Suffrage, Schooling, and Sorting in the Post-Bellum U.S. South

Suresh Naidu

NBER Working Paper No. 18129
Issued in June 2012
NBER Program(s):Program on the Development of the American Economy, Economics of Education Program, Law and Economics Program, Political Economy Program

This paper estimates the political and economic effects of the 19th century disenfranchisement of black citizens in the U.S. South. Using adjacent county-pairs that straddle state boundaries, I examine the effect of voting restrictions on political competition, public goods, and factor markets. I find that poll taxes and literacy tests each lowered overall electoral turnout by 8-22% and increased the Democratic vote share in elections by 1-7%. Employing newly collected data on schooling inputs, I show that disenfranchisement reduced the teacher-child ratio in black schools by 10-23%, with no significant effects on white teacher-child ratios. I develop a model of suffrage restriction and redistribution in a 2-factor economy with migration and agricultural production to generate sufficient statistics for welfare analysis of the incidence of black disenfranchisement. Consistent with the model, disenfranchised counties experienced a 3.5% increase in farm values per acre, despite a 4% fall in the black population. The estimated factor market responses suggest that black labor bore a collective loss from disenfranchisement equivalent to at least 15% of annual income, with landowners experiencing a 12% gain.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w18129

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