NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
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Leadership and Social Norms: Evidence from the Forty-Eighters in the Civil War

Christian Dippel, Stephan Heblich

NBER Working Paper No. 24656
Issued in May 2018
NBER Program(s):Development of the American Economy, Political Economy

A growing theoretical literature emphasizes the role that leaders play in shaping beliefs and social norms. We provide empirical evidence for such ‘civic leadership.’ We focus on the Forty-Eighters, a group of political refugees from Germany's failed 1848 revolutions, and their role in the struggle for the abolition of slavery in the United States. Our primary outcome is volunteering for the Union Army. Given the enormously high death toll during the Civil War, this variable provides a powerful measure of social norms against slavery. We show that towns where Forty-Eighters settled in the 1850s increased their Union Army enlistments by eighty percent over the course of the war. Using machine-learning techniques to infer soldiers' ancestry, we find that the Forty-Eighters had the biggest impact on the enlistment of German Americans, a smaller effect on English-speaking men (American and Irish), and yet a smaller effect on Scandinavian and Italian men. Forty-Eighters who fought in the war and were successful at raising a regiment had the biggest effect on enlistment, and Forty-Eighters also had a discernible effect in the field of battle, lowering their fellow soldiers' likelihood of desertion.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w24656

 
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