Leadership in Social Networks: Evidence from the Forty-Eighters in the Civil War
NBER Working Paper No. 24656
A growing theoretical literature emphasizes that prominent individuals (‘leaders’) can be instrumental in changing behaviors and beliefs inside social networks, and consequently play an important role in shaping the path of history. We test this assertion in the context of the U.S. Civil War. Our analysis is organized around a natural experiment: leaders of the failed German revolution of 1848-49 were expelled to the U.S., and became important anti-slavery campaigners who helped mobilize Union Army volunteers. We find that towns where Forty-Eighters settled in the 1850s increased their enlistments by ten men per hundred adult males over the course of the war, or roughly eighty percent. The Forty-Eighters’ influence worked at least in part through the local press and local social clubs. In the army, Forty-Eighter officers reduced their companies’ desertion rate. In the long run, towns where Forty-Eighters settled were more likely to form a local branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w24656