued in January 1992
NBER Program(s):Development of the American Economy

After sketching various ways in which economic issues influenced the political realignment of the 1850s, the paper concentrates on five questions: (1) the timing of the economic issues and the disjunctions in economic developments across regions and classes; (2) the size of the nonagricultural male labor force of the North toward the end of the 1850s and the ethnic and residential distributions of these workers; (3) changes in the ethnic composition of the northern electorate and the sharp shift in the partisan affiliations of "Old Americans," especially between 1852 and 1860; (4) problems in measuring the ups and downs in the standard of living of northern nonagricultural workers between 1840 and 1860 and provisional estimates of the decline in their real wages between 1848 and 1855; (5) a provisional estimate of the excess supply of labor during 1854-1855 created by the unfortunate phasing of three cycles (the collapse of a long cycle in construction, the coincident trough of a relatively mild trade cycle, and the continued upswing of a long cycle in immigration).

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/h0034

Published: Economic Development in Historical Perspective, Weiss, Thomas and Donald Schaefer, eds., Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1993, pp. 179-204.

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